To Antarctica or Not?

The other day we were chatting with some friends over dinner about travel and the topic of Antarctica came up. Perhaps it was the martini and red wine combination (it was a long day), but I got fired up as I considered the possibility.

Until now, Antarctica seemed like a far off dream, the stuff of speculation only. But could we – or rather, should we – try to make it a reality?

The end of the season – always our favorite time to travel anywhere – is approaching. Perhaps there would be a cancellation we could fill? Last time we executed a just-in-time strategy – in the Galapagos Islands – we booked a last minute tour and it worked out great.

So we put a call out on Twitter for information on the availability of Antarctica tours launching this March (as in two weeks from now). Surprisingly, we received only one response. (Note: A similar call last summer for Galapagos tours quickly delivered more than a dozen responses. Galapagos tour agents are apparently more attuned to Twitter than the Antarctica crew.)

Regardless, the one response this time around seems to have put us in touch with the right Antarctica agent. At the time of writing, there are spaces available on two trips launching in March. Both would be great; one in particular looks incredible. It bears mentioning that absolutely nothing connected with Antarctica is inexpensive, but both offers strike us as comparatively good value.

So what’s the fascination with Antarctica?

Antarctica strikes us as truly far away, beyond consideration. Forbidden. Harsh. The land is remote and barren – aside from a few regulars we’d hope to meet up close (e.g., penguins). I envision an ice-breaker and the adventure of braving the elements and rough sea to get there.

Finally, the sheer visual beauty of the place has strong appeal: the landscape, the glaciers, the way light bends over it all. (Have you some of these photos?)

Add to all that the urgency. There are rumors that authorities may begin restricting tourism to Antarctica. Perhaps it won’t be immediate. Perhaps the rumor is a marketing ploy and the restrictions will never come to pass. I’m a skeptic and aware of all that. I am convinced the poles are melting — regardless of what or whom happens to be causing their accelerated disappearance.

Then, there’s the fact that Antarctica is the seventh continent. We’re not big fans of counting passport stamps or bragging about the number of countries we’ve been to, but there is something oddly appealing about visiting a continent so remote that most will never have considered going.

What’s keeping us back?

It’s simple: money. We aren’t rolling in it, so making this happen would take a big chunk out of what we planned to spend in South America. It would require us to ramp up the business side of our existence (perhaps not a bad thing?). We are looking at having to make some timing and financial adjustments.

We are here in Argentina. We are close. And the little man on my shoulder is saying to me: “You only live once.”

But we question. We recently wrote about deliberate living. How does this fit in with our larger priorities?

In writing this post, I may have jinxed us completely and the opportunity may pass with the next keystroke.

But, I’m curious to hear your thoughts:

What do you think? Should we go for it? Is a trip to Antarctica worth it?

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Comments

  1. McKinze says

    Money comes, money goes. I know that’s a very lax way to see it, but in my experience it’s true. Find your way to Antarctica and you’ll figure out the rest because, well, you have to!

    Thank you for your site. It motivates me every day!

  2. Emily says

    I’m with McKinze. Do it. You’re so close already. You will find a way to adjust to make up for the money, whether it’s by staying in one place a bit longer to make some back or whatever happens to come up. My old roomie found herself in your position 4 years ago and is still talking about how she wishes she had gone. Antarctica is a place on this planet that seems too remote for you guys to reach – is that even possible?!? – and you have an opportunity to go there! Enjoy it – I can’t wait to see the pictures.

  3. says

    We thought about doing it when we were down in Ushuaia, but the cost was just going to be far too great for us. We did duck in a few travel agents to inquire about last minute options but just couldn’t make it work. A couple on our Galapagos boat trip did do it though and said it was incredible. It truly is one of those once-in-a-lifetime things. If you can make it work, do it.

  4. says

    Personally, I would do it. As someone above says, money comes, money goes. If you ramp up the business side of things to help pay for it, you may also see an improvement in your finances in general, as well as a traffic boost from visiting Antarctica, so it sounds like a win-win situation to me!

  5. says

    I’m going to go in the minority here and say skip it. All of our best travel moments have come when interacting with other people and not just “seeing stuff”. I don’t have any doubt that Antarctica is an eye orgy, but for the cost, I don’t know if the reward is there. To us, there’s a bigger reward in learning some local slang or connecting with someone then seeing some ice with penguins on it. If you have a lump of cash sitting around that you don’t know what to do with, then go for it, otherwise think about all the other experiences that money can bring you.

  6. says

    I have a couple of friends who have worked for several seasons at the South Pole. If you’re interested, I’d be happy to put you in touch with them for a real on-the-ground perspective.

  7. says

    First off, I’m totally thrilled that you all are posting comments that are pulling our train of thought in different directions. Love it.

    @McKinze: A huge thanks for your kind words. Absolutely made my day. Regarding your advice, there’s a good part of that thinks if we decide to go, we’ll make the rest work out as you suggest we’ll be forced to do.
    @Emily: Wow, now all I can do is think about your roommate.
    And yes, there are places that seem pretty remote and far flung (physically and metaphorically). Antarctica qualifies as one of them. We are also considering taking on a project that would bring us to southern Sudan. I know, I know. We’re a little crazy. And quite literally all over the map.
    @Theresa: Thanks for the perspective. Until the end of last year, we imagined doing as you did — going to Ushuaia and fishing for an Antarctica tour there.
    @Kelsey: Good thinking, seeing the opportunity. Those thoughts occurred to us as well. Win-win indeed.
    @Kyle: We’re grateful for your perspective. And I’d be lying if I said that similar thoughts hadn’t occurred to me in the form of guilt. The travel experiences — our most memorable and the ones we tend to emphasize — are the human ones. Valuing humanity is core to our travel ethic. Having said that, so many of our experiences are people and culture heavy that a visit to Antarctica would actually be a bit of a change for us.

  8. says

    Nice post Daniel. This is a hard question. I think if you’re gut feeling tells you to go for it, you should. I’ve always gotten good things by trusting my gut feelings. Who knows… maybe after the experience, you’ll find that it was worth it and be able to come up with an idea to get the money back. Anyway, I’ll support whatever decision you end up making. Good luck!

  9. Paul says

    First time reader. Financial instability is temporary. Regret is forever. I am nowhere near fortunate enough to be in your shoes, but if I were, I’d be packing in layers. As others have suggested, opportunity is knocking. Answer the door and you’ll figure out the rest later. Regards .

  10. says

    @Hulbert: My gut is conflicted, but it leans towards pressing the “Go” button. I tend to think things through rather thoroughly (too thoroughly, some might say), very rarely going with my gut when making decisions. Mixed results, I’d say. However, it was my impulsiveness (that’s visceral, isn’t it?) that brought Antarctica back to active consideration. Thanks for your words and your support, regardless of which direction we choose.
    @Paul: Really great to see you here. And thanks for your wisdom. Regret really does last forever, doesn’t it? And opportunity knocks for a reason.

  11. says

    You guys are so obviously interested in the experience, and if the money issue is truly the only main thing holding you back…then I say go. I’ll echo what others have said – it’s only temporary and you’ll find the opportunities you’ll need once you get back to re-stabilize the finances.

    It’s such an incredibly opportunity (one that is on my own bucket list) – and it all seems like things have aligned so that you can do this: the right season, you’re in the right place, there’s a few spots left, and you *do* actually have the cash…

    Can’t wait to see the pictures ;-)

  12. says

    I could sense a tone of excitement behind the words of this post and as others have mentioned, the worst situation you could find yourself in would be dealing with regret! New experiences lead to new opportunities so if you’re drawn to Antarctica, then you should go and see where the adventure takes you…

  13. says

    Two words, do it! Don’t even think about it. I’ve been to all seven continents. I’ve seen a lot of the world. But nothing has or will ever compare to my trip to Antarctica. My experience was a bit different then most as I went with a literature class from my university, but it was still one of the most awe-inspiring 2 weeks of my life. You can look at a picture of an iceberg and think, wow, that’s pretty. But nothing can prepare you for actually seeing that ice berg in person towering above you. Antarctica produces colors that I never dreamed existed outside of a Crayola crayon box. I got up close and personal with penguins. I had a staring contest with a minke whale. I learned to tango on boat with the Argentinean crew. I slide down a glacier on a giant ice slide. I jumped into the frigid waters of Deception Bay then soaked my freezing body in a hand-dug hot tub. I watched a 2 hour sunset. Yes, everyone’s experiences will be different depending on the ship company you take and the places you make your landings. But that is one of the awesome things about Antarctica. You aren’t going to see a castle or monument that has been around for centuries, but a natural wonderland that is constantly changing. The animals and ice are unpredictable. Is it expensive? Heck yes. I am still paying for it via my student loans, but if you have the money, do it. Do it. Do it. Do it!! :)
    (if you do decide to go, try and get on a smaller ship, even if it is a bit more. Ours had just over a hundred people. You will get to do more landings and get to know the crew and your fellow passengers much better)

  14. says

    @Shannon: Thanks for the words of encouragement. It’s interesting the discussion of those things that are temporary (financial concerns) and those things that are more permanent (regret) that this post has generated.
    @Earl: See where the adventure takes you. I like that. That’s motivation enough.
    @Sharan: Good point. Thanks for pointing us in the direction of some of our own guiding principles.
    @Laura: Quite an endorsement, particularly when you put it up against experiences on all the other continents. I don’t know that our expectations are quite that high (our collective experience in Asia will be difficult to beat). Perhaps I’d just like to “be” there, in a way where I’ve been nowhere else. Anyhow, it sounds like you truly experienced your trip of a lifetime. Thanks for the tip on the smaller boat. That’s what we are looking at…just over 100 on board.
    @marta: True. We will figure it out, one way or another.

  15. Mark says

    Obviously you have to go! I don’t think there is any way around it. To see Ushushaia, to be in the central hole in the ozone layer…how could you miss that? To sail the Cape. Tales of whalers. I look forward to reading about it.

    Money is just an artificial construct anyway. That part will easily work out.

    Mark

  16. says

    Antarctica is the one place that is at the very edge of our “must do but not quite yet” list. The cost is a huge, huge factor for us especially because we think about how many other places we can go for months with the money that we spend on a few weeks there. BUT, all that being said, it is something that we will absolutely do one day when we get the opportunity and all the cards fall into place. If you think it’s the moment and you both are fired up about it, then I think you should go for it.

    And, I can’t wait to see the photos when you get back.

  17. says

    Oh wow, I say DO IT!!! Yes, it will require a lot of money, but the memories you will have from the trip will be priceless. I think you will regret not going for the rest of your life. You never know what obstacles you might face in the future. Antarctica is #1 on my list of places to visit. I almost made it happen this year. Fingers crossed I can make it happen the next. GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :)

  18. says

    Without studying the cost particulars or knowing how much you’ve budgeted for South America… I like McKinze’s first comment.
    I am a new reader so I followed your link to deliberate living. It seems that curiosity is a strong motivator for you, yes? You’re certainly expressing a lot of curiosity about Antarctica, is how it looks from where I’m sitting.

  19. says

    If you can do it, I say go for it! If you’re on twitter, I’d follow @bus2antartica if you don’t already. One of the national geographic guys just made the trek, really interesting stuff!

  20. Suzanne says

    I say go. For all of the reasons listed above, but also for the change of pace. Yes, you love meeting people and visiting their homes and eating street food. This would be completely different. Think of it as a palate cleanser before you resume your socio-cultural exploration in Africa. Or wherever. But try for Africa – I want to meet up with the two of you here! (I say “here” because I’m still in Congo – leaving tomorrow)

    Regarding the money, you are both smart and marketable. You’ll do what you need to do because you are secure with your choices. And if things get tough, I’m sure you could move in with my mom. :)

  21. says

    I’m lucky enough to have been to Antarctica. It’s an amazing place for natural beauty (unless you love trees :) ) and wildlife (assuming you’re lucky enough to see whales, which you’re almost certain to). The Drake Passage can be brutal (I was bed-ridden for 4 days… but others were fine). The time on the continent is key. I *highly* recommend only booking on a boat with less than 100 passengers (100 is the max by law that any boat can land, so if there are more than 100 people, you might not get to make every landing). I had a great experience with Quark Expeditions (as have others).

    Is it worth the price? I honestly don’t know; for most people (North Americans at least), you can probably get essentially the same experience for much lower prices by visiting remote Alaska or northern Canada. But Antarctica has a special pull. And it’s unlikely that it will get cheaper to visit in the future…

  22. says

    @Mark: Brilliant on so many levels.  The central hole in the ozone layer.  So true.  I almost mentioned the ozone hole in this piece, but decided to cut it back in the interest of focusing the discussion.  Sailing the cape, looking for whalers.  Now there’s as good an excuse as any to look into the face of an artificial construct.
    @Akila: Thanks for your words of encouragement.  By the way, I completely understand and appreciate the “very edge of a ‘must do but not quite yet list.”
    @Kim: I hear ya!
    @Andi:  Thanks for the words of encouragement.  ”You never know what obstacles you might face in the future.”  Can’t argue with that.
    @Jolyn:  Great to see you here!  I like McKinze’s comment, too.  Curiosity motivates much of what we’re doing and how we are doing it.  And like I said to Kyle (and Suzanne pointed out below), we enjoy very deeply the human experiences throughout our travels.  This is a different .  But maybe there’s something we could see in Antarctica that uniquely reflects our humanity (or perhaps its frailty at the hands of Mother Nature).
    @Nicki: Thanks.  We’re following ‘em already.
    @Bill: Short and sweet…and exactly right.
    @Suzanne: A palate cleanser for Africa.  I’ve thought of it that way, but not quite with such perfect poetry.  Two unknown lands (for me, at least) at very opposite ends of the spectrum.  We are working on Africa; we have a few dates circulating.  Regarding moving in with your mom, can we hold you (and your mom) to that promise?  Any chance she’s willing to back up that promise on this thread?
    @Mike: We’ve heard the Drake Passage is beyond rough.  Not enough to weigh in on the decision-making, but if we’re told if we go to pack a bunch of motion sickness pills.  Very good perspective on the price.  I imagine there are similar experiences at the opposite end of the Earth that are similarly beautiful or perhaps even better in some ways.  But you are correct: Antarctica has that special pull.  Perhaps it’s magnetic.  And it will only become more expensive. Anyhow, am glad you had a great experience.

  23. says

    Like a couple of others, I’ve done Antarctica (my blog of the experience is linked above) and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I found my trip at the beginning of the season better for making friends because people skew older the later you go, but it was the best month of my life (also took in falklands and South Georgia, which is even better). I will always cherish the friends I made and the things I saw, which have to be seen to be believed. Definitely go for a small boat – I have a friend who went on a big cruise ship and her experience was, while still wonderful, less full on than mine. I also went with Quark, and recommend them highly – great team, they fully interact with the passengers and I made some good friends on the staff too.

    As I say, I can’t recommend it enough. Go. You WON’T regret it.

    Susan

  24. Don says

    It certainly looks like you were leaning in the direction of a “go” even before the responses and the consensus seems to be obvious. It was nice of Suzanne to reassure you that you will not be in the street if funds run short after your return. If you are not averse to the beauty of northeastern Pennsylvania then consider the guarantee of great food, comfortable shelter and challenging conversation to be an open ended offer if the need ever occurs. One consideration: Can’t always guarantee a bed because of unexpected demands on a small home but can guarantee that the door will always be open. Also you must be willing to subject yourself to a steady demand for love and attention from our guard dog.

  25. says

    @Susan: Sounds like a terrific experience. Thanks for the tips and words of encouragement.
    @Don: Thanks. Let’s hope it comes to a visit and not a dire need. And of course we’ll look forward to that demanding dog.

  26. Alex says

    You will somehow figure out your financials, or maybe the forces of the Universe will do it for you while you are getting up close and personal with the penguins or jumping in the hot water surrounded by icebergs. Yes, go for it. I’ve always felt that a certain type of people are attracted to Antartica (and not all have large bank accounts), so I am sure the human aspect of the travel experience will be met as well. We cannot wait to read about your experience.

  27. says

    I think you always regret the things you haven’t done, rather than the things you do. Go for it! Antarctica is a dream for me, too, but I’m nowhere as close as you guys…

  28. says

    I think I would have to agree with Kyle – skip it. At first I thought it sounded so exciting, but on second thought.. :S
    I’m all for the ‘you only live once’ thing, but if you only live once, why spend it all on one place when you can spend it on plenty? ;) Like Kyle says, it’s not the places themselves that is what you’ll remember the most, but the meetings with the people.

  29. says

    you guys have been “everywhere” – many places… so why not go to an exotic destination not many people have been- that´s what you do. I say – GO! it will definetly produce amazing pics and posts! just go! ;)

  30. says

    @Alex: Thank you for a very thoughtful comment. I believe you are right when you say that it takes a certain type of person to be attracted to Antarctica — and not all of them are well-funded. We too would like to think that we will touch the human side of the Antarctica experience as well. Stay tuned.

    @MummyT: Thanks for the encouragement and the “no regret” perspective. We tend to agree. Life can be an exercise in regret avoidance.

    @Sofia: Thanks for another notch in the “No” column. We’re glad to get dissenting opinions as well. It’s true that at the end of it all, the longest impressions will be left by the people who touched us throughout our journey (and there have been many across the world, in very remote places). However, the relationship between all of those people and their environment is never so oddly and starkly laid bare as it is in the world’s hard-to-reach places (e.g., Galapagos, Mustang Nepal, Antarctica come to mind).

    @Adriana: Thanks for the encouragement!

  31. Tim Saunders says

    Hey Dan,

    I think this is the coolest adventure yet. I really admire what you and Audrey are doing and feel lucky that I get to follow your adventures in words and pictures.

    My kids are watching the movie Up! again for the 100th time…and I hope they, too, get the same desire for adventure and living outside their comfort zone.

    Safe travels and enjoy as you know how to do.

    Best,

    Tim

  32. says

    @Tim: Great to hear from you. For us, this trip has been fantastic — it definitely rates very highly. I won’t say it’s the best, for of the better adventures we’ve had, each offers something a bit different.

    Regarding your kids and their comfort zone, I think it’s a matter of exposure and encouragement. Some experience or taste could also come along that will flip their adventure and curiosity buttons…and they’ll be off.

    The process will be fun to witness, I’m sure. It’s always interesting to hear what life events have motivated and inspired people to live outside their comfort zones and seek adventure in life.

  33. bernadine martin says

    I like cruising and just came back from the Antarctica in February. It was my best cruise ever. And I’d do it again in a minute. I went on a big cruise ship and didn’t feel I missed a thing. With a larger ship you can see a lot more from the upper decks than a small ship – and it is cheaper than the smaller ones. Didn’t get to step on shore, but nothing there to step on shore for. Absolutely spectacular scenary

  34. says

    @bernadine: Thanks for your comment. I’m glad to hear that you had a great experience in Antarctica. It is truly a special place. For the benefit of other readers, I’d like to respond to the two issues you raised:
    1) Seeing more from the upper decks of a big ship vs. a small ship. I’m inclined to believe that the immensity of Antarctica and its waters can most fully be appreciated on a small ship. Having said that, a ship that is a bit larger probably affords some other benefits (safety, for example). However, I cannot believe that you’ll see more from the upper deck of a big ship than the upper deck of a small ship. If your big ship is 10-12 stories high, perhaps you get more of an aerial view of some of the islands and some of the land, but we didn’t feel like any of our views were at all obscured on our 120 passenger ship.
    2) Stepping on shore. Here, I’m going to have to completely disagree. Having stepped on shore of both islands and the actual continent below/south of the Antarctic Circle (so, mainly ice) and above/north of the Antarctic Circle, I’d suggest that landings are critical to experiencing the continent in all its dimensions: the landscape (mountains, inland ice floes), wildlife (penguins, seals and birds) and the history (all the Antarctic research stations, both active and inactive). The only other experience that competes with actual landings are zodiac cruises through inlets and ice floes.
    Having said all this, any opportunity to go to and experience Antarctica is likely worth the effort.

  35. bernadine martin says

    Hello Danial and thanks for the comments. but I did enjoy the view from above – like as standing on a hill and seeing the panoramic view all around you. I walked among the King penguins in the Falklands (getting to Volunteer Point was like going through Drake Passage on a very very rough day), had the opportunity to walk among other varieties as wellas see them from the ship – e saw orcas, humpbacks, and the many birds that flew so close to our heads. I have some wonderful pictures. I had one posted on the MSNBC web page for a while. The ship spent a night offshore from a research center and some of the divers and scientists came aboard for the night and gave a great lecture in the evening. We sent them back the next day with their Zodiac laden with fresh fruits and vegetables. We picked up one scientist whose contract was up and dropped a replacement for the coming A. winer. We had naturalists on board as well as a fantastic ice master. So I really didn’t feel like I missed anything. Since I live in Northern MN about 10 blocks from Lake Superior and 150 miles from the Boundary Canoe Waters I get plenty of ice, snow and below zero temperatures. Myselft, I would like to do both. experiences – large and small ship. I’m saving my small boat trip for the Arctic.

  36. says

    @bernadine: I’m really thankful for your comments and the back and forth. I think it’s helpful for anyone reading — and choosing to visit Antarctica — to have multiple perspectives and options.Scientists, researchers and explorers all add a fascinating dimension to the place – I’m glad that you had the opportunity to interact with research scientists and understand their history as part of your journey. And that’s very cool you had a chance to walk amongst the King Penguins. When I return, I’d love to experience the Falklands and South Georgia Island. I suspect the wildlife would be overwhelming.

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