Antarctica was the final continent that I had yet to visit and it’s a place that few people have the chance to got to. In my research on the trip iI was surprised that it has only been since the late 1960’s that Antarctica has been open to tourists and only around 35,000 people go every year as you can only visit during the “summer” months November – March.
A key issue that had kept me from visiting was that I had thought that it was not possible to afford a trip to Antarctica, as I am frequent solo traveller. The usual cost of a cabin is about £6,000 per person for a shared room and although there are single cabins those usually cost around £10,000. However I have always been pretty good at finding better deals and when you start really searching you can get the price down.
The size of the ship that you travel on affects the cost, many ships have around a 100 person capacity or less and these will cost more but larger ships tend to be cheaper. I kept searching and found prices as low as £3,500pp for a trip and suddenly it was seeming a lot more affordable. Now these rooms were actually for 3 people to share so if you have close friends whom you don’t mind being locked in small room for 14 days surrounded by water then bingo you have a “cheap” option.
The larger ships do have single cabin available but the cheapest I was finding was around £6,500, which is still pretty good considering the earlier rates but I wanted cheaper. I eventually found a special offer which had a no single supplement and booked a cabin for £4,200 on the M.S Fram. This was one of the larger ships with a 300 person capacity and many tour operators recommend against this. The main disadvantage of a larger ship is that only 100 people are allowed per landing in Antarctica, therefore when you are on a larger vessel the time you have to explore on each landing is less as its necessary to rotate the numbers. This can be a deal breaker for some but for me I was happy with the 2-3hrs I had on each landing and along with the price being significantly smaller, the larger also means that it can handle the rough seas (drakes passage) a bit smoother.
Now after booking my cabin I still had a few extras that were required to be paid for, firstly the cabin price does include an internal flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia where most ships leave from but it does not include international flights. I did some searching and managed to get a flight on Opodo from Edinburgh to Buenos Aires which cost £669 via London with British Airways (I also used an online voucher to get an extra £25 off by doing a Google search for Opodo voucher). The next essential item is special gear for visiting Antarctica, because its Antarctica and its going to be bloody cold and its important to have proper clothes.
I did some Google research into what people recommend for brining to Antarctica and I have included what i bought and brought below, this is really dependant on the person however. I mean some people feel the cold more than other, case in point there was a guy on my ship who went around in shorts all the time (Canadians!).
In terms of my main footwear the ship offered a free boot rental which was perfect for the landings so all i required were shoes for exploring the ship. I brought a pair of sneakers but also a pair of light walking boots with a good grip as the outside deck can be a bit slippery underfoot when it rains and snows. As for socks I bought 3 pairs of merino wool socks, these are good for keeping your feet warm but also keep sweat to a minimum. I also had 8 pairs of normal socks.
Firstly you need waterproof ski pants cause its Antarctica and there will be snow, I got a pair from Mountain Warehouse for £40 and there were really good, these were ideal for the snow landings. On the colder days i also wore a pair of merino wool long johns which again i got from mountain warehouse. I also brought along a pair of hardshell pants, these were water resistant and fleece lined and were perfect for the early landings. I also had a couple of pairs of trousers, a pair of jogging bottoms and a pair of jeans for using when on the ship.
The main top layer is a jacket, i brought a light waterproof jacket for wearing on the ship and then I got given a free outer shell fleece lined jacket on the ship. The one thing to remember is that you want to have multiple layers so that you can take of tops as the temperature fluctuate which happens when you start hiking up a mountain on a landing. The other main top layers i brought were two long sleeve merino wool tops, 3 fleece tops and 5 T-shirts. These could all be used interchangeable depending on the weather conditions and i found that most of the time i wore a merino long sleeve top, medium fleece and outershell jacket for the landings. I also brought a couple of jumpers for onboard the ship, each day you end up wearing two sets of clothes one for the landing and one for the ship.
A very important accessory is some sun glasses, as I found that the sun reflecting on the snow did hurt my eyes it is wickedly bright over there. Also bring some suntan lotion, although it is not hot the sun is can be dangerous in terms of the UV levels that are there (hole in the ozone layer and all that).
You also need a small day pack for taking on the landings, this is where you can put your camera and also where you can take or store extra clothing layers. I bought a waterproof backpack as it can get a bit wet on the small zodiac boats to and from the landings.
Gloves are pretty important and I went with a dual layering system of having a light glove inside a heavy glove. I would recommend a waterproof inner glove and standard outer one, you want to be able to operate your camera etc so test the fit before you leave. Another important layer is a scarf and I went for snood which was really good and definitely recommended also it cost like £3 from amazon.
Also of course a camera and although most forum recommended extra batteries I would say one extra is fine. I did two landings a day and could charge my camera on the ship between landing if necessary. I only recommended the extra battery just in case your battery fails for some reason, as amazon does not deliver to Antarctica yet.
As it is Antarctica i brought a few essential with me, the main one was buying some Dramamine for the sea sickness. I took one tablet before going through Drakes passage there and back and was never sick. I also brought some ibuprofen gel, plasters (for blisters), SPF 30 lip bam to prevent your lips getting dry or burned (it happens!), sun cream (SPF 30) and some laundry tablets (I did some light washing of socks, t-shirts and underwear on the ship).
I did have to search around for the appropriate travel insurance, the key is to have insurance that includes helicopter rescue because there are no hospitals that far south so if you have a medical emergency a helicopter is your only option. I got a good deal with annual InsureandGo Silver cover which was only £38.