My Mindfulness Practice

I've been really inspired recently by some wonderful people and groups showing some fantastic innovation and leadership in the mindfulness space. So I thought I'd write a little bit about my mindfulness journey and practice. 

I've been practising mindfulness meditation for a few years to help me with my anxiety but mostly used it as a thing to help in the moment, rather than as a regular practice. I was really impressed with the mindful approach my counsellors took with me while discussing anxiety and depression treatment options which ended up having a huge impact for my mental health in general. 

I moved into regular mindfulness practice just this year when I learned a bit more about how I  could incorporate it into my daily life as a leader and manager. I learned a lot of this from attending the 'Mindful Leaders Conference' held at Te Papa earlier this year. There were some incredible speakers, many of whom I took some useful and practical tips for incorporating mindfulness into my leadership style. As an aside, I highly recommend attending this conference next year - I certainly will be. 

Anyway, here are just a few ways in which I try to incorporate mindfulness into my daily life. 

Meditation

Meditation for me has previously been something quite inaccessible, simply due to lack of information about what it is, what it isn't and what it can look like. In order to make it more accessible for me personally, I mostly use an app to do guided meditations. I use Headspace (iOS and Android) and will often do themed guided meditation packs throughout the day, starting off with one called 'Managing Anxiety' in the morning, a 'Creativity' one in the early arvo (this has only been practically possible for me as I'm between jobs) and then a 'Sleep' one at night. Because of the types of skills you learn over & over in these guided meditations, I also often find that I'm able to do a short session unguided if needed which is super helpful. 

At my last workplace, I had the privilege of organising a Mindful Meditation group with some of my team and colleagues where we would meet every morning and start the day off with a short meditation session. I loved doing this as a group because we were more likely to actually do it and we could discuss how we felt afterwards. I highly recommend doing something like this in the workplace if you can. 

The effects meditation has had had been numerous, from helping me sleep way better, being more balanced when making important decisions, helping me understand and respond to my anxiety and also enabling me to be much more present with the important people in my life, whether they are the people I manage, coworkers or my friends and family. 

Reflective writing

Reflective writing for me looks like spending some time both in the morning and in the evening writing a few things down to help me understand and process my day, and to help me focus my attention for the following day. 
Here's what I do:

Start of the day:

  • Write down 3 things that I'm grateful for that day. Practising being grateful helps bring me balance and positivity to start my day.
  • Write down what I think would make today a success. For a really busy day at work, success could look like taking sufficient breaks. For a day where I'm feeling super resilient, success might look like running an engaging workshop. 
  • Write a small affirmation for myself. A little mantra can help me some days and some days this step isn't that helpful. If I'm particularly anxious, simply having an affirmation of 'Just Breathe' or 'You got this' can really help. 

End of the day:

  • Write down 3 things that were awesome or surprising that day. This is a chance for me to practice gratefulness again and also celebrate my successes (super important!). This is also a time to notice anything that came up that surprised me and process that.
  • Write down something that would have made today better. This gives me a chance to reflect on my behaviour, my actions or my reactions and be honest myself about what I could have done a bit differently.
  • Write down what I'm looking forward to tomorrow. This helps me stay positive about the following day, esp if it's a day I'm not looking forward to overall. 

What's important to note in this section is that I have some core values that I try to live by and I keep a little post it note with them on it in my diary so that I can use those to help me measure my success or help me understand what I could improve on for the next day. One of my values is around fun and silliness so a successful day will incorporate some of that - if it doesn't, I can write about that in my daily reflection and think about how I could help ensure I fulfill that the next day. To help me understand what these values are, I used the Emotional Culture Deck designed by Riders & Elephants and I'll write a post about that sometime. Check them out and I'm happy to show you my deck of cards sometime too if you're around in Wellington. 

Less phone, more creativity

I've been consciously spending way less time on my phone and more time doing creative things with my hands to help me stay mindful. I realise that being able to have time without your phone isn't possible for everyone and that my privilege allows me to be able to do this a lot more easily so I just want to call that out. Also, very much recognise that I use my phone to do my meditation sessions so this concept seems a bit contradictory but I'm sure you understand what I'm getting at in the section below and will forgive me ;)

There are two things I'm mostly doing to have more time away from my phone. Firstly, I have my phone in another room while I sleep. It's been wonderful. I can't tell you how much my sleep has improved and how much better my day starts without having my phone as the first thing I pick up and check. It takes me out of that loop of checking all the social media and seeing all the terrible news out there as the first thing I do in the morning (I acknowledge and understand why this isn't possible for a lot of people) and gives me some space to focus. I am also going to be trialing having a couple of nights a week where my phone stays in another room as soon as I get home so that I'm way more present in my surroundings. 

Instead of phone time, I'm finding that I want to do stuff with my hands and so have been getting a bit more creative. I've been making candles, soaps, tinctures and growing tonnes of plants. I'm finding that I can practice mindfulness when I'm focusing on a particular task and take myself out of my anxiety really effectively too. It's the first time in my life where I've really understood that having tactile activities is important for my mental health and I'm really benefiting from it. 
Again, I'm very privileged to have the time and resources to be able to do this. 

 

I've really got a long way on my journey to feel comfortable with these practices and will be always evolving it. It's super exciting though and I'd be really keen to hear what you all do or are trying right now. 

Thanks for reading!

Tamara x

 

Developer Growth Framework

Hi! I'm Tamara and for the last few months, I've been putting together a simple framework to help developers/engineers with their career growth based on my experiences managing devs in a few different companies. The below info and framework is free for you to use and amend although please make sure to link back to this page so that appropriate people I've credited in here can also get credit (as well as me!). 

What is the framework?

The 'Developer Growth Framework' is a simple spreadsheet/matrix to help identify and clarify appropriate behaviours and expectations for developers at different stages of their careers. It has a summary sheet which has some high level information about expectations for developers across 4 categories '#build' '#deliver' '#lead' and '#connect' and then it deep dives into those 4 categories in more detail with relevant examples. This is simple compared to some other frameworks out there which suited the needs of the teams I worked with but you can also see it as a first step in a journey, making it more detailed and sophisticated over time. Check out the Medium one to see how awesome it could be. 

I made this framework with the following values in mind for its implementation:

  • Inclusion: the framework should feel relevant for both junior and senior developers in your company, it should feel like it values the work your developers who identify as women or non-binary perform, it should feel like it belongs to your developers just as much as it belongs to your management team. 
  • Human: I was really inspired by Buffer's framework in that it seemed much more about recognising that everyone's path is different and unique and human. I tried to reflect this in the language and examples I've used when creating this. Someone doesn't have to move 'up' in this framework, they could move to another discipline or adopt a new title to reflect their speciality and not lose the progress they've made on this framework. I hope that makes sense. 
  • Open: The intention behind this framework is that it's flexible and open and should be changed over time to reflect your company's values and growth. I believe it's important to listen to people who are using this framework and be open to change it based off feedback so if you hear something negative about how this has been implemented, I would encourage you to really hear what's being said and make sure it's reflecting the above values of 'Inclusion' and 'Human'.

The framework is based off and borrows wording and concepts from other frameworks that are also open source, published by Kickstarter, Medium and Buffer as well as based on my own experience working closely alongside developers, engineers and designers. A huge shout-out to everyone doing amazing work in this space and I think it's fantastic that we have so many options to choose from when we're setting up something like this in our organisations. 

Finally, without further ado, here is the framework available for you to view, make a copy of and implement in your company! 

Please do read the rest of this post to give you some more context and ideas for implementation.

Why did I put this together?

My personal motivation for setting this up was mainly to do with helping create a more inclusive environment for under-represented groups in tech, specifically for people who identify as women. After hearing many stories from women and non-binary folk, one of their concerns about the tech industry was the lack of clarity about what was expected of them in their workplace as well as a lack of transparency around how promotions were determined. There were a lot of stories about feeling like they were doing a lot of emotional labour for their team, helping them become high performing and yet that wasn't recognised or rewarded. This framework is just one small way in which we can make sure that the really important work outside of technical mastery is also recognised as part of developing as a developer/engineer/designer. 

Here are the top reasons for creating this and the benefits for implementing it:

  1. Clear expectations resulting in better performance of your team and a clearer way of setting goals with individuals.
  2. More transparency and accountability which helps to create a more inclusive space for women and non-binary folk as well as just making things all around a lot easier for people to have positive conversations about their growth without it being a bit secretive. 
  3. Helping to create more consistent and effective feedback loops. By using this framework to help guide more regular feedback loops for your team, you'll be able to help them grow and feel more comfortable both receiving and giving feedback, a hugely important skill for them to learn. 

How could I implement it?

Here are some ideas on how to implement this framework in your organisation. 

  • Make it relevant. Change up the titles in the framework to suit your context, put your company values in there, change the examples to fit your team's work. Make sure you are clear at this point on how you'd like it to work in your context - will it be purely a guide for managers to help set goals? Will it be used to structure your review process? You'll need to be super clear about your intentions for it before you follow the next steps. 
  • Collaborate! Involve your junior team members as well as your seniors when putting this together and make sure you have some diverse reviewers helping you put this together. The more representative you can make your review team, the better this will embed in your teams. So put together a quick draft, collaborate with your team and change it up as they give you feedback. It's important to get the buy in from your leaders and managers at this point too so that they can support you to launch this later.  
  • Test it. Take a couple of developers who haven't seen it before through the framework you've created and ask them some questions to determine what they think and how they think it could work. This is a great opportunity to get any of their fears out there about putting something like this into the organisation so you can either address those things by changing the framework or through your communication when you implement it.  
  • Arm your leaders. Take your leaders/managers through this framework now that it's tested and reviewed and hear any concerns they have, make sure they understand the scope of the framework and how your company intends to use it. These are the people who will be championing your framework and helping to make it a success so it's important that they are right there with you when it gets rolled out wider. 
  • Clear communication. Once you've tested this and armed your leaders/managers with the right info and you're ready to put it out there, please make sure that your supplementary material or communication is super clear. If this framework is just to be used as a handy guide but not used to drive promotions, make that very clear or you'll end up with some very worried and confused people. Publish it somewhere where everyone can see it and provide a really clear method of providing feedback or changes to the framework. 
  • Act on feedback. If you receive feedback on the framework once it has been implemented, make sure you follow it up and act on it. There has to be some trust between management and your developers that they'll be able to suggest changes and that it will be heard and taken on board if possible. 

Thanks!

A big thanks to the people behind the Medium, Kickstarter and Buffer frameworks for making their frameworks open source as well and allowing me to adopt wording and concepts. 

A huge thank you to my wonderful developer friends who reviewed and edited alongside me. Big thanks to Thomas Kear, Elise Wei, Libby Schumacher-Knight and David Leach.

I was fortunate to be able to put together a version of this for the last company I worked with, SilverStripe, and while that was a different version to hopefully be implemented in the near future, the work that the developers there did on that version absolutely inspired me when writing this post. A big thanks to Kate Muggeridge, Ingo Schommer, Tim Kung and Ben Manu for their awesome ideas and support. 

Coming up

I would like to publish a couple more posts related to this framework. One on how to use it for conducting regular reviews for your team and one on helping people set some goals using this framework. So please keep an eye out for that and let me know if there is anything else you'd like me to write about. 

Thanks again and looking forward to hearing your feedback. 

Tamara x

A 10 day Icelandic Adventure September 2017

When researching places to visit last year and wanting a trip that catered for our need for adventure and also our need to do absolutely fucking nothing some days, we stumbled upon the idea to go to Iceland. For us, Iceland looked like both somewhere where we could visit some stunning attractions, go on some adventures and also spend time just being. It lived up to everything we imagined and way more. 

In this post, I'd like to share with you not only my thoughts on the trip but also give some practical tips, and a route that you may also want to take. We did a lot of research and it makes sense to pass on what we learned to others too. Let's get started!

The 10 day trip

We documented our trip in a Google Map. You can open this, click on the little button on the top left and you'll see an itemised list of the stops I've listed below. How cool is that?

 

Day 1 - Reykjavík:

We started our trip from Keflavik airport after a short trip from Glasgow. We picked up our campervan from Campervan Iceland at the airport (walk outside and look for a yellow bus, it takes you right to the car rental offices), which was a very cute van which seated 2 and had a bed in the back for us. It had heating (this was a lifesaver), gas cooking, cooler, table and chairs and WiFi (AMAZING). I'll touch more on the campervan at the end of this post. 

Our first stop was to get food supplies for the trip. We knew that essentially we would be just cooking on our little gas cooker so we had to think carefully about what we could store in the tiny cooler, what would be practical to cook in one pot/pan, and take into consideration that I am also dairy free. We actually didn't find any dairy-free cheese outside of Reykjavík so we were lucky that we stocked up on it in the capital at a supermarket called Hagkaup before we left. We also bought loads of bread, normal cheese for Thomas, snacks, fruit, veggies and loads of canned food like baked beans, spaghetti etc. Definitely good to buy bulk in snacks while in the capital as it just gets a bit more expensive in other areas. We also bought towels at this place too as we didn't bring any with us.

After our shopping trip, we drove around the city for a bit, which was gorgeous, and then settled into our campsite for the night which was Reykjavík Campsite. It was the most expensive campsite that we stayed at on our trip but it clean, safe and well set up so we didn't mind. I went to sleep grinning to myself because I was just so happy to be in such a beautiful country. Great first day. 

TL;DR:
Accommodation:
 Reykjavík Campsite
Stuff we did that day: Supplies shopping
$$ Spent: $80 for campsite, $200 for food
Top tip: Stock up on food and supplies at Hagkaup, esp if you have specific dietary requirements like me!

 Our campervan (fondly named Bjarki)

Our campervan (fondly named Bjarki)

Day 2 - The Golden Circle

Our 2nd day started with attempting to go on a puffin-watching tour leaving from Reykjavík, but unfortunately it was a no show. The company had forgotten to let us know and we were super sad we couldn't go and visit the puffins anymore. It turns out that the best time to visit them is actually a bit earlier in the year so if you intend to visit puffins, probably book your trip for earlier in August perhaps. 

We left Rejkavik and drove straight to Selfoss where we ended up doing some shopping. Overnight I'd realised that I hadn't packed warm enough clothes to sleep in and was freezing. So we decided that our mission that day was to buy some cheap blankets to help keep the van snug. We ended up at a bedding/bathroom shop called Rúmfatalagerinn and found a couple of cheap blankets (when I say cheap, they were cheap for Iceland). We also decided that we needed to build a little washing line inside the van so we could dry our clothes (not all campsites had a dryer as we discovered) so stopped in at Byko to buy some string and pegs, and also a beanie each. We're too cute. 

Our next stop that day was at Kerið, a crater lake which was stunning. We had to pay to enter (about $6, which goes toward the conservation of the area) and were able to walk around the top of the crater as well as going down to the lake too. I would recommend wearing good shoes as it's not super stable ground to walk on, a lot of loose volcanic rock, and some larger rocks you'll need to climb over. Highly recommend a stop here.

 Kerið, Iceland. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

Kerið, Iceland. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

Next, we drove to Gulfoss and spent a little bit of time taking photos and basking in the awesomeness of this magnificent waterfall. It was swarming with tourists as it's one of the most popular attractions in Iceland but we still managed to get a few good pics (one below)

 Gulfoss. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

Gulfoss. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

After Gulfoss, we drove to a place called Geysir which had some amazing geysers. We had loads of fun trying to take photos of these (we are both amateur photographers) and it reminded us of home because it smelled a lot like Rotorua (a similar geothermal area in New Zealand's North Island). Definitely recommend stopping here. 

 Geyser at Geysir, Iceland. Photo by Tamara Buckland. 

Geyser at Geysir, Iceland. Photo by Tamara Buckland. 

After Geysir, we drove back to our accommodation for that night at a little town called Flúðir. It was really cute, had good facilities and was reasonably priced. We ended up walking around the campsite quite a bit as it's on a bit of farmland and loved watching the sunset and some local horses running around. It felt very peaceful here. This was the first night we had really hoped to see the Northern Lights since we were away from the big city but unfortunately we didn't see them. We also did our first load of washing and drying here (yay dryer!) and the facilities were well set up for that. 

TL;DR:
Accommodation:
 Flúðir Campsite
Stuff we did that day: Shopping, visited Kerið, Gulfoss and Geysir
$$ spent: $50 on camping and washing/drying and $100 for supplies
Top tip: Go to stores like Byko for hardware stuff and Rúmfatalagerinn for misc homeware stuff

Day 3 - More Waterfalls

On our 3rd day, we made our way toward Vik and had tonnes of cool things to see on the way. The first place we stopped at was Seljalandsfoss waterfall and it was absolutely stunning. I think I had underestimated how many tourists would be around although it didn't really get in the way of a good experience. This waterfall you could walk behind but neither Thomas or myself actually wore enough wet weather gear to be able to do that. It was also the first time I'd felt really cold (it had been pretty mild up until then). I layered up with more socks, extra thermal and a beanie. 

 Seljalandsfoss, Iceland. Photo by Thomas Kear

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland. Photo by Thomas Kear

Just a bit further down the road is the next waterfall we visited, called Skógafoss. It was really gorgeous and you could also camp there. We decided not to, simply because of how many tourists there were around but it would have been super beautiful at night. 

 Skógafoss, Iceland. Photo by Tamara Buckland. 

Skógafoss, Iceland. Photo by Tamara Buckland. 

One of the coolest things this day was visiting the plane crash on Sólheimasandur beach, about 9 kilometres from Skógafoss. It's reasonably well sign posted and there is a big carpark where you'll see loads of tourists parking up to visit the crash site. Be aware that it's a pretty long walk from the carpark to the plane crash site, approx 5 kilometres each way. Make sure you have good shoes as you'll be walking on a gravel beach and probably take some water with you too. Once you get there, you're greeted with this very sombre atmosphere (you'll have to ignore the inconsiderate tourists who climb on the plane) and a fantastic photo opportunity. 

 Sólheimasandur plane crash, Iceland. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

Sólheimasandur plane crash, Iceland. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

That was all we did on our 3rd day. We wanted to take it super easy and just enjoy our surroundings so we just drove on to Vik where we set up camp and hung out in our van. 

The campsite at Vik wasn't brilliant, and we wouldn't recommend staying there. It was expensive in that you had to pay for showers on top of the camping price (not unusual) but the showers were really dirty and had no privacy. I also found the campsite really crowded and just not looked after well. The kitchen was small and didn't have enough facilities for people to use it efficiently. We quickly made some food in there and just ate in our van. I'm not sure what the alternative camping site would be near there, but Iceland does have tonnes of camping grounds so I'm pretty sure you'd find something good if you had a look on Google. 

TL;DR:
Accommodation:
 VIk Camping
Stuff we did that day:  Sólheimasandur plane crash, Seljalandsfoss Skógafoss
$$ spent: $60 camping and showers
Top tip: Layer up well, especially if you want to get up close and personal with the waterfalls

Day 4 - Icebergs, ahoy!

This was one of the best days we had in Iceland I think. It was also kinda a shitty day because I had a killer migraine that night. 
We headed toward Jökulsárlón iceberg lagoon and surprisingly came across a couple of other things that we hadn't planned to see. The first place we stopped is tagged on our Google map as Skeiðarársandur but unsure if that's what it actually is. There is a little carpark we pulled into and took some amazing photos of this beautiful glacier. Really stunning. 

 Glacier, Iceland. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

Glacier, Iceland. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

From here, we continued toward Jökulsárlón and came across a different iceberg lagoon which we really enjoyed visiting. We can't find the name right now but it was located on Fjallsarlon Road (hopefully that helps). We walked over a hill and below saw a fantastic lagoon with big chunks of ice that tourists were jumping on and posing. It was really cool.  There's a small restaurant here which made it a great lunch spot.

 Iceberg lagoon, Iceland. Photo by Tamara Buckland. 

Iceberg lagoon, Iceland. Photo by Tamara Buckland. 

Finally, we moved onto our final attraction of the day, Jökulsárlón iceberg lagoon. We parked nice and close to the edge of the lagoon and sat by the water, reading and watching seals and birds playing in the lagoon. My favourite thing to watch was the icebergs colliding, changing course and rolling over where the lagoon mixed with the ocean water. It was beautiful and relaxing, but I think I spent too much time in the sun!

Jökulsárlón

We drove to Höfn campground to spend the night. It was a really great campground and we had an absolutely gorgeous view at the top of the hill there. Unfortunately I didn't get to enjoy it as much as I would have liked because I got a nightmare migraine and spend the whole night throwing up and crying :( I did eventually get better and was ready to go in the morning!

TL;DR:
Accommodation:
 Höfn camping
Stuff we did that day: Saw a glacier (look for Skeiðarársandur on our map), visited a small iceberg lagoon (look for Fjallsarlon Road on our map) and Jökulsárlón iceberg lagoon
$$ spent: $45 for camping and showers
Top tip: Take your time to stop at places along the way on this leg of the trip. There are beautiful glaciers and so many places to just relax and take photos and be in the moment. 

Day 5 - Driving the coastline

Today we went a little bit of our original course and ended up driving a whole pile and staying at a really cute town over a giant hill. We hadn't intended to stay there but somewhere on Google told us that it was a cool place to stay so we made it our mission to get there. 
We drove from Höfn toward Borgarfjörður Eystri. This is a long day of driving so make sure you stop often. There are often public toilets in small towns or porta a loos on the side of the road so take advantage of those when you can. We found a cute place to stop and make breakfast (marked on our map as Berufjörður) and I'd recommend finding a little spot to do so because it's a very peaceful stretch of road. There are also cool sea views, really fun tunnels and sheeps everywhere. Here are some pics of our drive:

 View from our coastal drive, Iceland. Photo by Tamara Buckland

View from our coastal drive, Iceland. Photo by Tamara Buckland

 Sheep in Iceland. Photo by Tamara Buckland. 

Sheep in Iceland. Photo by Tamara Buckland. 

The road to Borgarfjörður Eystri is the most "off road" we went on the trip with gravel roads and winding hill to navigate. We kept thinking we might be on the wrong road because it kinda kept going and we weren't expecting gravel so we kinda kept second guessing ourselves. We made it over the big hill down into Borgarfjörður Eystri and we were super glad we persevered. We found a wonderful small town with a wonderful feel to it. After parking up in the campground and hung a load of washing out on our homemade washing line, we went for a long walk through the town. We considered going out for dinner that night as it looked like there were a few cool places to eat but we were pretty tired after a day of driving so we just rocked the beans on toast vibes. 
I also started knitting a scarf on this night (I picked up some wool at a supermarket the day before) as I figured it was a cheap, cute souvenir and something productive to do with myself in the evenings. 

 View from Borgarfjörður Eystri Campsite. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

View from Borgarfjörður Eystri Campsite. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

TL;DR:
Accommodation:
 Borgarfjörður Eystri Campsite
Stuff we did that day: Driving a lot and soak in the beautiful landscape. 
$$ spent: $50 for camping and showers
Top tip: Take loads of photos and listen to some cool road trip music. Recommend Of Monsters and Men. Also, buy some wool at a local supermarket and make a scarf!

Day 6 - Akureyri

We headed toward Akureyri, and stopped in at the Mytavn Nature Baths. We were there just before lunch time which was a good time to arrive as there were fewer tourist buses than when we left. I'd say going first thing in the morning or late at night would be a good idea to avoid crowds. 
I was particularly nervous about going to the hot springs because one of the things you have to do in Iceland is shower naked (often without privacy) before you go into the water as it helps keep them nice and clean. I totally get it but because I'm a plus size woman with body issues, I was super nervous. I sucked it up and went in there anyway and luckily there were actually semi private showers (yay!). We both really enjoyed these hot springs which had different temperature water throughout the complex and had some cool little waterfall bits too. Highly recommend visiting. 

After that, we had a few hours of driving to get to Akureyri and the colours of the landscape were super gorgeous. I took some of my favourite photos during this time. 

 Northern Iceland. Photo by Tamara Buckland

Northern Iceland. Photo by Tamara Buckland

 Northern Iceland. Aren't the colours beautiful? Photo by Tamara Buckland

Northern Iceland. Aren't the colours beautiful? Photo by Tamara Buckland

We arrived in Akureyri and drove straight to the campsite. It was a convenient campsite in the middle of the city but the facilities were lacking. No kitchen and the showers were too expensive/awkward for us from memory. There is a better campsite that we should have gone to called Hamrar. 
We walked into the city centre to find some food and ended up at a very popular fish and chip shop. I kinda wished we'd gone elsewhere because it wasn't that great and it was like $70 NZD for a meal for the two of us. We explored the city and then walked back to the campsite for an early night. It's a really pretty town so I would recommend spending more time exploring the shops than what we did. 

Side note, also had a job interview for a job in NZ through Zoom that night and was huddled up in the back of our van, using van wifi and it was actually really good connection! I ended up getting the job!

TL;DR:
Accommodation:
 Tjaldsvæðið Akureyri
Stuff we did that day: Myvatn Nature Baths
$$ spent: $60 for camping and $70 for dinner
Top tip: Go outside of your comfort zone (if you're like me) and rock a bikini at the Myvatn Nature Baths. 

Day 7 - Whale Watching!

This was my favourite day ever. From Akureyri, we drove to Dalvik for our whale watching tour. I had been looking forward to this tour the whole trip. We arrived at the office, got changed into some very thick weather gear (pictured below) and hopped on a small ish speed boat (less than 20 seats). It had suspension seats which we were very thankful for later as our backs and butts would have been DEAD if we hadn't had them. 

 Cold weather suit for whale watching in Dalvik. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

Cold weather suit for whale watching in Dalvik. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

 Thomas and Tamara selfie before whale watching in Delvik. 

Thomas and Tamara selfie before whale watching in Delvik. 

The whale watching itself was EPIC. If you do anything in Iceland, it should be this tour. We spent 1.5 hours out on the water looking at a number of different whales and following them around for when they came to the surface. We also got to fly off some waves and it was super exhilarating. The tour guides were incredible. We caught some good pics of the whales and at one point, were about a metre away from us. So cool. 

 Humpback whales in Dalvik, Iceland. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

Humpback whales in Dalvik, Iceland. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

After the tour, we headed toward Varmahlíð. We found a lovely little campsite called 'Varmahlíð Campsite - Across the River' and it was run by a lovely older woman. When you arrive, just knock on her house door and pay her there. You then have access to a big barn with kitchen and huge lounge area. There is also hot showers and toilets to use for free and was probably the sweetest little campsite we stayed in. We took a look around before heading off again on a short excursion to a secret hot spring called Fosslaug located next to Reykjafoss (waterfall). To find Fosslaug geothermal pool, turn off Route 1 onto the 752 road at Varmahlíð. Drive 7km down the road, before turning left at the sign for Vindheimar. Drive across two small bridges over the river. Turn first right down a gravel road, parking your car when you reach the fence. Go through two gates, heading right. You should see a blue sign for FOSSLAUG and the spray of the waterfall in front of you to the right. Stop to admire the cascade before crossing the bridge and walking over the hill. The pool is next to the river, close to the top of the waterfall. Directions found from this website (thanks!) and is marked on our Google map. 
This hot pool was gorgeous. It was private and just the right temperature. It looked out over a river and you could hear the sound of the waterfall in the background. I highly recommend trying to find this secret little hot pool. 

 Fosslaug secret hot pool. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

Fosslaug secret hot pool. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

Our nighttime adventure to this hot pool took a turn for the worse when I was climbing a hill on the way back to our van. I pulled/tore my calf muscle and suddenly found myself not being able to walk, kinda in the middle of nowhere. Thomas had to half carry me back to the van and we were quickly on the internet looking up what we should do (it turns out it's hard to find ice and bandages in a rural Icelandic town at 8pm at night btw so maybe be more prepared than us?).  I ended up not being able to walk for a couple of days which really sucked and it kinda impacted on how much we could do for the rest of our trip in Europe but I guess shit happens. 

TL;DR:
Accommodation: Varmahlíð Campsite - Across the River
Stuff we did that day: 1.5 hour express whale watching tour Arctic Sea Tours and Fosslaug secret hot pool
$$ spent: $420 NZD for whale tour, $12 NZD for camping
Top tip: Pack a few basic medical supplies in case of any injuries. Bandages at the very least. 

Day 8 - Driving to Grundarfjörður

With my leg being out of action, we had a very quiet day of driving to our next location and buying a few medical supplies on the way to wrap my leg up. I wish I could recommend some sites for this day but I was pretty much just concentrating on the incredible amount of pain I was in.
We drove to Grundarfjörður, discovering several hundred kilometres of highway 54 was unsealed. It made the drive slow and tedious, and meant a lot of hosing down of the van afterwards. We eventually got to the campsite in Grundarfjörður and it was super pretty. We parked by a little river and just ate and hung out. The facilities were a bit basic, no kitchen or showers but the toilets were clean and you could get drinking water there. When you arrive, just pop along to the swimming pool across the road and pay for your camping site there. 
This was a good day to actually just spend some time reading, knitting, chilling and also rearranging the van a bit. It was nice to be in a really quiet place (there was no-one else there) and just be. 

TL;DR:
Accommodation: Grundarfjörður Campsite
Stuff we did that day: Nothing/driving
$$ spent: Approx $30 for camping (can't remember this one exactly)
Top tip: Spend some time just relaxing - it can be tiring to be on a road trip like this

Day 9 - The Peninsula

I'm starting to realise that it seems like it's getting a bit more boring toward the end of our trip because we also didn't really do anything on our 9th day either. In some ways this was by design because we wanted to wind the trip down nicely but also it was because of my leg being pretty screwed. So today we drove from Grundarfjörður toward Akranes, taking the drive nice and slowly. We arrived at Akranes campsite really early with the intention of getting stuck into some laundry (we were getting desperate) and to just set up our table and chairs in the sun for some relax time. This campsite was really cool. It had great facilities and a beautiful view. 
We spent this day wrapped up in blankets sitting outside and listening to 'My Dad Wrote a Porno' (highly recommend) and eating chips. Wonderful. 

 View from our van at Akranes Campsite, Iceland. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

View from our van at Akranes Campsite, Iceland. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

TL;DR:
Accommodation: Akranes campsite 
Stuff we did that day: Nothing/driving
$$ spent: Approx $40 for camping and washing (can't remember this one exactly)
Top tip: Find some cool podcasts to listen to during your down time (we listened to 'My Dad Wrote a Porno'

Day 10 - Blue Lagoon

We had a late start to our day, leaving Akranes after lunch and drove to Blue Lagoon for dinner and spa times. We had a pretty early dinner at 5:30pm but it meant that the restaurant was quite empty and we got quick service. The food was delicious. Definitely expensive but we hadn't eaten out much during our Iceland leg so we decided to treat ourselves. We had some delicious cocktails too. Definitely recommend getting a bite to eat at the restaurant there. 
After dinner, we went into the dressing room, did the naked shower thing and explored the multiple hot pools. I definitely enjoyed the Mytavn Nature Baths more because unfortunately it seems that the Blue Lagoon is a stag night spot and there were tonnes of drunk guys leering at women and cat calling and generally making it uncomfortable. We steered away from them as much as possible aside from venturing to the poolside bar to get drinks. I think it's still worth going to visit but I just don't think it's the best hot spring complex you can find in Iceland. It's pricey as heck so just put some money aside for this. 
That night we stayed at the Grindavík campsite which was one of the nicest campsites we stayed at, facilities wise. Loads of showers, toilets and a really nice kitchen. Very clean and friendly. We ended up leaving a whole pile of things for other travellers to use since it was our last night in Iceland. 
The next morning we went to Reykjavík airport, dropped off Bjarki (sad face) and said our goodbyes to Iceland. 

TL;DR:
Accommodation: Grindavík campsite
Stuff we did that day: Blue Lagoon
$$ spent: $225 NZD for two of us to Blue Lagoon (basic package), $200 NZD for dinner, approx $40 for camping
Top tip: Think about going to the Blue Lagoon during a quiet period of the day and a quiet night of the week to avoid stag/hen nights

Our van:

We hired a camper van from Campervan Iceland and overall we found it to be the perfect sized van for our trip. It was definitely expensive (€165/day, about $2800 NZD total) but everything in Iceland kinda is, and is totally worth it. It had 2 seats in the front for driving, bluetooth for playing music, a 4G WiFi hotspot (it worked really well) and space in the middle of the seats for snacks.
The back was filled with a mattress on top of a wooden base, and all the storage was underneath that. It was surprisingly comfortable and I had some of the best sleeps of my life in this van. The van was somewhat insulated and had a heater (it burned diesel from the fuel tank) which we used on really cold nights and to help us dry our clothes inside. There were lights in the inside of the van that were super cute and USB ports to power our devices too. We hung up some string across the ceiling so we could dry clothes inside the van while we were driving and that worked super well.  
Underneath the bed was some storage. The most important part was the little cooler which had enough storage for some milk, cheese, vegetables and other drinks. It wasn't super cold though so we really had to keep an eye on that. There was also a gas burner thing and some cooking stuff like pots, pans, mugs and cutlery too. Just be aware that it may not necessarily come with loads of gas for the burner so stock up on those when you can because they go quick. 
We also had a table and two chairs stored under there, which was super helpful and we used them a lot. With the remaining space, we were able to put our shoes, dry food and any miscellaneous bits and pieces. 
Fuel is expensive, even compared to the already-high prices we're used to in New Zealand, averaging about $2.60 per litre for Diesel while we were there.  Diesel is highly recommended for efficiency, as you could easily go hundreds of kilometres without a chance to refuel. We drove a total of 2185km using 134l of Diesel, an average of about 6.1l/100km (38.4mpg US, 46mpg UK), even counting some burned by the heater.  Our van also had a manual gearbox, if you can't drive one of those you'll want to check when you book.
Overall, I definitely recommend choosing a van like this when you go on your Icelandic roadtrip. It was comfy, cosy, easy to drive and park and economic. 

 The view of Höfn campground from inside our camper van. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

The view of Höfn campground from inside our camper van. Photo by Thomas Kear. 

What to pack:

For my partner Thomas and I, one of our biggest things we wanted to achieve for this trip was to pack lightly. We were away for a total of 4 weeks (more blog posts to come on the rest of our trip!) and went with the brave choice of taking carry on luggage only (another post on this too) meaning that we were pretty restricted in what we packed.  We were in Iceland for a total of 10 days which was long enough to experience all sorts of weather. 
Here is what I ended up packing in my bag, to give you an indication of how much we took:

  • Boots
  • Lightweight sneakers (Allbirds ftw!)
  • Jandals
  • Underwear and socks for 5 days
  • 2 x thermal tops
  • 1 x lightweight rain jacket
  • Lightweight nice coat (for wearing out to dinner etc and to layer on top of other warm stuff)
  • 2 x leggings
  • 2 x skirts
  • 3 x tshirts/tops
  • 1 x dress
  • Cardigan
  • Swimsuit
  • Gloves
  • Scarf
  • Tiny bit of makeup (lipsticks, mascara, eyeliner)
  • Hair stuff (hair brush, ties, clips)
  • Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturiser, body wash, shampoo, conditioner. We took as much of this stuff in solid/bar form as we could do we wouldn't have a problem with airport security)
  • Blister plasters (essential), normal plasters
  • Kindle
  • Bluetooth speaker (this was awesome to have)
  • Laundry bag thing

This all fit in my carry on bag with a little room to spare for shopping (we did do some of this along the way) and it was all perfect. What really helped when packing for me was taking plain clothes so that everything could be mixed and matched. I also only wear skirts/dresses so it wasn't as practical as it could have been. If I were to go again, I would just suck it up and wear pants to be honest. We also used a few bag things to organise underwear and bits and pieces and had a separate bag to store laundry in so we were always ready to chuck stuff in a washing machine. 

Summary:

We really loved our time in Iceland and we can't wait to come back again. As I'm writing this blog post, many months later, I'm feeling a sense of happiness and sadness as I miss the heck out of this country and will be planning to come back again soon. If you save up a bit of $$, plan it well and really embrace the unknown, I think you'll have a stunning and life-changing time just as we did. 

We'd love to hear what you think so please comment with your thoughts or questions and we'll gladly answer them. 

Love,
Tamara and Thomas