How to Survive Antarctica's Infamous Drake Passage

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A trip to Antarctica is on most adventurous travelers' bucket lists, but first, you have to traverse the Drake Passage. 

A trip to Antarctica means crossing the world’s roughest waters for nearly two full days. This tumultuous stretch of sea is known as the Drake Passage, where the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans meet, and swells can reach colossal heights.  

If you’re prone to seasickness, it can be the stuff of nightmares. But don’t worry, there are several ways to make it through intact. On my recent trip aboard Hurtigruten’s new MS Roald Amundsen to Antarctica, I learned a few tips for how to brave the Drake Passage.


Courtesy Hurtigruten

The Odds Are in Your Favor

Hurtigruten’s most veteran Expedition Leader and godmother to the MS Roald Amundsen, Karin Strand, has crossed the Drake Passage close to 300 times. In her experience, 70 percent of the time, guests experience calm waters on the Drake Lake, and 30 percent of the time, they get the Drake Shake. During my trip across the Drake, I got a bit of both, with 30-foot waves knocking books off shelves followed by completely calm seas for hours. 

Don’t Cruise On an Empty Stomach

You didn’t have to twist my arm to follow this bit of advice. One of the things that helped me most was keeping a plate of bread and crackers in my room and munching on them every few hours. Not to mention, going all out at the breakfast and lunch buffets to make sure my stomach stayed full. 

Surprisingly, this was the tip from Hurtigruten’s restaurant crew that helped me the most. But, whatever you do, “Don’t eat tomatoes and rich sauces. Instead, eat dry, salty biscuits and Coca Cola,” says Strand.


Oscar Farrera/Courtesy Hurtigruten

Take Motion Sickness Medicine

Whether you’re stocked to the gills with ginger chews, motion sickness pills, patches or wristbands, it should do the trick. Just try to avoid the ones that make you drowsy, you’ll want to be up to experience the stunning Drake sunsets.  

But a word to the wise, “Take a motion sickness tablet a few hours before we head into the Drake Passage,” says Strand. If you take them when you’re already feeling nauseous, it won’t do anything. If you forget yours, don’t panic, Hurtigruten’s team hands them out the night before rough waters, and all ships will have an endless supply in their doctor’s office.

Mind Over Matter

The mind is a powerful thing. If you come onto the ship thinking you’re going to be sick, you’re probably going to be sick. So, do your best to adjust your mindset and convince yourself that you won’t be spending the next 48-hours over the toilet bowl while cruising across the Drake. If you mentally prepare yourself, you’ll be fine. “It’s really not as bad as they say,” says Strand.


Espen Mills/Courtesy Hurtigruten

Take It Easy

I’d definitely avoid the gym during the Drake Passage. Instead, get a massage on the ship’s spa to try to take your mind off the motion of the ocean. “Stay horizontal in bed or sit facing the direction we are sailing,” says Strand. I took that advice and stayed in bed most of the time catching up on the latest movies.

On the off chance that none of these tips work, it’s best to relax, take deep breaths and keep your eyes on the horizon. “If you are already seasick, it is one of those things you just have to brave,” says Strand. “You will be fine as soon as we are in smoother waters.” And trust me, the journey across the passage to Antarctica is well worth it.