For my first trip to Antarctica, I made a lot of guesses about what I should do and what I should bring along. Because I have a journal, I wrote down many of my thoughts in the moment about what I would do differently, what I would bring differently. Fortunately, I didn't do everything wrong, and also kept track of what I would do the same next time.
What I would do differently
1. Have an iPhone case with a wrist strap
I had a handheld Sony as my primary camera, a GoPro 8 as my secondary camera, and my iPhone XS as a device that I carried with me everywhere anyway. My best and favorite photos were taken on the iPhone, I rarely pulled out the GoPro, and the Sony annoyed me (I had the camera settings wrong, and ended up with a lot of crappy photos). I was terrified about dropping my phone into the South Ocean, so held a death grip on it. In retrospect, I would have liked an iphone case with a wrist strap, attached to my wrist, so that I could use the phone without terror of dropping it or losing it.
2. Have prescription sunglasses
I went with my glasses, and my sunglasses. The scenery was bright enough that I needed to use my sunglasses, but couldn't see clearly with them. I wish I had brought (well, owned, to be honest) prescription sunglasses, with a neck strap to keep them on me in case of going overboard.
3. Not use a balaklava
I bought a balaklava on the recommendation of the tour guide. The problem with the balaklava is that one size does not fit all, and mine kept shifting into my eyes. I compare it to a one-piece swimsuit: the only ones that fit my torso length are too wide, the ones that fit my width are too short. "Normal" proportions do not fit me.
I would rather have gone with a hat and a gaitor. I took the gaitor out of the balaklava, and wore my winter hat, which was, incidentally, purchased for the ill-fated 2012 Antarctica trip (so, it made it, too!).
4. Go with someone
I would have loved to share this experience with a loved one.
5. Pack more underwear
Underwear are small, easy enough to carry, and, if you have enough, there's no need to wash them. I rewore many of my clothes several times, but not my underwear. I overpacked with everything BUT my underwear. Fortunately, the ship has laundry service. Delightfully, my roommate, Ana, was happy to share a load with me, so I had enough underwear. Would have been simple enough not to need even that.
6. Consider adult diapers for longish zodiac cruises
Okay, these would take some getting used to, to be honest, complete with practicing before going on the trip, but having diapers to urinate into, instead of having either to return to the ship and miss a zodiac cruise, or to hold urinating until after the cruise, sounds rather preferred, given the health issues I triggered by spending 4 days dehydrated. There are smell issues, and practicing would be required, but really, I'd prefer not to have missed any part of the continent trip, as I did by returning early to the ship one afternoon.
7. Don't buy the t-shirt
Just... don't. You bought the Polar Plunge t-shirt and you hate it already. You haven't even worn it yet. It is the wrong size. It is a cut that doesn't look good on you. You dislike the fabric. You have a style, stick to it. That t-shirt isn't it.
8. Sign up early enough for camping
Who wants to spend ten thousand dollars on a trip and NOT sleep on the Seventh Continent? Really now, who?
If there isn't any camping spot available when you register, or call back daily to see if a spot opens up. A spot opened up three weeks before this trip sailed. If I had known, I would have had it.
9. Read up on the geology and history before going
I shouldn't have learned about brash ice on the water, I should have known about it. The tour guide company sends out a list of potential landing spots. It would not have been much effort to look up the Wikipedia articles of the places, maybe save them to the tablet. Or have a book or five for studying and learning on the trip.
10. Have a clear prescription UV-blocking sunglasses
So, untinted sunglasses, or wrap-around sports glasses. Mostly the UV blocking feature is what I was looking for here.
What I would do the same on another Antarctica Trip
1. Go solo
Yes, this is in conflict with 4 above. I met a lot of interesting people as a result of not having a partner. People who came with someone were in their clique, even if that group was only two people, and didn't seem to interact with others except from the viewpoint of that group. Seems.... limiting.
2. Definitely do the Polar Plunge
Oh, gosh, there is zero doubt about this one. Jump. In. The. Ocean.
3. Have no wifi
Wifi is an option on the ship. Don't buy it. Not being tied to my phone was wonderful, and incredibly well-chosen.
4. Be present, accept what happens.
Everyone has expectations for adventures. This trip has the possibilities of penguins, whales, seals, ice, glaciers, breaches, calving, fog, and landfall. None of these possibilities were guaranteed. Yet, so many fellow passengers lamented this and were disappointed in that. The best choice I made on this trip was to be present and accept what happens, regardless of desires. Holy moly, wow, this is an amazing place to be! Sure, things could have been different, but that doesn't mean they would have been better. Next trip, I shall, again, be present and appreciate every moment, in the moment.
5. Have an approved location for my card
The ship issues a trip card to each passenger. They are used to track when passengers board and disembark. They are used to track purchases and open doors. My card had two locations, and only two locations: my front right pocket of my cords or the left upper arm pocket of my expedition jacket. Those were the ONLY two places (besides in my hand being used) the card was. I lost count of the number of times I watched other passengers scramble for their cards, unable to find them, or see them flip out of someone's pocket as they pulled out their phone and the card came with it. Approved Location™ FTW.
6. Keep a journal
Oh, gosh yes. Never be without. So many amazing and (retrospectively) hysterical things on this trip.
7. Have ziploc bags in my backpack
Yes, I took ziploc bags in my backpack when we went on our excursions. For the most part, I had items in the ziploc bags that I wanted to keep dry. However, I packed a couple extra ziploc bags into my backpack, so that when the opportunity to drop a chunk of ice into my backpack came, said ice wouldn't melt all over my back. That melted ice was amazing, btw.
So, there we have it. What I wrote down that I would do differently, and what I would do the same. I'm looking forward to going back.