Julia Jones runs Iceland Traveller Holidays, a company specialising in arranging trips to Iceland. She has been running her company since the winter of 2010.
Originally a Geography teacher – first of all in London, then locally – education has been and remains an important part of Julia’s life and she has always striven to engage with her students and to share her fascination for the subject. Her school roles also included learning support teaching and Examinations Officer.
After making several school geography trips to Iceland, Julia took her family to Iceland to experience the wonders of the glaciers and geysers for themselves. Not long afterwards she organised a group multi-generational summer holiday to Iceland with St Christopher’s Church. Then, as the Guider in charge of 3rd Hinchley Wood Guides, she organised a summer adventure (with tents) for the girls and leaders in that unit.
Over time, and with more frequent trips to Iceland, two things became clear to Julia: firstly, that the country had a powerful effect on her and those who travelled with her, and secondly, that the Icelandic friends that Julia had made saw that her future lay beyond the walls of a classroom and out in the Icelandic landscape.
Once the idea had started to grow, Julia discovered that almost everyone she talked to had Iceland on their bucket list, and that having someone else to arrange it for them was appealing. The idea grew, and soon she was able to ‘escape’: Iceland Traveller, her new business, was born during the winter of 2010.
Iceland holds a particular fascination for Julia. As a geographer, she has always really enjoyed being surrounded by landscape and geology in any location. As a teacher, when she took her pupils to Iceland, she realised that they were really engaged by their experiences of learning outdoors with her, in a place where the power of nature was obvious: huge waterfalls, creaking glaciers, crashing waves and explosive geysers. She realised that as she shared Iceland with others they, too, were experiencing a sense of wonder and connection to Iceland’s nature and landscapes.
Iceland is special to Julia for many reasons, but the shortlist includes the daylight and the people.
At any time of day or night, or in any season, the light in Iceland always has a special clarity about it – possibly from a combination of closeness to the pole and the lack of air pollution.
Iceland was first settled in around 871. The survival of this small island population in a harsh and often devastating environment has shaped a fascinating nation of only 350,000 people.
During her years of organising Icelandic holidays, Julia has learned about the importance of safe travel, risk assessments and financial protection, all of which underpin everything she does. She has learned that, in order to succeed, it is important to understand as much as possible about the people who will be travelling, and encouraging lots of questions. Most first time travellers to Iceland want to see the same things, but how they enjoy experiencing those things is very different. Hotel or farm? Young family or a group of mums? Craft interest or activity?
She advises: DON’T make seeing the Northern Lights the ONLY thing you want to do in Iceland, make it ONE of the things!
Julia has had many memorable experiences on her Iceland trips. Some of her best experiences have included travelling with Hinchley Wood Guides across the remote Fjallabak Highland route in a big bus and camping with her hiking group beside a geothermal hot spring, spending the evening watching the night sky for the Northern Lights.
Another memorable experience for Julia was visiting Iceland in 2011, a year after the eruption. Walking on new lava, still hot enough to melt the soles of her shoes, was quite something.
The retreat of Iceland’s glaciers over the last 20 years saddens Julia and she is keen that Iceland Traveller, being a holiday business, should take steps to address its carbon footprint. She also hates seeing disrespectful tourism. Too many people leave litter, drive off road, pick flowers and get too close to the wildlife.
Julia’s roots as a farmer’s daughter have given her a great interest in nature, growing, gardening and food and how it all connects to the landscape and environment. She keeps chickens and has a garden full of bird feeders, plus a resident hedgehog. Her father’s early passing meant that Julia was denied the opportunity of a farming life, but should she ever win the Lottery she would love to keep Alpacas and possibly Icelandic horses. She’s also always enjoyed horse riding, and that is her Iceland challenge for 2020. She has also recently joined a book club and is finally reading books other than about Iceland!
Exercise and walking go hand in hand for Julia and it was through setting up a hike in Iceland in 2018 that the group walking took hold. Before that, she hooked up with on old school friend who lives locally and together they have now walked the London Loop, Capital Ring, Vanguard Way, part of the Pennine Way and are now on the Chiltern Way. She walks to work most days, and locally with dogs and owners Joan and Sam, and Denise with Bertie and Bingo.
For the foreseeable future, Julia plans to keep walking and gardening, and to continue living in Hinchley Wood. Iceland Traveller will continue to focus on Julia’s specialist knowledge of Iceland – especially the more remote areas of the country – for touring and escorted travel. Also important to Julia is the concept of making travel to Iceland a journey, rather than just a holiday. Iceland is a destination which is much more accessible than it may appear. Impaired mobility, vision or hearing are not barriers to enjoying Iceland. Recently she visited the Faroe Islands – a superb location to include in a journey to or from Iceland and a destination of its own with all sorts of possibilities!
With Julia’s enthusiasm and love of Iceland driving Iceland Traveller Holidays, the future looks bright for this very special company!