How do you pack for a trip to Antarctica, one of the coldest, windiest, driest, remotest places on earth? No prizes for guessing that a ball gown isn’t on the packing list.
The first rule of packing for Antarctica is to pack early; Antarctica is one of the most unpredictable places in the world, with little-to-no ability to buy anything while you’re there. This is a recipe for disaster if you’re not a tactical packer, so it’s important to allow enough time to borrow or buy anything you don’t own. Pack the night before your flight and you’re doomed to board your ship with mismatched gloves, no underwear and a solitary shoe.
Here’s a handy guide to packing for a trip down south:
The absolute essentials
While it’s tempting to pack heaps of bulky sweaters and overcoats, what you really need is a solid combo of short and long-sleeved tops (some thermal, some not). Your ship will be pretty toasty, so having layers to peel off when on board (and put back on when heading out on deck) is smart.
- Waterproof pants
Your ship is likely to provide boots and waterproof upper layers/a sexy polar jumpsuit-situation, but it’s wise to have some waterproof, insulated snow pants for shore excursions and kicking about on deck while looking for orcas.
When in doubt, pack more socks. Packing both thick, thermal socks and thinner, everyday socks is wise. Your thicker socks will get wet and cold while you’re out on shore visits, so having a few to rotate is a good move. Your thinner socks are perfect for when you’re ship-bound. You’ll be warm and sheltered when eating in the dining room, listening to lectures and reading in your cabin, so thermal, woolen socks are overkill when you’re not outside.
- Waterproof gloves
Packing two pairs of gloves is advisable, just in case one pair go missing or get wet.
- A tight fitting beanie
Loose hats are a disaster in Antarctica – the wind is so ferocious it can rip hats off unsuspecting heads in seconds. Show that wind who’s boss and take a beanie that fits really snugly on your head.
- Sun protection
Yep, the sun shines in Antarctica and you’ll be mighty sorry if you get burned by it. Make sure to pack your sunglasses (with UV protection), broad spectrum sunscreen and lip balm.
Windy and dry conditions mean your skin will resemble a lizard’s if you don’t moisturise. Unless you want to come home looking like Rango, slather it on every day while you’re away.
Cures for what ails you
Seasickness is something many people fear when it comes to an Antarctic journey. Whether you’re a seasoned sailor accustomed to big swells or someone who goes green at the gills on a stationary commuter ferry that hasn’t even left port yet, seasickness doesn’t discriminate. Anti-nausea medication can be a bit hit or miss, but being armed with options when you’re feeling queasy is helpful.
Before your journey, speak to your doctor about seasickness or anything else that might be worrying you. If you’re asthmatic, diabetic or living with other conditions, ensure you’ve got all of your regular medications packed. While your ship may stock some basics, it’s not a floating pharmacy so it’s worthwhile double (even triple) checking your medication is in your luggage before leaving.
Ladies, same goes for sanitary items.
Sure, the adorable antics of penguins and the slightly terrifying smiles of leopard seals is scintillating whatever the time of day, but it’s a good idea to pack some of your own entertainment for those times you need to retreat to your cabin (probably during the Drake Passage crossing). Consider bringing:
- A good book or eReader loaded with engrossing reads.
- An iPod or smartphone full of tunes and podcasts.
- Noise-cancelling headphones. In storms and high seas, ice-breaking ships can be noisy places, so distracting yourself with some calming tunes is a nifty way to get through it.
- A notebook and pen to summarise your journey. In years to come you’ll enjoy reflecting on your trip. Who knows, you might even turn your notes into bestseller?
And all the rest
Needless to say, once you’re down south you won’t be able to stop at a mall to buy anything that you’ve forgotten. So here are some other bits and pieces worth bringing along:
- If you’re into photography, then bring your camera, spare batteries and SD cards.
- Reusable water bottle. Bottled water is so 1990s (and not in a good way); reduce single-use plastics by bringing a refillable canteen.
- Wet bags and waterproof cases for cameras and other devices. Handy when hopping into (and out of) zodiac boats and kayaks for shore excursions.
- Heavy duty garbage bags. Useful for separating soggy clothing from the rest of your luggage.
- Zip lock bags. Good for stashing rubbish while out on shore excursions (because the karmic ramifications of littering in Antarctica are really harsh).
- Binoculars. If you’re interested in knowing if that’s a big rock or an elephant seal in the distance, bring your own binoculars.
- Cash/credit. If you’re lucky enough to make a landing at Port Lockroy, the post office and gift shop is just about the only spot to shop in Antarctica, so don’t forget some money or credit cards to send a postcard or buy a stuffed penguin. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of the station.
- Ear plugs. Light sleepers should bring ear plugs to counteract snoring cabin mates and noises ships make when breaking through high sea or ice.
And most importantly, pack some good, old fashioned reverence for Planet Earth as you’re about to experience one of the greatest journeys of all time.
Ready for the journey of a lifetime? Explore Antarctica on an Intrepid adventure now!
Feature image by Stephen Lew, Shutterstock