WEST ORANGE, NJ — Six of the seven continents are traveled to often, leaving behind Antarctica, portrayed as a frozen tundra where penguins waddle around and seals flip in the cold water. But West Orange resident Ken Smith is taking on the icebergs when he travels to the southern hemisphere in a couple of weeks, celebrating his 60th birthday by checking off his bucket list the only continent he’s never been to before.
“It started in 1998, when I went to Australia and from there I went to Europe and Africa,” Smith, who is a travel agent, said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on Jan. 10. “This is the last leg, which will actually cover South America as well.”
To reach Antarctica, Smith will go to the southern tip of Argentina and take a cruise from there to Antarctica. The ship docks for approximately five days, and travelers can walk around and see the wildlife in Antarctica before the ship returns to Argentina.
“I’ve had the goal to do all seven continents for the last four or five years,” Smith said. “So I decided to do it this year for my birthday. It’s exciting because only about 2 percent of the world’s population have been to all of them, so the fact that I’m going to a place that not many people have seen, other than explorers, is cool.”
Smith started his travel career in 1995 when he was looking to buy a house. He was an auditor at the time, coordinating most of his company’s business trips, and when talking to the real estate agent, she told him that his interests and skills would probably make him a good travel agent. So Smith switched gears and began coordinating trips for others, while seeing more of the world himself.
So far he’s traveled up the east coast of Australia from Sydney to Port Douglas; visited Colombia and Argentina in South America; Ghana in Africa; London, Venice, Rome and Naples in Europe; and multiple countries in Asia. Smith said there are still more places he has to see — in May he’s heading to South Africa, and he wants to go back to Australia to tour the west coast.
“I’ve never been to Greece and I want to do that,” Smith said. “I haven’t been to Fiji. I haven’t been to the Maldives, and I want to go to India and Germany.”
Antarctica is always cold; according to antarctica.gov.au, the average temperature of the continent ranges from 14 degrees Fahrenheit on the coast to 76 below zero at the highest points of the interior. January may not sound like the best time to go to one of the coldest places on Earth, but it is the middle of the summer season right now in the southern hemisphere.
“It’s summer there now, so it will be a little bit warmer,” Smith said. “It is still at the bottom of the Earth though, and you do have to walk through a lot of water. So there’s still going to be a lot of ice.”
But Smith won’t be out in the cold for days straight; he and the two friends accompanying him will able to go back to the ship and warm up when they want to, and they will sleep there as well.
After 20 years of frequent travel, Smith said he has learned that people who live in other parts of the world take longer vacations than Americans do. While he heads home after a weeklong trip, he heads home, other travelers go on to a new destination.
“They take much longer vacations than we do,” Smith said. “When I was in Australia, people were asking where I was going next, and I just said ‘home.’ They were surprised about that; they usually take two or three weeks.”
For anyone who wants to join the elite 2 percent of the population that has been to all seven continents, Smith has advice for how to accomplish the feat.
“It’s taken me 20 years, but you can probably do all seven in about four years,” he said. “My suggestion is to do two at a time. Go to Australia and Asia together, do Europe and Africa together. And South America and Antarctica go together.”
When Smith sets off for the other end of the world, he’s looking forward to completing the mission that he’s been on for the last two decades.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the animals and the landscapes,” he said. “And it’ll be amazing to be in a place where not many have been.”