Thanks to airline price wars that put flights to Europe at an all-time low during the summer of 2017, my one week cycling tour around the Netherlands became a three-week adventure abroad. I decided to take advantage of the increasingly popular stopover option offered by Iceland Air and Wow Airlines and had given myself 5 days in Iceland. Although I am not much of a planner when it comes to traveling, I did manage to find a CS host in Reykjavik, and also did some remedial research on things to do around this island that I knew almost nothing about.
Through my preliminary research, I saw many mentions of these large, organized pub crawls which I thought sounded like a lot of fun. Unfortunately, they were only offered on Friday and Saturday nights and I was arriving in Reykjavik Saturday after midnight. I looked around some more and couldn’t find any similar events happening any other nights of the week. That’s when it hit me: surely there must be other travelers like myself who wouldn’t be in Reykjavik on Friday or Saturday who would also enjoy partaking in a fun event like this. I knew I had the perfect solution: to organize one myself.
Luckily for me, Couchsurfing provides the perfect platform to organize your own event; be it a large gathering or perhaps you’re just looking for someone to share a ride with. You can plan any event and make it available and searchable to anyone who is nearby, or who plans to travel to the designated area.
Without thinking twice, I went ahead and made the event and released it out there for the world to discover. I figured maybe one or two people would show up and we would have a great time. I was hoping for the best but wasn’t expecting much.
After a week of cycling by day and sleeping aboard a canal boat by night as I traveled through the Netherlands, I was finally back on some decent wifi at the Amsterdam airport. I was pleasantly surprised to see some RSVPs rolling in for the event that I had put out there a few weeks back. It was about 24 hours until the kick off of my event and I reached out the group to introduce myself and got the conversation going about where we should go the next night.
I landed in Reykjavik just after midnight and took the shuttle into the city. From there I hopped in a cab and arrived at my host’s house. Baba greeted me and introduced me to this flatmate. I learned that they are both immigrants from Senegal and that Baba has lived in Iceland for nearly 8 years. It was clear how much they both love their new home country of Iceland and I immediately felt welcome and relaxed in my new home for the next 5 days.
The next morning I awoke to an ambush of new messages and new RSVPs to the event. One girl named Kristin suggested we move our communications to WhatsApp and created a group chat for everyone to join. We then posted invite link for the WhatsApp group on the CS event page. This was a great idea and without a doubt made the rest of the planning so much easier.
Baba and I got ready to go visit his favorite neighborhood pool. I recalled reading about these infamous pools in my research and how they are a big part of Icelandic culture. Thankfully this article also covered the proper dressing room etiquette. This is something that they take very seriously so I was very glad that I was prepared. The experience at the pool was even better than expected. It was a beautiful yet rainy day and being in the water with a light rain falling from above was a truly magical experience. The outdoor pool deck included a large pool for swimming laps and also a section for just hanging out, a kids pool with toys and a water slide, a sauna, several hot tubs of varying temperatures and some deck chairs for those rare but wonderful sunny days. We moved around trying out all the different options for several hours, hopping from super hot to cold, to sauna, to warm, to hot and back to cold again. It was a wonderful experience not only to enjoy the facilities, but also to be a part of the local culture.
While we were enjoying the hot tubs, I told Baba about my plan for the night. I was starting to get pretty excited as about 15 people has RSVP’d. Baba said he would love to join us for the evening and it was reassuring to know we would have at least one person along who knew the area better than I did.
The WhatsApp group was really kicking off as people began sending suggestions for our first bar, along with introductions and photos from the day’s activities. The group was already beginning to take on a personality of it’s own and I grew more and more confident that we were in for a good night.
We finally agreed to meet at Bar Lebowski at 9 pm. Bar Lebowski, as the name suggests, is known for their White Russians. Their menu goes far beyond the classic version, offering countless variations of the drink made famous by the movie The Big Lebowski.
The group, which grew steadily throughout the evening was a good mix of locals, tourists and expats. I was pleased to discover that some of these locals had great suggestions on which bars to hit up next.
We decided on our next stop and updated the WhatApp group so the latecomers could find us. We made our way to Loft, a hostel bar that sits atop HI hostel with great views and a roof deck. We enjoyed the deck for a few minutes before retreating back inside as it was getting colder by the minute as the sun was making its very slow descent. During our time at Loft we welcomed a few newcomers and picked up one additional person who was just hanging out at the bar. We also came up with our official signal that it was time to move on to the next place… the slow clap!
The next bar was probably one of my favorites because it was an authentic Icelandic bar called Islenski Barinn, full of many locals and not too many tourists. That is, until we arrived. I learned from another patron at the bar that the decor had been untouched since the 60s and that it was done in a typical Icelandic style.
By that point in the night I really began to feel like something special was happening, and that our group of around 20 Couchsurfers and friends were really starting to hit it off and have a great time together. I couldn’t help but feel like a proud mother who brought all these wonderful people together for what was sure to be a pretty memorable night. My sentimental moment was short lived as my new Belgian friend, who works aboard a cruise ship, was pushing a shot into my hand as he had bought a round for the whole group! Shortly thereafter I began the slow clap. As the rest of the crew joined in, our applause gained momentum and ended with a boisterous cheer. It was time to move on.
We carried on to several other bars, and also managed to make a stop for a late-night snack. We finally ended up at what appeared to be a street festival. Hundreds of people were out in the street, directly in front of two very popular bars– The Dubliner and Gaukurinn. There was a stage, decorative string lights, and some drinks being sold on the sidewalk. We enjoyed the festivities for a while and then moved inside for some Karaoke at Gaukurinn.
As the sun began to rise, one by one the pub-crawlers began to head home. Everyone said their goodbyes and thanked me for organizing such a fun night. Many of them expressed that they were surprised at what a success it had become, and I honestly had to agree! My little event, with no real plan laid out, somehow managed to keep 20 Couchsurfers together until roughly 5am.
I hope this little story of one fun-filled night around Reykjavik will be a source of inspiration for you on your next big adventure. It doesn’t take any special skills, or even any knowledge of the area, for that matter, to plan a great event! Just give it your best shot and hope for the best. If you’re lucky like I was, an amazing group of friendly travelers will be more than happy to join in on the fun.
This post was written by a member of the Couchsurfing community. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or opinion of Couchsurfing.
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