What’s more exclusive than a trip that no one will even be able to take in 50 years?
Photo Illustration by Vanity Fair; Photos from Getty Images.
Last year, Amanda Ou and her husband, Ethan Wang, made a life decision of epic proportions. They quit their jobs to travel the world, vowing to hit all seven continents over the course of 2017. Wang had visited over 65 countries by the time he reached 40; Ou, 32, had explored roughly 30.
She had never, however, been to Antarctica.
“Antarctica is untouched,” she tells me over Skype, from Cancun, Mexico—the 16th country on her globe-trotting hit list. “It’s not like any of the commercial traveling spots that we’ve been to, because no one can claim the land. There’s no industrial [development], there’s no manufacturing, there’s nothing. So it’s really, really pure.”
After checking off Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina from their list, the couple flew from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, where they boarded a small expedition ship, run by polar specialists Quark, that took them to Antarctica for about two weeks. Ou was rendered breathless by its smiling leopard seals and flourishing penguin colonies. She watched a pod of seven killer whales stalk their lunch and paddled to sequestered ice floes ignited by the setting sun.
“It gives you a sense of awe,” Ou says. “There’s something in Antarctica that touches a very deep part of you in your heart.”
Ou is part of a surge of polar-bound Chinese nationals who became the second largest group of tourists to Antarctica last year. (Americans remain the largest.) Among China’s wealthiest travelers, expeditions to both Poles are expected to get even hotter over the next three years, according to a June report by the Hurun Research Institute, which keeps tabs on the whims and fancies of the Chinese glitterati.
Luxury polar tourism as a whole is continuing to get even bigger and better. Last December, the Innovation Group, J. Walter Thompson’s trend-forecasting think tank, named polar travel as one of the 100 trends to watch this year. As the polar ice caps continue to shrink, there’s more open waterway for even more ships to make the journey to see them—before it’s too late.