People talk a lot about the transformative power of travel. It definitely rings true for me.
Whenever I’ve turned to travel during tumultuous periods of my life, it’s saved me in a way. Travel has a way of putting things into perspective. Often it realigns the things that really matter in your head.
Travel, by its very nature, sparks joy. I mean, that’s why we go, isn’t it? We’re seeking something. With over 100 countries and all seven continents under my belt, I can safely say that travel can and will change your life – if you let it. And is there anything more joyful than stumbling across the best little restaurant in Rome? Or learning to dive with manta rays in Thailand? Or climbing mountains in New Zealand like Frodo?
Nope, nothing beats that. Well, except for Antarctica. Antarctica beats everything. Antarctica is life-changing.
Yes, Antarctica. The great white nation to the south; uninhabited and ruled by birds and scientists. Land of penguins and whales. NOT the land of polar bears (wrong hemisphere). Of all the places I’ve been privileged enough to travel to in my short life, nothing comes close to Antarctica.
In fact, I love Antarctica so much, I’ve been several times, even returning next season to guide!
And for the first time ever, Antarctica has become more accessible to people like you and me. If I were to recommend anywhere in the world to travel to, it has to be here. Do not pass Go, and do not collect $200. From being the last pure wilderness on earth to wildlife on a scale you can’t imagine to letting go of your need to be in charge, Antarctica can and will change your life. It’s the most transformative place on earth. Buckle up.
Here are eight ways Antarctica is life-changing – enjoy!
1. You’ll become a proper bird nerd
Let’s not beat around the bush. A voyage to Antarctica will turn you into a bird nerd. You can’t see a penguin up close and personal for a minute and not become a bird nerd. It’s impossible.
But here’s the thing. You won’t see just one penguin. You’ll see thousands.
It all begins when your ship begins its iconic journey through the Drake Passage. Here you’ve said goodbye to the Roaring Forties and you’re well into the Furious Fifties on your way to the Screaming Sixties. There is no resistance of any landmass in the world in this part of the Southern Ocean, making wild wind and huge swells the norm.
While we humans don’t necessarily love winds so strong it can knock you over, many seabirds do. As you emerge from the sheltered Beagle Channel in Argentina into the Drake, you’ll notice the most amazing albatross cutting clean lines behind the ship. Seeing so many is the first taste of the epic wildlife that’s about to come.
Once you get to the Antarctica Peninsula itself, then it becomes penguin time.
Instead of seeing some penguins here and there, you’ll likely be tripping over them. Down here, protected and sheltered, penguin colonies thrive. Often you can hear their gentle calls carried on the wind far away, and you can also smell them from far away too. But don’t be deterred.
There’s nothing quite so life-changing as walking alongside a colony of penguins numbering in the thousands. Gentoos. Chinstraps. Adelies. It’s mind-boggling and awe-inspiring to witness wildlife this up close and personal. This does not really happen anymore in places where humans inhabit. How can this not change you?
2. Antarctica puts things in perspective
At the risk of stating the obvious – Antarctica is life-changing and big. And it will make you feel small.
Covered in glaciers that tower over you and mountains as far as you can see, Antarctica has a way of putting things into scale. We are tiny compared to this incredible place. Whether surrounded by humpback whales feeding or walking on beaches made up of whale bones, you quickly feel tiny amongst such tremendous nature.
On my first voyage to Antarctica years ago, we got our first taste as we approached the Antarctica Peninsula from South Georgia. Suddenly, emerging from the mist, was a wall of blue ice that extended as far as you could see. Iceberg A68A was once 5,800 square kilometers when it broke off of the ice shelf.
Nothing makes you feel like you’re approaching Antarctica than witnessing these huge tabular icebergs in real life. The scale of Antarctica is life-changing.
3. You have to go with the flow
In Antarctica, Mother Nature is in charge. Followed up by your Russian captain.
Any trip to Antarctica is determined by the weather. Nothing is guaranteed. Here the storms can be huge, and the consequences dire. This means that all expedition trips down there have to play it by ear. The expedition leader puts together plans of landings based on many factors, including wind and ice. Often one bay might be chock full of sea ice preventing the zodiac boats from entering, while another will be clear and still like a mirror.
A lifelong solo traveler and introvert, it was a great lesson to learn. I had to go with the flow. We have no say in where we go and land; it’s all dictated by the weather. For those of us who are used to being in charge, especially traveling, it can be quite a humbling experience. So sit back and enjoy the ride.
4. You learn that travel insurance is essential
I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an expedition ship not requiring travel insurance on a voyage to Antarctica. Because it’s so unpredictable, combined with the cost involved and its sheer remoteness, your backup plans need backup plans. Travel insurance is mandatory on most trips, and it is a condition of travel.
And not just any old travel insurance, either. You need to have one that is fully comprehensive and covers medical expenses, including emergency repatriation to at least one million dollars, if not unlimited. Think about it. What happens if something goes wrong? If it’s bad, usually the ship has to turn around. There are no hospitals or medical centers, or rescue helicopters, though most ships have a doctor on board. Most of the time, all they do is distribute seasickness pills.
It goes without saying that the greatest way to alleviate any on-the-ground travel anxiety is making sure you have good travel insurance. You guys know I buy an annual policy every year with Southern Cross Travel Insurance (SCTI), my now go-to provider for all things travel insurance-related on all my travels worldwide. They also offer single-trip policies too. Their motto is “Relax; we’re with you.” Just what we need!
5. You haven’t lived until you’ve been pooped on by a fluffy penguin chick – and it doesn’t bother you
You can’t have penguins without penguin poop. And with 10,000 penguins? Well, you get the idea.
Someone once told me about the smells, before my first trip to the Antarctic. Here you have life and death confronting you at every moment. It’s impossible not to when confronted with wildlife on such a scale. While it might seem a bit ick in advance, once you’re there, it doesn’t matter much. You’ll be wearing fully waterproof gear, often with jackets and bug muck boots provided by the ship. Because biosecurity is essential here, you’ll wash your boots and gear when you get on and off the ship. And with it? Penguin poop.
The thing about having the best penguin experiences is to sit down and observe them (though last season, we had to keep a bit of a distance because of bird flu). It’s fascinating – I could watch the colonies for hours – it’s like nature’s tv. One time I had a fluffy grey gentoo penguin climb across my lap. Then, you guessed it; he pooped on me.
I wouldn’t change that memory for anything in the world!
6. Being offline is good for the soul
Is it weird to say that one of my favorite things about Antarctica is being offline?
Once you hit sixty degrees south, whatever terrible, expensive satellite internet the ship offers usually craps out completely. Don’t bother buying it; just accept that as soon as that ship bids Argentina farewell, your internet and 5G depart too.
In a world that is more connected than ever (boo you, Starlink!), it’s harder just to get offline and be in nature. Antarctica gives you the rare opportunity to disconnect and be in one of the most incredible places on Earth. Put your phone down and just soak it in, in all its wonder.
Antarctica is life-changing if you completely immerse yourself in it. No pings. No beeps. Just the sounds of the wind and the birds.
7. You’ll likely leave polar obsessed
There’s a saying you’ll hear onboard trips to Antarctica – catching the polar bug. Much better than covid.
Antarctica is addictive. It will get under your skin and never leave. It has a profound impact on many of its visitors, myself included. Nothing compares, and nothing beats it. It introduces you to polar travel, showing just how special these places on the fringes of the world are.
So prepare yourself and your savings accounts. Once you take your first polar trip, there’s no turning back. Antarctica is life-changing, especially when it comes to travel.
8. You’ll become an ambassador and an advocate
Perhaps you don’t consider yourself much of a greenie or conservationist, but it’s pretty hard to journey to Antarctica and not leave wanting to protect it. Antarctica feels fragile, as if it teeters on the edge of development. And, in fact, it does. The treaty that protects it will expire in 2048 – who then will fight for it to remain untouched?
Once you experience a world ruled by nature and wildlife, you can’t help but want to protect it. I’ve found that most people who are lucky enough to step foot on the seventh continent will go on to want to protect it. If we don’t, who will?
What do you think? Is this the kind of experience you yearn for too? Can you see how Antarctica is life-changing? Share!