Iceland has experienced a tourism boom that it was not entirely prepared for. As a result, many tourists come here and behave in ways that are at best, not entirely respectful, and at worst, downright destructive. You know you are…and I see you. So while the majority of visitors to the island are on their best behavior and generally try to respect the rules, there are those who are just plain rude and disrespectful and give tourists a bad name. Of course, I assume you are different! You know better than to leave food or garbage on the street. But there are other things that may not occur to you while traveling because in your country they are normal or because you don’t see the harm. So what are some of the worst things tourists have done in Iceland, and how can you avoid being “that guy”?
Horror Stories of the Worst Tourists Ever
Let’s start with the most obvious and flagrant ways people have acted badly in Iceland. Most normal people would never think of doing these things, but some people were apparently raised by wolves, and these horrors have happened. The first is using the bathroom outside of a bathroom. This is just gross, and you know it. It’s also completely unnecessary. There are lots of free public toilets in Iceland. There are also tons of bars, cafes, restaurants, and most of the time they have no problem letting you use their restrooms. If you find yourself outside of a populated area, and Mother Nature calls, be conscientious. Don’t pee on the side of a building or on someone’s house. Would you want people relieving themselves onto your house or even your car? I don’t think so. Practice the same courtesy (and The Golden Rule) here and find a tree if you must.
And if you have to do number two, PLEASE pick up after yourself and discard it in the nearest bin. Sounds gross? People do it with their dogs all the time. And ultimately you are responsible for cleaning up the mess you made. How would you like to have to pick up other people’s poo? Disgusting, right? Well, don’t put another human being in that position by leaving your waste around. I know this is awful, but if it weren’t happening, I wouldn’t have to write this article.
When in Rome
Ok, this might seem quite obvious (even more obvious than peeing in a toilet) but observe your surroundings. If people are being quiet and minding their own business, don’t be that loud, obnoxious person who is forcing themselves and their noise on everyone else. This is especially true for hen and stag parties. It’s not normal to be falling over drunk and screaming in the middle of the day, despite what might happen in your home country. You’re not in your home country. You’ve come to a new place, and the least you can do is show respect for your hosts by respecting yourself and not terrorizing the locals. It’s pretty disturbing and quite frankly annoying. Learn to read the room.
And then there’s the litter. I’ve never understood why people think it’s acceptable to go to another country and just destroy the place like it’s some rock star’s hotel room. Take care of wherever you go, pick up your trash, and please keep in mind that you are a guest in Iceland. Leave things better than you found them, not worse. Sorry if this sound like a lecture, but Icelanders don’t come to your country and go crazy, vandalize things, or treat it like a garbage dump. The least you can do is return the favor.
Destroying Icelandic Nature
Ok, I want to take a step back and focus on something that’s not so obvious. If you’re reading this article, you’re likely a conscientious, respectful traveler. It would never even occur to you do some of the horrible things I’ve mentioned above. You might even be wondering if people like that actually exist. I can assure you they do because I’ve seen them in action (and given them dirty looks). I suspect these people know they’re doing something wrong and they just don’t care. Thankfully, these bad tourists tend to be few and far between. Most folks are what you would consider “good” tourists. But even the most well-behaved tourists might be innocently and unknowingly wreak havoc.
Iceland is unique in so many ways. One of the things that sets us apart are the unusual and striking features of our diverse landscape. Another is flora and fauna. They exist in a delicate balance that can be disrupted by careless or uneducated tourists. You may think it’s perfectly innocent to wander outside of designated walking areas, and I understand. But perhaps you are trampling on fragile vegetation that takes a long time to grow back. Or worse, rolling around in it like Justin Bieber. Yes, he did that. It may seem like nothing, but moss that takes years or even decades to grow back will need to heal long after your vacation is over. I’m looking at you, Justin. Sometimes it doesn’t recover at all from the footprints or tire prints that people leave.
The same principle goes for off-roading. Technically it’s illegal, but that doesn’t stop people from thinking they’re cool doing it anyway. But cars are destructive, and you don’t know what you’re driving over and probably ruining. Seriously, take a moment to stop and think. Please respect the laws to help keep the ecosystem in balance. We need to work together to preserve Iceland for future generations.
Tourism in Iceland: Horror Stories and How You Can Be Different
Here’s the thing. Icelanders are very nice, and the country has been voted one of the friendliest countries in the world to visit. Maybe this is why people think it’s ok to come here and walk all over us (and our precious moss). I don’t really know. What I do know if that when you know better, you do better. All I can do as someone who loves Iceland is bring to your attention the things you can do to help. Then it’s up to you to decide what type of tourist you want to be.