While many of you fantasize about a vacation in Maui or museum-hopping in Europe, I dream of remote locations with no humans around. You may wish for a posh resort with spa services, but I, a certified curmudgeon, long for vacations with lots of nothing.
Antarctica is about as remote and unpopulated as you can get; hence it had been my dream destination since childhood.
Getting to the southernmost spot on Earth is not that easy. You don't just hop on a plane and go. It takes planning.
I'd never been on a guided trip before, but the only way to get to Antarctica is with a tour group. I'd never taken a cruise. In fact, I'd never even been on a ship.
After consulting lots of people who had taken the trip, I booked the least expensive cabin on National Geographic Explorer. Even the cheapest cabin will use up your lifetime travel budget, so consider this the trip of your lifetime. But it's worth every nickel, dime, and dollar.
The literature promised only 148 passengers on board. A certified curmudgeon can handle spending two weeks with 148 people, even if a few were insufferable. Most, however, were well-heeled, well-traveled, and more than a lot of fun. I mean, who goes to Antarctica?
Travel to Antarctica is limited to the Antarctic summer months, late November through early March, so the average daily temperatures are actually only slightly below or at freezing. It's almost balmy.
We boarded ship in Ushuaia, Argentina. We had two days of travel on open waters before reaching land, crossing the dreaded Drake Passage, which was only slightly wild. A few on board were not seen for days, but most of us made the crossing without incident.
Our first sighting of Antarctica gave me chills, but not from the cold. Cerulean blue icebergs that look like they've been carved by an artist because they were almost symmetrical. Glaciers higher than most mountains. All made from snow and ice that is hundreds (thousands?) of years old. Whales leaping out of the water, albatross flying overhead, following the ship for miles. Seals lounging on drifting slabs of ice. And the penguins. Hundreds of them. Following each other in formation to the sea to find food.
Words cannot describe the sights and photos cannot do them justice.
Most people who make this trip are fascinated with penguins. But it's the snow and ice that's truly special. Penguins are cute, their nesting rituals fascinating. But it's the ice that brings people back.
In fact, we met people who had taken this same trip several times (they had slightly more lifetime travel money set aside), and all for the ice.
Antarctica probably isn't a good fit for the traveler who likes nightlife, shopping, and trendy restaurants. This is a trip for the person who appreciates nature and solitude because that's what it's all about. Antarctica is far away and expensive to get to, but it is the ultimate trip for anyone who has an adventurous spirit.
Pack lightly. You'll be wearing your outerwear and a life jacket most of the time, so no one will know how many times you've worn that sweater.
Don't be a martyr. Even if you've never gotten seasick in your life, take a seasickness pill when you board and you'll wake up from your first night's sleep happy and refreshed. The Drake Passage is no joke.
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There's almost no communication with the outside world. No TV. No radio. No cell service. Internet is so spotty that it's almost nonexistent. It's a truly unwind trip.
With the two daily landings, hiking, observing, naturalist lectures, meals, zodiac trips, and socializing, you won't have time to read the books you download to your Kindle. You should be looking out the window anyway. You can read that book any time.
Don't even think about the polar plunge. Yes, you'll probably pack that bathing suit. If you do take the plunge, you will be providing lots of amusement for your more intelligent fellow passengers.