You probably get bored by my endless posts (almost 50 now?) on my favourite continent, Antarctica. However it was the trip of my lifetime and I’ll never stop raving about it! I mentioned before about the checklist on what things to take etc. but here today I’ll give you my top 10 ways to prepare for backpacking in Antarctica.
1. Don’t Overpack
This is very important. You do NOT need a load of warm clothes. The reason being, the city of Ushuaia (where most Antarctic trips leave from) is well equipped and you can rent everything you need a few days, or even the day before your trip. In fact I must admit I took too many clothes expecting it to be really cold, but we were there in Summer and honestly, I’ve been colder in parts of Iceland, Northern Ireland and China before. No poo poos Sherlock!
So yeah – take a pair of gloves, a windproof coat, a warm hat and HIRE the rest in Ushuaia – I ended up posting a load of my gear back to my family just after the Antarctica trip – and the postage cost more than hiring would have. So take the hint and find a decent hire company in Ushuaia to hire the stuff you need. Check the small print.
2. Arrive in Ushuaia a Few Days Early
Don’t arrive in Ushuaia the day before your trip to Antarctica. That would be insane. This is the trip of a lifetime and you want to be fully prepared for it. By taking 3-4 days here first, here are the advantages:
– You can buy/rent all the stuff you need without stress
– You can meet up with your fellow Antarctica travel buddies and chat about what you are taking, your plans for the trip etc.
– You can get all your online stuff done in preparation for 2-3 weeks offline (especially important for bloggers/those who work online – all my posts were scheduled)
– You can leave stuff in the hostel to pick up after the trip (better once you’ve spent a few days in a hostel and know the staff)
– You can see Ushuaia itself which is a cool city
3. Prepare for Being Offline for 2-3 weeks
Don’t be an idiot and assume you can get online in Antarctica. For two reasons:
(1) You can’t get online in Antarctica. It’s a myth and any company that tells you that, I hope they’re wrong. You don’t go to Antarctica to get on Facebook. You go for penguins and beauty 😉
(2) You shouldn’t want to get online in Antarctica. This is the trip of a lifetime and you want to enjoy EVERY minute of it away from the worldwide web. Sure, on dark nights in Antarctica, I had my laptop out to sort my photos and videos and write the odd offline post, but the experience is here to be enjoyed. Don’t be a dick with a laptop moaning about being offline for 2 weeks. Enjoy your time offline.
So you might want to set up an email reply that says you are currently backpacking in Antarctica and will reply on your return. Set your blog posts in advance as I did back in 2010.
4. Write down the essentials you need and bring them
For me these things are a complete MUST:
– A guidebook (I choose the Solitudinal Sphere)
– Other books (check my reading list here)
– Extra Memory Cards (There ain’t no Walmart, Woolworths or Tesco in Antarctica)
– Travelling Northern Ireland Flag
I wrote another long list of essentials. It’s an action packed trip though and you don’t get a moment of rest – you are sleep deprived (I spent 5 days in Ushuaia after the trip to recover!).
5. Bring a Carryout
If you are not aware of the word “carryout”, then I’ll tell you – it’s a Northern Irish term for “takeaway alcohol”. Bring some beer, wine and spirits onto the ship with you. It’s perfectly allowed and will save you money. Sure there is a cool bar on the boat and it includes a Happy Hour and “Antarctic Cocktail of the Day”, but a few cheap beers bought in Ushuaia will come in handy. We also had a beer at King George Island.
6. Bring Your Swimming Trunks
You’ll need them for the sauna on board the boat (epic after a day of hiking through ice, snow and blizzards). But more importantly you can do the Polar Plunge and go for a dip in the water at Whaler’s Bay. It has to be done. You will also get a certificate to say you swam in Antarctica. If you’re really keen, you can go naked in Antarctica and give your ship mates a shock!
7. Bring a Logbook and Update it Daily
Every day I updated my log book – I bought a really cool one in Ushuaia the day of the trip. Basically I would write down the animals we saw, the food we had, the friends I made, the islands we passed, the weather etc. Everything, I wrote a detailed report in my log book for every day of the trip. This also made my blog writing a lot easier as I had all the information already!
8. Read The Small Print from your Booking
This is important. The company I booked with I will never recommend – GAP or also known as G Adventures. Basically they lied and their treatment to me was not great (apart from on board the actual ship). I booked my Antarctica trip in April 2010 after saving the money by working on remote broccoli farms and sleeping rough for a few months. This meant I was one of the first to book my bed on the boat. It cost me around $5,000 US back then in 2010. For that price you’d expect a lot back right? Wrong…
(1) The trip was advertised as a 13 day cruise and we were told:
– To get to the Hotel Ushuaia early on the 4th November (I did – nobody was there – they tried to con me into booking a night in this shitty hotel so I packed up my bags and walked to a hostel). Incidentally the Hotel Ushuaia is one of the worst I have ever stayed in – I had to stay there the night after. In the end my 13 day trip was cut to 12 days.
(2) When I got onto the ship I found out that others in the group (that had booked after me) were given two extra options by email that I hadn’t been given. These options were kayaking and camping in Antarctica. In the end a Blizzard meant the camping got cancelled, but the kayaking went ahead. I wasn’t given these options but was one of the first few to book onto the boat. When I consulted the company about this they didn’t care, nor did they offer me the kayaking when I boarded the boat, or when I complained about it.
(3) The night we had in the Hotel Ushuaia involved the most basic room ever, having just come from the excellent Cruz del Sur Hostel, this was a step backwards. I asked the staff for a coffee or a tea. They wanted me to pay for it. “I’ve paid 5 grand for it” was my response. The previous night’s hostel of course – was free tea and coffee all day. Here in this shitty hotel, they wanted me to pay for it. Poncy hotel.
9. Extra Batteries and Memory Cards for Cameras
It’s cold in Antarctica and naturally your camera batteries die quicker so ensure you have extra batteries with you for your camera. You’ll also take a load more photos and videos when you’re in Antarctica, so bring extra memory cards and buy more if you need in Ushuaia.
10. US Dollars
It’s a given that you should always carry US Dollars, but we visited 2 shops and a museum in Antarctica and they accept US Dollars or British Pounds (the UK Base only). So yes you do need to carry USD!
OK so that’s all there is to it – Antarctica is still the number one trip of my lifetime so far and I highly recommend it. If you want any advice on booking a cheap Antarctica trip there you go!
Check my Antarctica travel videos.
15 thoughts on “Top 10 Ways to Prepare for Backpacking in Antarctica”
Brilliant Article Jonny, I hope that I have a better experience with G Adventures than you did! I’ve got 4 memory cards, and 3 spare batteries for my camera so I’m pretty sure I’ve got that covered. As for clothes, I’ve bought a waterproof jacket & trousers and some gloves and a hat, I got some Hiking boots too – I know they provide wellies on the boat, what did you wear on your landings?
The prospect of having no choice but to be offline for 2-3 weeks sounds amazing!! Antarctica is on our list so I will be checking out all of your posts on the topic. Good to know you an rent equipment too. Too hard to carry all of that around the rest of South America. Thanks!
Lina @ Divergent Travelers recently posted…Hiking the Rice Terraces in Guilin: Day 1
Hi Paul, it was wellies for the landings and these boots are perfect for walking on the snow and ice. Anything you really forget, you can just pick them up in Ushuaia. It’s a shame that Gap Adventures didn’t treat me well, as a travel writer and blogger I normally like to gain sponsors and work with companies. Gap sadly didn’t give me good customer service at all and I won’t use them again. Enjoy your trip!! Jonny
Hi Lina, thanks for the comment. Yes I totally recommend Antarctica – and get offline too! Safe travels. Jonny
Great article about Antarctica. I really enjoy my 15 day trip there. Greetings from Morocco!
Hi Joao thanks for the comment – glad you like it. Hi to Morocco from Hong Kong! Safe travels, Jonny
Hi I’m Cecilia, editor and co-author of Antarctica Logbook, the ultimate journey. I ‘m so happy you enjoyed our little logbook and that it was useful to you.
would you mind if we use your picture on our site?
Hi Cecilia thanks for the comment – please check your email inbox for my message. Regards, Jonny
An adventure in Antarctica has always been in our before-we-die bucket list. Thanks for these tips. We may still be way off an actual trip there, but your blog inspired us to work harder to achieve that dream.
Hi Adrenaline Romance, thanks for the comment and for adding Antarctica. I had such a great time there – I cannot believe it was 8 years ago!! Safe travels for 2018! Jonny