The sky was dark. A brisk wind and some waves. We paddled in our kayaks past Port Lockroy, the former British military base and now museum. Gentoo penguins waddled about. We launched our kayaks onto the fast ice. I was cold and tired. And very grateful. I had really done it: kayaked in Antarctica. Seen penguins feeding chicks, swimming, and arguing. Watched minke and humpback whales breach from 50 feet away. Stepped foot on the seventh continent.
Antarctica: My Dream Trip For Turning 50
Antarctica was my dream trip. Since I was 30, I had planned to go to Antarctica. I read every book on Antarctica. Saw every movie. Went to see penguins in the Galapagos and South Africa. Attended travel shows and grilled the tour company representatives. I was intent on going for my 50th.
Age 50 Comes And Goes
For my 50th birthday, Regina (my spouse) and I found ourselves on Easter Island and in the Atacama Desert instead. A spectacular trip -- but not Antarctica. The next year it was Oaxaca, Mexico, followed by South Africa, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Cuba, Sri Lanka, Budapest, Portugal, Spain, London, Greece, Italy, Denmark, Paris, and even Norway and the northern lights. And still we had not booked the Antarctica trip.
When I was 56, I finally asked, “Are we ever going to go to Antarctica?
Regina said, “I don’t want to go.”
I was heartbroken.
Then she said, “Why don’t you go without me?”
Over the past two decades, Regina and I had been to 45 countries together. She was the planner and paid attention to details. I was the dreamer and the finder of offbeat things to do.
I couldn’t imagine doing such a big trip on my own. But I couldn’t imagine giving up my dream.
Deciding To Go Solo To Antarctica
It was 11 p.m. in mid-November. Another Antarctic travel season had already started. There was the possibility of a last-minute deal. I did an online search and found a cruise with one single cabin and one kayaking space available. There was a huge discount since I was booking so late -- and no single supplement. It seemed like the stars were aligned. I’d have to give up the idea of camping since that was already sold out, but I could kayak. I grabbed it immediately.
Packing And Worrying
I worried about packing. How was I going to bring everything and stay within the weight limits? What was I going to do alone in Buenos Aires? Would I be safe at night? Would I have anyone to talk to? Eat dinner with? Would I actually make it to Antarctica?
Packing for Antarctica is a challenge. There is so much gear to bring -- cameras (DSL, underwater, and GoPro), extra batteries, a tripod, base layers (several), gloves, hats, waterproof pants, and more. The baggage limits were 44 pounds for checked bags and 11 pounds for my carry on. My camera equipment alone weighed almost 11 pounds.
I carefully planned my packing. Weighed my bags about 40 times to make sure that I was under the weight limit.
I also worried about my flight and the possibility of bad weather. I elected to have a two-day cushion in Buenos Aires in case of a flight cancellation.
Two Days In Buenos Aires
In order to make sure that there was one organized outing in my first days in Buenos Aires, I booked a street art group tour. Street art is a passion of mine. And I thought that I would have someone to talk to at least for a few hours. It was a good plan.
The tour guide told me about the Asociacion Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) demonstration the next day. The mothers have been protesting the disappearance of their children for more than 40 years. I set off for the plaza the next day. It was an honor to join their protest.
Meeting My First New Friends
The next morning it was time to take the bus from the hotel to the charter flight for Ushuaia, where we would embark on the cruise. The bus to the airport was buzzing with excitement. Everyone was talking to everyone. And we were all so excited. On the airplane, I immediately made friends with the people sitting in my row. A nurse from the Midwest traveling solo. A 70-year-old man traveling solo. A 30-something young woman also solo. It turned out that the boat had a lot of single cabins, so there was a whole contingent of us solo travelers.
There were 16 people on the kayaking excursions and we bonded as well. My worries about being lonely were gone.
Kayaking In The Southern Ocean
Kayaking in the Southern Ocean was beyond my dreams. Minke and humpback whales surfaced nearby. Penguins were everywhere -- in front, behind, underneath, and on the side. We saw enormous penguin colonies with thousands of birds. On land, we watched penguins feeding chicks. And diving into the water. We heard and saw an iceberg calving (from a safe distance, of course).
It was everything that I dreamed of and more. My next aspirational trips are to Greenland and the North Pole. Perhaps I’ll do those solo, too.
Tips For Going Solo To Antarctica
Antarctica is a great trip for solo travel. Make sure the boat that you are going on has doubles, triples and/or single cabins. This is an indication that there will be many other solo travelers.
Going to Antarctica is very expensive. You can save money by booking very early or very late. If you want to camp or kayak, booking early is better. I was very lucky to get a kayaking spot when I booked.
You can also save money by sharing a cabin -- and that’s a good way to make a new friend if you are traveling solo.
Talk to everyone. I made friends with other solo travelers, married couples, and families. On my boat, everyone talked to everyone. This might not be the case on every cruise, but it is a possibility!
Go to the lectures about Antarctica, penguins, whales, photography, and other topics. You may find like-minded people there.
Get to know the cruise and expedition teams. On my trip, they were very friendly and happy to spend time talking about almost anything.
If you are concerned about global warming, you will learn a lot about it on the trip. Share all that you learned when you come back.
The last and most important tip: Go to Antarctica. It is an unforgettable experience and a privilege to be able to go.
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