Dispatch, Iceland: Lured back by inspired travel

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Michelle Baran is in Iceland with Lindblad Expeditions. Her first dispatch follows.

Normally, I wouldn't have returned to Iceland so soon after having been there on assignment this past fall. At Travel Weekly, we have a whole world to cover and we do our best to divide and conquer across countries and continents.

But when the itinerary Lindblad Expeditions was proposing landed in my inbox late last month, I took pause.

"Lindblad and ethnomusicologist Jacob Edgar have joined together to create a unique experience for guests to learn about a country's history, culture, it's soul through the music," read the email from Lindblad's director of communications, Patty Disken-Cahill.

Ethnomusicologist? "Okay, Patty," I thought. "You have my attention."

The email went on to explain that Edgar would be onboard the National Geographic Explorer expedition ship along with Sven-Olof Lindblad, founder and president of Lindblad, a company that was in the process of going public and consequently was listed on the Nasdaq exchange just days before the journey began.

The email then listed some of the Icelandic musicians who would be onboard, and as if their performances on YouTube that I quickly surfed weren't enough motivation (they were), the email then ticked off the four female Icelandic guest speakers invited onboard who have such impressive bios (you know, just a filmmaker, a women's rights activist, an economist and a former minister of justice, that's all) that within a couple days of back-and-forth with the Travel Weekly editors and Disken-Cahill, I was booked.

Now, as I sail along the western fjords of Iceland having experienced what Disken-Cahill's email was attempting to convey, I can safely say I have witnessed a heightened level of inspired travel to which Iceland is just serving as a beautiful backdrop.

Which isn't to say that this trip isn't about Iceland. Everything about it is about digging deeper into this unique country and culture. But what has inspired me beyond just the beauty of the destination is the group of people that Lindblad has brought together for this short yet intensely fulfilling five-day itinerary.

When else would I have access to these four highly engaged Icelandic women to get their insights into Iceland's economic collapse, into the role women play in Icelandic politics and economy, and into the opportunities and challenges facing Iceland as it attempts to grow economically while staying true to its cultural heritage and to ecological preservation?

And what better way to end a day of taking the Zodiacs to go sightseeing on the wind-blown, scenic shores of the island of Flatey than with a private performance in the lounge by some expertly curated (and addictively adorable) Icelandic bands?

The point being, and last night's dinner conversation with Lindblad emphasized this, that travel doesn't have to be just about some very simplistic physical endeavor. If we push ourselves, and/or if companies like Lindblad help push us a bit, travel can be about so much more. It can actually serve as a much more rewarding incubator for inspiration and for real thought exchange.

And while perhaps the very notion of that seems exhausting and unrelaxing for many travelers, those who just want to disconnect and lie in the sand (and who doesn't need some of that sometimes, too), for those seeking to return from a trip changed in more ways than just in skin tone, look not just at the place you're choosing to go, but at the people and ideas you will have the opportunity to go there with.

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