It’s about the time of year now when many people start planning their trips to Antarctica for the following season, so I thought I’d offer some words of advice by showing what I think I did wrong during my amazing adventure to the bottom of the world. I visited Antarctica through the sponsorship of Adventure Life, an adventure tour company that specializes in taking people to some of the most amazing places on the planet, including on Antarctica tours. Also, my experience in Antarctica is unique to the conditions when I was there, namely February. Temperatures can vary throughout the Austral summer so please don’t blame me if you aren’t warm enough or conversely if you bring too much. All I can do is report my findings.
1. The Jacket! – One of my biggest mistakes was the clothing I brought with me because as I learned packing for Antarctica isn’t as easy as one might think. When we think of Antarctica we think a cold, inhospitable vast region. And that’s true, in the winter. That’s also why cruises don’t take place in the winter, the conditions are far too rough. The summer months though are completely different and my massive parka was nothing more than a waste of space. I brought with me a top of the line, industrial sized parka that is literally rated for Antarctic winters. This behemoth can withstand anything the elements can throw at it, protecting the wearer from the coldest weather on the planet. It was also gigantic, requiring its own bag to transport all the way down the Antarctica. And it was completely unnecessary. The weather, while not warm per se, also wasn’t the frigid nightmare I had anticipated. In Fahrenheit, the temperatures hovered in the 30s and 40s, necessitating a jacket for sure, but not one in which a small family of garden gnomes could live comfortably. Instead of the expensive and very nice parka I towed down through four flights, I instead wore a light windbreaker I thankfully packed and which I picked up for free somewhere. Moral of the story, you aren’t Ernest Shackleton. You aren’t going to spend a week trekking through the wilds of Antarctica in the middle of the Austral Winter. You will be on a comfortable boat, taking part in excursions and coming back every night to enjoy hot chocolate and a comfortable bed. So dress appropriately.
2. Internet – I’m an Internet junkie, partly necessitated by my occupation and partly because I think I’m somewhat addicted to staying in touch. I’ve been to some pretty remote places and I have almost always been able to get online. When that wasn’t possible, I knew about it in advance and planned accordingly. Antarctica fooled me though. The ship advertised that it had Internet and while I knew it would be slow and expensive, I also assumed it would work reliably. My grand plan was to check in once a day, share some photos, respond to social media conversations and generally make sure my web site hadn’t imploded while I was away. I should have thought this through a little better though and realized that I was in FREAKING ANTARCTICA. If Internet coverage is going to be unreliable to nonexistent anywhere, it’s there. And it was. It wasn’t the ship’s fault, they rely on a satellite based system that is dependent on atmospheric conditions. Sometimes those conditions are good but often times they are not. So that meant for the final 3-4 days of my trip I had zero Internet access. But instead of fearing that, I should have looked forward to it. I really did enjoy my time offline and it was good for me to enjoy being in Antarctica, instead of worrying about uploading the next cute penguin photo to Instagram. But I hadn’t planned to be out of touch for so long and there were professional responsibilities I didn’t plan for in advance, which left me at a bit of a loss. So, if you go be prepared to be completely offline and don’t even try to access the Internet. We all need a technology break from time to time and there is no better place to be off the grid than in Antarctica.
3. More Videos – During my week in Antarctica I took about 10,000 photos. That’s a lot. I also took some videos, but not nearly enough. My problem is that I just forget to shoot video. I love photography and capturing unique moments that will live on forever, but I also at times forget about the power of video. It’s important to remember how things looked, felt and sounded in a way that only a video can portray. So when you go, make sure you of course bring a good camera but that it also has video capabilities. Invest in a simple tripod and spend some time on the ship and on the excursions capturing daily life, from shipmates to the penguins and seals you will see everywhere.
4. Too much gadgetry – The same condition that made me pack the Super Parka also led me to believe that I was leading an expedition into the heart of the continent. I brought everything from a virtual pharmacy to useless, outdoorsy trinkets and gadgets that never saw the light of day. I partially blame the information the ship sent out in advance. I realize that they want to provide a packing list that takes into account every possible scenario, but some of it is just crazy. I didn’t need collapsible cups, binoculars, water bottles or anything survival-ish. And anything like that I did need, the ship provided. Really, the ship provides just about everything you will need so that it’s necessary to only bring clothes, whatever electronics you want and a good attitude. That last one is the most important.
5. More Time – Don’t misunderstand me, my week on the ship exploring the Antarctic Peninsula was amazing and honestly just the right amount of time. I also am thrilled that I avoided the unnecessary Drake Passage by taking a fly-cruise from Chile. That was genius. No, when I say that I wish I had had more time, I mean either before or after the trip. Punta Arenas, Chile, where I got on the plane that delivered me safely to Antarctica, is the gateway to Patagonia and weeks could be spent exploring this beautiful part of South America. From Tierra del Fuego to the colonies of Emperor penguins, there is a bevy of activities in the region. But I didn’t have the time and instead I flew in and out, seeing the gorgeous scenery only from the plane window. So if you do go to Antarctica, try to build in extra time to explore other areas of South America that are just as remote and no less stunning.