by Caren Rapp
Twenty-three years ago, I took my first Antarctic adventure, and I've been helping others discover the seventh continent ever since. And recently, I had the opportunity to experience Antarctica in an exciting new way when I took one of our Fly/Cruise expeditions last February.
Crossing the Drake Passage is a rite of passage for many polar travelers, but I'd fortunately done that on my first voyage decades ago (and in a boat with just 30 people, no less!). This time, I opted for comfort and time-saving convenience of a Fly/Cruise expedition by flying the Drake. It was thrilling to revisit incredible destinations like Deception Island as well as landing sites I'd never visited before, but what was most new to me was how easy it was to get to Antarctica.
Travelers often call in to us Polar Travel Advisers with questions as they prepare for their Fly/Cruise expedition, especially with concerns about packing given the baggage limit on charter flights. Here's my best advice for you:
- Keep any important medications, glasses, expensive equipment or other personal items you might need in a carry-on. You'll be asked to set your bags out ahead of your charter flight (often late the night before your flight, or very early in the morning) so they can be sanitized. This is necessary to protect the pristine environment you're about to visit. Keep what you absolutely need with you, as you won't see your bags again until you get to your cabin on the ship!
- Don't sweat your measurements. You are asked to select your boot and parka sizes ahead of your expedition, but there's a wide variety available in case you make a mistake or gain/lose weight before your trip. You will not be left without gear.
- Bring a book, iPod or other compact entertainment... just in case. As with all elements of polar travel, we're at the whims of the weather as we fly by charter to King George Island. There can be delays, but you'll get there! The unpredictable nature of Antarctica is part of the excitement.
- Research your trip timing. I initially wasn't sure I wanted to visit late in the season, but it worked out with my schedule. In the end, I was ecstatic with the variety and volume of wildlife we were able to see. Don't let misconceptions or preconceived biases get in your way of a good time.
- If you have mobility issues, speak to expedition staff at your hotel or the airport. They can arrange for you to have a ride from the King George Island airstrip to the embarkation point.
- Get travel insurance. One of the questions I'm asked most often is, should I get additional travel insurance? The answers is always, unequivocally, YES! Every Quark Expeditions passenger has $500,000 in Emergency Evacuation Insurance complimentary with your booking, but you're traveling to one of the most remote areas of the planet and people often save for years to go. Medical, cancellation and baggage insurance are all critical. Learn more about your travel insurance options here.
- Keep a camera in your carry-on for the flight! It took about two and a half hours to reach King George Island, during which we got to know the other passengers. The flight gives you a whole new vantage point from which to enjoy your trip into Antarctica. You're going to land on a gravel airstrip that services the surrounding research and scientific bases before taking an approximately two kilometre walk (without your luggage, don't worry) to meet the Zodiac drivers who will whisk you off to your ship. You'll already have your muck boots and parka from the pre-expedition briefing in Punta Arenas, so the adventure has begun!
- Talk to the hotel staff and maitre d' about any dietary or other special needs you may have. They are wonderful people who will make sure you have plenty of variety and delicious meals throughout your expedition.
- Don't overpack. You really don't need a ton of camera equipment, so choose small camera bodies you can secure to your body while you're exploring (see What Photography Gear to Bring to Antarctica for help). Meals are casual--leave the suit jackets and dresses at home. I found cashmere and merino wool sweaters warm but also light enough that they didn't put me over my weight limit for the charter flight. Pack a few pairs of comfortable pants and a couple of t-shirts for wearing around the ship.
- CPAP machines are fairly common. Please note that these do NOT count towards your charter flight luggage weight limit. If you have any other questions about medical equipment or devices and how they might impact your baggage limits, please contact a Polar Travel Adviser.
- Don't worry about missing out on anything by choosing a Fly/Cruise. You'll still enjoy the same fantastic onboard programming--in fact, the lectures we had from expedition staff and onboard experts were one of the highlights of my trip.
- Hang on to your entry tax slip, whether you've met your expedition in Santiago, or Punta Arenas, Chile, or traveled through Buenos Aires to meet a ship in Ushuaia. You may need to prove it's been paid before you get home.
- Plan to stay an extra day or two in Santiago, a gorgeous and exciting South American city, but leave at least four hours in your agenda if you're required to switch planes there (and six hours if you're switching airports in Buenos Aires). The airport is bright and modern, with great restaurants and shops that accept USD, but it's large and can be difficult to navigate if you aren't familiar with the layout. If you need a break and are staying over, there's a great Holiday Inn right across the road.
Still have questions? Contact me or one of my colleagues and we'll be happy to help you prepare for your Antarctic adventure!
- Learn more about Fly-Cruise Expeditions
- See how to pack for the polar regions in 20 kilos or less (video)
- Explore Antarctic Fly-Cruise Expeditions