This story is a part of the Stories She Told series.

When I was 20, I took a semester off from school to *find myself* in Europe. It was a rollercoaster.

On my third day in Iceland, I drove my rental car (an Opel Corsa) around the Westfjords. A waitress had given me a map with an “x” where I could find a hot spring.

It was a long, beautiful drive along placid fjords. Clouds had lifted enough so that I could see some of the mountains and waterfalls, and I spotted my first-ever glacier.

I was completely alone at the hot spring and stood naked at the edge before chickening out and putting on my bikini. I floated, feeling proud of myself. I was finally a solo female traveler!

When I got back to my car, I checked Google Maps and I saw a shortcut along a base of a peninsula that wasn’t on the map the waitress had given me. I decided to try it.

Never think you know more than a local.

The dirt road turned to gravel then to rocks. As I accelerated, my car went “thunk” and scraped. I was in a rocky mountainside minefield. I thought it couldn’t get worse and kept going. I was wrong. I made a 37-point turn and thunked back down, trying not to look over the cliffside.

I drove to the hostel feeling like an idiot and a failure. The car was making a horrible rattling sound. This was supposed to be my big, independent adventure, but it was the third day and I was sure I had caused expensive damage and wouldn’t be able to afford the rest of my trip because I didn’t buy car rental insurance.

It was dark by the time I checked into my hostel. I was the only guest that night and sat alone in the kitchen eating the last of my bread.

Before I went to bed, I went out to look at the sky, which had cleared. For the first time since arriving in Iceland, I could see the moon. It illuminated the fields and fjord surrounding the hostel.

Then I turned around and saw the northern lights.

The northern lights, ribbons of neon green, filled the sky in front of me. I danced with them, turning until I got dizzy and lay down.

I watched them ebb and flow, moving across the sky, reflecting in the fjord. I had a good cry. I told myself it was going to all be okay.

And it was. (I still don’t buy car rental insurance)

This story has been modified from its original version. View the original on Instagram.

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