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Why I decided to do a GSUSA Destination
I have been a Girl Scout all my life, and I always wanted to do what the big girls were doing, whether that was camping, fire starting, or Destinations, GSUSA’s travel abroad program. When I was finally old enough, I decided I would sign up for the Escape to Iceland destination. I was super excited; seeing the Northern Lights was definitely on my bucket list. For my application, I wrote a paragraph explaining how much I love the night and the cold, and how excited I was to see the Northern Lights. When I showed my mom my application, she looked up at me and said, “This is great, but all of these things take place during the winter.” I had done no research on what Iceland was like in the summer! After that, I did a deep dive on Google, finding photo after photo, and honestly fell in love with Iceland before the Destinations program had even accepted me.
Save it for later!
I knew I wanted to go to Iceland, so once I was accepted, I said yes immediately and started preparing. Well… mentally preparing. I researched Iceland, looked at the packing list given to me, and generally got everything I needed. I was missing a couple of items: hiking boots, waterproof pants, stuff I didn’t think I really needed. I decided I would travel with just a carry-on suitcase for this trip, so I got ready to play some serious Tetris. With some master packing skills and my mother’s voice in my head telling me I was going have to carry everything I packed, I managed to fit a sleeping bag, sleeping mat, cool weather clothes for a week, and toiletries in one carry-on suitcase. I then got ready to go to the airport, excited and nervous for what would be my first ever flight alone.
My Travel Experience
My adventure started when I said goodbye to my family and flew from SFO to JFK, where I met the rest of the group. We introduced ourselves while we waited for the last arrivals, then went through security and boarded the flight to Iceland. After spending 11 hours on a plane, I started my first day in Iceland. We saw an amazing waterfall and went rafting—an incredible start to the trip!
The next six days where a blur of beautiful sights and scenery. Iceland sits on two continental plates, the North American plate, and the Eurasian plate. This means Iceland is basically a huge volcano that is slowly being ripped apart, resulting in fissures or huge cracks in the Earth. On one day, we got to swim in a fissure made by the aforementioned volcano. The volcanic rock had filtered the already clean glacial water that the instructor told us just to just take a sip if we got thirsty.
On another day we went caving in a lava tube. There are two types of Icelandic lava tubes, the instructor explained, one with well-lit path signs—and the other was just a hole in the ground. This lava tube was a hole in the ground. In fact, the ceiling got so low that at one point we had to lie flat on the bottom of the cave and crawl our way through.
From there we headed on a road trip to the coastal town of Vik. Along the way, we saw another huge waterfall as well as a geyser. The geyser’s name was Geyser because it was literally the first geyser discovered! Once we got to the campsite, the guides let us go on a quick hike up the cliffside. One other girl and I had gone farther up than the others, so we had to run back down the hill to the group. The sun was setting (or as close as gets to setting in summer in Iceland), creating a picture-perfect memory. We saw a black sand beach, which was beautiful thanks to the contrast of the icy water and the dark sand. Another stop on our trip was a photo spot that gave you a 360-degree view of Iceland, which was breathtaking, and we visited a hot spring.
We hiked a glacier, A.K.A. a huge moving block of ice, and we felt the impact of global warming when we took a boat ride in what used to be a glacier, now melted into a lagoon. Remember how I mentioned that I didn’t bring waterproof pants or hiking boots? That made climbing the glacier very difficult. Luckily, they had shoes for rent, but it made for an extremely interesting day, and a reminder to be prepared even when you don’t think you need to be!
As we entered the final days of our trip, we went to Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík. In Reykjavík, we shopped and rode Icelandic ponies, which are especially strong and hearty due to the cold. On our last night, we spent the night in a hotel. This might not seem like a big deal, but this was our first hotel in seven days, so it was a welcome luxury. When it was time to go home, I couldn’t believe how fast the week had passed! As I boarded the plane back to New York, I realized what an amazing experience I had just had.
My Final Thoughts on Iceland
I was not happy to leave Iceland. I missed my family, but I couldn’t imagine leaving such an amazing place. I learned how important it is to do your research before you get to the location, and how much travel can improve your view on life. By just going somewhere else and getting excited about a beach or a hole in the ground, you learn how to find the beauty of where you live, and I think that traveling in Iceland really helped my outlook on life.
If you want to apply for a destination, or want to know how to prepare for one, here are some tips!
- Start your Destination application early! This will let you polish your writing, as well as get your references done without rushing them.
- Do your research on your location (and focus on when you will be going!) It’s a lot easier to write a successful application if you have specific places you want to see, or activities you’re looking forward to.
- Make sure you really want to go! Something in the trip should excite you, whether it’s the culture, the landscape, or the adventure of travel. Whatever it is, make sure you write that out.
- Keep a journal and take all sorts of photos! You will forget things if you don’t do anything to remember your time. I just did a simple itinerary for each day, as well as a couple of sentences describing our activities. Trust me—you do not want to forget those memories!
- Travel light! Yes, not all trips will need to pack as intensely and lightly as I did, but only having to worry about two bags helped me focus on what I was doing, instead of managing my suitcases.
- Bring a portable charger! You don’t want your phone dying just before you take that incredible once-in-a-lifetime shot!
What to Do Next
- Do you and your girls want to escape to Iceland, or explore another country alongside other Girl Scout sisters? Each year, GSUSA organizes Destinations for 6-12th grade girls to explore the globe. Apply for Girl Scout Destinations today!
- Traveling with your Girl Scout troop has its challenges, from money raising to planning accommodations for a large group. Luckily, GSNorCal Travel Expert Sandy Norman shared her top tips with on the Trailhead so that your troop’s adventure can be well-planned and girl-led.
Avery Forristal—Avery Forristal is a Girl Scout Senior from Girl Scouts Northern California. She started Girl Scouts in kindergarten, and both her mother and grandmother are active members of Girl Scouts to this day. In her troop she enjoys doing leadership activities as well as working with other girls. Outside of scouting she likes Mock Trial, volleyball, lacrosse, rock climbing, and traveling.