When Travel Becomes a Dangerous Escape

Three little Nordic girls dance for their mother and father, anticipating a reward. They smile mischievously as the bag of candy is handed over and equally distributed between them. Iceland natives are aesthetically flawless. This is entertaining, I think, as I wait in line to board the plane. Iceland was nothing more than a fleeting thought before it became a booked reality. Four weeks ago, I was escorting guests to their seats at an upscale restaurant in Toronto. I had only just returned from a two-month South America backpacking adventure, still recovering from the parasite that had brought that trip to an unexpected end. Now I was embarking on a ten day road trip through Iceland with a Dutch friend I had met on the Salkantay trek in Peru. She was driver. I was navigator.

Boarding the plane, I made a promise to myself: after this, I would no longer use travel to evade my problems, but more importantly, myself. I spent six hours on the airbus looking out the window, searching for answers. Knees scrunched up against the seat in front of me, my tall, slender body was desperate for space; my stomach, for an affordable meal. How did an independent female like myself find herself here: dependent on the romantic validation of some retreatist? The bad boy whose emotional intelligence, mystery and charm made for a hazy summer of smoke and non-sensical but open-minded ramblings. He challenged me and all that I represented. He was danger. The big bad wolf that I had spent my entire childhood and adolescence running away from had finally caught up to me. He was intoxicating, had me addicted to pushing myself and my boundaries further and further once again. A series of contradictions, I was pure and innocent, experienced and well-travelled.

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you, I am self-aware. I knew that this social arrangement was a kind of self-inflicted torture inspired by a pervasive sense of loneliness. It didn’t matter that I had travelled the world, created a successful blog or that I was connected to friends, family and acquaintances. I convinced myself that to be loved was less important than being understood. Touching ground on foreign territory, I knew that Iceland was more than just some road trip. This backpacking adventure was my final chance to wake up from the illusory reality within which I found myself. I needed to break free from the psychological bonds he held over me. The kind that come from wanting (no, needing) what you can’t (or shouldn’t) have.

After exiting the aircraft, a sleepy and groggy mess, it soon occurred to me at baggage claim that I would be stranded in Iceland with no luggage. Usually I’m willing to sacrifice comfort in exchange for saving a few dollars, but I was over the whole ordeal. My flight consisted of a tight interior, overpriced meals, and a lack of entertainment to distract me from my wandering mind. The suitcase filled with seasonally appropriate attire was back in Toronto, Canada. This meant spending twelve hours developing hypothermia while waiting for my ride to arrive from Amsterdam. The lady at the counter handed me a thin, grey blanket to wrap over my sunburnt shoulders. She laughed and good-naturedly suggested that as a Canadian I should be able to withstand the frigid temperatures. She was wrong. Shivering, I tossed and turned for several hours, listening to sad songs on repeat. Yes, I’ ashamed to admit it but I was that girl, overanalyzing the whole other kind of baggage I had brought with me.

Not too long after, Kim arrived. Words cannot describe what’s it like to reunite with a travel companion. A person whose experiences are also your own. Riding our rented vehicle out of the airport lot, we headed straight for Reykjavik. “We needed this trip,” Kim said, gripping the wheel. She had no idea. Though we were at different points in our life, we both craved the perspective that came with a little sun and sand, with never-ending waterfalls and glaciers, rain and snow, fire and ice.

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