The Intangible Charm of Magic: An Icelandic Adventure

If you are thinking of planning a trip to Iceland, be sure to check out my Iceland travel tips and my budget planning resources!


I had to squint through the cloudy windshield to get a good look. The wipers on our rental car – if they could really be called wipers – did miraculously little to improve visibility. More than clearing away the droplets of nordic rain, they simply smeared them across my line of sight. Having not driven a car, let alone a manual one, in almost a year this was not a welcome inconvenience. I huddled over the wheel, eyes boring through the glass as we rolled into a gas station just outside of Reykjavik. That's when I first noticed her.

We all know every country has its charm. Every destination offers up alluring cultural morsels to those who seek them out. Most commonly these charms involve clear skies and white, sandy beaches stretching into the horizon. Occasionally they involve traditional cuisine and bottomless red wine. In a few instances they even involve the timeless wonders of the world itself. Ever so rarely, however, countries offer up something far less tangible and infinitely more mysterious: magic.

Iceland road trip. Iceland adventure. Backpacking Iceland.

I began to realize this very fact as my co-pilot pumped pricey petrol into what would pass for a clown car in North America. A few meters ahead of me, navigating the unfamiliar gas station, was a familiar face – a face from home. Growing up in small-town Canada I was accustomed to bumping into friendly faces on the street...but this was Iceland, a world away. I was flabbergasted, so much so that I remained stuck in my driver's seat, immobile. Frozen in a serendipitous tableau, I stole another glance. And then another, my brain flat-out refusing to accept the uncanny nature of the encounter. Moments later she rolled away into the misty grey and I was left to ponder whether what I saw was truly real or some elvish illusion. Since over 1/3 of Icelanders still believe in the possible existence of elves I had to keep an open mind.

As if to hit home the fact that there was more to this martian landscape than meets the eye, someone accidentally paid for our gas while we fumbled with the foreign pump. Explaining the embarrassing mishap to the attendant, he merely shrugged.

“There is, uh, nothing I can do. You are just lucky.”

While we felt bad that our good luck hinged on someone else's misfortune we nevertheless felt a tinge good fortune ourselves. It was, I confess, almost too good to be true.

I thumbed a hurried text message to my friend, the gas station apparition/elvish illusion, in hopes of quelling my overactive imagination. It was the fog I told myself. Just my eyes playing tricks. She replied a few hours later. It was her.

And that was only day one.

For the next few days we drove the narrow roads of Iceland, soaking in all the majestic vistas and secret hot pots (natural hot springs) that the country had to offer. We stopped for countless sheep crossings, battled gravel roads and steep inclines, and got lost in more than one bout of heavy fog. We still hadn't found ourselves any elves...but we did stumble into another pinch of that inexplicable Icelandic magic.

As we crawled along the hairpin turns of the east coast we came to find ourselves in the bohemian village of Seyðisfjörður. After a short hike and a brief stop to refuel at a local cafe we all clambered back in our tiny rental car, ready to once more get lost in the stunning scenery that marked every inch of the island nation. And then I saw her. A different her, this time.

Road trip Iceland. Backpacking Iceland. Magic iceland.

Glancing toward my mirror as I backed out of a parking lot I spotted another familiar face: a friend from high school. There. In Iceland. We exchanged a rather stunned conversation, words failing to capture the sheer ridiculous hilarity of the encounter. During the semi-awkward but heartfelt exchange I resisted the urge to ask about elves, reluctantly settling for more socially-acceptable small talk.

Moments later I was waving goodbye, speeding toward the highway and the impenetrable mist that enveloped it. With zero visibility I could only inch my way forward, creeping toward the mountains at a cautious pace. Draped in a blanket of thick fog, I was left to peer into the silent nothingness. I didn't bother checking my map. In Iceland, a little magic is all you need.

P.S I recently completed Nomadic Matt's Travel Writing course, so let me know if you see an improvement! I found the course to be very insightful, so check it out if you want to step up your travel writing!