What is the ultimate travel experience?

Travel, as with all human experiences, is a very subjective thing. What appeals to one person may be anathema to another. Whereas one persons’ idea of heaven would be to swim with dolphins in some sub-tropical paradise; for another, it could be a gastronomical tour of Michelin restaurants in San Sebastian!

Given that subjectivity, how could one possibly answer what is fundamentally an unanswerable question? Well, there are several reasonable assumptions that we can make:

  1. Universal appeal. If the experience in question appears in most people’s respective bucket lists, then it is probably safe to say that there is something intrinsically transcendent about the experience that elevates it above most others.
  2. Rarity value. Let’s be honest here; the fewer the people that have enjoyed the experience, the greater the potential ‘bragging rights’ when comparing notes with fellow travellers.
  3. The further up the cost chain that one goes, the more rarefied the atmosphere becomes — at least in the metaphorical sense of the word!
  4. The less times we do or experience something, the more ‘exclusive’ it becomes because of that lack of repetition.
  5. One of the downsides of modern aviation is that more of the world has become accessible and that, in a way, detracts from its allure. The more isolated someplace is, the greater the sense of adventure!


So, where on earth can we tick all these boxes and can arguably lay claim to represent the ultimate travel experience? To my mind, it must be Antarctica. It is remote. It is hostile. It is pristine and untouched. It takes quite a bit of effort (and cost) to get there and it is probably one of those places that — for most people, I suspect — they are less likely to re-visit it a second time around.

Two weeks ago, I flew to Edinburgh to see an expedition ship owned and operated by G Adventures called — appropriately enough — ‘Expedition’. It is rare for such vessels to visit these waters and as it was re-positioning itself from the southern to the northern oceans, it represented an ideal opportunity to see for myself what life is like onboard such a ship which becomes home during one of those voyages to either pole. These are not cruise ships so the facilities are basic enough but I must say that the cabins were much roomier and airier than I expected; the food excellent and there were enough public spaces around the ship that I didn’t get the sense that one would be claustrophobic abroad one. I was there with several other travel agents from all over the UK and Ireland and over the course of several hours we were brought on a comprehensive tour of the all the ships facilities. The one that I found most enlightening was what they called the ‘Mud Room’ which is a large room located immediately above the engine room (and so quite warm) where expedition guests change into their arctic gear before descending into one of the several zodiacs which are used to take them ashore in some of the most inhospitable areas on earth. On their return, guests must decontaminate themselves by removing all mud/soil from their boots (hence the term) before returning to their respective cabins.

Later that afternoon, we were provided with a fascinating lecture by one of the many naturalists who are a feature of such itineraries and the lady in question — Susan — had already lost count of the number of times she had visited Antarctica but it was more than 140! In total, about 30,000 intrepid travellers visit Antarctica each year, most of them aboard vessels just like G Adventures’ ‘Expedition’ which can accommodate no more than 120 or 130 passengers at a time. Such trips are not cheap but when you see the level of detail that goes into their operation and when you consider the uniqueness of the resultant experience, you can full appreciate why they cost what they cost. I haven’t yet had the privilege of visiting Antarctica but it most certainly is on my list and if those lotto numbers finally come good for me, it’ll be happening sooner rather than later!

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