There is nothing like adventure travel to reignite hope, passion or spark creativity. And based on the latest travel data, I’m not the only one that feels that way.
There is no denying, since Covid, the world has changed. Not only did we lose over 7 million people worldwide (a conservative estimate), but millions more suffered financial ruin or hardship, and significant numbers have battled chronic depression. Suffice it to say, for most of us, the last few years have sucked.
Granted, there were high points—the birth of two grandsons, more time with my husband, weekly family Zoom meetings, more time spent outside. But now, as the masks come off and we reemerge, there is a chance to redefine how we go forward. Do we resume our lives and fall back into the same routines, or do we make some conscious choices for change?
In December 2019, my husband and I spent 21 days in South America and Antarctica aboard a luxury expedition ship. We visited the Falklands, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina, and spent ten magical days following in the footsteps of explorers like Scott and Shackleton. Bundled up in Arctic gear, we boarded Zodiac boats exploring the magical land of ice and penguins. We saw whales and seals and evermore penguins. We kayaked Elephant Island, where Shackleton’s men wintered over for their second year. We ate and drank like royalty, entertained and educated by a handpicked crew.
Fast forward to August 2022
With trips booked in 2020 and 2021, we now suddenly find ourselves taking two rescheduled trips in 2022.
I’ll admit, in August, as I donned my mask for the plane ride from Denver to Munich to Oslo, I felt an excitement reminiscent of the first time I flew on a plane. Then I was five, traveling alone in the care of a flight attendant, headed to Grandma’s for a week. The thrill of a lifetime! I can still feel the flutters in my stomach as the engines whined and the plane hurtled toward take off.
It wasn’t the only déjà vu moment. When the charter plane destined for Longyearbyen, Svalbard was grounded and swapped out for a “vintage” aircraft, we didn’t think twice about boarding. It brought back the thrill of adventure I’d once felt on an Icelandic flight from Reykjavik to Luxembourg. I was nineteen, on the first leg of a six month adventure backpacking Europe. The weather was atrocious. The engines were icing up. Four attempts were made to take off, and four attempts were aborted. Finally, the pilots announced they were deicing the plane and going, no matter what. Anyone who wanted was given a free pass to stay behind for a plane the next day. My BFF and I were among those that climbed aboard, white knuckles gripping the armrests as the ice-caked plane broke clear of the runway and lumbered into the sky.
The Arctic was different than Antarctica. It was colder, grayer, and significantly more dangerous. In the Arctic, there are polar bears. That time of year, the bears should all have caught the ice and been much further north. Those that missed the boat, were hungry. Their main job was finding something to eat. While seals are their main diet, polar bears don’t care. Unlike sharks, which really don’t want to hunt humans, polar bears don’t discriminate. They just want blubber and meat. So it was actually reassuring to see the contingent of “bear guards” that headed out an hour ahead of the expeditions, geared up with flares, tasers and rifles loaded for bears. They patrolled both the land and water, as polar bears are fast on land and exceptional swimmers.
The guards kept kayakers and hikers safe, and when it came time for the “Polar Plunge” (a ritual jump from the edge of a Zodiac into the frigid waters of the Arctic Ocean), it was reassuring to see the bear patrol sweeping the water. Certainly, having dined like royalty for the previous week, the 30 or more 45 to 65-year-olds could easily have been mistaken for a colony of young ringed seals.
Growing up in the mountains of Colorado, I have always lived on the interface of man and animal. My childhood home and the one where my kids were raised were smack in the middle of mountain lion and bear territory. Growing up, I learned, and my kids were taught, how to co-exist with the wildlife. With paw prints on full display in the school’s playground sand each morning, the kids were given pamphlets and instructions on what to do if and/or when you come face to face with a mountain lion. It happens.
What I realized on that ship is that my husband and I were in the minority. We were among the few aboard who understood the impact of our venturing on the environment, and in the town of Ittoqqortoormiit. It is the only permanent settlement in Scoresby Sound, home to approximately 400 native Greenlanders. Each interface alters the ecosystems and impacts the community. Waterproof boots trample tundra in cordoned-off areas, while “bear guards” impact larger swatches of land. Then there are the visitors who wander outside of the marked boundaries, whether out of ignorance or a sense of entitlement.
It is a gift to be able to see the world, and with that comes responsibility. While it may not be possible to have no impact when traveling, it behooves us all to employ the basic tenants of Leave No Trace.
This year at Christmas, my husband and I are headed to New Zealand and Australia. It makes seven continents for both of us. It’s somewhere we’ve dreamed of going for years. I find myself looking forward to our departure with a renewed sense of excitement and joy that mirrors that of my early days. I am delighted to say, the past three years has reawakened the kid in me, sparking my adventurous spirit and rekindling my gratitude for the freedom to explore. All I can say is, “bring it on!”
What’s new with all of you? Have you experienced a “rekindling” of sorts?