Rethinking the way we travel and wander

Some conversations pass by, and some leave a mark. Thankfully, I experience more of the latter. Even though they take place in a digital environment, I’m beyond grateful for our customers’ generosity. Taking their time to answer my questions and curiosities means a lot to me.

Oana
July 29, 2021
Reading time 9 – 13 minutes

As a gal in love with storytelling, it comes in handy to reach out to customers and ask for an interview. I do this exercise constantly for a couple of reasons.

On the one hand, I enjoy discovering digital gems made with our WordPress products. Each website that pops up and expresses the author’s personality keeps my wheels spinning. On the other hand, it’s a gateway towards finding narratives that fuel my imagination through the roof. There’s something special about talking with people all over the world and expanding my horizons.

Such a treasure is Hallo Island, a beautiful website made with Felt, our magazine WordPress theme.

Hallo Island is made for the love of… you guessed it, Iceland! It’s an outstanding website full of great stories about this side of the world. Sabrina, the brain behind this journey, is in love with this country, so she translated her obsession into a digital playground (thank you for that!).

As I told her, too, one of our core values at Pixelgrade is care. Towards our teammates, families, friends, community, customers. Therefore, I tailored the questions to explore this particular value through our conversation.

Let’s dive in!

Oana

What’s your profession, and what are you doing besides writing on Hallo Island?

Sabrina

I work as a freelance web designer and SEO consultant. When I don’t work or write on Hallo Island, I spend as much time as possible outdoors. This might be walking my dog, going on hikes around where I live, or going on multiple-day trekking tours somewhere in Germany. I also try to travel as much as I can, not only to Iceland.

As a travel blogger, I feel like it’s my job to promote responsible and sustainable travel.

Sabrina

Oana

You write on your website since 2014. How was the journey so far?

Sabrina

It was exciting and full of ups and downs. I’ve had times of zero motivation followed by crazy productivity. It’s fun to see how a website grows and changes over the years as you develop as a person and your interests and values adjust.

Recently Covid had a big impact on my website since nobody was allowed to travel. After having the highest peak in visitors in January 2020, the numbers dropped rock-bottom. I think that’s a situation where you either quit or push forward even more. And on a small scale, these situations occurred every now and then during my journey. Luckily I always chose to go on.

Oana

From all the stories you published, which one speaks a lot about your values?

Sabrina

There are two stories that go in the same direction. One is a text about how to be a responsible tourist in Iceland. The other is about the Scandinavian Travel Codex that includes some “rules” for travel bloggers writing about Scandinavian countries.

Over the past years, Iceland got very popular, and some visitors behave like it’s some Disney Land. Fun fact: Justin Bieber gave this kind of tourism a huge push since he didn’t treat nature well. These visitors walk around fragile moss, feed the horses pizza, or lurk into Icelander’s living-room windows, and that’s not okay. As a travel blogger, I feel like it’s my job to promote responsible and sustainable travel.

It makes you feel humble and see the beauty of our planet.

Sabrina

Oana

In which way did the book Glósi, my Icelandic horse impact you?

Sabrina

It wasn’t exactly the book that inspired me to start a blog, but it got me to travel to Iceland. I read it as a kid and since then have always wanted to go and ride a horse in Iceland. This dream came true in 2013.

I guess I couldn’t stop talking about Iceland, and eventually, my former boss told me to start a blog so he doesn’t have to listen to it. His intention was not only to stop my talking but to try out how websites and SEO work in an environment created by me.

Oana

What brings you back to Iceland over and over again?

Sabrina

There’s so much to see! I haven’t been in every corner yet, and even then, everything changes during the seasons and looks like a completely different world.

Volcano eruption in Iceland

Social media gives the wrong impression here – you will never stand alone in front of a waterfall-like Skógafoss.

Sabrina

Also, it’s the people and their mentality. Everyone’s more relaxed, and they have the saying “Þetta reddast” (everything will turn out okay), which I miss in my everyday life sometimes. I live in Frankfurt, where every person is stressed, and work is the top priority, so Iceland is a good break.

Oana

Iceland is a country that you either love or hate. Is this narrow-minded, or does its great uniqueness provoke such dichotomies?

Sabrina

It’s not narrow-minded. I think its uniqueness can make you love it or hate it.

Iceland can be harsh depending on the season you visit. In winters, you only have a few hours of sunlight or even no sunlight at all when the weather is bad. In summer, it’s beautiful, everything is green and alive, but still, the temperatures don’t go above an average of 15-18 degrees Celsius (59-64 Fahrenheit). It’s windy, and it’s cold; the weather can destroy all of your travel plans. That’s something to deal with when traveling to Iceland.

Also, there are tourists, and by this, I mean a lot of tourists. You never get to see the popular places without people (except when a pandemic is happening).

Social media gives the wrong impression here – you will never stand alone in front of a waterfall-like Skógafoss (the super popular one), and there are restrictions in almost every place to not cross fences because too many people took photos there and damaged the place. I guess that’s one of the main reasons people might be disappointed.

Oana

What does this place teach you that others do not?

Sabrina

Every time I visit, it shows me how small people actually are. It makes you feel humble and see the beauty of our planet. It also teaches me that nature has an impact on everything. You can’t plan a trip to Iceland as you would when going to New York, for example.

The weather can put your plans down for days, and you need to start being spontaneous. Icelanders adopted this life over the years, and they go high during the summer and “hibernate” during the winter. When the weather is good, you go outside and do things. And when it’s not, you stay cozy inside.

I don’t see as much as others during my travels, but I’ll have a deeper connection with a place and its people in the end.

sabrina

Oana

What drives you to do the Laugavegur tour again any time?

Sabrina

Laugavegur is a long-distance hike through the highlands, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places in Iceland. You walk for 4 to 6 days with your tent, food, and everything you need on your back. It’s just you, nature, and no phone reception.

Textbook digital detox, calming down and focussing on what’s important (hot chocolate and snacks at the end of the day). The trail is not easy to walk but is suitable for beginners. It leads you through the pure wilderness, something you don’t find on many popular trails like the El Camino in Spain.

Oana

Traveling comes in many shapes and forms. What’s the one that fits your style?

Sabrina

I used to love traveling to big cities, which changed over the past years. Cities stress me out, and this might be a little generalizing, but… they all look the same (not the same, but it’s buildings, cars, and shops).

I used to live in Manhattan for a while, and I’ve lived in Frankfurt for the past ten years, so for me, it’s time to get out of the city and back into the countryside, the mountains, or just into a forest.

Nowadays, I’m not particularly eager to just check a place out. I try to spend a lot of time there and really get to know it. This might mean that I don’t see as much as others during my travels, but I’ll have a deeper connection with a place and its people in the end. I like road trips and experiences a lot more. Last year I bought a camper van, so let’s see how this changes my travels in the future.

There’s so much beauty right in front of our doorsteps; we don’t always have to hop on a plane.

sabrina

Oana

What’s your take on the slow travel approach?

Sabrina

I believe it’s the only way to make most of our trips.

The last years have shown the worst side of traveling. People see a spot on Instagram, go there for the photo, and leave. Some places are overcrowded and just a step away from being destroyed. We need to relearn to appreciate the places we visit by spending more time there and connecting with the locals.

Also, we shouldn’t just visit a place because some celebrity or influencer went. I think we need to find our own pretty places and paths that are not so popular.

Slow traveling leads us to explore the areas around us more. There’s so much beauty right in front of our doorsteps, and we don’t always have to hop on a plane. To be honest, this is something Covid taught me. As traveling was super complicated in the past year, I started to discover my country and the areas around me much more. I didn’t know an area looking almost like the red rocks in Utah just an about hour away from my home.

Treat everyone kind, be good to nature, leave everything better than how you found it.

sabrina

Oana

What’s one bit of advice to start traveling more mindfully?

Sabrina

Take your time. I can’t stretch that one enough. Mindful traveling is not about ticking things off your bucket list; it’s about connecting with a place. For example, don’t get your coffee at a big chain, but sit down in a small coffee shop for an hour or two and just soak in the atmosphere and people around you.

Another piece of advice is: talk to the locals. Ask them about their favorite places, about good restaurants, and where they drink their beer. This way, you will experience a place in a totally different way than when you go to the Lonely Planet’s recommendations.

And lastly: don’t be an a**hole. Treat everyone kind, be good to nature, leave everything better than how you found it. It’s the little things. Don’t take stuff for granted just because you’re in another environment or culture. Don’t discuss certain rules that you don’t know from your culture. Just be a nice person.

In a world where many of us hurry up to make that pixel-perfect photo in that flawless corner to gather likes and comments, I genuinely believe that we need more people like Sabrina. Travelers who understand that beauty lies in getting local, understanding the cultural particularities, and leaving the place better than you found it.

There’s enough visual pollution on social media, so let’s learn to deconstruct some bad habits and treat well the only house that we all share at the end of the day: the Earth.

Treating it more gently and respectfully is, in itself, a journey that we should pursue more often.

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Oana
A question by Oana, traveler interested in storytelling:
What's the way of traveling that fits your values best?

Conversations 2 comments

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Let's start a personal, meaningful conversation.

Example: Practical philosopher, therapist and writer.

Spot on Sabrina! Slow, mindful, as-often-as-possible short distance traveling is the way to connect once again with this world we pass through (not “this world of ours” as we often claim). 

As for Iceland, it has always struck me as a place at the end of the Earth. Much like New Zeeland. Haven’t actually been to any of them, but who knows? One day.

PS: Very good interview, Oana! Keep them coming.

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Sabrina Goethalssays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:Lover of Iceland, Interviewed Person

Thanks Vlad 🙏When you go to Iceland some day, feel free to contact me for recommendations.

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