Auður Ösp loves her home country and its capital city so much that she created a blog dedicated to helping travelers make the most of their experiences. We caught up with her to talk about her company, I Heart Reykjavik, and gain some of her insight into Iceland travel.
What’s your story?
I’m a blogger, CEO (love calling myself that), wife, and stepmom born and raised in Reykjavík. I’ve lived here most of my life but spent some years testing the waters in different countries and trying to find myself through travel, as one does. Because Icelanders were a novelty outside of Iceland back when the only Icelander most people knew was Björk, and I was still being asked if I had driven from Reykjavík to New York, I became comfortable answering questions about Iceland very early on. As a kid, I had always aspired to become a journalist, so when Blogger and WordPress came around I was an early adopter; I’ve been blogging for most of my adult life. I also discovered early on that with only around 300,000 people in Iceland, I would never find the audience I wanted if I only wrote in my native language, which prompted me to write in English instead.
What do you love about your hometown / home country?
First and foremost, I love Iceland because it’s my home. My family is here, my friends are here, and I know how the country functions. It’s familiar in the best sense of the word, and I always feel like I’m greeted with a warm embrace when I come home from a trip abroad.
Aside from that, there’s just something magical about this rock in the middle of the Atlantic. I love the extremities of the weather and how it makes you humble against the natural elements. I’m in constant awe of how beautiful this country is. I love the clean air and that you can still find wild, open spaces where you can be alone with your thoughts for days on end. I love the smell of wet birch and feeling the freezing wind in my face. I just love everything about it.
Reykjavík is also a wonderful city to live in. It’s a capital with all the amenities you need but, at the same time, because of its size, it also feels like a village. It’s surrounded by beautiful nature, but it also has nice restaurants and cool bars. It’s the best of both worlds.
How and why did you start I Heart Reykjavík?
I originally developed the concept of I Heart Reykjavík for a travel agency I was working for, but when I pitched the idea to my boss, he didn’t share my vision. At that point, I was convinced I had something that could be brilliant, so I decided to start it on my own. When I left that job to go back to university, I also thought I could use it as a portfolio of sorts to show prospective employers upon graduation.
The core of what I wanted to do was to create a place online where people who had questions about traveling to Iceland could find answers. I had a clear concept from the start and never strayed far away from it, which has helped keep me focused on what I am trying to achieve.
How has I Heart Reykjavík expanded in recent years?
When I started I Heart Reykjavík, my goal was never to monetize it. I worked on it tirelessly for three years, and my only motivator was the overwhelming gratitude and love my followers showed me. After a while, the blog was taking more and more of my time though, and I was a full-time student working a nearly full-time job, too. In the end, it was too much to juggle, so I either had to get rid of it completely or make the blog my job.
I knew I didn’t want to go the typical route and monetize the blog with ads, so I decided to start my own tour company, offering walking tours around Reykjavík. It was a natural fit and it allowed me to be active and meet new people every day — two things I sorely missed.
Before I knew it, the company exploded and I had to hire more people to help. I never finished my degree, but now there are four of us working for the company on a yearly basis, and we add more people when necessary. We also became a licensed travel agency last year, which has allowed us to expand the services we offer our guests.
We do think there’s a strength in being small and personal though, so for the moment, we don’t have any plans to expand further. We might hire more people so that my husband, who left his job for I Heart Reykjavík, and I can spend more time with our daughter, but we’re not quite there yet.
What have you learned about Iceland and Icelandic people through your work with I Heart Reykjavík?
The biggest lesson for me was figuring out how dangerous Iceland can be if you don’t know what you are doing. Things that I thought were perfectly natural and safe for everyone, like driving in our sometimes-harsh winter conditions, were something many people feared … and rightfully so. It made me reevaluate a lot of things in terms of what we recommend to our guests.
I’ve also realized how we take certain things for granted — like our long summer holidays and maternity leaves. We have it pretty good here and it’s important to remind myself of that when I feel inclined to complain about the things I should be thankful for.
What have you learned about yourself through I Heart Reykjavík?
Being a CEO of a thriving small business and an employer has made me realize that I am capable of much more than I give myself credit for. It’s also made me realize how important it is to take care of myself and find a good balance between my work and personal life. I’ve been quite bad at that for the past few years, but am actively trying to become better.
Do you have any favorite places in Reykjavík (or Iceland in general) that many tourists might not know about?
People keep asking me that, and I keep telling them that asking me for my favorite place in Iceland is like asking a mother which child is her favorite. I have a special place in my heart for both Þingvellir national park and Þórsmörk nature reserve though, and I love both of those places dearly. But every time I visit a new place or experience something new, it becomes a favorite as well.
What makes Iceland so special? Why should people visit?
Iceland really is a photographer’s dream destination. Everywhere you look there’s something beautiful to see, and these beautiful surroundings turn even the most mundane things into something otherworldly and mystical. Reykjavík has a charm of its own, too, which is hard to describe if you haven’t experienced it.
Visiting Iceland is also a great exercise in serenity because you never know what the weather and the natural elements will do next to mess up your plans. The magic happens when you adopt the right attitude and allow things to happen as they will.
What are your hopes for I Heart Reykjavík in the future?
At the moment, I’m just taking it one day at a time and trying to remember to be thankful for the successes I’ve already experienced. My only hopes are that we keep serving our guests in a way that makes them happy and that I Heart Reykjavík continues to be a place where the staff is willing to put their heart and soul into everything they do. Nothing makes me happier than receiving emails from our guests telling me that we somehow helped them create new and wonderful memories.