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8 Unusual Experiences to Have in Iceland

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As the land of fire, ice, Northern Lights, and cheap flights, it’s no wonder Iceland has become one of the world's most popular destinations. From 2000 to 2014, the number of foreign visitors has more than tripled, according to the Icelandic Tourist Board [PDF].

Unfortunately, a good portion of those visitors don't make it outside of Iceland's famed Golden Circle, which means they miss out on some of the most memorable experiences the country has on offer. Planning a trip to Iceland? Consider making time for some of these slightly-off-the-beaten-path adventures.

1. FLOAT NEXT TO A GEYSER AT THE SECRET LAGOON.

Stephanie Vermillion

For a no-frills, authentic hot spring experience, make a stop at the century-old Secret Lagoon, Iceland's oldest swimming pool (it opened in 1891 and began offering swim lessons in 1909). The Secret Lagoon is located right off the Golden Circle in Fludir, atop active geothermal grounds that naturally heat the water year-round. Adding to its appeal: It has an active geyser on the premises, which (safely) erupts every five minutes.

2. LEARN ABOUT ICELAND'S "HIDDEN PEOPLE" AT THE ELFSCHOOL.



Elves, gnomes, dwarves, trolls, fairies, and other huldufólk ("hidden people") have long captured the imaginations of Icelanders. (According to one 1998 survey, 54 percent of Icelanders believe in the existence of invisible elves.) If you're looking to get up close and personal with the magical creatures—or at least hear the stories of those who have—check out The Elfschool in Reykjavik. Open year-round, the school hosts lectures and discussions about people who have come in contact with elves. You can opt to end your visit to the school with a private walking tour to one of the country's most popular "elf sighting" spots, located adjacent to the school.

3. EXPLORE THE DIMMUBORGIR LAVA FIELD.

Stephanie Vermillion

Dimmuborgir, located in northern Iceland, is an enormous lava field filled with otherworldly rock formations and volcanic caves. The site has numerous hiking trails, including routes leading up to the towering Hverjfall Crater, and might look familiar to Game of Thrones fans—it served as one of the main wildling campsites.

4. HIKE TO GLJÚFRABÚI, THE SECRET WATERFALL.

Stephanie Vermillion

Southern Iceland is home to some of the country's most beautiful waterfalls, including the mighty Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss, where you can hike behind the falls, and a hidden waterfall few travelers know to seek out—Gljúfrabúi. Just a five-minute walk from Seljalandsfoss, Gljúfrabúi is tucked away behind mountains, accessible only through a small opening in the rock formation. You may get wet on your hike there—you have to cross a stream—but that temporary discomfort is well worth the awe-inspiring, secret spectacle that awaits you on the other side.

5. LEARN ABOUT OLD ICELAND AT THE GLAUMBAER MUSEUM.

Stephanie Vermillion

For hundreds of years, Icelanders lived in grass-roofed “turf houses,” designed to insulate against the country's harsh winters. Today, travelers can visit these traditional Icelandic homes at north Iceland’s Glaumbaer Museum, located right along the Ring Road. Depending on how much time you have, Glaumbaer can be a short (free!) photo stop in-between destinations, or a full-blown dive into a piece of Iceland's architectural history.

6. SNORKEL BETWEEN TECTONIC PLATES.


Sure, you can hike between the Eurasian and North-American tectonic plates at Thingvellir National Park. But for a truly unusual experience, opt to snorkel through them. Guided tours take divers into the Silfra fissure, a navigable, underwater crack where the two tectonic plates are drifting apart at a rate of two centimeters per year. You won’t witness sea life on this snorkel expedition, but get your waterproof cameras ready for some of the most vibrant shades of blue you’ve ever seen.

7. GO INSIDE A VOLCANO.



Geology nerds, take note: One tour company has actually made it possible for travelers to go inside the (dormant) Thrihnukagigur volcano. Visitors are lowered through the crater opening in a basket-like elevator, and are given around 30 minutes to explore the volcano floor. The tour takes five to six hours total, including travel to and from Thrihnukagigur.

8. VISIT GRÍMSEY ISLAND IN THE ARCTIC CIRCLE.

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For one of the most remote Icelandic experiences possible, consider taking the three-hour boat ride to Grímsey Island. The only part of Iceland located inside the Arctic Circle, Grímsey Island is just over three square miles and home to fewer than 100 residents. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in opportunities for adventure. You can hike, bike, dive, fish, swim, and, if timed right, view puffins and the Northern Lights.

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Hate Waiting at Baggage Claim? Here's How to Make Sure Your Suitcase Arrives First
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Air travel involves plenty of waiting, from standing in long security lines to preparing for takeoff. And even after you land, your trip is stalled until you locate your luggage on the carousel. Luckily for impatient fliers, there are several ways to game the system and ensure a speedy suitcase delivery once you step off the plane, according to Travel + Leisure.

To score true VIP luggage treatment, ask the representative behind the check-in counter if they can attach a “fragile” sticker to your bag. Suitcases with these kinds of labels are often loaded last and unloaded first. (Plus, they receive the type of kid-glove treatment that ultimately helps them last longer.)

Keep in mind, however, that you’ll need a new tag each time you fly. If it looks old, or was issued by a different airline, the crew might not pay attention to it, according to Condé Nast Traveler. Also, consider upping your suitcase game, as quality, hard-shell bags look like they contain delicate or important items. Their appearance—along with the fragile sticker—will inspire baggage handlers to give them special treatment.

Another trick that can shave a few minutes off your wait time is making sure you're the last person to check in, instead of rushing to be first. If you can't resist getting to the airport early, try asking if you can check it at the gate. This could make your bag one of the last on the plane, and thus one of the first taken out. This method isn't surefire, however, as loading and unloading systems vary among flights.

And if all else fails, Thrillist advises that you try upgrading your flight. Some airlines give priority to bags that belong to elite travelers and business class, meaning they’ll be stored separately from other luggage and come out first. Good luck! No matter what happens, at least you can't have it worse than the lady who had to wait 20 years for her bag to show up.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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Google Maps Is Getting a Makeover With More Icons and Colors
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Prepare to get used to some big changes to your Google Maps app. The tech giant announced in a blog post that it’s changing the tool’s design to better highlight information that’s relevant to your journey.

The first update can be seen when switching between modes of transportation. If you’re driving from your home to work, for example, Maps will show you gas stations along your route, but switch to public transit and train stations will pop up instead.

The app’s color scheme has also been given a makeover. All points of interest (POI) that appear on the map are now color-coded. Looking for the nearest restaurant? Food and drink POI are orange. Need some retail therapy? Shopping icons are blue. Hospitals (pink), churches (gray), outdoor spaces (green), and more are included in the new system.

Within the larger categories, Google has introduced dozens of specialized icons to indicate subcategories. Banks are marked with a dollar sign, cafes with a coffee cup, etc.

“The world is an ever-evolving place,” Google Maps product manager Liz Hunt wrote in the blog post. “Now, we’re updating Google Maps with a new look that better reflects your world, right now.”

This overhaul is the latest way Google Maps is evolving to make life more convenient for its users. In the past year, the app has rolled out features that allow you to locate your parked car and to check how crowded attractions are at certain times. The new design changes will start appearing over the next few weeks.

Phones with maps app open.
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Color key for Google Maps.
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Icons for Google Maps.
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