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Antarctica - The Trip of a Lifetime

Wildland traveler Keiko Pitter recently returned from the White Continent, which she explored as a single traveler on our Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica Peninsula trip aboard the 92-passenger expedition ship Sergey Vavilov.  Keiko has traveled extensively around the world but called this Antarctica cruise the 'trip of a lifetime' and returned to us with a wonderful report of the experience, plus tips for travelers considering this trip in the future.  So if Antarctica is on your radar, either for the near future or a distant dream, keep reading for first-hand advice!

Why did you choose this trip over other trips to Antarctica?
I've wanted to travel to Antarctica for quite some time, but just did not have the time. I had always heard that going to Antarctica without going to South Georgia and Falklands was a mistake, so now that I'm retired this was the perfect trip! I am so glad to have gone to the Falkland and Sutho George (especially), and not just to Antarctica.  South Georgia is beautiful and is so full of wildlife; the colony of King Penguins was incredible.  And in the Falklands, I fell in love with rock hopper penguin!
Do you have any advice for other single travelers?
This is an expensive trip but worth it if you have the time and money.  I choose a semi-private cabin on a will-share basis since it is less than a private cabin and lucked out on the cabin mate I was paired with.  We got along great! And sharing the bathroom with another cabin was not a problem at all. Out of the other passengers on board, probably 50% were over 50 and about 40% of all of the guests were solo travelers.  We all had such passion in common -- it was just great. And as I said before, I really enjoyed my cabin mate.  I was hanging around with her and Alexandra Shackleton the entire time. (More on that later!) 
How were the expedition guides and staff? 
OneOcean is an excellent group.  Vavilov is an amazing ship and recently remodeled.  It is beautiful and very comfortable. Our expedition leader was Graham Charles, an amazing outdoor enthusiast who kayaked around South George and assisted with the filming of Frozen Planet.  Just reading his credentials is amazing... he led a kayak expedition to the Antarctic Circle, the furthest any kayakers have gone, wrote a book about South Georgia called Unclaimed Coast and has assisted or led several documentary and photography projects.  His ability to lead and keep us motivated during ever-changing plans for landings and excursions, his sense of humor, etc. was quite impressive.   We went on two or three excursions a day.  If one harbor was iced in, he made plans to take us to another.  We were constantly on the go and you can tell that he loves every bit of it.
The staff was an amazing and passionate group of people.  They were mostly Australians and Canadians...and one Scott, I believe.  Bird experts (Dick Filby and Steve Bailey), whale experts (Mark Evans), even a lichen expert (Ken Weight) ! And of course two professional photographers (Kyle Marquardt and Ira Meyer) to lead the group with a strong photography interest.  There was a historian, Kaite Murray, who had worked in the South Georgia museum and she told some amazing stories in a heavy Scottish accent. On top of that, there was a woman from a zoo in Australia who is an expert on seals, and most amazingly Alexandra Shackleton, the granddaughter of Ernest Shackleton, was on board with us so she could meet with the crew of Shakleton Epic journey in South Georgia!!!
The local guides in Buenos Aires and Ushuaia were also great.  Carmen in Buenos Aires was my age and was very considerate.  
What advice would you give other travelers considering a trip to Antarctica? 
  1.  Be prepared for all weather condition, but do not over-pack.  It is so easy to launder things like socks, pajamas and underwear in your room (things dry quickly)--and the laundry service on the ship is fine; you give them a bag and it's back by noon.  My cabin mate gave most of her clothes away at the end of the trip to the Russian crew member that took care of us which was appreciated.
  2. I started to get my clothes in the summer, when it was warm.  And my perception of warm clothing then was really unrealistic.  I looked at my clothes in December (when it was 30 degrees here) and realized they were all wrong--not warm enough.  I quickly purchased and took along: Patagonia Capilene 4 underwear, and ski pants (insulated and waterproof) from Land's End.  I also took along a very good quality Gortex jacket and Patagonia's down sweater.  These were really vital thru the trip.  One other item--I got a wellington boot liner (from www.withtherain.etsy.com). They were great.    BUT also take along lighter clothes to wear on the ship---something else I forgot to do.
  3. Do pack in duffel bag to store in your cabin.  I took a wheeled duffel bag from Eagle Creek.  30"   
  4. Walking sticks are provided.  I took mine but did not use them as the ship has a huge supply which they make available upon landing.  They were helpful for someone who needs more support out on the ice.
  5. If you are taking expensive cameras, which most people do, make sure to either take a waterproof backpack or rent one from the ship.  You really need them.  Also bring a waterproof camera bag to cover it when in zodiac.  Several people lost use of their cameras from attempting to take photos while on the zodiacs. I just took a Canon point and shoot since I'm not much of a photographer but it worked great.  I kept it in a ziploc bag when not in use.
  6. The jacket and pants supplied on board were nice but they are not 100% waterproof.  It rained quite heavily in South Georgia and everyone got soaking wet, including items inside of pockets. After that experience, for the most part, I started to wear my own Gortex.  On those occasions when it was more appropriate to wear their bright red jacket, I took along my waterproof pouch which I clipped to the jacket where I can keep tissues and my camera, etc.
  7. Mittens were great... but on rainy day, it was better to have rubber gloves.  I took a pair of surgical gloves on a friend's advice.  It was great to wear on the Zodiac.
  8. I took a multiple outlet power cord with me which was smart since there was only one free outlet in the cabin.  If I did not have that, my cabin mate and I would have had a war over who got to charge what!
  9. As much as I talk about Antarctica, I enjoyed Buenos Aires and Ushuaia very much.  It is great to have Wildland take care of all the little things (like confirming flights and arranging to/from airport)---fellow travelers were sharing some horror stories of their experience in getting to Ushuaia.  I truly appreciate the benefit of having Wildland arrange my travel.  Thank you.


keeping it wild,

Kirsten Gardner
Got questions about travel to Antarctica? Ask Me!


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