Antarctica has long been stereotyped as a bucket-list destination for retirees on what is fondly described as a ‘SKIing’ holiday (spending the kids’ inheritance). But a generation of travellers is emerging and exploring more of the world than their parents and grandparents put together, which means that the frontiers that stretch out before young travellers today are broader and more far-reaching than ever.
It’s not unusual for the average 20-25 year old to travel extensively across several continents, or to have lived and worked in a developing country or in another hemisphere. So when you’ve lived in Europe or Australia, driven across the USA, backpacked around Asia, safari-ed through Africa and overlanded down South America, the time is ripe to set foot on your seventh continent: Antarctica.
But wait a minute – isn’t Antarctica the kind of place that only retirees or scientists travel to? Surely there’s nothing there to interest a young, wild wanderer who wants to travel the world to meet new people and be exposed to different cultures? How can there be culture in an uninhabited continent?
Well, this is only partly true; Antarctic expeditions are tough operations for tour companies to pull off (this is an extreme, frozen frontier, after all), and this means the price point isn’t an easy purchase for younger, less financially established travellers. This has meant in the past that the average traveller on a Polar cruise was an older demographic, often retired, or perhaps enjoying long service leave from a lifelong career. And in terms of culture – yes, Antarctica is an uninhabited, pristine continent, so the proposition is very different to that of your average adventure backpacking through Asia, where the focus may be more on cultural immersion.
So what’s in it for a younger traveller?
There’s a small movement of young travellers who are racing to set foot on every continent before they turn 30, and Antarctica is usually the last one to get ticked off the list. This ‘bucket-list’ style of exploring the world is often met with a love/hate response (you either love the idea of crossing things off a list, or you hate the concept and would prefer more of a ‘slow-travel’ experience of the world that unravels organically throughout your life), but the fact is that Polar expedition cruises are no longer solely the domain of the older generations. On an average Polar expedition cruise, the mix of passengers will range from those in their mid-twenties all the way through to early eighties. And this makes for a magical mix of storytelling and anecdote sharing unlike anything you will experience elsewhere.
The biggest benefit that you get from visiting the frozen continent is this: Antarctica will create a new prism through which you will view the rest of the world, forever. And the majority of travellers who make the journey will attest to one united truth – Antarctica will change you. It’s an intangible shift that happens deep inside, difficult to describe and impossible to replicate.
Antarctica is more than a bucket-list destination to be stepped on and ticked off; it forces you to re-evaluate everything you know and feel about yourself and your place on the planet. It is a powerful tonic that lubricates your soul, giving you a glimpse into the fine balance of nature. It is the closest thing to infinity on earth.