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There are very few things in this world that can overwhelm your senses like a visit to the frozen frontier; although Antarctica may seem cold and unwelcoming, it’s actually one of the most interesting and strikingly beautiful places on planet Earth.

An expedition to Antarctica was once an arduous journey, reserved for only the most adventurous explorers, though today anyboy can join a cruise and experience the continent in luxury and comfort.

That said, the cost and logistics mean that most people expect to plan the Antarctic cruise only once in their lifetime, so it’s important as a first timer to know what to expect.

… And perhaps, more importantly, what not to forget!

First-Timers to Antarctica: Don’t Forget These 5 Important Things

Get the Right Clothing

Cuverville Island

The temperatures at the South Pole vary from being freezing to -15 degrees Celsius, so it’s important that you’re equipped with the right clothing.

Most companies will provide you with a packing list, which we recommend you read carefully and follow, but in general, factor in the wind chill by packing in layers. 

Over your underwear, you’ll be wearing a base layer, which is the primary insulation for your skin. Then you put on your shirts and trousers, followed by your insulation layer.

Make sure this one lets your skin breathe because the last thing you want is sweat. Frostbite is not fun. Finally, you have an outer layer, your weatherproof jacket (check with your cruise company if they provide this for you – many will).

Take the time to find good-quality stuff because this is what will protect you when you’re down there. Your outer layers should all be water proof, as when you head into shore you’re in small rubebr zodiacs, and the spray often comes into the boat.

Don’t forget sunscreen: Trips run during summer between November and March. And even though summer temperatures might dip below zero, the sun can shine out in full force. Despite the chilly conditions, the hole in the ozone layer and the light’s reflection off the water and ice means high levels of UV exposure, which is a real opportunity for sunburn even in frigid temperatures. 

Carry All the Medicine You Need

First aid medication medicine tablets RF

It’s important to carry all medications you need, including any pain medication, cold medicine, paracetamol, any other essentials based on your health and medical history.

While in the majority of destinations, it’s easy to pop down to a pharmacy, you can’t do this in Antarctica. While there will be a doctor on board your ship, the medications onboard will be very limited.

Make sure you’ve packed any and all prescriptions, as well as your glasses and contacts (it would suck to get all the way to Antarctica and then not be able to see!), and any additional personal devices like insulin, inhalers, or epipens.

And while it may be easier to divide your medications for the week using a weekly or monthly pill dispenser, it’s best to bring all of your prescription medications in their original container.

During airport security checks you may have to prove that the prescriptions are yours. The easiest way to do this is to bring the prescription bottles that have your name on them. From there security agents can match the name to a form of personal identification.

Don’t forget motion sickness meds: Pack motion sickness medicine like Dramamine, even if you don’t think you’ll fall ill. The most common route to Antarctica means crossing the Drake Passage, which is known to be the roughest sea crossing in the world. 

Camera Gear: Pack Dry Bags & Extra Batteries

Antarctica photographer

Whether you’re taking pictures with a professional DSLR or your smartphone, you will find that the extreme cold will drain your electronics and batteries of life far quicker than in other settings. 

So it’s essential when traveling to Antarctica to make sure you’re prepared with extra, fully charged batteries, and that you recharge them each night.

Why? According to LiveScience, batteries rely on chemical reactions to work, and freezing temperatures slow or stop those reactions.

Lithium-ion batteries work by discharging their electric currents as individual lithium ions that move through solution from one end of the battery (the anode) to the other end (the cathode). The cold slows or may even stop those reactions down, although it’s still not exactly understood why.

Even if you’ve chosen your DSLR, maybe have your cell phone camera ready as a backup.

Don’t forget dry bags: Packing your camera gear in dry bags will allow them to retain whatever charge they have more effectively, and also give an element of protection from water spray when not in use. 

Get on the Antarctica Train Early

This should come as no surprise, but the waiting list to get to Antarctica is longer than you can imagine. Since you’ll be going as a tourist, there is a small window of time during which you will be able to visit.

Antarctica is open for only five months of the year, and thousands of people want to go. This means that all the cruises to Antarctica will sell out faster than you can blink.

The other thing you need to consider is that these cruises cost money. A lot of money. Especially if you get your tickets last minute. Booking early will save you a lot of cash, and you can use this money you’ll save to buy proper equipment for your trip.

Don’t forget you can risk it: It goes against this advice, but you can considerably cut down your costs by not booking your trip in advance if you want to risk it by showing up spontaneously and hoping for last minute cancellations. Last minute deals can often come available for those willing to show up in Ushuaia in November/December; you may need to be flexible with dates, however can potentially save a few thousand dollars.

Get Travel Insurance

Cuverville Island, Antarctica.

Antarctica typically requires you to have travel insurance; insurance which includes comprehensive health coverage is mandatory for all cruises to the white continent, and every Antarctic operator will require proof of insurance before issuing your tickets.

Your regular health insurance is not enough for Antarctica due to the remoteness of the destination. You need coverage for emergency evacuation, sickness and repatriation.

We also suggest looking for an insurer that offers unlimited cover due to the high cost associated with the distance that needs to be covered should you fall ill.

Make sure you know exactly what is covered, especially if you’re including optional activities such as camping, kayaking, or skiing. Insurers will rarely openly state these activities and it is up to you to read the fine print on your policy document to make sure you’re covered.

Don’t forget to read the fine print: Not all Antarctica travel insurance policies cover land based activities, so it’s important you make sure you’re covered for departing the vessel if you’ll be stepping foot on the continent.

Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 100+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.


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