I am traveling to Antarctica next month.
When I tell people I am going there I almost always get one of two responses: “Cool!” (I assume no pun intended) and “Why would you want to go there?”
I will answer the “Why Antarctica?” question at the end of this post, but first I’d like to address some differences between vacation travel and retirement travel from the perspective of someone who has done a substantial volume of both. In my view there is a substantial advantage to travel in retirement.
While I was working, most travel was for business or vacation. Business travel usually involved zooming in and zooming out of wherever with maybe a free weekend tacked on at the beginning or the end. Vacation travel was time away from work, usually with family, usually for a week, not more than two, and usually involving some activity e.g. skiing, sailing, theme parks, beaches, hiking, camping and the like.
In retirement, travel is usually for longer periods, frequently farther away and, most importantly, there is much more time for learning in advance about the geography, history, art, architecture, food, beverages, languages, religions, governments and social customs of the places my wife and I will visit.
For example, last year we had the opportunity to visit Turkey with another couple. Turkey was called “Asia Minor” by the Romans but its history goes far back beyond its conquest by the Romans in the 2nd century BCE. There were stone, copper and bronze age communities. They were followed by the Hittites, the Assyrians,the Trojans, the Greeks, the Lydians, the Persians, the Greeks again (under Alexander), the Romans, the Arabs, the Mongols and the Turks.
Since we were able to plan the trip well in advance we had lots of time to study the history that has produced the modern day Republic of Turkey, the successor to the Ottoman Turk Empire. Much of this history can still be experienced by visiting sites of cities, churches, mosques, forts, places, even Cleopatra’s baths. You can walk in the footsteps of St. Paul and gladiators. You can sleep in a cave hotel. You can snorkel over sunken cities.
Istanbul was founded in the 7th century BCE and stood for sixteen centuries as a great imperial capital, first (as Constantinople) of the Byzantine empire (which was the guardian of Christianity and Greek and Roman culture when Europe was declining) and then of the Ottoman Empire which stood until 1922. Much of this history can be easily accessed and it helps to have had the time to learn how the city came to be the metropolis of 15+ million people it is today.
My point: by studying the history, culture shifts, art, architecture of a country before visiting, the actual experience of being there is greatly enhanced. You understand what you are going to see before you see it and thus are able to come away with a greater appreciation of it. Also, developing an understanding of the food, beverages, religions and social customs in advance enables you experience the country’s civilization more as participant than as simply a visitor.
Whenever possible when traveling I also like to drive my own car or take public transportation to keep the itinerary flexible. And I like to incorporate lots of walking – for the exercise certainly, but also to get an enhanced feeling for the cities and countrysides.
Family vacations were great fun and very enjoyable. Retirement travel is educational and fulfilling (and great fun and very enjoyable to boot).
So why am I going to Antarctica? Obviously, there is not a lot of art, architecture, food, beverages, languages, religions, governments or social customs to study in advance.
The short answer: nature, geography, history, ocean passage, icebergs and the unique experience of being immersed in this remote environment.
Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, driest and highest of all the continents. It is hostile to most life forms in its interior, but it teems with krill, fish, whales, seals and birds at its periphery. Many of these cannot be seen in the wild anywhere else. We will get to see them firsthand on land or by kayak. I look forward to introducing myself to a chinstrap penguin.
It is the most recently discovered of all major land masses. It was first explored in sailing ships (Magellan, Drake, Cook, Wilkes, Ross, Scott, Shackleton and others) and is still being explored today. We will get to travel in an ice-class expedition ship and follow in their footsteps.
Much of the Antarctic is volcanically active. Conditions permitting, we may be able to swim in a geo-thermally heated pool in a volcano’s caldera.
The Drake Passage between Tierra del Fuego to the Antarctic Peninsula and back around Cape Horn can provide an exhilarating nautical experience.
Bottom line: It’s an adventure: intellectually, physically, socially.
R. Kevin Price
© 2008-2010 R.K. Price