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Rick Steves - "10 Ways Iceland Will Kill You"

I'm a travel agent -- I work at a family-owned business that has operated for almost as long as I've been alive. I'd been discussing a trip to Iceland with a client for several weeks. Things seemed to be going swimmingly until she happened to read this absurd, sensationalist, yellow journalism style article by Rick Steves about all the ways you could die in Iceland. At first, I was unaware of the article, so I did my best to play down the hype. I assured her that after going to the country myself 4 times, I sincerely feel it is the safest country in the world... not just in terms of crime, but also infrastructure and safety regulation. She wouldn't have it. Rick Steves convinced her that if she travels to Iceland, she will inevitably suffer a horrible fate -- either burning in an unmarked geyser, falling off a cliff, slipping on the sidewalk, etc. When you have as much clout as Rick Steves in the travel industry, you really have a responsibility to not be a sensationalist. It's absolutely imperative that you maintain a level of professionalism and, at the very least, stop wording things in such hyperbolic terms. I will never recommend a Rick Steves guide book to my clients ever again. Total, utter trash.

Posted by Agnes
Washington DC Region, USA
4683 posts

I just Googled and quickly scanned the article (http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/travel/sns-201808210029--tms--travelrsctnri-a20180821-20180821-column.html) and I agree with you. What an odd article. The only way Iceland will "kill you" is your wallet will be shot afterward (I've been there twice). It is quite expensive, but definitely not dangerous unless you do extreme sports or are inexperienced or not cautious when driving in potentially hazardous conditions (especially off-road). But, to be fair, your story is more of a reflection of your client who has full agency to use critical thinking skills and has chosen not to invoke them, apparently. She could have sought out other sources and/or questioned Rick's article. Does someone need to be saved from themselves? After describing the 10 scary items, Rick then says: "Don't let this list scare you." Maybe that was no consolation to your client. I have to say, I'm really surprised by this article - it deserves some criticism. But the statistics ("one or two people"....out of MILLLIONS OF TOURISTS ANNUALLY) don't bear out the suggestion that it's "unsafe" or "dangerous".

Re: the article, you should write to Rick Steves directly to comment on his article (this forum is just for travel discussions).

Posted by joe32F
Edmonds, WA
3508 posts

Don't let this list scare you. Iceland is a small land that packs in a lot of experiences -- and there are things you can do here that you can't do anywhere else (at least, not easily). Get out and explore, but travel smart.

That is the concluding paragraph of the article.

I have doubts OP read the article in its entirety. It seems OP is unhappy about losing a commission due to the unreasonable over reaction by the client

Presumably this is what OP considers "hyperbolic terms"---Never stop in the road to snap a photo. Or perhaps this: Wintertime travelers may encounter avalanche warnings in any settled area close to a steep mountain slope. or is it this: Step carefully, and watch out for loose stones, crevices and sharp lava rocks.

Posted by Ryan.T
128 posts

Sounds like your client should spend her vacation money on a magical quest for a sense of humor.

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
4092 posts

While I agree that it was an unusual topic for an article, anyone who would use this article as a reason not to visit Iceland probably didn’t really want to visit in the first place.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
4953 posts

Well, I just read the whole article and I don't see what you mean by sensationalist, yellow journalism, that's quite a rash statement. I have read articles like this about a lot of places and have seen and read remarks about what dangers abound and tips on how to keep yourself safe in these places - Yellowstone Nat'l Park, Death Valley, and New Zealand among others come to mind. I think it's just the title of the article that may instill fear in a somewhat inexperienced traveler. And anyone who changes or cancels a planned trip based on one article they read, no matter how 'expert' the author may be deemed, was probably looking for a reason to do so.

EDIT: And I'm amazed at the OP's last sentence calling it total, utter trash. There is nothing trashy about giving people a heads-up about possible real dangers. Nowhere in the article does he say you are likely to experience one or more of these dangers, just that you need to be aware that they are possible. Forewarned is forearmed.

Posted by funpig
593 posts

I googled "Iceland safety" and found other articles and videos giving the similar warnings about weather conditions and natural hazards.

Posted by cala
Birmingham, AL
1135 posts

Forewarned is forearmed. It is good to be somewhat scared of dangerous situations. RS is just trying to make sure people have a vacation that is enjoyable rather than tragic. This post is a good reason not to use a travel agent.

Posted by Blue439
Battle Ground, Washington
269 posts

In July of 2017 I visited Iceland for five days. During my stay, it was reported that three tourists died in unrelated accidents on the island - one fell into Gullfoss, a second lost control of a rented vehicle and rolled into a deep ditch and the third was an inexperienced boating adventure gone wrong. Maybe I'm the "Typhoid Mary" of travel.

Posted by S J
Western Canada
602 posts

Well, perhaps the article will put off many other travelers, and stop this beautiful country turned into another crowded place to check off on a bucket list.

Posted by Eric
Dana Point
484 posts

Methinks the headline writer--probably not Mr. Steves--did his or her job very well, with a very click-worthy choice of words. The article itself, not nearly as dire as the headline would lead you to believe.

Posted by Lo
Tucson
2704 posts

I didn't find this article to be "utter trash" either. I can't help but notice where it was published. Anyone who has been to Chicago knows that it is flat, flat, flat without a thermal pool or volcano or even a hill in sight. Yes, it gets cold and windy and snowy and icy, and there can be storms off the lake. But it is a highly developed and intensely populated urban environment for miles and miles.

Reykjavik doesn't begin to be urban by comparison. The draw to Iceland is all about the very wild and challenging natural features that can be dangerous, especially to people who live in a rather tame environment where the biggest dangers come from other humans rather than nature.

Posted by Lo
Tucson
2704 posts

Ah, Nigel, how soon we forget. This is a picture of the ash cloud during the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980.

For a more thorough description, go to this Wikipedia article and scroll down to Ash Column.

And who can forget the eruption and ash from Eyjafjallajökull that stopped air travel in April, 2010.

I even remember the 1973 eruption of Eldfell near the town of Heimaey in the Westmann Islands (Vestmannaeyjar). We visited there primarily because one set of my husband's great grandparents immigrated from there to the US.

This is a list of the volcanoes in Iceland with lots of details about them. Note that there were 11 "latest" eruptions in the 20th century and so far there have been 4 in the 21st.

Can you tell I love this stuff?

Posted by emma
London
4093 posts

Lo, as a teenager I spent 2 weeks studying and camping by Katla, as mentioned on the wikipedia list
It is under the Mydalsjokuĺl ice cap and was/is a superb example of a volcano under an ice cap and glacier. The best trip of my life. Love Iceland, everyone should visit it at least once in their life!

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
3214 posts

I remember a very long article about alpine rescues in Iceland in The New Yorker magazine, which is famous for the length, detail, and fact-checking of their profiles and survey articles. In that article, the rescue crews were reported to use a phrase, as a common reference, "Death by GPS." They were referring to people who follow the kind of spoken instructions (it's happened to me many times in the U.S.) that can take you to a farmer's field from which you cannot reach the OTHER farmer's farm stand 1/4 of a mile away.

In the U.S., you just turn around, get mud on your car, and spend more time looking for the place you were going.

But in Iceland, you may end up alone, 10 miles from the nearest big road, with a blizzard bearing down on you. Or you might slide off an unplowed road and be invisible in a ditch.

The OP is off-base. Everyone needs to use multiple sources when planning a trip, but Rick is not wrong, unfair, or exaggerating.

Posted by va from va
Alexandria, VA USA
379 posts

This article is taken from pages 34-35 of his Iceland book. He is warning people to follow the signs, use common sense and don't ignore the warnings that are posted. People love Iceland because it is different, wildly natural, and presents us with things in nature we would never see elsewhere. But those things are geysers (very hot); glaciers--lots of ice and crevasses; very windy areas; huge and sneaky waves; trails that aren't as well established as the US National Park Service, etc. Follow the directions at the places where you are, and you'll be fine. But I also have to say, just driving the roads and seeing the scenery is an incredible experience, even if you don't want to participate in more strenuous experiences. We were there 2 weeks ago, and we saw all ages enjoying the sights in their own way.

Posted by MNFerst
Minnesota, USA
80 posts

Just my two cents...

My sister and I leave Tuesday for Iceland. This will be our first time and of course, immediately after I booked the crazy, low-cost airfare, I ordered my RS book. I started reading and came across what I took to be a humorous reminder to use common sense and be mindful of safety & signage. I actually snapped a picture of the page and sent it to my sister with the caption, "We should avoid these". She laughed. As we've planned and shared our upcoming adventure with people, we often refer to this write up and assure people, we have studied the survival manual.

Maybe we are the wrong ones, maybe we should be up in arms over this. We choose to look at things with a good natured appreciation and assume positive intent.

Posted by Northwest adventurer
WA, USA
293 posts

Natural disasters can happen anywhere and at any time. I have been to Iceland twice and have not had anything happen, knock on wood.
What I have noticed is people not noticing signage, like, “No Drones!”. Stepping over roped areas where there is even a sign, just to get that special photo.
One of the beautiful beaches we visited on our first trip is now roped off because of the tourists/siteseers who have trampled over beautiful rocks and destroyed a cave. Signage is in English, Icelandic, and in some places French, German, and Chinese.
If you see someone damaging something speak up! I saw an America “young couple” with a drone. The sign was there not to fly any drones. I went up to them and told them. They said that they had done their research and that it was okay. Beautiful little puffins flying at this location could be injured- but they didn’t care. Needed their perfect shot. People need to have a Kodak moment with their eyes, maybe a camera. Just don’t be foolish. That’s how a vacation can lead to a tragedy.
Having common sense is definitely a must!

Posted by MNFerst
Minnesota, USA
80 posts

Arrived home safely yesterday - neither of us died despite the constant dangers of drones flying low, selfie sticks waving about in threatening ways and tourists laying across walking paths to get the perfect Insta-pic.

Iceland is overwhelmingly beautiful - I would take the risk to go again!

Posted by Susan
San Francisco
5821 posts

As others have said, common sense. It all comes down to that. You either have it, or you don’t.

My son’s there now, 10 days in an RV, his 2nd visit. He loves Iceland. He’s been having amazing experiences and adventures. Climbed Europes biggest glacier yesterday. I’m grateful he has common sense in spades.

Posted by Cyn
Wheat Ridge, CO, USA
1833 posts

On what was otherwise a fantastic trip in April 2015, we were heading back to Reykjavik in our rental SUV, having driven our "Golden Circle Plus" trip all day, and a car coming towards us but still quite a distance away suddenly swerved to our right, airborne, and landed off the road in snow. The road had been dry for us up to that point. We pulled over when we reached the car, and I called 117 while my husband ran down to the car, as people started getting out of it. They'd worn their seatbelts, and survived the car whirling and spinning in midair, and the landing. Unfortunately the 6th person in the 5-passenger VW, the one who didn't have a compulsory seatbelt available, had flown out of the car, and it landed on top of him. His head was moving, but he wasn't making any sound, and had already turned a ghastly shade of blue. Black ice had just formed on the road, the VW had hit it at speed, and with help from others who stopped (jacks just sank in the snow, so were useless in trying to raise the VW) the car was raised enough to drag his body out. As we tried to administer CPR, paramedics showed up. I assumed they'd be taking him to a hospital a few miles down the road. It turns out that the only hospital in the entire country is in the capitol city, more than an hour's drive away, but a somewhat shorter ambulance helicopter ride. Unfortunately, we later learned he died. And we were told that the driver would face criminal charges, for driving with a passenger who wasn't wearing a seatbelt. Again, so much of the trip was wonderful, but that smashed and suffocated blue, dead guy remains an indelible memory of that Iceland trip. At home and abroad, wear a seatbelt, always! And visit Iceland - but be careful.

Posted by marcia
USA
122 posts

It's actually a serious dilemma how people in the travel industry can provide effective warnings to travelers to keep them safe from real dangers that they are unfamiliar with.

The death rate for visitors to Hawaii, for example, is alarming enough that the state government has considered requesting mandatory warning videos on all planes going to Hawaii. People die mostly while snorkeling and hiking, once in a while from sharks.

My opinion is that mixing genuine warnings with humor is misguided. Deliver the warnings in such a way that they are realistic and serious, while not overblown.