The most southerly place on Earth, Antarctica is a cold and untamed wilderness that has fascinated humankind for generations. Expedition cruises make the journey south throughout the austral summer, taking travellers to the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s not an easy destination to reach and the remote location means that Antarctica is often a once in a lifetime trip for many.
Having already visited Antarctica with my family a number of years ago, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to travel there again in 2019 as a solo traveller. For anyone thinking of visiting Antarctica solo, read on; I’ve written about my experience and what I gained from travelling to the end of the world alone.
Forget the single cabin supplement fees
If you ever wanted proof that travelling to Antarctica solo is a good idea, you need look no further than the single cabin supplement fees – or should I say, the lack of. Unlike most traditional cruise lines, expedition cruises to Antarctica rarely charge any supplement fee for solo travellers. In fact, almost all expedition cruises offer solo travellers the chance to share with other solo travellers of the same sex in triple and quad cabins. Although this may sound somewhat strange to people used to having their own rooms when travelling, it’s actually a fantastic way of meeting like-minded people during your voyage.
Whilst there is no pressure to make friends with the people in your cabin, or indeed engage with them on the ship, I found that the people I shared with had similar interests to my own and we quickly hit it off. On my last voyage, the two men I was sharing with both had a love of photography and the great outdoors, and we shared stories throughout the voyage of our travels over the last few years.
Expedition ship layouts cater to solo travellers
One thing that quickly became apparent to me on my last voyage was that the ship’s layout very much favoured solo travellers. The dining room, for example, mostly offered large tables designed to seat 10-12 people. This encouraged people and groups to sit together and mingle. In other situations, this might seem a little awkward, but given we were all on this ship together and experiencing Antarctica each day, there was always plenty to talk about.
Most common spaces throughout my ship, such as the lounge and Polar library, had open plan seating. Even in places like the sauna or gym, other guests would often start conversations with me and introduce me to their friends or families, so I never felt lonely.
The outer observation decks were also great places to start up conversations and get to know other guests on board. There were often guests standing alone with a pair of binoculars, looking out to sea for wildlife, who were more than happy to chat about what they had seen.
You get to know the guides more
As a solo traveller, I often found myself talking to the expedition guides. The team were so incredibly knowledgeable about Antarctica and had a wealth of stories just waiting to be shared. At night in the bar, I would often sit down and have a beer with one of the guides and learn all about their experience in Antarctica.
The expedition guides would also join us for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. I had expected that they would all eat together, but instead, each guide would separate out and go and sit with different groups of people at each meal. This was great for the solo travellers as the guides were always great company and would often give little insights as to that day’s itinerary or weather forecast that was yet to be announced.
I also spoke to the guides a fair amount during the shore landings. At each ‘wildlife station’, such as a penguin rookery, a guide would be there to lead the excursion and make sure that everything went smoothly. I enjoyed striking up conversations with the guides and learning more about the wonderful wildlife.
There is a great deal of camaraderie
The feeling of togetherness you get on smaller expedition cruises far outstrips anything you’ll feel on any traditional cruise, or indeed, any standard holiday. Travelling to the ends of the Earth on a small ship unites people in a shared sense of adventure. When whales curiously spy on you from the water or penguins waddle past your feet there is an atmosphere of wonder that is infectious and breaks down barriers very quickly.
In the evenings, people tend to gather in the bar and play cards together and drink a beer or three. There is often some form of entertainment, whether it’s a lecture, a guide playing the guitar or a karaoke session to get involved in.
The off-ship activities bring people together
Many of the activities available in Antarctica, such as kayaking, camping and snowshoeing, are fantastic ways to get to know other travellers. Kayaking is usually done in double kayaks and you’ll often be paired with another solo traveller. As you paddle each day, you and your kayaking partner will hopefully become fast friends as you explore the quiet bays and ice-choked channels together.
Camping is another great experience for solo travellers. Spending the night away from the ship makes for a really fun shared adventure. Travellers will often gather in small groups and chat whilst watching penguins or seals. Tents are usually for two people, so much like kayaking in Antarctica, you’ll often be paired with another solo traveller.
Having travelled to Antarctica solo and with family, I can comfortably say that I would recommend either option to anyone. It really depends on what you want to get out of your experience, but don’t be put off travelling solo because it’s much more rewarding and socially stimulating than it is lonely or boring. In fact, of all the destinations I’ve travelled to solo, my expedition to Antarctica was my favourite by far.