Antarctica and the Traveler’s Ego

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I thought I would come back from Antarctica in triumph, my fists raised in exultation. Hey, I can say I’ve been to seven continents now! And you know the Polar Plunge? I did it WAY south of the Antarctic Circle! Also, here are dozens of adorable photos of me surrounded by penguins!

Instead, I’m returning from Antarctica in tears. No destination has ever made me feel more grateful, nor more insignificant. Everyone who has asked me about my trip as received the same response: “It’s the best place I’ve ever been.” 

I had no idea Antarctica would be the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited. Nor did I expect this trip to be the most spiritual experience of my travels. Antarctica turned me inside out, changed my priorities, and turned me into a more thoughtful traveler and human being.

But first, here’s how it began.

Why do people want to travel to Antarctica, anyway?

I spent several days asking this question of my shipmates on Quark ExpeditionsOcean Diamond. Most of my fellow passengers came from Australia or North America; they ranged in age from teenagers to seniors, a great many of them over 55.

“Why are you here?” I asked. “Why did you take this trip? What made you choose to come to Antarctica?”

And strangely, everyone struggled a bit when answering, hemming and hawing before admitting the real reason.

“Because it’s my seventh continent,” was far and away the most popular answer. Just behind it? “Because I can. Because it’s there.” And the ever-popular, “Why not?”

It’s far from an unusual ethos — early 20th century French explorer Jean-Baptise Charcot named one of his ships the Pourquoi-Pas. He later gave an island the same name.

When I pressed my companions for more, I occasionally got a more detailed response — “Because I love penguins.” “Because climate change means it might not always be like this.” “Because I’m getting older and I want to do these adventure trips while I’m able.” But the vast majority of responses were rooted in Antarctica being their seventh continent, the ultimate achievement to check-off.

Everyone had a bit of ego in their response. People were traveling here because they wanted to feel more important, more experienced, more special. They didn’t just want to visit somewhere remarkable, they wanted to become more remarkable as a result of having visited.

I find that interesting.

Ask strangers why they’re visiting Italy and they’ll say, “Because I love Italian food.” Or “Because the Italian countryside is beautiful.” Or “Because my family comes from Italy and I want to explore my roots.” Or even “Because I grew up dreaming about taking a gondola ride through Venice and I want to have that experience.” The answers are far more concrete and specific than what I got about Antarctica.

For me, I came to Antarctica because I wanted to be impressed. One of the realities about travel is that the more you experience, the more difficult it gets to be impressed. Remember how excited you were to see cobblestone streets in Europe? Decades later, do you even notice cobblestones anymore? Or cathedrals? Or palm trees?

But everyone I know who has been to Antarctica told me that THIS would be the place to TRULY enchant me and leave me in wonder. It’s the kind of destination that is so big, so remote, so untouched, that nothing I had seen before would be able to compare.

So yes. I was here primarily to be blown away — but I have to admit that there’s ego behind my own answer as well. I did want to say that I’ve been to seven continents. For myself, but also for my career. I’ve always felt that in order to be taken seriously as a global travel expert, I need to have travel experience on all seven continents. I hate the phrase “on six continents,” even as it decorates my site and all my bios — it’s like an asterisk saying SHE’S GOOD, BUT NOT GOOD ENOUGH!

And so I went to Antarctica for several reasons: to become a more experienced traveler and for the boost it would give to my career, but also for the landscape photography opportunities (particularly mountains and ice formations), the wildlife (and especially penguins), and the opportunity to work with Quark Expeditions (which I’ve wanted to do for years, as they’re the best in the polar expedition business), who invited me to join them on this trip as their hosted guest. All that, and to be blown away.

I could not have predicted just how powerful of a destination Antarctica is. It would change me, and it would change all of US.

Antarctica caused the death of my ego.

I thought I’d come back bragging that I jumped into the Southern Ocean beneath the Antarctic Circle, and instead, I’m becoming teary trying to describe the stillness of Paradise Harbour in a late afternoon.

I thought I’d return with so many beautiful photos of myself playing with penguins, and instead I have one good shot but mostly crappy selfies of myself with my face covered up to stay warm.

I thought Antarctica would be just another destination. It wasn’t. It was THE destination I’ve been waiting for my whole life. And as I write these words while crossing the Drake Passage, I’m bereft at the thought of Antarctica slipping away from me with every rise and fall of the swells.

Antarctica wasn’t there to serve me, and it won’t serve you, either. It’s not a national park with a friendly ranger stationed nearby. It’s not an Instagram backdrop just waiting for you to pop in for perfect selfies. It’s wild, unpredictable, and can change at a moment’s notice. It’s dangerous. It smells. Even the journey there pushes your body to its physical limits.

If you forget your sunscreen in Antarctica, you’ll be red and peeling the next day. If you dare to walk too close to a fur seal, it will charge you head-on. If you make yourself up and do your hair for perfect portraits, you’ll be wet and mascara-stained in minutes. If you don’t have your wide-angle lens on, of COURSE a fleeting double rainbow will suddenly appear and you’ll have to make do with your inferior lens or — god forbid — your smartphone.

Why visit Antarctica, then?

Reason #1: Because Antarctica is the most impressive, moving, devastating, beautiful, striking, and gratifying place I’ve ever visited.

I have no words to describe how much Antarctica shakes me to my core. I can make an attempt with photos, but even my best shots won’t remotely convey the beauty, the scale, the power of the seventh continent.

Every day, something happened that made me gasp. An immense glacier shaped like the bow of the Titanic. A seal catching a penguin in its mouth. A perfectly smooth bay filled with snapping, crackling ice forms. Whales surrounding us in every direction, their calls echoing in stereo.

Antarctica made me feel like I was traveling for the first time ever. It redefined what it was to explore.

Reason #2: Because Antarctica’s scale is times a million.

Have you been to Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina? I haven’t yet, but my friends have (check out Dave’s post on it here) and it’s famous for its size, beauty, and blue color. Most people visiting Patagonia make hiking Perito Moreno a priority.

Now, what if I told you that Antarctica has glaciers that look just like Perito Moreno — only they’re much bigger and LITERALLY IN EVERY DIRECTION YOU LOOK? Tens, hundreds, thousands of miles, all full of incredible and far better glaciers! There is no comparison to Antarctica!

Years ago, I hiked Sólheimajökull Glacier in Iceland. No offense to Iceland or the glacier…but comparing it to Antarctica’s glaciers is like comparing a child’s tricycle to a sports car. They’re not remotely in the same league.

Reason #3: Because Antarctica is the most isolated and pristine place I’ve ever been.

Antarctica has no indigenous human population, leaving it as a beacon of nature. (Side benefit: only in Antarctica do you get to enjoy the history of exploration without colonialism or exploitation of locals.)

Antarctica belongs to no country and the Antarctic Treaty is in place to protect it as a destination of peace, devoted to scientific exploration. Because of that, you don’t see any pollution. No trash. Expedition ships don’t even dump human waste in the ocean here — they bring it back to Ushuaia or wherever they came from.

(Chile did make an effort to strengthen its claim on Antarctica, though. How? They sent Chileans to get married there. Argentina upped the ante — they sent several pregnant women there to give birth! The first Antarctica baby was born in 1978.)

There are so few places on the planet where you can go and experience life at it was lived for thousands of years. Antarctica is one of them.

Reason #4: Because Antarctica’s wildlife is insane.

It’s not as abundant as it once was — the whaling industry did quite a number on the whale population, which has had an effect on other species as well — but going out wildlife-viewing in Antarctica will leave you spellbound. 

Imagine hundreds of penguins jumping in and out of the water, landing about two meters from your kayak before hovering underwater and “Nope-Nope-Nope-ing” as they jump away from you. Yes, that happened to me, and that was one of the best moments of my trip.

Or being out in a bay so resplendent with whales that it seems like every zodiac is watching a different pod. And then suddenly a giant humpback rises out of the water just meters in front of your kayak, rising and rising and looking like it’s going to flip over onto you. Yes, that happened to me as well, and I’m pretty sure you can pinpoint the moment when all the kayakers’ drysuits went from dry to not-so-dry.

Or coming around a corner of an iceberg on a zodiac and finding two seals popping up from a hidden corner. Both tossing their heads in such a human-like way that you feel like you’ve sneaked up on a couple that definitely shouldn’t have been doing what they had just been doing. That playful moment was something I personally experienced as well.

Those wildlife sightings are not exceptional for Antarctica. You know why? Because I saw all three of them in a single day, in Danco Island and Wilhelmina Bay. That’s pretty much a typical day — or, well, the closest thing you can get to a typical day in a place as wild as Antarctica.

Reason #5: Because Antarctica is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.

I think about the most beautiful natural environments I’ve been lucky enough to visit. The Faroe Islands, raised up on cliffs on top of the sea. Wadi Rum in Jordan, its bright red-orange sands changing color by the minute. The riverfront villages in Laos, bright blue mountains rising in the background. Silfra in Iceland, the underwater rift exploding in shades of indigo, turquoise and everything in between. The land-before-time feel in Karijini National Park in Western Australia.

Antarctica is EVEN MORE BEAUTIFUL than those places. That’s high praise, but I mean every word of it. The Antarctic peninsula isn’t the slab of snow you may picture; instead, it’s nonstop mountains — jagged gray mountains springing up from the sea. There are fjords. There are the aforementioned glaciers, gargantuan and stacked like frosting, rivulets of azure running through the ice. Each land form peeks in and out of misty clouds, offering you tantalizing glimpses of the peaks.

And as we cruised through Lemaire Channel, one of few ships to make the passage in early 2018, I gasped as I saw something I never could have imagined — a waterfall made from gently falling snow, dry and sparkling.

Also, we were under a flat gray sky for nearly the entire trip, and STILL it was that beautiful. Tropical islands don’t look good in gray; Antarctica looks stunning under all circumstances.

Reason #6: Because Antarctica humbles you beyond measure.

Antarctica laughed in the face of my insignificance. 

Once on a zodiac cruise, we actually saw gentoo and chinstrap penguins hanging out together — a very unusual occurrence — and we were taking photos like crazy. Just then, a big wave sent us asunder, pushing us into the shoreline. Our guide quickly gunned the engine and reversed the zodiac. In a worse moment, that could have been fatal.

When we made our first landing near a penguin colony, at Port Charcot, my supposedly waterproof gloves had failed and my fingers were cold, wet, and on their way to freezing. Had I not had a warm ship (with a well-stocked gear shop, thank God) nearby, I would have lost my fingers within a day.

And there was a moment when a leopard seal began stalking the kayaks and we had to form a raft to scare it off. It easily could have attacked a solo kayaker, a drysuit no match for those teeth, sharp like a crocodile’s.

Moments like these were reminders of our fragility in this severe environment, as well as the professionalism of the Quark staff who kept these encounters from becoming deadly.

Antarctica Changed Us

My shipmates may have had ego-driven reasons to visit Antarctica, but after a full week on the continent, that went out the window. Almost nobody mentions the seventh continent anymore. Now, all anyone can talk about are the incredible whale sightings, the beauty of the glaciers and icebergs, and the feeling of being one with this unspoiled environment. And how they can’t wait to return. They MUST return.

Antarctica killed our egos. I didn’t even think that was possible. Over the course of a week here, we were taught the most valuable lessons — that we are insignificant, that we are at the mercy of Mother Nature, and that life will go on long after we’re dead.

Gone are my own worst impulses. For the first time, I kept my documentation obsession in check. I spent a good half hour sitting on a rock watching young penguins play in the water — because I enjoyed watching them. This was the definition of photographer’s gold, and I didn’t take a single shot. I had penguin shots already; I didn’t need more. I am grateful that I spent my time in Antarctica enjoying these moments, rather than chasing down the elusive perfect photo that was unlikely to materialize anyway.

As for dynamite selfies? HA. I have exactly one shot of me that I really like, the one at the top of this post, the one that looks like I’m lecturing a crowd of penguins. It’s quirky and unplanned and I think it represents my personality. Two or three other shots of me are decent, not great. The rest are terrible. AND THAT IS OKAY.

The travel blogging industry may have shifted in the direction of pretty-girls-posing-in-ballgowns-in-increasingly-exotic-places, and I do feel pressure to create content like that. But one reason why that’s never quite worked for me is because I sell reality — not fantasy. I always have. “You’re so honest” is the #1 comment I get from readers. That doesn’t exactly jive with unrealistic photo shoots.

Had I wasted my limited time trying to set up and pose for perfect shots of myself that would get lots of likes, I would have missed the best impromptu moments of life in Antarctica. I lived actual, real life in Antarctica, not an Instagram photoshoot with a little free time tacked on at the end. And for that reason, I couldn’t care less that I didn’t get those photos of myself with penguins.

I like the new version of me that Antarctica made. A quieter version of myself. A more inquisitive version of myself. More of an athlete, more of a scientist, less solipsistic, far less self-conscious. A traveler who let go of her expectations, only took what she was freely given, and was profoundly changed as a result.

I feel like nothing else will ever measure up to Antarctica. Have I ruined myself by experiencing the best place in the world at the tender age of 33? I sure hope not, but if I did, it was absolutely worth it.

The strangest thing? I keep catching glimpses in the mirror and not recognizing myself. Maybe it’s the Antarctic air, the lack of fluorescent lighting on this boat, or the fact that I took a dip in the near-frozen Southern Ocean, but I look so much younger. I’m Benjamin Buttoning before my own eyes.

Antarctica Will Change You, Too

If you enjoy travel in any small amount, you MUST visit Antarctica within your lifetime. You will get so much out of it. It IS an expensive trip — Quark’s Antarctica trips start at $6,695, though keep your eyes peeled for sales — but you receive SO much value in return. I recommend saving Antarctica for a milestone birthday or occasion. Book ahead, especially if you want to kayak — those slots go quickly. If you do decide to visit, I have some valuable advice for you.

Don’t try to control the trip. Antarctica is in charge, and Antarctica will be controlling YOU. Don’t fight what it gives you, whether it’s foggy weather, rough Drake seas, or if there are no adorable penguin chicks — accept it and work with it.

Dress for protection, not style. The climate will NOT be kind to you here. A beanie worn on top of a buff pulled over your mouth may be ugly as hell, but nothing keeps your head warmer. Don’t bring cute clothes; dressing improperly can put you and others at risk and there’s no such thing as sexy waterproof pants. Forget the makeup, too; the ocean spray will ruin it. I wrote a guide to packing for Antarctica here.

Don’t go crazy on the content creation. I guarantee that you’ll take tons of photos, but take time each day to relax, be quiet, and take it all in — without documenting it. I say this especially to my fellow photographers. I understand that your mind is constantly framing shots and that you have a but-what-if-this-moment-passes mindset. Turn off that part of your brain momentarily. Your trip will be SO much better for it.

Say yes to everything. There’s a humpback whale on the starboard side? Run up and go see it, because it could be the best sight of your trip. Feeling tired one afternoon? Don’t skip the excursion, because that’s the time your zodiac will witness a calving iceberg. Feeling cold and wanting to go back to the warm ship? Hike to the top of the hill anyway. This is not a place to choose the easier option.

Submit. Accept what Antarctica gives you, and don’t wish for something better. Everything you get will be a gift. You’ll soon learn its value.

Antarctica has changed my life more than any other destination.

And with that, this is not a one-and-done destination. I’m desperate to come back already. I need Antarctica. Would I go back next year? YES! Hell, would I go back every year and bring a different loved one with me each time? ABSOLUTELY!

It’s not about pride, or ego, or going there because it’s there. It’s because this place has the power to transform your life.

It’s Antarctica. Where the ice is blue against a steel-gray sky. Where paddle is a noun and porpoise is a verb. Where I finally learned to surrender.

More on Antarctica:

Essential Info: I traveled to Antarctica on Quark ExpeditionsCrossing the Circle: Southern Expedition in March 2018. The 2019 voyage starts at $8,995. The kayaking supplement is $995, which includes kayaking throughout the voyage, but starting this summer in the Arctic Quark is offering one-day “paddling excursions” that are better suited for people with less experience who don’t want to kayak every day.

Quark often has sales — I recommend following them on Facebook and checking out their website. Additionally, some people can get deals by flying down to Ushuaia and jumping on a last-minute discounted trip — though this is risky! You never know what will be available. If you’re looking to kayak, book as early as possible, as kayaking slots are limited and sell out quickly.

While Quark has Antarctica-specific evacuation coverage for emergencies, you need to have your own travel insurance as well. For my trip to Antarctica, I used World Nomads, which I highly recommend for both Antarctica and elsewhere.

This post is brought to you by Quark Expeditions, who hosted me in full on this trip and covered most of my expenses including the full cost of the expedition, kayaking supplement, two nights’ accommodation in Ushuaia, and round-trip airfare from New York. I paid for all incidentals, staff gratuities, gear excluding the Quark parka, and all expenses in Ushuaia excluding the hotel. All opinions, as always, are my own.

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94 thoughts on “Antarctica and the Traveler’s Ego”

  1. Kate,
    I absolutely adored this post. Antarctica has been on my wish list since reading Madeleine L’Engle’s “Troubling A Star” as a kid. It’s a young adult novel, but it still remains one of my all time favorites. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit that a children’s book is the reason I want to visit a destination, but I suppose it is vastly different than most people’s thinking.

    While realistically I don’t think I will ever be able to swing a trip to Antarctica financially, I lived vicariously through your post. The reason I keep coming back to your blog is because you’re authentic and real. I want to read about experiences and destinations — not look at an incredibly photoshopped image of someone wearing an evening gown in the middle of the Sahara. I don’t travel to become an Insta-celebrity–I travel because it changes me, gets me out of my comfort zone, and alters my perception of myself. I feel sorry for the people who feel that their experiences don’t matter unless it’s perfectly stylized/lit/posed “just so.” Essentially, keep being you, and I’ll keep reading.

    1. Chiara…me too! I am a huge L’Engle fan, and that book made me want to go to Antarctica. I told my husband I wanted to go, and he asked, “Why?” and he is usually up for travel adventures. Maybe I need to have him read the book. But he will probably have to read A Ring of Endless Light first, and maybe I’d have to have him go all the way back and start with Meet the Austins. Not sure what he’d think of that!

    2. Me too!! Reading that book as a young adult has inspired my desire to do an Antarctica trip, so you’re not alone! And now reading reviews of such a trip just confirms that we were never crazy for wanting to do something like this, we were just before our time 🙂 Hopefully we’ll both be able to go someday!

  2. What an epic post — my favorite of yours EVER! Can’t wait to read more about it! Antartica just got bumped to the top of my bucket list. Thank you so much for going and sharing with all of us!

  3. Wow, after reading this post, now Antarctica has changed me! I never in a million years ever consider going there. Heck, I never even considered ever going to Iceland but hey, I leave Tuesday! Your post made it sound amazing and I truly believe it is amazing. Adding this to my list of must-sees! Thanks for the amazing post as always, Kate!!

  4. Hi Kate, I was waiting for this post and what your conclusion on the trip would be. I’m sure Antarctica is everything you managed to put into words and more. My question to you is this – with the recommendation to travel to Antarctica aren’t you killing the thing you love?

    Even with the care and precaution tour operators like Quark are taking is there really no/ little impact on the environment tourists do touch? Last I read over the past 10 years the number of tourists visiting the continent increased by almost 10,000… Are there any limits to the number of tourists that can set foot on the continent? Are there any other measures taken beyond not littering? Are all tour operators offering trips to Antarctica as serious about the environment and the safety of the tourists they are taking there?

    I would love to visit Antarctica – for its beauty and wilderness. But I am very aprehensive about the impact even well meaning tourists can have in the long term. The carbon footprint alone for a traveller from Europe is insane. I’m sure you will touch on some of these questions in one of your next posts on the trip. And would love to hear your thoughts on the future of tourism in general. Last autumn I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of tourists swarming small cities like Cordoba in Spain and completely smothering the city 🙁 It made me sad to think I was part of the problem and short of traveling out of season or keeping my travels local I don’t know what else an individual can do…

    1. That’s a very fair question, Elena, and the best people to answer it are the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, of which Quark is a member. They work to protect the environment as much as possible:

      And going beyond that, that’s a question that all travel bloggers wrestle with. Do I write about this unknown place? You have to use your discretion. If it’s a place that could use more attention and tourism, great. But if more tourism could potentially overwhelm it, you may want to keep it to yourself.

  5. I’ve only spent a few days in ushuaia rather than Antarctica but I had a ‘sense’ of the build up through talking to people who had returned, from being strangely almost entirely alone exploring tierre del fuego, and from spending a couple of days out on the beagle channel.

    I had all the anticipation of Antarctica without getting there and it felt so frustratingly close and yet £5000 and a bunch of kit out of reach. The abbreviated stories that faded off as if words couldn’t quite cover it, and the dreamy eyed stares of those who had returned – I knew the experience was more than they could describe and perhaps I could understand.

    It’s strange longing for a place you’ve never been but I have ever since. Your story just reminds me of that longing. Thank you!

  6. This definitely put Antarctica on the radar for me! And I am so lucky that usually I go on vacation with my sister and Dad who are photographers, so I hardly every take a photo and enjoy everything to the fullest. No tourist traps and time for self reflection really make me want to do this someday! Thank you for this wonderful post it sounds like it really was an epiphany week for you!

  7. @Chiara – Reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Troubling A Star when I was younger is also the reason I’m fascinated with Antarctica and would love to visit! Not silly at all – it felt magical reading the descriptions of the landscape and wildlife. ❤️

  8. Thank you for sharing with us your thoughts and pics from this experience!
    It looks unbelievable. Your post got me fascinated about Antartica. I read about it before but always tried to keep myself from reading more, because I had the feeling that if I will find more about it, I will get obsessed. I must say, I was right.
    I am fascinated with all what you described Antartica was for you, as it is all I ever imagined this experience should be for a traveller.
    Thank you for staying true to reality, for sharing real-life travel experiences and photos. I am a big advocate of real travel photos and experiences.

  9. What a fantastic life-changing trip. I enjoyed your comments and loved living Antarctica vicariously through you. In all my travels (not seven continents), I always come back with a more defined perception of myself and my (our) place in the overall picture of the world as a whole. Great article! Blessing on your future journeys.

  10. Kate – this piece is so beautiful.! I’ve always had a fascination with Antarctica because I lived in Christchurch New Zealand for several years, the other entry point to Antarctica (it’s from where the US, Australian and NZ air forces send over supplies and people to their bases). Antarctica is only a 4 hour flight from me but seems so remote, you have bought it to life and made me certain that I will visit someday soon. <3

  11. Inge H Fullerton

    Thank you for your honest review of this beautiful and magical place. I have spent many years in the Arctic (professionally) and remember having similar feelings while witnessing nature in such a stark and unforgiving climate

  12. Loved the post Kate, I’m happy to see you made it to Antarctica and to be able to read about the revelations you gained from the experience! Perhaps in the future we will make it there although it will take a lot of savings!

  13. I absolutely love this post Kate.

    And you’re right. The top photo is one of the best photos that I’ve seen of you. It’s plain and honest, with a sense of humour attached to it! We’ve only met once, back in 2014, and I remember that day perfectly. And what struck me was that even though you were / are the top American / world female travel blogger, you were so nice to me (a nobody at the time), and utterly genuine!

    Antarctica is all you.

    p.s. The penguins loved your lecture on “How to be a penguin!” xx

  14. Awesome piece about an awesome destination, Kate! I’m beyond thrilled for you that you got to have such a life-changing experience, and see and do so many truly incredible things. I would LOVE to one day have the chance to do this trip. I travel almost entirely because of wildlife, and the kayaking fits the bill for my other great love – athletics. What a dream come true. Thanks for sharing! <3

  15. I love this post and can’t wait to read more about your trip. (Because I KNOW there must be lots of penguin photos, even if you didn’t bother with the selfies.)

    And you definitely know your travel style has changed (and that you’re a lot more comfortable financially) when you read that an Antarctica cruise starts at $7K and think to yourself… “That’s a great price!” I need to go soon!!!

  16. This post was absolutely gorgeous. I loved so much about it and am so grateful that you shared it. I have wanted to travel to Antarctica for a while (especially after my best friend went a couple of years ago), partly because it seemed like such a great adventure, partly for the wildlife, partly because I’m worried about the effect of climate change on its wonders, and mostly – like you, it seems – to be awestruck by the grandeur of it. I will admit, though, that there was also a big part of me that wanted to go just to say I had been there. I’m so glad to see that it exceeds the hype, that it overwhelms you with its glory and humbles you with its impact, that it’s bigger and better than just a seventh and final continent to cross off a list.

    I also can’t tell you how refreshing it was to hear you echo and validate my feelings about just *experiencing* these wonderful places rather than worrying about documenting them. As someone just starting out in the travel writing space, I feel like I’m waging a constant battle between wanting to enjoy and take in a place and the pressure to capture it in a way that will resonate with or grow an audience. I also am far too practical to be bringing ballgowns on my travels, and they usually won’t fit in my backpack anyway. It helps to know that there are others out there who can still get lost in the joy of being in a new and different place regardless of what it will mean on social media. Thank you for the validation and encouragement!

    Well done all around and thank you for sharing!

  17. Thank you for this honest and beautiful portrayal of your life-changing trip. I love reading how your perspective changed during the experience. I imagine it’s hard to fathom one’s expectations ahead of time for something so massive, so abstract, so distant.

  18. This is the best blog post I’ve read in a long time and so inspiring. I see so many people driven to travel to places due to ego and it drives me mad. Thank you for such an honest portrayal of your trip! Antarctica sounds like an incredible destination and I’d be interested to see how it continues to shape your attitude to travel and future destinations.

  19. I absolutely LOVE this article! I’m so excited to read more about your Antarctica trip. I’ve always wanted to visit, but like everyone else, I’m not quite sure why. I would rate penguins above it being the “seventh continent”. I would rate seeing somewhere incredible that’s still totally off the beaten path over the fact “it’s there”. But the reason you get more specific answers about places like Italy is because people relate to the countries they want to visit and know lots about the culture. Antarctica has none of that. It’s totally wild and off the radar and I don’t think anyone would know truly what to expect. Honestly, having penguins that close to me would make my LIFE, and that’s why I want to go! Sometimes it feels so unattainable because of the price, but I suppose that’s another part of what makes it a huge bucket list item. Can’t wait to read more!

  20. This post right here is everything Kate!

    First of, the photos are stunning! And your reflection… so poignant.

    Antarctica has always been a dream for me (in addition to the North Pole) for years. In fact, I wanted to go to the North Pole back in 2011 with Quark but that didn’t work out , remember?:( –

    Anyways, thanks for sharing your life-changing experience!

    Now I can’t wait to go!

  21. Looks absolutely breathtaking. I like the idea of seeing a place that’s so remote, natural, and grand. It’s probably the closest us non-millionaires can get to space.

  22. Oh Kate, I’ve been waiting for this one with bated breath! Your intense feelings for Antarctica really shine through. Thanks for this.

  23. A beautiful post about a beautiful place!
    We will visit one day too hopefully!
    Currently doing the Central America part.
    Thank you for all the insight.

  24. I rarely stumble upon travel blog posts that nearly make my eyes watery. Beautiful piece, indeed. I think we need to be humbled.


  25. Such an incredible place, thank you for sharing your thoughts on how the trip impacted you, Kate. I think it’s so easy today for us to find ourselves visiting destinations and getting lost in how it will impact our social media or photographs. Truly immersing ourselves in the location, particularly one like Antarctica, that is unspoiled by human civilization is so important to appreciating its beauty. It’s definitely a place that I would love to eventually visit, if the stars aligned. I’m constantly amazed at how nature can make us feel so small and I think Antarctica is the quintessential definition of that.

  26. Thank you so much for this wonderful article – it confirms why I have Antarctica on our family bucket list.

    In our many travels it is never the cities or towns that take my breath away. It is the beauty of the natural world that always astounds and resonates with me. I can’t imagine a place more rewarding to experience than Antarctica!

    I just hope that unlike so many other places it remains protected so that future generations can appreciate it too.

  27. Antartica is a humbling experience for any traveler. I may not be able to visit this beautiful place in my lifetime but I am glad that I got to know more about this place because of your blog post. As always thank you so much for sharing your adventures.

  28. Kate, I adore you and all of the content you post!! This was so exciting to read and I love how real you are! Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  29. Great post but I have my reservations. Antarctica is beautiful but why can’t we let it be?

    I am sure as a responsible traveler this must have crossed your mind. The tour operators may be very knowledgeable as well. However, the moment a ship reaches the continent, the ship emits heat, traverses through fragile ecosystem and adds stress to the local wildlife.

    Some places on earth are just better off left alone – both by governments and tourists.

    1. Yes, I completely understand your comment. Here’s information on the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, who aim to keep Antarctica expeditions as sustainable as possible:

      And I think the lack of environmental regulation in countries like China and India is a far bigger threat to Antarctica than these expeditions.

  30. WOW! Thank you for sharing. I totally hear you on Antarctica being a place of pride for most people. And, if I’m being honest, it would be the last continent on my list and that’s defintely one of the reasons I want to go. But thank you for sharing that Antarctica is so much more than just a check on the bucket list. The scenery looks amazing from the photos – I can’t even imagine it in real life.

  31. Life changing is pretty special. Your post reminded me of why I yearn to find myself in the middle of no-where with only my mind, the small bit of gear I bring and maybe one other person to rely on.

    Antarctica has long been on our list, likely because we both love the north so much. The silence, the isolation, the beauty, the physical skills required to survive. Like you said, it puts everything into perspective. The outdoors in remote locations is the ultimate test of who you are as a person, your values, beliefs, and abilities. And it is so incredibly personal- like just sitting and watching as you described. I just re-read the blog post I wrote after 26 days paddling on a remote northern river, and while it explained the sights and sounds, it doesn’t begin to describe the impact on the both of us – maybe that’s OK – it’s a personal thing.

    I am thrilled you had this experience, and I also think you captured the essence of a trip like this. Thanks for sharing and for fueling our desire, no I think it is a compelling need -to get to Antarctica!

  32. Great post, I’m so glad you had an amazing trip! Those mountains look amazing, awe inspiring.

    I just finished listening to The Ends of the World: Super Volcanoes, Lethal Oceans, and the Search for Past Apocalypses by Peter Brannen – highly recommend! It talks about the past and how life will be around long after we humans are gone 🙂

  33. This is a wonderfully written post Kate. It’s the places that make me realize how much I don’t know that challenge and make me grow as a person. The last place that did this for me was the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and i imagine Antarctica does this for everyone.

  34. Wow. This is so well written, so quieting and introspective and beautiful. You’ve inspired me in more ways than one. I MUST visit Antartica…but I hope I can apply some of these lessons to my travels before I get that chance. Amazing.

  35. Interesting your comment about traveling and wanting to be impressed. Haven’t been to Antarctica yet but I can’t wven imagine the epicness of it. How great is it to be impressed but in a whole new way!

  36. I understand, even though I’ve not been. It’s where you learned to love something-everything, more than yourself. It’s where you had no choice. It’s where you lost the desire to want anything less.

    That’s a key ingredient to stay sustainable, after you get started.

    I hope you also begin to learn more about how even this mighty, wild last edge of the world is in serious danger of being lost. Because once upon a time, the dangerous jungles of Asia humbled us too, and the teeming seas made us weep.

    And perhaps sometimes because you love something, and want to go back, maybe you won’t – because it better protects what you love.

  37. Wow, what a life-changing trip!! I remember seeing a comment on Facebook from you before you were about to head off on this trip and I have been looking forward to reading about how it went. Thank you so much for sharing in such great detail about your incredible experience.
    My husband and I have always wanted to travel to Antarctica but we are guilty of being some of those ego-driven people who want to go to check off that 7th continent. However it is not the only reason for me – I do want to go to see a place so different from any other place I’ve been. It also seems like a challenge – it is far, difficult to get to and the weather is unforgiving.
    One day I hope to go but for now I will live through your posts 🙂

  38. Brilliant! Sorry to build that ego of yours up again! lol But honestly, this post brought up so many of my emotions from my first real travelling experience as an adult, backpacking through Europe in 2005. That trip changed my life. Not just because of the places I’d been but the pure act of travelling. Travelling actually saved my life. And I feel like many people who travel a lot start to forget that. That it’s not just about the places and experiences, though Antarctica looks breathtaking in its untouched wildness, but in the simple things that travel gives us. Especially nowadays with everyone needing to capture everything on film or video, we forget to stop and truly soak in the experience and places we’re travelling to.

    Thanks so much for sharing this Kate, and for helping me reconnect with my inner travelling soul.

  39. Really moved by your post, Kate! What an amazing trip, I cannot begin to imagine how it was to fully take it all in being there physically. I hope to experience this one day in its entirety!

    Also, that part you wrote about the cobblestone got me too. I was so happy to finally walk on cobblestone paths when I first went to Europe. Now, the instinctive thought I have about cobblestone is “I can’t roll my suitcase over it”, hahaha!

  40. I can not express how astonishing I think your pictures are! It is my dream to visit this continent, but it would defo cost a lot of preparations… Amazing post!

  41. Interesting! I dreamt of Antartica 45 yrs ago & got accepted into med school then as the only way I could see for a female to get there at the time. Isolation. Pristine wilderness. Cold beauty. No tourists. Last place left. Ect.
    Looooong time now, not on my radar at all just for the reasons you provided evidence of (bucket list ppl) – and thanks for sharing the wonder & beauty to show it still remains.

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