Windswept beautiful landscapes, surreal remoteness and a myriad of wildlife await you in Antarctica, also known as the end of the earth. From climbing spectacular glaciers to watching whales swim across the open sea, taking a voyage to the coldest, windiest, and driest continent, is a once in a lifetime experience. For a destination this extreme, it’s best that you plan and book your trip with a polar travel operator, however the rest is up to you. Here is our guide on what to pack, and how to be prepared both physically and mentally for your journey to this magical icy wonder.
Find the Right Outfitter and Cruise Company
When you first start planning your voyage away, you need to make sure you pick the right tour for your trip. Antarctica cruises offer transportation, accommodation, meals and expedition gear in the price, and sometimes additional excursions. As you should know, trips to the Antarctica are very expensive, so it’s extremely important that you pick a reputable company. Only choose an outfitter that is affiliated with the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) to ensure a safe and environmentally friendly journey to the continent.
Read Up Beforehand
Don’t go heading into Antarctica blind, make sure you read up on this wonderful place beforehand. Research its history, geography and wildlife so you’re more clued up on what to expect, and can fully appreciate the journey you are about to embark on. There’s an abundance of wildlife which happily roam around the magnificent ice-covered landscape, so it’s worth learning about their life-cycle and food chain.
Visit the Ship’s Library
If you haven’t had chance to read up before heading onto the ship, then fear not! You’ll find most ships have well-stocked reference libraries full to the brim with information about various Antarctic subjects. But if you think you’ll fall asleep at the sight of a book, then hear about Antarctica firsthand, by listening to a knowledgeable speaker lecture about the topic. Remember, they’re staying on the ship too, so if you see them after their lecture, don’t be afraid to approach them and pick their brains. This way you can gain a better insight into the topics you really care about, and may even make a friend.
Pack Suitable Clothing
Luckily many outfitters will supply you with the essential clothing that you need, such as parkas, boots and waterproof trousers. But make sure you check that your tour operator definitely will provide them, as you don’t want to be caught out. Pay close attention to the recommended packing list which commonly lists hats, scarves, gloves, wool socks and base layers as essentials. Although you may be conscious about luggage space, it’s important to pack a backup of hats, scarves and gloves, as we want you to come back from Antarctica with memories rather than frostbite. Pack a couple of pairs of thin, warm base layers that you can easily whip out while on board. You never know when you might be racing outside, bracing the cold wind, to see killer whales porpoising beside the ship.
A good quality pair of binoculars are very useful for spotting whales and seabirds when you're on the ship, however, when you’re visiting one of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in the world, you’d be a fool not to pack a decent camera. Bring along a telephoto or zoom lens so you can capture action shots of the magnificent wildlife as they frolic in their natural habitat. Then for the Zodiac ride from the ship to the shore prepare to get wet! There’s a high chance of getting splashed on these small boats, so you will definitely need to pack some waterproof casing for your camera.
Despite being the land of ice, you’re going to need your sunscreen! Tours normally take place in the Antarctic summer, and although it’s not exactly sunbathing weather, expect to feel the heat of the sun as it strongly reflects off the ice and snow. Pack at least SPF 45, and don’t forget to bring your sunglasses, because the dazzling bright rays can cause you to squint. Bring enough chapstick to last the whole trip, to prevent the sun and cold wind wreaking havoc on your lips and causing them to be cracked or chapped.
Surviving the Drake Passage
The crossing of the Drake Passage is the most dreaded part of the voyage for many travelers. This rough stretch of sea between the tip of South America and the continent of Antarctica, is hundreds of miles wide and notorious for its menacing waves. Be prepared for stormy seas and a bumpy ride ahead as you traverse through the choppy waters. Good balance and decent leg strength will come in handy at this point, as you sway from side to side through the tumultuous weather. If you decide to brave walking around, make sure you always keep a hand on a rail, as that’s what they’re there for. Some journeys are smoother than others, but if you’re prone to seasickness, make sure you pack something to help you overcome it. Whether that be acupressure bands, anti-nausea medicine or ginger.
Let’s Get Physical
You don’t need to have ran a marathon to prove that you’re physically fit enough to go on a cruise to Antarctica (phew!). As long as you have reasonable fitness and agility, you should have a comfortable journey during this extraordinary trip. Once you’ve crossed the Drake Passage, it’s time to get onboard one of the Zodiacs so you can reach the shore. You’ll need a lot of coordination and balance, as well as core strength to ensure you stay upright and steady as you navigate around icebergs and through rocky shallow waters. When you arrive, you'll soon realise that Antarctica expeditions are not just about hiking past ice caps or staring in amazement at the mesmerizing wildlife. They offer many fun excursions too, such as kayaking, skiing and mountaineering. So make sure you are fit enough to take part in the more strenuous activities and have an truly unforgettable experience in Antarctica.
Get Comfy Onboard
Once you get inside the cruise ship, you’ll find yourself becoming well acquainted with the friendly faces that excitedly followed you on board. Although you have never met them before, you will be spending a lot of time with these strangers, who are now part of your Antarctica expedition family. Get chatting to them and share interesting stories and anecdotes. You never know, you may even find friends for life. If you’re more of an introvert, you can still seek solitude in the ship’s library with a good book. Wi-Fi is also becoming more accessible on ships, so even on the way to Antarctica, you can still check emails and watch funny online videos.