Messaging a Stranger on Instagram Gave Us This Chance of a Lifetime

Messaging a Stranger on Instagram

I have always loved nature and couples photography, so back in the pre-reel days of Instagram, my feed was primarily filled with such images. One day in 2018, shortly after we’d booked our first international trip to Thailand together, I was clicking through my Instagram stories and saw a wedding photographer I’d followed for some time post that she was looking for a couple to meet her in Iceland – to share costs and to photograph (for free). At that time, we had briefly discussed Iceland being a place we wanted to visit, but hadn’t seriously considered it because of the high costs we knew were associated with visiting the country.

In a very unlike-me moment, I took a screen shot of her story, and texted it to Kelton who almost immediately responded with, “I’m down”. If I wasn’t already convinced he was the one for me, this definitely sealed the deal. I sent her a response saying that I was sure she had a lot of people interested but that we would love to meet her there.

It seemed like the chance of a lifetime – almost too good to be true. An opportunity for us to visit Iceland, a country we couldn’t really afford, and save 1/3 of the cost on a car rental, gas, and accommodations. Also, there was still a fair chance of seeing the northern lights that time of year and Kelton was eager to check that off his bucket list.

I guess we were either the first to respond, or there aren’t as many spontaneous people as I thought, because she responded quickly and we immediately started talking logistics. Within a few hours, we had booked 2 tickets to Iceland for March 2019.

Iceland Preparations

In between the time we booked the trip and actually went, we didn’t think about it much. Sure, we were excited, but after our trip to Thailand in October 2018, I think we worried we had been a bit hasty at booking two trips so close together. Even at 2/3 of the costs, Iceland is still expensive, and we had also booked a few days past when she left so that we could explore the northern part of the country as well as the more touristy south coast.

We also spent a good bit of money on gear. Coming from south central Pennsylvania, we have cold winters, but nothing like Iceland. Of course I thoroughly researched what to pack, and we both ended up getting the recommended merino wool base layers, gore-tex jackets, and waterproof boots – all of which I’m very glad we had. However, considering we are more warm weather travelers, we haven’t gotten much use out of it since.

Tip: If you are ever in a similar situation, I highly recommend looking for used outdoor wear on sites like Geartrade, REI Re/Supply, Facebook Marketplace etc.

Another thing on our mind as the trip got closer was how neither of us is very comfortable in front of the camera and how strange it was that we were going to be taking these romantic photos within hours of meeting her. To be honest, the free photos weren’t really what drew us to her offer. We were more excited about visiting with someone who had been there many times before and who had essentially planned half the trip for us (she booked the Airbnbs, the route, etc.)

Taking Photos on Iceland’s South Coast: Behind the Scenes

As soon as we met Anna off the plane, I realized that these photos were going to be a huge part of the trip. She has multiple suitcases full of camera gear, and even dresses for me to wear. Kelton and I had packed in our normal carry-on only and I think I only had one dress and one nice sweater for pictures. The next three days were a blur of utterly magnificent waterfalls, beautiful black sand beaches, cliffside caves and glaciers.

The weather was fairly temperate (bearable) for most of our photoshoots, but there were others that were bitterly cold. Anna always took the photos as quickly as she could, and then I would run back to the car to get warm and sometimes change clothes, before running out to take a few more.

For three days, we drove from site to site, photoshoot to photoshoot. And it was exhausting. While I had Kelton to ground me, novel social situations and sensory overload can easily overwhelm me. The day that we took the most amazing photos of the whole trip, I was glad they were taken from a distance because I was on the verge of tears the whole time.

The weather that day was otherworldly, there’s no other way to describe it. The sky changed so many times over the course of 30 minutes – I’ve never seen anything like it. The wind was vicious, flinging black sand against me and stinging my skin. I was sure all the photos would be terrible, with my hair whipping across both of our faces, or me just looking as freezing and miserable as I felt.

Looking back, I’m so grateful that I handled the discomfort of the moment. Travel requires a lot of give and take, cooperation and compromise, but the rewards are overwhelming.

Immediately after the above photos were taken on Stokksnes beach, with Vestrahorn mountain in the background, the freezing rain and snow really started to come down. Because we were on a tight schedule that day, we almost missed the chance to take these – it truly felt like a moment of kismet. We were in the right place at the right time, to witness and create a sort of magic.

a man and woman with a stranger they messaged on Instagram all with red cheeks and smiling wearing cold weather gear covered in snow
We were all feeling the rush afterwards

The moral of this story is, don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. This is one my favorite travel stories to date and I think it’s because it required me to reach out socially and push my boundaries. It was so beneficial for us to include someone else on this voyage, with knowledge of the location and a sense of artistry that we got to be part of and benefit from – all because I messaged a stranger on Instagram.

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