Antarctic & Arctic travel advice

Packing advice

Cassia Jackson, from our holiday specialist Heritage Expeditions, offers her Antarctic and Arctic travel advice: “Your tour operator should provide you with a comprehensive packing list. Personally, I find a balaclava or neck gaiter (wrap around scarf) to be very useful at keeping the draughts out and keeping your neck and face warm. Sunscreen and sunglasses are also essential as there is potential to get quite sunburned. Remember that you will probably spent quite a bit of time outside taking photos, so a thin pair of gloves (merino is fantastic) to wear underneath a thicker pair of gloves is a good idea, so that your hands keep warm but you are still able to operate your camera. Make sure that you have spare batteries for your camera, and preferably a back up as well. Take a good backpack to wear on excursions so that you have your hands free for transferring in and out of zodiacs.”

Research the researcher

Andrew Appleyard, at our holiday specialist Exodus: “Do your research on the size of the vessels you’ll be on – and on who is actually on board it, what guest lecturers are there. That will make or break a trip for many people. If you’re bound on the trip for a long time, you want to have people like Chris Packham and Mark Carwardine and Jonathan and Angie Scott that can sit and inspire people. It’s just brilliant having someone like that checking what ISO you’re using, and what shutter speed, and giving you tips on how to take better photographs. I think that’s the best thing – the educational side. The vessels we use have four decks and they’re all brilliant for photography. I’d go and hide out at the back with my camera and I’d only see one or two other people down there, even when there’s 100 people on board. So I’d spend half a day photographing birds on the back of the ship, which is absolutely brilliant.”

Activity tips

Charlotte Caffrey, from our holiday specialist Aqua-Firma, offers her Antarctic and Arctic travel advice: “There’s a lot of different voyages that offer different activities. We offer trips where you can do diving and kayaking and snowshoeing and mountaineering and camping, and really get the best of every aspect of the environment. They’re very active, but you can do as little or as much as you please. You don’t have to go out every day – you can enjoy amazing wildlife and scenery just out on deck, especially on the smaller ships. Sometimes they put the bow of the ship practically over the beach and you can watch foxes dancing on the beach. There’s no need to be in the zodiacs to see that. Things like that are very special.”

Cold weather tips

Sarah Wightman, from our holiday specialist Pura Aventura: “Antarctica is not as cold as people think. In the summer months it very rarely drops below freezing, and when the sun is out there were a couple of days when I was in a t-shirt. Everyone starts off wrapped up in layers and a big parka jacket – and then they have to take it off! It’s not what you see on TV with the wind and biting cold and people with frost on their beards, but if the wind is up, that’s what makes it feel much colder. I got absolutely drenched going in and out of the ice formations on a zodiac ride though. Don’t sit in front – that’s a good tip. I was freezing! But when you get back on the boat they greet you with soup – or brandy!”

Health & safety in the polar regions

HEALTH

No vaccinations are required in the Polar Regions. Ensure your travel insurance covers all activities you may be participating in (kayaking, diving, ice-climbing) as well as emergency evacuation. Ships have basic medical care and a doctor or nurse, but any serious treatment will require evacuation. Anyone with underlying health problems should consult a doctor before booking a trip to Antarctica. The nearest hospital is thousands of miles away, and the cold and rough conditions can cause small problems to become very large ones in no time. Seasickness is a possibility especially for those crossing the Drake Passage. Look into remedies before you depart – there are patches, wristbands, tablets and of course, good old ginger. Antarctica is surprisingly dry – it’s a polar desert. This means it is easy to get dehydrated fast, so drink plenty of water, and cut down on coffee and alcohol. Bring good quality, protective sunglasses and sunscreen. It may be cold, but the sun’s rays can be harsh – made fiercer by reflecting off ice, snow and water.

SAFETY

Tour operators will provide detailed trip notes and packing lists. Follow them. Additionally, drills are performed at the beginning of each expedition – pay attention! The Drake Passage is rough with 30ft waves tipping ships over 40 degrees. Be extremely careful and always “keep one hand free for the ship”. Every year, passengers suffer injuries from crashing into furniture, doors and hard surfaces. Heavy, steel swinging doors can also cause nasty accidents if you hold on to the door frame – so don’t. While there are no upper age limits and excursions are not obligatory, being in shape is highly recommended. The boats have lots of steep stairs, and boarding zodiacs down a steep gangway is physically challenging. Other activities such as kayaking, sledging and trekking on the snow and ice are much better enjoyed if you are fitter – prepare your body before you go! Children are permitted on many cruises – though there will be age limits. Children under ten are unlikely to get much out of the trip, and are less likely to understand the strict safety warnings and procedures. If you do decide to travel with children, be aware that there may not be other children onboard for them to play with, no activities designed specifically for kids – and make sure they are safe at all times. Polar bears are one of the most dangerous animals on earth – and they stray increasingly close to populated areas. Obey your guide and never wander off alone. In some areas, such as outside Longyearbyen, you may not walk without a firearm – the threat of an encounter is very real. Other wildlife, including walrus, seals and musk ox, may not have the polar bear’s fearsome reputation, but are still incredibly dangerous. Never approach any wildlife, and always follow your guide’s instructions. Weather can change in minutes in Antarctica, and if you are onshore you may be called back to the boat unexpectedly. However, supplies, first aid kits and shelter are always brought ashore in case of a (rare) stranding.

Our top Antarctica & the Arctic Holiday

Classic Antarctica cruise & South Shetland Islands

Classic Antarctica cruise & South Shetland Islands

Experience all that this remarkable area has to offer!

From US $4860 to US $7990 11 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2020: 4 Nov, 11 Dec, 20 Dec, 29 Dec
2021: 8 Jan, 7 Feb, 16 Mar, 26 Mar
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Antarctica & the Arctic or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Polar advice from our travellers

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Antarctica & Arctic travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday - and the space inside your suitcase.
Put handwarmers in your boots for the zodiac tour - cold temperature of the water transfers through the aluminium bottom of the zodiac.
– Louise Yerbury
“If possible, take your laptop. Not only can you view and back up your own images, but many an hour was spent on our voyage sharing images with others on board.” - Judith Bewell

“Read all the literature carefully – it was comprehensive and covered practically everything one would wish to know. Do some long walks beforehand, especially uphill, if possible.” - Jane Mackay

“Be flexible and do not expect much of what written in the 'final itinerary' to happen. Decisions are made everyday depending on the weather.” - Annamaria Cozza
Learning about the cultures in these places was something life changing and the welcome we received everywhere was the best I have ever known.
– Di Lammas
“Be prepared for long, action-packed days. Ensure your wellies are comfortable or bring walking boots to change into once you have left the Zodiac. Listen to your guide - he knows what he is talking about and is responsible for the safety of you and the rest of the group - don't wander off.” - Julie Davis

“Be sure to bring the right clothing. Being out on the water or a hill is COLD with the wrong clothes. Spend as much time on the bridge of the ship as possible. Go to all of the lectures. Meet new people.” - Stephen Kohn

“Don't hold back from going on some of the hikes and zodiac trips - these things are too good to miss. Our guides catered for everyone's abilities and the more able travellers seemed very happy to help those who needed a bit of support.” - Christine Symes
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: Anders Jildén] [Packing advice: Eli Duke] [Activity tips: Islamkamelba] [Health & Safety: Bjorn Christian Torrissen] [Louise Yerbury quote: Roderick Eime] [Di Lammas quote: Vincent van Zeijst]
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