Antarctica landscape
Antarctica landscape. Photos by Steve Estvanik.

Gin Flach chats with our travel writer Joanna Simmons about a long dreamed of trip to Antarctica. She and her lifelong friend Sue Pickering have talked about visiting Antarctica for 30 years and, finally, in January 2019 theyíll be off! Itís an inspiring example of travel dreams coming true, with a little patience Ė and a lot of saving up.

Ginís Antarctic expedition is a tailor made trip, combining elements of this Antarctica expedition cruise and this Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia holiday

So Gin, youíve been planning this trip to Antarctica for some time!
It was always our plan to do it as our retirement trip. Of course, back in the day, when we were younger, we assumed weíd be retired at 60 because we would have both got our pensions, but weíve had to postpone it a little bit.

Who are you travelling with?
My friend Sue. We met in 1983 or 1984, something like that. I was working in the anatomy department of Cambridge University as a lab technician and Sue then got a job in the same unit. We just hit it off and decided we wanted to do some travelling. We travelled for three months in 1988. We went to Australia and various other places. What we had really wanted to do was go to Antarctica, but of course that was very expensive. So, we knew that couldnít happen at the time, but we thought weíd start off small and maybe save up. My dad suggested I take out a savings account. I just put in any money I might have spare and left it there. So thatís what we both did and we said, OK, Antarctica will be our retirement trip.

So for 30 years you have been saving up for this trip?

Did you at any point think, I donít fancy Antarctica anymore?
No, never, ever, ever, ever. Itís always been our dream to go there. Iíve always had a fascination for it from David Attenborough programmes, and Ranulph Fiennes is one of my heroes and always has been. There must have been a programme or something which first grabbed my interest, I canít really remember. Iíve read all Ranulph Fiennesí books and I find the whole place just amazing. The closer weíve got to going and the more thatís happening with global warming and Antarctica shrinking, I think, weíve just got to get there now!

Itís obviously a sensitive and unique environment. Did that influence you when you were researching into travelling there?
Very much so. We also both wanted to go on a small ship, that was more an expedition type cruise rather than a cruisey holiday cruise. We donít want to be surrounded by people who are on holiday. We want to be surrounded by people who have the same interests as we do. Weíre both big into birds as well, and that was why we chose a trip that spends the maximum amount of time in Antarctica.

How long will you be away for?
This is a 21 night trip. We start and finish in Punta Arenas in Chile, and fly to and from Stanley, in the Falkland Islands. Then weíve got 15 days in Antarctica and even cross the Polar Circle. Itís one of those Russian research ships that takes about 83 people, something like that. We did debate what trip we should do because I get very seasick. We thought maybe we should do a trip that flies to King George Island, just off Antarctica, but you didnít get very long in Antarctica. So I said, no, no, weíve got to spend as much time there as possible. When we saw this trip I thought well, Iíll just put up with the seasickness. If Iím sick for two days going there and back, I donít care really!

What can you do to prepare for seasickness?
Iíll go and see my GP before I leave and just hope for the best, really. Most of the cruises go from South America, so they go along the Beagle Channel, then to the Falklands and then to the other islands. This one goes straight from the Falklands, so weíre missing out a lot of the islands, but that then makes the passage shorter and then gets you to Antarctica where the water is, in theory, nice and calm.

Penguin image by Ondrej Prosicky.

What are you looking forward to seeing most?
Penguins, whales, icebergs and just amazing, amazing scenery. And learning about it as well. We both have scientific backgrounds Ė Sue is a consultant clinical scientist at Edinburgh hospital Ė and we both have a keen interest in science and also the global warming issue as well. I donít really know very much about it, apart from weíre causing it. Learning more while in Antarctica will probably make us very depressed!

When exactly are you travelling?
January and into February in 2019. Itís summer over there, so itís light most of the time.

So youíll get woken up at 2am to come and see a whale off the boat?

How will you prepare for the cold?
Iíve been on various cold holidays before. Iíve climbed Kilimanjaro, Iíve been up in the Andes and to Iceland. Also, Iíve got friends that did a trip out to Antarctica a couple of years ago, so I can glean the knowledge off them. Thereís an awful lot of information on the holiday supplierís website. Iím not particularly bothered about the cold.

Youíre obviously quite widely travelledÖ
Yes. I didnít have children, you see, so Iíve had the money to be able to travel, which is a great advantage.

Have you ever done a small ship expedition cruise before?
Never, ever, ever. Having said that, we went to the Galapagos, which was a very small ship, but the weatherís slightly different out there!

Has your friend Sue been your travelling partner throughout your life?
We did three months around the world, then five years later we went to New Zealand for three weeks, then five years after that we went back to Australia. Then we both got married so weíve been travelling with our partners since then.

Do they mind that this trip is just for you and Sue?
Well, it has to be. Theyíve both known about this for a long time! It would be too expensive to all go; too much! No, weíve always said this is our trip. Sue lives up in Edinburgh. Sheís still working full time, but next year hopefully cutting down and sheís told them sheís taking three and a half weeks off and hard luck!

Will you spend additional time in South America?
We havenít planned to, but because we canít arrange the flights yet as itís too early, we havenít really gone into that. We just wanted to book the trip that we wanted to do early, simply so that we got our places on it. Itís been in the pipeline for so long, it was very important to find the right trip and get the place on it, and at the time of year that we wanted to go as well.

There will be lots to photograph there. Are you a keen photographer?
Iím a point and shoot photographer, but yes, I do like taking pictures and getting a new camera is something I am going to be looking into.

What do you feel is the benefit of travel?
Finding out about how other people live is a big part of it. Iíve always done walking holidays or very small group holidays where you actually get to see the people that live there and how they live. It helps you see really how lucky we are over here. I know there is poverty here, but itís nothing like a lot of the other places in the world. Seeing wildlife is important to me, too, and just being in beautiful places. I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I do feel very privileged that Iíve been able to do all these things.

This Antarctica holiday will be a great ambition fulfilled. Will you be done with travelling after that?
No! Iím off to New Zealand with my husband for three weeks next year, so yeah, we havenít finished yet! Weíll keep going as long as we can.

Thanks Gin, we all hope you have an amazing trip!
I donít think thereís any doubt Ė it will be wonderful.


Find out more about these trips
Continue reading about this Antarctica expedition cruise

Continue reading about this Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia holiday