Five Things I Did Wrong in Antarctica

Antarctica

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 . 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.

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By: Mike

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on , and

20 Responses

  1. Cynthia Scarborough

    Huh! I would have packed a huge parka too and probably too much camera equipment. Looks like an amazing trip though. Hope to get to Antarctica one day. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Mike

      You bet! Let me know if you have any questions

      Reply
  2. Adventure Life

    But I LOVED the jacket.. it is so classy! 🙂

    Reply
  3. Erin at The World Wanderer

    This was great! I am looking to go to Antarctica this season or next, so these tips are extremely helpful. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Mike

      You won’t regret it!

      Reply
  4. Catherine @TheGoFever

    How I appreciate your honesty! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. I really appreciate how you are able to look back and be honest about what you find was wrong. I know you are a perfectionnist and it is very humble on your part. Great post, and great insight! Thanks 🙂

    Reply
  5. Ryan

    Antarctica is definitely a fantasy destination of mine. Hilarious about the jacket man, that think is MASSIVE! I’ve been taking much more video these days.

    Reply
    • Mike

      it really was enormous. Perfect for whenever I decide to plan a trek through Siberia in the winter though….

      Reply
  6. jennifer

    That super parka tip is the best Antarctica tip I have read yet. I would have brought one myself!

    Reply
  7. OCDemon

    Interesting to see how the advice for visiting perhaps the world’s most inhospitable place was sort of along the lines of “it’s easy and comfy.” I sort of wanted to visit Russia in the winter just to see what it was like, but the experience probably isn’t particularly special…and seeing all those penguins in Antarctica while relatively comfy is probably a lot better than seeing them in temperatures too cold to use a camera.

    Reply
    • Mike

      It really isn’t difficult per se. I mean yes, it is chilly, but the Canadians on board were wearing flip flops, so….

      Reply
  8. Julio Moreno

    Video VS pictures… I totally understand what you mean. I am totally more of a photo guy, but recently, have been trying to get into video.
    I had the complete opposite situation in Komodo National Park. I saw a Komodo Dragon get on its hind legs and start jumping trying to get into a room. I video taped it all but now, I kind of wish I had taken pictures instead (since I had a new zoom lens). I wish there were 2 me’s.

    Reply
  9. jenny truong

    Great advice, Antarctica is on my bucket list, as I’m sure it is for many other travelers!~

    Reply
  10. Jess

    Re #1:
    I spend enough time imagining I’m Ernest Shackleton in the mid-west-Alsaskan summer. Actually, I usually think I’m Captain Oates – the guy from the Scott expedition who walked into a blizzard. I pretty much act like I’m him every time I have to leave the tent after teatime. (Look, 45F and windy on the Bering Sea is still cold, OKAY?)

    Um, what I’m saying is that I would probably need to park the extreme Antarctic parka anyway, if only so that everyone could be aware that I was suffering extreme Antarctic conditions and would likely perish at any moment. There’s no use in traveling to the poles if you can’t at least convince yourself you’re in deadly danger at any moment.

    Reply
  11. Fabiola

    Do not forget to mention the beautiful and amazing Torres del Payne National Park that you can access from Punta Arenas. I`m glad you have a nice time here.

    Reply
  12. Kelly Plett

    The Drake Passage is an adventure in itself! I would not change a moment of my trip though….And you are spot on about the parka-in fact it was so nice one day we had a BBQ outside on the deck! One of my favorite adventures by far, great memories and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

    Reply
  13. Kelly Plett

    Oh I did forget to mention I left out of Ushuaia, and spent 3 days there prior to departure. It is an amazing area….

    Reply
  14. Julie

    Thanks for your useful comments. I hate being cold but I hate carrying much when I’m travelling. I always do video and rely on others for adding some photos. Did you have any problems with the cold affecting affecting the movie camera? Hardest problem is then editing 10 hrs of film into a 20 min DVD for my family and friends to watch. Going in February, can’t wait. ( Wish someone would sponsor me

    Reply
    • Mike

      I didn’t because it just wasn’t that cold. Going in the summer means much more temperate climes, it is a different story in winter though of course.

      Reply
  15. Nikki Dail

    Hi Matt – Thanks so much for info! I am also going this Feb on a Fly n Cruise (Fly over and Drake Passage back) after a 5 day hike in Torres Del Paine. Our luggage weight limit is a little tighter at 44 lbs including hand luggage, so I am trying to plan in advance as much as possible. You mentioned that you didn’t need to bring binoculars, is that because the ship provided them for everyone?

    Reply

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