Every Christmas, kimkim travelers Jen and Garrison Draper give each other the gift of travel. This year, their goal was to glimpse the Northern Lights - so they headed to Iceland for a once-in-a-lifetime winter road trip. From climbing glaciers to eating hot dogs, Garrison shares his favorite moments and some great advice.

Hi Garrison! Tell us more about you and your wife Jen. Have you always been avid travelers?

Jen and Garrison on their glacier climb expedition (courtesy of Jen Draper)

For a few years now, my wife and I agreed that instead of exchanging material Christmas gifts, we prefer to give each other the gift of adventure.  It started with a drive up the local interstate to adventure in New York City.  The following year we spent an exotic week in Riviera Maya, where we explored the famous and historic Chichen Itza.  Last year, we spent a few days at Disney World, reliving all of the great memories of our childhood. 

Planning our trip this year was based on a specific bucket list item:  to see the Northern Lights.  A quick search led us to Iceland as the top place in the world to see the Northern Lights during this time - and after a couple of clicks more, we ended up on the kimkim site, planning our trip.

What drew you to Iceland as a winter destination?

Views from the glacier climb (photo courtesy of Jen Draper)

Along with seeing the Northern Lights, our goal in this trip was to experience something different, new, and exciting. Many of our friends have visited Iceland in the warm summer months, but we wanted a different experience - something that we can speak about as truly once in a lifetime.  Our trip did not disappoint, it was an experience that seemed out of this world, much like some of the scenery in Iceland.

What appealed to you about self-driving through the country? Do you think it ultimately enhanced your experience? 

Driving the road to Skaftatell (photo courtesy of Jen Draper)

When planning the trip, I was skeptical of the self-driving driving experience.  I worried that we would miss a lot in the driver's seat, but I was so wrong.  The self-guided tour allowed us to experience more, and at our pace.  We quickly learned on this trip that the true adventure is between the stops, as Iceland’s landscapes and people are such a treat.  Learning to navigate the island is simple - the Ring Road runs the entire perimeter of the island,  so once you understand where you are heading, the rest of your time is wide open roads.  But be sure to fill up before leaving Vik, gas stations in either direction of this city are sparse!

Did anything about Iceland surprise you?

Geysir eruption (photo courtesy of Jen Draper)

We went to Iceland hoping to experience a new, unique cuisine, but we actually fell in love with a tiny hot dog stand and a street food shop.  Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is in Reykjavik - my wife and I stumbled upon it on our first evening in the city, and the hot dogs were so good that we vowed to return on our final night.  Both times were well worth it.  The other fun place we found was a restaurant called Icelandic Street Food, where tourists can sample different kinds of authentic Icelandic food. We found all the hearty food perfect for our walking adventures through the city, as the weather was harshly cold.

What never failed to impress us was the scenery.  Bring your camera and your tripod, because the photo opportunities on this adventure are once in a lifetime.  The other great part about photography in Iceland in the winter is that you barely need an alarm clock to capture the perfect sunrise shot (the sun rises around 9:30 AM).

Tell us about your glacier climb experience. Had you done anything like that before? What were your impressions?

Group climb up the glacier (photo courtesy of Jen Draper)

The glacier climb was what I was most excited about leading up to our trip.  I always look forward to adventures outside, and the views here were spectacular.  Our guide’s name was Maximo and we were so impressed with his knowledge and passion for the Icelandic glaciers.  Our tip to all would be to stay toward the back of the group while hiking. The ice and snow are tricky to navigate, and the group must hike in a straight line.  Being in the back gave us the strategic advantage of time, so we could snap pictures and not feel we were holding up the group.  Some of best photographs come from this experience, including our favorite picture of "Helen the Troll" on the mountain.

What advice do you have for other travelers interested in a winter trip to Iceland?

Winter at Selfoss Falls (photo courtesy of Jen Draper)

I wholeheartedly recommend a winter trip, but I would warn that it is not for the faint of heart - Iceland is chilly in the winter.  When we arrived at the Sellfoss waterfall on our first morning, I momentarily regretted my decision to come to such a cold place for vacation. Once the day got going, however, I soon realized that it was going to be a great adventure. But come prepared!

Due to a changed departure flight, we were able to visit the Blue Lagoon upon arrival in Iceland, which is another thing we would recommend.  Our flight landed early in the morning, and having flown all night, we weren't feeling our best. We picked up our rental car and headed straight to the Blue Lagoon.  We were then able to shower in the locker room and relax in the geothermal spa, which was the perfect way to start our Iceland experience.  After a 90 minute soak, we had a bite to eat and still hit the road before sunrise feeling refreshed. Set up an appointment in advance if you can.

Last but not least: where are you planning to go on your next adventure?

Iceland's black sand beaches in winter (photo courtesy of Jen Draper)

After our Iceland experience, we are dying to check more experiences off of our bucket list.  While we saw the Northern Lights, we hope to see them again, only this time brighter and more brilliantly, so I’m sure that we will try to find them again or build a trip designed around getting the best aurora experience. 

Garrison's trip was planned through kimkim by Arnar Steinn Thorsteinsson, our local travel specialist based in Reykjavik.