For many travelers, Antarctica is the ultimate bucket-list adventure—and it’s a trip that people spend lots of time planning ahead for. But Go Ahead Emergency Support Manager Anne learned she’d be heading to the South Pole with just two weeks to spare and found herself with only a few days’ time to get ready. How’d she fare? Read on to find out.
I had been planning to travel on tour to Mexico, but things switched up at the last minute and so, long story short, I ended up going to Antarctica on tour. It seemed crazy, but I also knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I said yes, got excited, and then started scrambling a bit. I’ve been around the world, so you might not believe that I’m still kind of a nervous traveler. I’m definitely an over-planner. For my tour to Antarctica, I tried to take a dose of my own medicine and do what I tell our travelers to do almost every day—not worry. It probably helped that I only had two weeks to plan; I didn’t have too much time to imagine what might happen. I had just enough time to get ready and go!
When I was packing fo my trip, the question I asked myself was, “What will I be miserable without?” I knew I’d be unhappy if I were cold, so I ordered a neck gator and hand warmers on Amazon Prime and brought a ton of wool socks. I also knew that the trip was pretty active—I packed t-shirts, leggings, and some fleeces and athletic shirts to layer so I’d be comfortable both on the ship and while out exploring.
Going on a trip soon? Find packing tips for Antarctica in our guide here.
As for outdoor gear, I’m not what you’d call “outdoorsy,” so I didn’t have anything that fit the bill. One thing I absolutely needed was waterproof pants. To get on land from the cruise ship, you have to ride in an inflatable Zodiac boat, and there’s a 100% chance you’ll step into the water getting in and out. I borrowed a pair from a coworker here at Go Ahead (thanks, Suzanne!), but was happy to learn I didn’t have to buy anything else I wouldn’t use again—you can rent everything you need in Ushuaia.
If you work with Go Ahead and the cruise company beforehand, you can arrange to have all your rental gear ready for pickup when you arrive in Ushuaia. My confession? I totally did not do that. The good news is, if you find yourself suddenly wishing you had a winter coat and gloves, there are plenty of gear rental shops around Ushuaia. I was relieved to find out it wasn’t too late for me, and I had a chance to help a few other travelers on tour who needed more winter wear.
Also, on board the MV/USHUAIA, there are boots in literally every size and width. Unless you have a pair of winter boots you can’t live without, there is no reason to pack any.
When I say we lucked out with the weather, I mean it. At the time I was traveling in Antarctica, the weather was better there than it was in Boston. That also meant that the typically rough Drake Passage was much smoother sailing. Even so, the ship still pitched a lot—I took medication to prevent seasickness before we departed, and I’d recommend that to anyone. The first night, I did get woken up the ship’s movement, too. I wasn’t strapped in (which might still happen if the sea is really rough) but some beds had what I’d call a “big kid bar” that keeps you from falling out. After a day or two at sea, you get used to it, and it actually feels a bit weird to walk on solid ground.
It sounds silly, but I was so moved by how remote Antarctica was. There was nothing but ice and water, and it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I felt like I was on a different planet. I had no idea I’d like icebergs so much! We also saw some incredible wildlife, including seals, whales, and penguins. It’s amazing how many animals actually call Antarctica home.
While there is an itinerary, it’s really up to the ship’s captain what you do every day. Each night at dinner the crew reviews the next day’s activities, and still, things can change. With the great weather we had, we were able to spend a lot of time outside; I even took off my gloves and coat while we were walking around! We got to step foot on the continent of Antarctica, which doesn’t always happen when the sea is rough. I can’t say enough how lucky I felt. It’s one of the last “untouched” places on earth, and so few people get to see it in their lifetime.
If Antarctica is on your list, the bit of advice I’d have is: It’s easier than you might think. There is a lot to know, so I’d still recommend planning for a little more than two weeks. Even so, I didn’t have to spend a ton of time or a ton of money to get ready. Reading the material you get before tour is crucial, and so is asking questions. I’m lucky to have coworkers here who had been to Antarctica before, and I bugged them all for advice. A lot of those people are some of the same experts who answer our travelers’ questions every day, so they’re here for you, too!
With any tour, being flexible and open to the experience is important, but it’s especially true when you’re in Antarctica. I was just in awe of everything, so I loved every minute, even the unglamorous moments. I still kind of can’t believe I was there!