What started as a 40 minute phone call turned into a few more phone calls, email exchanges and a 3,000 word article by Bjorn Þorfinsson in DV´s New Years eve paper. There were pieces of the article published online at DV.is, and the print paper advertised the article front page, top and center. The middle spread, 3 page print edition was of course written in Icelandic, so here are a few highlights of the article in English for those who don´t read Icelandic, entitled “I appreciate freedom and solitude“.
It is safe to the that the life of Katrin Sif Einarsdottir has been filled with adventure. Despite her young age, she is one of Iceland’s most seasoned travelers and shows no signs of stopping any time soon. Her 30th birthday is this upcoming February and she is currently planning to celebrate in the celebrations for her 30th birthday in Mauritius, the 200th country on her list. She is born in Europe, traces her lineage to South-America and is raised in NorthAmerica. She has visited all of the continents and was particularly fond of the Antarctic. Typically, she will travel the world in the winter and spend the summers in Iceland working to save money. Unexpectedly, she is spending the holidays in Iceland, due to her father’s illness, and gave herself time to chat with DV about her adventurous lifestyle.
Roots in three continents
Katrin is born in Iceland. Her father is from the Vestmannaeyjar islands and her mother from Guyana, a small country in South-America. Her parents separated when she was a toddler at which point she moved to Vancouver, Canada, with her mother, where she spent the remainder of her childhood. However, she always missed Iceland which she views as her home country. “I yearned to move back to Iceland and had a hard time not being able to. My parents were going through a rocky period in their relationship and so I didn’t visit as often as I would’ve liked” she says. Hardest for her was not being able to speak Icelandic with her sister during grade school in Vancouver, causing her Icelandic to deteriorate. In her adult life, she has brushed the rust off and now conducts interviews in native-level Icelandic.
Japan: the seed of wanderlust
One could argue that Katrin’s propensity for adventure started after a trip to Japan, where she spent time, at her mother’s behest, as an exchange student. “We had a Japanese girl live with us in Vancouver for a few months, and then I visited her in Japan. It was an awesome and eye-opening experience because everything was so foreign. I didn’t understand the language or the script, and both the people and the cuisine was totally different from anything I’d seen up to that point. I was completely enthralled and since then travelling has been at the forefront of my mind / [I have lived to travel],” says Katrin Sif.
College on a cruise ship
Katrin exploited the opportunities of her schooling to travel and experience new adventures. After the positive experience in Japan, she registered for an exchange semester in Brisbane, Australia. Even then, it did little to satiate her hunger for travel. “I did a Semester at Sea and that was an experience I definitely recommend. It was like I was on a reality TV show for several months straight. I couldn’t believe, as a 19 year old, I could live on a cruise ship, travel the world and get university credits for it,” Katrin says laughing. Around 500 students participate in the program, which sails around the world, at any given time. Katrin embarked in Mexico and three months later arrived in port in Florida. In the meantime, the ship stopped in 13 different ports of call on the way an around 12 teachers taught classes aboard the ship. “This was an amazing experience that I highly recommend for others who want to do something fun and learn along the way” says Katrin Sif. This program is still happening and changes every semester. The last sailing in fall 2016 went from Hamburg to Greece, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Senegal, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica and ended in San Diego, USA.
After the sea-adventure, Katrin Sif went back to her university in Vancouver to complete her bachelors degree. She then moved back to Iceland where she studied for an MSc. in Environment and Natural Resources. “I have always tried to use school as a means of traveling as much as I can. For example, I took one semester exchange to UC Berkeley in California. There I became very interested in ecotourism and I got the opportunity to travel to Antarctica for a case study. I enjoyed it there very much and could easily see myself going there again” says Katrin Sif.
Saves Money over the Summer
After graduating from HI, Katrin Sif has taken her traveling to another level. “Since 2010 I´ve worked in Iceland over the summers as a tour guide with multi-day horse tours and I love horses and riding. I take between 7 and 12 week long tours each summer and then buy a one way ticket somewhere and don´t come back again until May the following summer. Sometimes it happens that the money doesn’t quite last for 8 months of travel, so I sometimes have to come back in spring if the money runs out” says Katrin Sif humorously. According to her word, she feels best up in the Icelandic highlands on a horse over the summer. “I cant say I’m big fan of the Icelandic winters so that’s why I always go abroad during the cold months” says Katrin Sif.
Travels with a Wedding Ring
Its expensive to travel so Katrin adopted the necessary habit of couchsurfing. Its an online social network for travelers and hosts, where locals can invite visitorys to stay for free at their home, or rather, ´surf their couch´. “Wherever you can find internet then its possible to find couchsurfers. I was traveling in West Arica a few years ago and even though people lived in tents, they still had smart phones and could register to host people thru couchsurfing” says Katrin Sif. She has just arrived home from a three month trip thru Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan where she couchsurfed everyday with new people along the way. “It was an interesting experience to travel to these Muslim countries but by the end of my trip I had had enough. I was covered in black from head to toe, with my hear always covered. I had to walk in the street with someone else to avoid being harassed and follow a thousand other rules. I couldn’t smoke, sing, dance, drink coffee in the wrong café, nd not enter some mosques or holy places. I wanted to be less restricted and started dreaming about traveling to a remote sunny island, wearing nothing but a bikini, and be free from all the society´s rules and regulations.”
“It was a great way to travel and one learns much more about the country´s culture if you interact with locals. On the other hand, there are also dangers and annoyances that follow a solo traveler. “Being hit on or flirted with (uninvitedly) is the most annoying and I think I´ve had to deal with in nearly every country” says Katrin Sif, and admits its not just men who can bother her but women have also tried. For that reason, Katrin has started to travel with a fake wedding ring so she can keep unwelcomed come-ons by describing an appropriate fake husband.
2ooth Country is in reach
“I´ve never landed in any real trouble when I stayed with couchsurfers. I investigate all the details about a possible host and read all the references or information about them that I can. If everything seems safe there then we exchange a few messages and then confirm my stay. I have probably stayed with over 400 hosts and families!” says Katrin Sif.
As mentioned before, Katrin Sif has traveled to 197 countries but the UN lists only 193 countries. “I count countries like Greenland, Faroe Islands and for example Gibraltar. With territories like that included, there are around 230 countries in the world so I still have quite a few left to check out. I planned to travel to 200 countries before I turn 30 years old and that’s still the plan” says Katrin Sif. She likes staying a while in each country, to get familiar with the country´s culture and locals. “I usually travel alone though a friend sometimes meets me somewhere on the way for a week or two. I would rather have the freedom to spend each day as I like and not have to plan around other travelers” says Katrin Sif. She plans her visits based on what kind of country she is in. “If I´m in France, then I try to take in as much culture, arts and music as possible. When I’m island hopping in the Pacific Ocean then there´s very little to do touristically so then I just sit on the beach for 4 months and relax” says Katrin Sif and laughs.
“Stan” countries on next years travel plands
There are few areas in the world where Katrin Sif isn´t familiar with. “I still have to visit Syria and Lybi but think I wont go there anytime soon because of the current situation there. I have yet to go to central Africa, like Chad, Central African Republic and South Sudan. Since its also not the safest there, I may wait a little before going there. I also have to go to all the ´stan´central asia countries, ie. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. There is a lot of horse culture there and I hve the idea to break up my tradition and travel there in summer so I can also do some riding” says Katrin Sif.
Obviously Katrin has had a lot of adventures. She has kept a blog online, first with the Icelandic travel agency Dohop.com, and now has her own website. In the works is one travel book that she hopes to publish next year.
Accidentally married a Kenyan Masai warrior
“One of the strangest things that ever happened to me on the road was accidentally marrying a Masai man in Kenya” says Katrin Sif and snickers. Katrin had been speaking at a tourism counference in Uganda where she met a Masai who was also speaking on tourism issues. “I told him I was traveling after the conference and wanted to go to Kenya after the conference and he said he would show me around.” Katrin took up his offer and when she met him at the land border, he gave her some traditional Masai clothing to wear before coming to his village.
“His cousin was with us and told me how to wear the red dress and beaded jewelry.” She dressed herself as was told, and met all the women of the village, was danced for by the men, and after the show and welcome ceremony then the Masai´s explained “I was wearing traditional wedding clothes and I was the bride who had just been married,” says Katrin and laughs at the memory. She put her feet on the ground and tried to explain that that’s not how it works in her culture. “It took a while to explain to him I wasn´t his wife, though he was happy to have me stay in his tent for the night. But after a while he understood it wasn’t going to work and we left the events just turn into a little joke.”
Motor problems on the sea
Of all the most dangerous adventures Katrin had, getting stuck on a boat with a broken engine off the coast of Guinea Bissau in west Africa. “I went on a little boat trip to a nearby island where we could spend the day. The boat was nearly out of fuel when we arrived so we had to buy some more gas to make sure we would get back. Later in the day we headed out and a few miles out we had to refill the gas tank. But the driver of the boat filled it with diesel, when it was a gas engine, and the engine stopped working.”
“We were too far from land and didn´t have any way to communicate for help. All the cell phones were either out of service or out of credit and the light was nearly gone. Before the sun set, we at there cooking, and once the sun went down, we sat in dark silence, with only the occasional sound from the ocean surface and wondered if they were sharks. On the boat were 9 people, 6 locals and 3 foreigners. The hours were passing and we only has d little bit of drinking water left and nothing to eat except one live chicken.”
“We had been floating there for hours before another boat drove by and we managed to get his help. But he only wanted to take the 3 foreigners and offered to drag the boat with the locals to land. I didn’t understand if he was being racist or what, but our boat driver also didn’t want us to leave since he taught they had a better chance of all getting rescued if they kept the tourists on the stranded boat. Eventually the rescue boat did take us, but only back to the island we had been trying to leave, where he fed us and gave us accommodation. The next morning he let his boat driver taxi us back to the mainland, and then charged us $400 for his services! So that´s probably why he only wanted to help us, to basically get our money.”
She finally made it safe and sound to the main land but had been avoiding boat trips for a while since then. “I tried to stick to planes and buses after that” she says and laughs.
Icelandic Passport is wonderful
Dual citizenship has always helped with Katrin´s travels. “I have an Icelandic and Canadian passport which I use equally as much, according to whichever one is more useful or less problems to apply for a visa. The Icelandic passport is great because Iceland has such few embassies in Reykjavik that its usually impossible to apply for visas at home, so I can just apply in whatever country I am in or nearby. The only country I haven’t managed to get in (after 3 attempts) was Algeria. I tried to get a visa in Morocco, Tunisia and Spain, but finally after visiting the embassy in London, they explained to me I had to go to Stockholm´s embassy as an Icelander and Ill do that soon” says Katrin Sif. Icelandic isn’t as useful on he road, but she is well-weaponed with other language skills. “I speak English, French and Spanish and with these languages I can communicate in so many places. For example, French is very useful in Africa” says Katrin Sif.
Plans to keep traveling
The future is unsure for Katrin, but she sees herself continuing to travel. Her family is also supportive of her lifestyle and no one is pressuring her to change her ways. “At first my mother wanted me to study more and be some important person, marry or have children, but shes over it now. She was very strict and controlling growing up and perhaps that’s why I am so addicted to the freedom of traveling. Dad always told me I was very determined nd independent. Nowadays I feel as though most of my family and friends are proud of what I do and who I´ve become because of it, despite my lifestyle being so different” says Katrin Sif. She dreams about maybe one day working remotely as a travel writer. She also wants to be like Georg Bjarnfreðarson and finish 2 more university degrees to have a total of 5, 1 in journalism and perhaps one Phd. “I wonder though if I would get bored of traveling if it was also my work. I like doing things according to my own spontaneous plans and could never see myself working 9-5 in a normal job. I appreciate my freedom and independence” says adventure woman Katrin Sif Einarsdottir.
Check out her adventures on Instagram (@nomadic_cosmopolitan) or Facebook and the online articles at DV.is