Ask me the definition of “vacation” 3 years ago, and my response: “beach and sleep.” Ask me now, and my response: “where adrenaline meets natural wonders.” When I share my upcoming trips with family and friends these days, their responses are most commonly: “why?”, “interesting”, “are you sure?”, and “where?”, often making me temporarily question my choice of location (and sanity). I ultimately respond, though, with a large and confident smile.

As a Facebook employee, my every day is filled with too many emails to ever respond to, and my laptop glued to my hands (almost literally). I obsessively check my social networks, Facebook and Path, often to the detriment of taking in my surroundings or listening to a conversation. Yes, I am confessing, that I am an internet addict, for work and pleasure. In fact, my addiction is so bad, that when I cannot sleep at night, I mindlessly scroll through old photos on Facebook because it (apparently) relaxes me. My obsessive, type A personality, that makes me an efficient and hard worker, has translated into my personal life. I refuse to miss an email, or finish a project late. I also refuse to miss a friend’s life event on any social network, whether tiny or big.

And so, take this real-world deprived person and place her on a beautiful beach in Maui, and what do you think happens? She leaves her phone behind in her hotel room while she lays on the beach and stares at the ocean? Of course not. She needs her phone, to you know, photograph the ocean, photograph her and her husband, and share these moments with her family and friends. The phone is clearly only present to capture her vacation real time, and help her take in her environment. The phone will not be accessed for email, or internet browsing. Right.

Now, take this same person, and transport her to Iceland in the winter. She now has 4 hours of sunlight a day, the coldest weather of her life, and utter nothingness staring her in the face (mainly in the form of glaciers and ice). Taking her phone out now means freezing her hands beyond repair. Put her on a glacier, and taking her phone out also means falling on her face. Put her on a snowmobile in a blizzard, and taking her phone out also means getting lost in Icelandic mountains and dying a slow and cold death.

And, so finally, we have found a successful vacation for this real-world deprived person!

January of this year, I finally discovered what it takes to allow me to disconnect and really, honestly, relax. My husband and I booked a very last minute trip to Iceland to ring in the new year. I had seen the Blue Lagoon on a TV show I watch (yet another addiction), and it was on my bucket list to visit. Plus, visiting in January meant possibly seeing the Northern Lights. So, we hopped on a plane, with nothing planned, except for our hotel in the middle of nowhere.

Blue Lagoon

We spent 5 days taking advantage of our mere 4 hours of sunlight. Every day we had to make the best of our time. Every day my hands were way too cold to take out my phone for more than a brief second to snap a photo. Every day we experienced nature at its finest, to the point of it feeling surreal; glistening icebergs, floating from a lake to the ocean, and drifting onto a pure black sand beach; snowmobiling; dramatic sunsets and rainbows, followed by utter darkness; ice climbing and glacier hiking. We were, no doubt, “beyond the wall.”

Glacier Lagoon
Glacier hike
Double rainbow, post snowmobiling, at bottom of mountain (terrain varies greatly throughout Iceland)

It was in this place that I finally relaxed. I relaxed so much, that for the first time in years (really, years and years), I laughed and screamed like a little girl again. That relaxation, and resulting laughter, helped me looked inward, and really think about who I am and what I want in life. I guess that is what the world calls “clarity,” “epiphany,” “finding yourself,” or…well, you get the point.

There is one moment in particular that will never leave me. While snowmobiling in a complete white out storm, I finally felt like I had connected with my mom’s spirit; we lost her in February of 2012, and I had yet to feel her presence before this moment. With a blizzard around us, all I could see was the tiny light on the snowmobile in front of me, which I was to follow so as to not get lost. Every other direction I looked in was pure whiteness; you could not tell the difference between land and sky, or see anything in the distance, in any direction. The whiteness was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I guess it felt like heaven, if you believe in heaven, and it was in that moment that I felt her. Here I am, driving a surprisingly heavy and dangerous machine at a high speed, holding on for my dear life, with only one eye working (my left contact had fallen out from the snow attacking my eye balls), and I feel my sweet mom hug me. I laughed loudly, like I used to laugh, before hardship had entered my life.

Snowmobiling

Now that is vacation. That trip to Iceland had beat all other trips I had ever taken, from Italy to the Maldives. I left relaxed, refreshed and purely happy. I would never go another trip again that did not have some element of natural beauty and adventure. If you are going to give me a beautiful white sand beach, then you better also give me a waterfall to jump off of. If you are going to give me rolling green hills, then you better also give me an ATV to drive through them on.

View from our hotel, Hotel Rangá

My new trip planning method is now: (1) google “natural wonders” (or something similar of course); (2) choose a few (whether near each other, or not); (3) figure out a way to get there; and (4) only minimally plan. This then gets me halfway to my vacation needs. Once there,present in the natural wonder, adventure has a way of finding me (as it will you). Two caveats here: (1) you must give up 5 star hotels (for at least a substantial portion of the trip), and all the amenities that they offer; (2) you will not necessarily spend less money than if you had stayed at 5 star hotels, and you may even spend more (fact). In the end, though, you will get so much more out of your time off.

Life is short, which I learned the hard way, in losing my mom when she was only 60. I urge you to use your time off wisely, and dabble in adventure and nature. I promise that it will yield so much more beauty in your life, that it will heal,and that it will make you more whole. My next trip is to remote villages and natural wonders in China and Mongolia (with one night in Tokyo on the way home, to splurge for a day), and I look forward to sharing all that I experience on this next big adventure.

Where to next for you?