A Family’s Free Stopover In Iceland

As a travel editor for KidTripster, an online resource that provides information and inspiration to traveling families, I’m constantly searching for ways to get more from the typical family vacation. When I recently got two European vacations for the price of one, I had to tell my girlfriends, my neighbors, and anyone else who’d listen.

My 19-year-old son and I had recently achieved our bucket list goal of visiting all seven continents with a memorable cruise to Antarctica. My husband passed on the trip and the prospect of wearing long underwear morning, noon and night. His travel goal was simpler and considerably closer: play the best golf courses on the Irish Isle. I set about developing an itinerary where he could golf and my son and I could play tourist. I headed to AirTreks to price tickets from Portland, Oregon to Dublin and discovered that the least expensive fare was on Icelandair. And get this, the AirTreks price was $450 cheaper per ticket than the airline’s own website!

Then my wheels really started turning. I knew that Icelandair offered a free stopover in Reykjavik. Why not extend our trip and visit another polar region? So that’s exactly what we did.

Granted, our 10-day road trip around Ireland and Northern Ireland was a wee bit ambitious, but we were determined to see as much as possible. Blurry-eyed from a long trans-Atlantic flight, we fought our jet lag by keeping busy. Over the next 36 hours in Dublin, we took a bike tour of the city, saw the famed Book of Kells, and met the Trinity University rowing team. (My son is a collegiate rower.) My son also experienced some “firsts” (at least as far as his parents were concerned!): his first shot of Irish whiskey on the Irish Whiskey Museum tour and his first pint of Guinness on a musical pub crawl of the city.

But the Ireland that we’d really come to see – the jagged, cliff-topped coastline, the emerald green pastures spotted with flocks of wooly sheep, the picturesque villages with their colorful doors and neighborhood pubs – that Ireland lives outside of Dublin. We headed south to my husband’s first round at Old Head Golf Links in County Cork, dramatically situated on diamond-shaped headland that rises 300 feet from the crashing waves below. While he fought 60+mph winds, my son and I biked the coast under beautiful blue skies. The following day, he’d play Waterville Golf Links in County Kerry while we braved the high seas on a boat trip to Skellig Michael, home to a well-preserved 6th century monastic settlement and more recently, the secret outpost of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Taking a break from the links, we’d make our way around the Ring of Kerry and then north to Dromoland Castle in County Clare. As if we were living in a scene from Downton Abbey, we went shooting (clay pigeons), horseback riding, and “dressed” for dinner in chandelier-hung rooms with silver cloches that simultaneously were lifted by the wait staff to great effect. As much as we’d have liked to move into our turret room, my husband had more golf to play – Lahinch and Sligo County Golf Clubs – and my son and I had more sights to see – the Cliffs of Mohr, Burren National Park and Knocknarea. Our last days were spent along Northern Ireland’s glorious Causeway Coast with stops at Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and numerous Game of Thrones shooting locations.

Of course, our adventure was about to continue just a short flight away in Iceland. Sadly, my husband – short of vacation time – had to make his way home, but my son and I pushed on, landing in Reykjavik. We traveled the obligatory Golden Circle, stopping to soak in a natural spring, eat lunch in a tomato greenhouse and feel the mist of the thunderous Gullfoss waterfall.  We rode Icelandic horses, a rare breed in the horse world because of its unique gaits. However, the highlight of our time in Iceland was a 2-day tour of the southern coast with a company called Hidden Iceland. The beauty of this region – from its cascading waterfalls to its countless glaciers to its black sand beaches that double as iceberg graveyards – is really unsurpassed. The tour culminated in a glacier hike in Vatnajökull National Park, complete with crampons and pick axes. Of course, the accomplishment was even more satisfying because it was shared with my son.

That brings me to the real point of travel. It’s not about bucket list destinations or frequent flyer status. Travel is about shared experiences that become shared memories. With my son now in college, our time together is limited. Travel gives my husband and I an excuse to monopolize my son’s time – if only for a few weeks. It’s moments like these – sipping a pint in a pub, fighting back seasickness on our way to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and climbing a glacier in Iceland – where memories are made that tide us over until our next shared adventure.

If you’re interested in exploring a multi-stop adventure of your own, I highly recommend planning your trip with AirTreks. You can start exploring with their Trip Planner tool here.

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