Planning

2017, It's Time to Shake Things Up.

Hello Friends and Family, Travelers, Photographers, Visitors and the Curious. I am so glad you’re here!

I’m crazy thankful for all that 2016 has offered and feel crazy lucky to live the life I lead. While I would have much preferred alternative outcomes to many things this year, I feel nothing but joy ringing in the new year.

2017 will be a big one for me. 

My posts have fallen short since Antarctica as I settled into my day-to-day and into the comfortable routine of life and work. But it’s time to shake things up...

Starting January 11th through April 11th, I will be a taking a huge amount of time off to travel the world and do what I love most - photography!

Here's where I'm going:

  • Camping on a safari drive in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa
  • Shooting frozen landscapes & the auroras in Iceland
  • Sailing on a catamaran in Phuket, Thailand & the Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar 
  • Traversing the South Island of New Zealand with Sam 

I've chosen these destinations very intentionally, starting with the most "out of my comfort zone" leading up to the longest and most comfortable. It was important for me to visit reasonably diverse places that each have a special and unique personality - but are also deeply meaningful to me in one way or another. 

Each destination will center around photography, of course, and I'm excited to see what themes develop while I'm out there: from culture and wildlife and ice (again!) and tropical landscapes. 

I can't wait to practice my craft this way - and refocus for a moment before ultimately deciding what's next.

I hope you can join me here (subscribe!), on MediumInstagram, and Twitter as I share these adventures, before, during and after and share the impact that each adventure will have on my photography and my spirit. 

I’ll be back in between each trip for some relaxing time at home with Sam, some reflection and lots of editing, storytelling a bite-sized Medium posts.

The time for change is now and I can’t wait to tell you more as I leap forward.

xoxo,
Allison

Coming Home & the Plan for Sharing

Hey guys! 

Antarctica. Wow.

This experience will be sticking with me for a long, long time…

Anyway, I wanted to give you an update.

It has been so exciting having you guys follow along with me and now that I’ve returned, I’m thrilled to tell the stories, share the moments and unveil the photos I’ve taken (9,369 in total!). 

I’ll need some time to process this epic and transformative adventure, so bear with me while I get organized and try to find the right words and the best photos to describe it. We live in an incredible world and I hope to be able to somehow give you a tiny glimpse into my utterly legendary experience of the Antarctic wilderness.

It will probably all come together after the holidays while I take the time to let it sink in and attempt to adjust to regular life. 

Until then, have an amazing holiday and a happy new year. 

PS - I updated the hero image on my blog with my own shot! I love Antarctica. 

The Thanksgiving Special: A Great Big Thanks to this Great Big List

It’s Thanksgiving and I have a hell of a lot to be thankful for. 

I have an amazing family, so many supportive friends and colleagues, and have met a ton of people along the way that have shaped the vision for this trip. To all of you I say, thank you! So much.

I wanted to call special attention to these people who have played a pivotal role in making this crazy trip real. Your help, guidance and support has been invaluable. 

Sam! Who has heard me talk about this thing every day and offered so much support. And his mom for the gloves.

Melanie! Who shared many tips and stories, introduced me to her friends and let me borrow lots of gear.

Ian! Who gave me the best advice ever and all the inside pro-tips one could hope for. Amazing stuff.

Sarah! Who booked it all for me and listened to me ruminate endlessly on which trip to pick.

 
group-thanks

Of course, my parents whose support and early Christmas gifts will be amazing during the trip!

Ira who has given me many tips and words of wisdom. And Karli who introduced us. See you there!

Kyla and Danny whose use of travel points is mind boggling and amazing. Thanks for the tips.

Emily, a friend for life whose own adventures serve as a constant reminder to live freely.

Chris and Linzi who are just such great friends and have been forever. Thanks for listening.

My team at Nurun who will be busy while I'm gone. I’m looking at you Stacy, Tim, JT, Jordan, Trey, Larry, Albert and so many more.

And the list goes on!

  • The greater NurunSF office. The place that keeps me gainfully employed with enrichment programs and a generous vacation package, all crucial to this trip.
  • Scott and Paul of Aperture Academy whose photography instruction in Big Sur helped me hone technical photography skills. And fellow student, Brian who shared many tips.
  • The Sea Trek crew who taught me how to kayak and how to rescue myself if I fall out (let’s hope it doesn’t come to that).
  • Angie, who is always up for something big and always down to hearing about this trip
  • Steve, an old friend from Philadelphia who shared some wise photography wisdom
  • The Machu Picchu trekking crew from 2013, especially Peggy whose world travels, climbing tales and Antarctica stories were particularly inspiring.
     

And some more folks I've never met:

  • Martin Bailey whose podcast I love and photography tips and gear recommendations will come in handy.
  • Crystal & Ben and Marnie on Etsy who are made me the most amazing Antarctica inspired creations. 
  • Everyone who contributes regularly to the forums on Tripadvisor so I can read and learn from all of your amazing experiences. 

Finally big thanks to everyone out there reading this blog, liking these posts, or following me on Facebook and Twitter. You make me happy too. 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
(Exactly one week to go...)

How I'm Getting to Antarctica

It will take me 23 hours and 45 minutes to get to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. It will take me 23 hours and 45 minutes just to get to the starting point for my trip to Antarctica. That's four flights from San Francisco and three flights back home. The journey is long, there are many legs, and I'm not in love with flying. But, that's what it takes, and that's what I'll do - all for the spirit of adventure.

 Getting to Antarctica: SFO : LAX : PTY : EZE : USH   |   Returning Home: USH : EZE : IAH : SFO

Getting to Antarctica: SFO : LAX : PTY : EZE : USH   |   Returning Home: USH : EZE : IAH : SFO

Let’s Talk about the Drake Passage

The Drake Passage, to the unfamiliar, is the body of water between Argentina and Antarctica where the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean meet. And it’s where things get nuts. Think wild weather, sea sickness, and all around epic-movie-storm ugliness. 

Part of me is thinking:
"Good God! The Drake Passage is going to destroy you." 

But a bigger part of me is thinking:
"Eh… You got this. It might be rough, but you can handle it."

I feel like I ought to be more terrified, but I’m just not. I think it’s going to be easy. I’ve got the pills, the ginger chews and the wrist bands. I know what to do... I think.

So, I’m coming for you Drake. Give me all you got.

 A Drake Passage Storm by Conrad Louis Charles.

A Drake Passage Storm by Conrad Louis Charles.

Antarctica: Frequently Asked Questions

Friends, family, co-workers, tweeters and facebookers have all asked me lots of questions about this trip. Here are the ones that have been coming up the most.

1. Why Antarctica?
I get this question the most - which surprises me! Why not?! For me, Antarctica represents a huge adventure into the unknown. But mostly, I really want to take pictures of ice. And for some inner and mysterious reason, it has to be Antarctica. It's not as dangerous, extreme or cold as you think it is. But it certainly sounds cool!

2. Who are you going with?
The short answer is: I’m going alone. But really, I’ll be with a huge group of people who will also be on the same ship as me. I’ll be matched up with a roommate in my double cabin so it won’t ever feel like I’m actually alone in the middle of nowhere. Don’t worry, Mom.

3. Where will you stay?
I’ll be on a ship the whole time - The Sea Adventurer. It’s relatable if you think of it like a cruise. Cruising around the ice. Only less luxe with fewer amenities. 

4. What will you do there?
Go ashore, look at ice and observe the wildlife - at the bottom of the world! That’s just amazing in and of itself. I’m also kayaking, but that’s an optional add-on.

5. Will you see polar bears?
Nope, Polar Bears live up North in the Arctic. Penguins are in the Antarctic. I will see lots and lots of penguins!

6. Isn't it *really* cold?
Actually, not as cold as you’d think. I’ll only be visiting the Peninsula in the summertime, which means we’re talking about 20-32 degrees fahrenheit. I think that's pretty manageable. Much better than -80 as it can reach in the center of the continent in the dead of winter.

7. What ship are you on?
I'm going with Quark Expeditions on the 11 Day Antarctic Explorer. Quark specializes in travel to the polar regions and have pretty good rates and itineraries. I booked through Freestyle Adventure Travel, a small company based in Ushuaia, Argentina. Sarah Scott (of Freestyle), was amazing to work with, especially through my many mind changes and endless questions. Work with her!

8. How did you decide where and when to go?
Planning a trip to Antarctica is tough. I talked to people who have been there, got tips from expedition leaders, looked into many forums and asked Sarah a lot of questions. I went back and forth a lot and ultimately made the choice based on some things a mix of folks shared with me. More on the how hard it was to pick here and my decision making process here. As for when: basically, November has the most ice. December is ice and wildlife. January is less ice. February and March have the most wildlife. 

9. Did you see the John Oliver Video on Antarctica?
Yes, it's hilarious! The ice-eating bit is particularly damning. Am I going to cancel my trip because of it? No way! Luckily, Quark and others have strict requirements to keep Antarctica protected, which means lots of rules while I'm there. I certainly felt pretty guilty, though!

10. Can I go with you?
A couple of people have asked me this, and yes you can! Talk to Sarah at Freestyle from the link above. Looks like it’s nearly sold out though, so act fast!

 

Quick Thanks to Freestyle Adventure Travel

I've been talking a lot about how difficult it was to choose this adventure. I've also been digging deeper into message boards and forums only to discover that this is a very common theme! 

I’ve haven’t shared that I had a lot of help in getting to my decision and have so many folks to thank (coming up in a later post). For now, here's a quick shout out to the travel agency I worked with, Freestyle Adventure Travel.

While I was building the Decision Matrix, I worked Sarah Scott, who was an absolute joy. She talked me through options, places and plans, helped me with discounts, listened as I ruminated and second guessed myself over and over again, and ultimately helped pick the right trip for me! And of course, handled all the booking details.

So, if you're planning a trip to explore the great white continent, haven't decided where to start or need a little help, reach out to Sarah!

Full disclosure: I get nothing at all for posting about Sarah or Freestyle. I just had such a great experience with her and wanted to share.

 Photo from Freestyle's Facebook Page.

Photo from Freestyle's Facebook Page.

Snorkeling Out, Kayaking In!

I'll admit. I suffered some heartache when I tried and failed to get on a snorkeling-focused expedition. While kayaking in Antarctica doesn't quite have the same extreme ring to it as snorkeling, it's still a pretty badass alternative that I've just added to my trip. I'm pumped!

Here's what I know about kayaking: It's straight forward. Paddle. Stay in the boat. Don't die.

But, since I've only gone a handful of times, I've signed up for an introductory class here in San Francisco. I could probably use the extra safety and paddling lesson as a reminder on how to stay in the boat and how to not die.

 Photo by a passenger via Quark Expedition

Photo by a passenger via Quark Expedition

The Over-Planner’s Dilemma

Uh oh. 

I know too much. 

I’ve weighed all the options, ruminated over all the possible plans and itineraries, and have come to an ultimate decision about what I thought was best for me. And that’s all well and good except…

I know what I’m missing.

Part of me wishes I just picked a trip without the extensive research. Without picking everything apart. Without being the obsessive over-planner that I am. Because now I’m hyper aware of all that I’m NOT doing. Instead of focusing exclusively on what I am doing.

An Idea to Reality in 20 Days

I started thinking about actually going to Antarctica while laying in bed late at night. The idea kept whizzing by, charged with excitement, preventing me from sleep. What if I just go? What if I just did it? And with that, I decided to just go. To just do it. All the research began the next morning and all of my free time was dedicated to figuring this trip out.

That was 20 days ago.

Today I'm proud and excited and thrilled and [insert every other word that is synonymous with the words I just said] to report that the choice has been made! The trigger has been pulled! The trip has been booked!

It’s all happening December 4th: The Antarctic Explorer aboard the Sea Adventurer (which actually was the highest score on The Decision Matrix in case you’re counting).

Let's do this!

And Then There Were Two

I've crunched the numbers and The Decision Matrix has surfaced one very clear winner. Of course, my heart is telling me not to rule out Option 2 because visiting the Weddell Sea is super compelling. So, as expected, quantified-decision-making can never be the only way. 

Anyway, here we are the final two:

Option 1: Antarctic Explorer

  • Decision Matrix Score: 28
  • Shorter Itinerary (12 Days)
  • Less Expensive
  • Better Ship & Crew Quality
  • Twin Cabin
  • Highly Recommended
  • Visits all the other spots for gorgeous ice on the West Side of the Peninsula. It's the "classic" version. 

Option 2:  Antarctica and the Weddell Sea

  • Decision Matrix Score: 25
  • Longer Itinerary (15 Days)
  • More Expensive 
  • OK Ship & Crew Quality
  • Quad Cabin 
  • Ship not as favorably recommended
  • Visits the East Side of the Peninsula and the Weddell Sea  Home of huge, tabular icebergs.

The Decision Matrix

The Decision Matrix is one of too many planning spreadsheets I've got going for this trip and it works a little something like this:

First, I broke down all of the micro components of the trip (things like ship size, comfort, cost, ideal dates, duration, etc.). Then, threw in any bonus items that might make an option sweeter (things like extra nights in Ushuaia, internet access, etc.) - they all get listed on the sheet.

Each time I get a plan from an operator, I assign a ranking of 0-3 for each of the line items. Add 'em up and out comes a total score. The highest score is the winning plan! 

Maybe, this takes some of the romance out of it all, but since they’re all similar anyway, it might not be so bad to make this huge and awesome decision based on a numerical value.  

At least in theory.

 The Decision Matrix

The Decision Matrix

The Decision Matrix now available for download!

Snorkeling... No Go

I've tried everything possible to hustle my way on a ship that offers snorkeling. I've emailed a bunch of operators and talked to a bunch of people with depressing news: This season is all booked up. There's only a select few journeys that offer it, so it's not surprising that there's no space for me. It was never a deal breaker, but it was always awesome. 

Too bad.

Antarctica Planning is Hard

Planning a trip to Antarctica is complicated. They say that when you're presented with so many different options, the harder a decision becomes. That's pretty much how it's going for me right now.

The options seem vast and diverse: itineraries, prices, tour companies, ships, leaders, when to go, where to go, how long to be there, what is better for this? for that? excursions? extras? etc, so on and so forth.

Luckily, the more I talk to people who have been, research and uncover, the more the little pieces come together.  I'm still in the process of sorting all of this out, keeping detailed spreadsheets, notes and references to help guide the decision making process. My goal is to pick a trip by mid August. But it's also really hard to wait. I'm getting so close to just booking something. Anything. Just to get it done.

Thankfully, I met up with an old friend for coffee today whose guidance and wisdom was just was I needed. She's putting me in touch with some of her friends and guides from her own Antarctic adventure to help make this trip happen in the best way for me.

Time to keep up the research and planning with a renewed sense of purpose and patience! 

Snorkeling in Antarctica?

Ladies and Gentleman - You can snorkel there.

*MIND BLOWN*

One of the tour companies I’ve been eyeing offers snorkeling. Snorkeling in Antarctica! Maybe you know this, maybe you don’t, but I love being underwater. I love taking pictures underwater. I am obsessed with the idea of being underwater taking pictures in Antarctica. Adding it to the list. 

Incredible.

 Photo by K.Hinchliffe

Photo by K.Hinchliffe

I'm going to Antarctica!

A few months ago, I bought a book called A Portrait of Ice by Caleb Cain Marcus. I was blown away. I set my sights on taking my own pictures of ice.  

A few weeks ago, I decided that my journey in ice photography would happen in the Polar South. Antarctica. I targeted a February 2016 expedition. 

A few days ago, after full-on research, reading and looking at other people's Antarctica pictures, I decided that I just can't wait! So here we go. Time to figure out how to make it happen in 2014-2015.

 Photo by Lisa Mclean via Quark Expeditions

Photo by Lisa Mclean via Quark Expeditions