Dispatch, Iceland: No golden arches or green mermaid

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Travel Weekly senior editor Michelle Baran spent one week traveling on a Collette Explorations itinerary through Iceland, the trendy destination du jour that appears to be on everyone's must-do lists. Travel Weekly wanted to find out why. Michelle's third and final dispatch follows.

On the way to Keflavik International Airport, 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik, my fellow Collette Explorations travelers pointed out a very rare sighting — a Taco Bell and a KFC (also known as a Ken-Taco Bell).

Indeed, we had heard much crazy Icelandic lore throughout our journey, but never did we spot the golden arches of McDonald’s or the green mermaid of Starbucks. For the entire week in Iceland, a couple of Subway shops in Reykjavik and that solitary Ken-Taco Bell notwithstanding, we hadn’t seen a single outpost of some of the most ubiquitous fast food brands in the world.

We tossed around some ideas as to why that was likely the case, and decided, with the certainty of being sudden experts on the topic, that it was probably too expensive for a fast food chain to do business in Iceland.

Our expert panel was less clear on what was keeping Starbucks at bay. (In researching online after our talk on the matter, it would appear that 320,000 potential Icelandic consumers do not a hefty market make.)

A consensus was that the lack of these major global brands was a big part of what makes Iceland so unique and charming. There were no Big Macs or Frappuccinos, and we hadn’t even noticed or missed those things until the last day of the trip, and we liked the fact that they weren’t there.

It’s nice to go somewhere in the world that is not just unique in terms of its landscape, culture, history and crazy elves tale, but is also resisting becoming more like everyplace else in the world by hoisting ashore global retail stores.

Have we all been guilty of sneaking some chicken nuggets after too many days spent in China, or of running to H&M after having our luggage lost in St. Petersburg (is it obvious I’m using my own experiences as an example)? Sure.

But in addition to proving to our robust group (travelers ranging in age from their 30s to their 70s) that you’re never too old to go spelunking, that cold weather does not a bad vacation make, and that the Northern Lights are as tricky to get a glance of as they say they are, Iceland proved to us that we don’t need those household brands.

We were fine without them, and it felt as refreshing as the sulfuric waters of the Blue Lagoon to be fast food chain-less for a week.

And no, we did not pull over at Ken-Taco Bell! (In case you were wondering.)

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