Last winter, my wife, Rachel, and I had a very long, intricate trip to Japan planned as a babymoon. We were going with our best friends, Elizabeth and Bruce, who we travel with every year. But then Japan was one of the first countries to really be affected by coronavirus, and so at the last minute we shifted our plans and decided to go to Iceland and Switzerland.
Now, this group doesn’t really vacation to relax. We want adventure; we want to explore and be in a different place every day. And though we all really enjoy a plan, we can change it at the drop of a hat. So even though I had been planning this Japan trip for a decade, I was pretty excited about Iceland. (I do really well in the cold weather.) And it was, unsurprisingly, incredible.
We had a great private guide, Sio with Superjeep tours, who drove us around in one of those monster-truck Jeeps with the big tires to all the sights: Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir hot springs, and all these little secret spots. But the best moment was doing a northern lights hunt on our last night.
At one point, Sio pulled off the main highway, and we were driving through three feet of snow. He lowered the tire pressure to help the Jeep float on top of the snow. It was very slow going, and sometimes he’d have to back up and go forward—back and forth, back and forth. But then, all of a sudden, he broke the ridge of this hill, and we were on a black-sand beach in the middle of the night, with a full moon. He pulled the truck over and whipped out hot chocolate, and we all went for a walk. It was beautiful.
We did see the northern lights, but only very faintly. Honestly, though, it was more fun just driving around in the middle of the night in a monster truck with our best friends.
From there, we went on to Switzerland. Why Switzerland? Our friend Bruce used to play professional basketball there, and about eight years ago he found out that he had a large amount of money in a Swiss bank account that was left over from his pro basketball days, but the only way that he could get this money was to go to Switzerland and withdraw it. He couldn’t transfer it, he couldn’t wire it, he couldn’t close the account. There’s some weird rule. And so every year our friends stop in Switzerland to withdraw some cash, because when you’re traveling internationally you can only carry a certain amount.
Rachel and I had never been to Switzerland, and we figured we could join them and help carry out the rest of the money so they could finally close the account. It was like being cut in on the end of a very slow Swiss bank heist! Plus, we could see Switzerland while we were at it.
So after stuffing our wallets and suitcases with cash, as if we were in our own Oceans 11 movie, we went to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn.
The town is magical—it has maintained this Old World feel. One of the highlights was eating at a place called Chez Heini that’s owned by this man, Dan Daniell, who’s also a Swiss pop singer. At the end of every night in this restaurant, a video screen comes down, and he sings his famous song.
This was one of the most joyful and incredible moments of the trip: being stuffed with lamb, watching this guy sing. We ended up having to cut our trip short because of travel from Europe being suspended.
We made it back to the U.S. just a few hours before the border officially closed. It was a lot. But as I said, we don’t go on vacation to relax. And now we’re really not relaxing.
Our son, Bear Maxwell, was born on July 28. There’s a lot of joy and fulfillment—and also a lot of sleepless nights. But we’ve been talking about trips we can take with him, and how long he can last on a car ride. Eventually we’ll make it to Japan. Eventually…
Chris Sullivan stars as Toby on This Is Us, the fifth season of which is currently airing on Tuesday nights on NBC.
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