Visiting Antarctica has been a dream of mine ever since I was 5 years old. After the final day of the 1997 ski season, I told my mom that I would travel to there so I could ski in the boreal summer. In second grade, I studied penguins and eventually learned about all 17 species. My room was decorated in penguin-related items. I remember hearing how my friend’s father, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, spoke to my class about his trip to a research station on the White Continent.
As I grew up, discovered my love of travel, and gained independence, Antarctica was always at the top of my list. However, I thought it was virtually impossible for a tourist to visit. Sure, there were the charter flights to the South Pole for $25,000-50,000, but I would likely not have the means to pay for that for years maybe decades. The wheels started turning after my friend Ben purchased a last-minute ticket on a cruise ship for $5,000 as part of a 5-month South American excursion. While still very expensive, the price was now in the “plausible” price range.
Booking the Cruise:
Luck would have it that in early November 2017, my grandfather decided to give me a monetary gift on the condition that it is used on travel during the 2018 calendar year. I knew that this was my opportunity to take a life-changing trip that I could have otherwise not afford. Immediately, one and only one place came to mind: Antarctica.
Following the advice of Ben and some blogs, I signed up for the deal email lists for Antarctic cruise companies. On November 24th, I got an email from Quark Expeditions saying they had room on their Photography Series Cruise from November 14-23, 2018 – nearly one year ahead. The price was within my budget, I read positive reviews of November cruises and I noticed that I could save two vacation days due to Thanksgiving. After getting the vacation days approved, I booked the cruise on December 22, 2017.
Preparing for the Trip:
My preparations for this trip were minimal because the cruise company handled the logistics. I filled out some forms, purchased travel insurance (I normally don’t’ buy insurance, but this trip was big enough), and then booked roundtrip airfare to Ushuaia, Argentina. I purposefully gave myself long layovers and a 2-day buffer in Ushuaia in flights got delayed or cancelled. I was more than willing to suffer in an airport or a small Patagonian town for some time, but I was not going to miss that boat!
Beyond that, I didn’t do much planning. In fact, I probably spend more time researching an average weekend trip than I spent on this trip. The main reason is that the cruise company does reveal where exactly you are going.
About a month before leaving, I reached out to friends in my layover cities of Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires. They gave me some advice on spending time in those cities and agreed to meet up. I also booked my hostels in Ushuaia. About two weeks before departing, I finalized a list of things to do and a plan for Santiago. Five days before the trip, I started packing.
The packing list was surprisingly simple. I brought two casual outfits plus one outfit for being outside in the cold. For that cold-weather outfit, I brought mountaineering/skiing clothing. One major item that I did not have to bring was a parka; the cruise company provided one for free! Due to the rough seas in the Drake Passage, I obtained a prescription for Ambien, which helps with seasickness and acts as a sleeping aid. My 85 liter pack was approximately half-full.
Finally on November 10th, it was time to go! The trip to Ushuaia took two days and I had layovers in Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina where I reached the venerable 50 country mark. I landed in Ushuaia on November 12th. After two days of exploring and catching up on sleep, I left my hotel to board the boat at 3pm on November 14th, 2018.