How to Choose an Arctic Expedition
The Arctic is an increasingly popular travel destination for those with a hunger for adventure. It is a place of dramatic landscapes and fascinating wildlife that few people get to witness outside of zoos.
A trip to the Arctic is more than just a simple holiday, it’s an expedition that provides you with experiences you will be sharing with others for the rest of your life. Once reserved for just a select number of explorers with the fortitude and means to venture into this unforgiving territory, the Arctic is now more accessible than ever before to nearly anyone with an adventurous spirit.
There are many ways to experience the Arctic, as this region covers numerous countries and as a whole is larger than Antarctica. There is also much to consider when planning Arctic trips such as when you want to travel, what your budget is, how long you want to visit, and what you want to experience.
If you’re considering a trip to the Arctic, here is our helpful Arctic Travel Guide to assist you with creating an adventure that will live up to your expectations whether you’re interested in a cruise or land-based expedition.
What Time of Year is Best for Arctic Travel?
The Arctic is a harsh environment, and the weather can be extreme. Traveling in winter means dealing with snow, ice, and below-freezing temperatures. In summer, the days are long, but mosquitoes can be unrelenting in places. Spring and fall offer more moderate conditions but rainfall can be more common.
When choosing an expedition date, you need to consider your preferred weather conditions and what activities you want to enjoy as some may only be available certain times of the year. Winter is the best time to travel if you want to go dog sledding or camping out under the northern lights.
For wildlife watching or kayaking trips focused on encountering polar bears, late spring or early fall expeditions offer more favorable conditions as there is less sea ice present at this time of year.
Your chosen time of year will also affect the cost of your expedition. Expeditions in winter and summer are typically more expensive due to the higher demand for these dates. Spring and fall expeditions may prove more favorable to stricter budgets.
Most Arctic cruises take places between May and September, with never-ending daylight present as you approach the height of summer. Many people like to time their trip to coincide with notable natural events such as caribou migrations, experiencing the northern lights, witnessing Arctic flowers covering the tundra, whale watching, or observing polar bears and walruses in greater abundance.
Where Should You Go in the Arctic?
As mentioned before, the Arctic is a vast and varied region covering a number of countries including Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Canada, and the U.S. thanks to its most northerly state of Alaska.
Choosing a destination that matches your interests is essential. Some Arctic regions are exceptional for wildlife whereas others offer more cultural experiences and outdoor recreational opportunities.
Popular Arctic cruise destinations include Svalbard and Canada’s Northwest Passage. You can even book journeys to the North Pole. Svalbard and Churchill, Manitoba are especially incredible locations for observing polar bears which is a major highlight of any trip to the Arctic.
The goal is to make a list of the wildlife you wish to see and the activities you want to experience. It’s then down to researching the various available Arctic destinations and seeing which ticks most of your boxes.
Consider Your Fitness Level
The Arctic is a place that nearly any traveler can experience thanks to a wide variety of trips that are now available. While some trips to the Arctic may be a bit physically demanding for some, there are others that are suitable for all ages and fitness levels.
The Arctic can be a physically demanding environment. Many expedition activities such as hiking and kayaking require a good level of fitness. It is essential to choose an expedition that matches your fitness level to avoid being uncomfortable, putting you health at risk, or paying for something you cannot fully partake in.
As a general rule, the more remote and extended the expedition is, often the higher the fitness level required. If you are unsure about your fitness level, speak with a medical professional or the Arctic expedition company you’re interested in booking with to get their advice on what may be the most suitable trip for you.
There are many different levels of Arctic expeditions, from those primarily focused on comfortable camping and scenic walks to more adventurous activities such as hiking, kayaking, and skiing. Again, choose an expedition based on your fitness level and desired level of activity.
What is Your budget?
Arctic expeditions are some of the most rewarding travel experiences available but they do come at a price. Venturing into remote and harsh environments doesn’t come easy, and it wasn’t too long ago when Arctic exploration was considering extremely dangerous.
The reason Arctic travel is costly these days is that not only is your safety ensured, but tour companies are focused on providing you with awe-inspiring moments. Today’s Arctic journeys are also often luxurious ones, a far cry from the comforts early explorers such as Roald Amundsen experienced.
Arctic cruise ship prices often depend on the type of cabin you book, number of add-on activities you include, and of course where you decide to cruise within the Arctic.
The cost of food and accommodation is often included in Arctic expedition rates. However, you will need to also factor in the cost of travel to and from Arctic tour starting points. Some companies offer all-inclusive packages that cover everything from transport to equipment rentals, however, these can be more expensive than trips you arrange yourself.
When choosing an Arctic expedition company, ask about their cancellation policies and what is included in the package price. Research flight prices and compare different routes to find the most affordable option for getting to your chosen destination.
When it comes to equipment, renting or borrowing gear from the expedition company is often possible. This can save you money and reduce your travel costs. However, if you already own your own equipment, you may want to bring it with you to avoid renting gear you are unfamiliar with or which may not fully suit your needs.
While all-inclusive tour prices may seem high at first, consider all that you are getting. You are often treated to fascinating onboard lectures and libraries to research your sightings, meals made by talented chefs, onboard exercise rooms, an onboard doctor, and daily shore excursions.
You will often find that trying to craft your own Arctic expedition can add up quickly in terms of costs and many of the top Arctic experiences simply cannot be achieved on your own.
How Much Time Do You Have?
Arctic expeditions can range from a few days to several weeks. The length of the expedition will affect the cost, difficulty level, and type of activities you can do. Shorter expeditions are typically less expensive, however, they may not really allow you to appreciate all the Arctic has to offer.
Getting to the Arctic can be quite costly and difficult, so it’s best to make the most of it by not cutting your trip too short. Remember that for many travelers this is often once in a lifetime experience, so you don’t want to have regrets that you missed out on any experiences.
Taking a week to two-week expedition will allow you much better chances to witness wildlife and really feel as though you immersed yourself in the Arctic. It’s quite incredible that experiencing a great deal of what the Arctic has to offer can now be accomplished in just a few weeks when you consider it once took explorers months if not years to make journeys into the deep reaches of the north.
Consider Your Interests
It is essential to consider your interests and what you hope to get out of the trip. Do you want to focus on wildlife watching? Are you interested in photography? Do you want to experience traditional culture or engage in activities like dog sledding?
Many different types of expeditions are available, each with a different focus. Wildlife-watching Arctic trips tend to be less physical than those focused on other activities such as kayaking or hiking.
If you want to focus on photography, look for an expedition that offers such opportunities or takes you to locations with a focus on seeking out high concentrations of wildlife.
If your interests are more cultural, look for an expedition that visits traditional Inuit communities for example or includes opportunities to at least learn about the local culture.
Cruises often include thrilling Zodiac rides and taking polar plunges if you’re brave enough. There is even the possibility of flying over the North Pole in a hot-air balloon. Many activities are often included in expedition prices while others may require you to pre-book optional add-on experiences.
Solo or Group Travel?
Solo travelers often have more freedom to explore at their own pace and choose their activities. However, going solo in the Arctic has its disadvantages. You will be responsible for all aspects of the trip, including planning, equipment rental, and navigation which is no small feat.
If you are new to expedition-style travel or are not confident in your survival skills in harsh environments, it is usually best to go with an organized group. Group expeditions typically have pre-planned itineraries and well-organized activities. Most importantly, you will be traveling with a team of people who are well-trained and can offer support if needed.
It’s also worth mentioning that many arctic trips would simply not be possible for those looking to go it solo. Trips deep into the Arctic often require very expensive ships and vehicles which require a great deal of expenses in terms of fuel and necessary permits to visit these incredible remote and often fragile environments.
The general consensus is to book Arctic journeys with a reputable company that can guarantee a safe and memorable experience. You can then maybe add in a few days before or after your booked tour to explore the surrounding region your tour originated out of.
We hope this guide has given you a greater idea of what to expect on an Arctic expedition and ways to ensure you book the trip you had in mind. No two trips to the Arctic are ever the same. This region is once again so vast and even trips take to the same location will yield an ever-changing backdrop of wildlife and natural events.