What’s the one place in the world that has been calling to you? What’s your number one country you dream of visiting? For me, it’s always been Antarctica. The last continent. The icy land of historic explorers and penguins.
South Georgia, the remote subantarctic island a couple thousand kilometers east off the coast of Argentina, that you probably have never heard of. It is one of those places you’d probably only ever come across in National Geographic magazines or David Attenborough documentaries at the dentist’s office.
Unless you’re a super conservation geek like me and saw the “viral news” earlier this year announcing South Georgia was finally eradicated of rats and is now pest free! (read more here on the Guardian). A fragile wild environment, it’s home to some of the most incredible landscapes and wildlife on earth, not to mention South Georgia a place few make the long journey to, leaving it pristine and wild.
There are no regularly flights, or any flights really. In fact, there population is roughly 30 souls who aren’t permanent and roughly a bajillion penguins.
Unless you are a scientist or very wealthy modern-day adventurer, your chances of getting to South Georgia are slim to none unless by expedition cruise. Quark is the leader in polar expeditions, and to get to a place like South Georgia, your only option is by ship, which is what I did for almost a month earlier this year.
I’ll preface this by saying I hate cruises. Cruises are not my thing. Not remotely. But since the only way I was getting my little feet on South Georgia was by ship, I had to change my attitude.
Lucky for me, and my fellow non-cruise squad, Quark’s trips are very much expedition style trips, and not cruises. There aren’t any massage rooms (sad), there is no pool with a waterslide on deck, no neon cable lighting and definitely no scheduled group karaoke nights, though there might be some impromptu ones held in the lounge by us younger folks after 3 days at sea at 3am but that’s a story for another day.
There are no tropical beach holiday vibes on board, and the incredible ships feel very much like an adventure/expedition ship, it reminded me of Russian icebreakers I’ve been on or scientific research vessels, but more comfortable.
So while you’re on a ship, it truly feels like an expedition and not a cruise, with the landings and experiences dictated by mother nature, bolstered by a real sense of adventure. For example was so windy our first morning in South Georgia, when I rose at 4am out of sheer excitement and went to open the door on deck, well, I couldn’t actually open it because it was THAT windy. Excursion postponed til door-closing wind abates, off to somewhere else!
This kind of trip is not that’s not really a cruise, instead it’s an expedition by ship to some of the most remote places on earth. You gotta be flexible, eager and go with the flow.
For many travelers, South Georgia is the ultimate bucket list trip with their partners and significant others. But what about the rest of us single people? Friendless people? People who can’t find a travel buddy with the same budget? Or people who just like traveling alone, like me?
A lifelong solo traveler, I have never shied away from an experience because I didn’t know anyone else or had to travel alone. In fact, I usually find the opposite. I knew going into this that with several weeks on board a ship, I was going to get to know people whether I wanted to or not, which made it much easier.
With butterflies in my stomach boarding the ship in Ushuaia, I walked into my room for the first time. I was in a three bed girls bunk, the entry level room, with a porthole. Cozy.
The cheap rooms are on the bottom of the ship, which trust me, is a good thing. The higher up you go, the nicer the rooms, but you have a lot more motion as the ship moves through some of the roughest seas on earth. The more you pay, the more you sway.
Anyway, where was I? It’s basically like your first day of school but less dreadful and with no homework. And with baby furry penguins.
You arrive on board and meet as strangers, everyone is in the same boat—literally—and all unified by a profound excitement for the adventure ahead. You pick up your new school uniform, the iconic Quark yellow parka, and begin to familiarize yourself with the ship.
Here’s the library, there’s the dining room, oh and most importantly, the bar is just over there. The perfect place to meet new friends. Hello open bar tab and $5 cocktails! What up!
Pro tip: do not drink more than 2 cocktails at night on open sea days.
Photo by Jarrad Seng
The ship is your home, and you quickly will familiarize yourself with your new surroundings. From movies in the evenings to intriguing lectures during the day from the knowledgeable expedition team from everything you could want to know and more about their work and adventures in Antarctica, you won’t be bored.
We often were surprised with bbq’s outside and fun activities where we could all hang out and get to know each other, really making it feel like you weren’t alone.
Because you’re in a confined space and all connected over a mutual love of penguins, nature, adventure and travel, it’s very easy to meet new people on board as a solo traveler.
Many of us share rooms with strangers, and I’m still great friends with my bunkmate, who I’d stay up late every night with reminiscing over the day to dance marathons. In the beginning I would recap the best bits of Shackleton’s Endurance to her from the bottom bunk as I plowed my way through it “can you believe they ate baby emperor penguins?!” and we would sometimes get dressed up and put on lipstick and then go take ourselves on a date to the bar and dinner.
It was awesome!
Additionally, Quark offers lots of activities, events and fun surprises to guests where you can meet new people. And with free seating in the dining room, I often made a point to sit alone at a table, just to see who would join me and chat.
Photo by Jarrad Seng
Once you make your first landings on the Falklands and South Georgia, you’ll notice you’re bonding with passengers over truly unique moments. Once your groups get to land, everyone disperses around so often you’ll find yourself observing something remarkable next to a stranger. Before South Georgia most ships will also call into the Falkland Islands, another incredible conglomerate of islands, a British Overseas Territory home to a few thousand hardy souls and lots of birds.
From sitting down on the rocks as a horde of penguins waddle pass and turning to each other to say, “wow, did you see that?” to raising a toast to the legendary Shackleton over his grave, the remarkable moments you’ll witness together will make memories that will last forever.
After all, there is nothing quite so powerful as a shared moment in an extraordinary place.
Solo travel is an incredibly rewarding way to travel and experience the world, offering you all new insights and views into a particular destination; a Quark Expeditions trip to South Georgia and the Falklands is the perfect place for solo travelers, because you can have the best of both worlds.
You have a whole new group of like minded friends on board with you, but you also have the freedom to wander and explore at your own pace too.
From the great people you’ll meet to hanging out with the expedition team to discovering things about yourself you didn’t know about before, solo travel on South Georgia is a guaranteed phenomenal experience for the intrepid traveler.
Photo by Jarrad Seng
There are no shortage of new friends on board an adventure to the subantarctic. I have found over the years when you travel solo you often will meet more people; there is something more open and easy about approaching others when you’re alone.
I’d often hang out with the expedition team (who were very patient haha), ask them questions and encourage them to share some of their incredible stories, many of whom have spent seasons and seasons in some of the most wild polar places on earth.
There was a solid group of about a dozen of us solo travelers or young couple and we were always hanging out, commandeering the biggest table in the dining hall at breakfasts and running ridiculous games and pranks in the evenings and even making a bit of mischief.
Did I drunkenly steal a guide’s radio on the dance floor on the last night? Maybe. Was there a bit of midnight streaking around the deck of the ship one night that led the Russian Captain to waking up the expedition leader to send us back to bed? Perhaps. Did we leave each other all anonymous kind notes and cards in each other’s elaborately decorated vomit bags? Sure did.
All in good fun, guys.
The best part is that we are all still good friends, have a somewhat lively Facebook chat and are all meeting up in Uganda in June for our friend’s charity!
As a solo traveler on South Georgia and the Falklands, there’s also heaps of alone time too. I often found myself wandering to the edges of the designated landing sites all by myself. I really enjoyed the opportunity to sit down and observe nature. I do love my on company.
These islands are home to many amazing bird colonies; if you sit down quietly and just watch them, they will often do some spectacular things.
South Georgia and the Falklands are the kinds of places that unifies travelers; everyone shares the same joy and excitement and love of nature and adventure.
Because the nature of the expedition brings people together, especially if you are a solo traveler, there is still profound wonders and experiences here for you. From walking in the footsteps of the shared explorers to narrating your own unique moment on land over lunch back on the ship, solo travel in South Georgia and the Falklands is a great way to experience this incredible corner of the world.
Would you go on a solo adventure to the Antarctic? Have any tips to share? Spill