How to

1 June 2016

Best Ways to Travel in the Arctic Circle

Perpetually chilly and boasting eye-level snow drifts, the polar regions of the world remain largely unexplored.  This can be attributed to several potential factors, from the well below freezing temperatures to the difficulties of navigating such an extreme environment/terrain, but even still, people willingly venture into the Arctic Circle to explore its unique and strange wonders.

Tourist traffic to the Arctic Circle (think Canada, Alaska, Russia, Greenland, and Norway) has increased over time as the industry capitalised on these wild regions, going up by 430% in the past 14 years for those touring by boat and 757% in the last 10 years for those on land (UNEP, 2007). As the advances in technology and communication have stretched across oceans, butting together bodies of land otherwise separated by oceans, the tourism industry has followed suit, making the most reclusive regions of the world accessible.

The northern region of the Arctic Circle consists essentially of ice; it is where icecaps can be found via Greenland and Norway. More south, via Canada, Alaska, and Russia, one can discover barren tundra or habitable wooded areas. Modern day explorers can see the aforementioned countries by ship, plane, or dogsled, though a combination is best to navigate the rough land.


Water

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Vessels traversing the polar waters must be specially built to withstand varying pressures, ice on the water, and freezing components on the ship. Cruising does have a rather big pull on Arctic-bound tourists; with an 8-day cruise from Southampton costing a mere £579 per person, this is a carefree way to see the polar region. Add to the benefits of a fully planned trip the ability to recline in cabin whenever you please, and this method of travel is a popular favourite for those with little ones. 

By design, cruises are a matter of luxury and plenty, not necessarily fitting of the empty loneliness of the Arctic Circle. Ship outings on more modest vessels carry out sailing in a different manner than traditional cruises, even using 100 year old ships to authenticate the experience. Voyage through the Arctic seas nearby Spitsbergen aboard a schooner, a sailing ship with at least two masts first used in the 16th century by the Dutch, for £1,590 a person. Time, or a lack thereof, must always be considered when discussing a multi-destination trip spanning a mere week. That’s the crutch when using a ship to explore.

Fun Fact: Traditionally, kayaks are used by indigenous peoples to hunt for walrus and seals.


Air



Hard to fathom, even harder to bring to fruition, setting foot on the top of the Earth is the stuff of fantasies. Travelling by plane is a more desirable method of travel, especially if one wishes to see the actual North Pole. Just believe in the Polar Explorers, who make a living fulfilling dreams; the group has been sending people to the North Pole for 23 years. Organising voyages from Longyearbyen, Norway, the journey starts with a chartered flight to Barneo Ice Station, a floating Russian airbase.

From there, a helicopter takes travelers on the last leg of the journey, ending at the indomitable North Pole, but only for the hefty price of €17,000. Surprisingly, this does not include lodging in Longyearbyen. For those less ambitious (and less wealthy), Alaska offers a fair few number of tours using a combination of air and land travel to traverse the Arctic Circle. From viewing the Yukon River to walking across the barren tundra, Alaska Tours has a variety of affordable tours utilising planes, dog sleds, and buses.


Land

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Going across frozen tundra is made a mite easier by calling on some old staples, motorised vehicles or dog and man driving by sledge (commonly called sledding). Sledges, vehicles on runners are either motorised or pulled and used to transport loads, are infinitely useful and historically invaluable. For hauling large loads, sledges are the way to go.

With runners designed to cut through snow, they make for easier transport than backpacking. Dog driving sledges is an art form all its own, relying on good training and familiarity with the practice in order to be successful. Today, many tourist businesses make their way across the Arctic Circle using dog sledding. Snowmobiles are a good alternative to those not willing to take on furry co-pilots. Sledges are easy to attach to such machines, and learning the machine can take a day of riding to understand.

Aside from bundling up with the appropriate parkas, insulated gear, and thermal layers, adventurers trekking by foot must remember the importance of snow shoes. The device attaches to the bottom of a boot and, with lacing similar to that of a tennis racket, spreads weight evenly across a larger surface allowing the wearer to stand atop snow drifts. For those savvy with skis, the Arctic poses no great feat, at least when it comes to efficiently traveling across long distances. Don’t forget to grab your poles and favourite skis while packing.


Seeing unbelievable wonders readily available to indigenous people (some Inuit tribes still inhabit northern Canada and Alaska), is now an exotic adventure that satisfies the secret explorer’s twitch. Overall, adventurers should live up to their namesake by being open to different forms of traveling in the Arctic Circle. One does not outweigh the other in usefulness or effectiveness given the diverse landscape. It’s as simple as figuring out your price point and doing what you feel.



Jacqui Litvan

Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).