Everyone loves surprises, right?
Traveling to Antarctica is irresponsible—at least, that was what my boyfriend lovingly reality-checked me with when I brought the subject up in passing. My boyfriend, the much more financially wary of the two of us, was convinced that going to Antarctica would be an unwise decision for our future goals and would be, verbatim, “the wildest f–king thing on the planet.”
I only heard the latter part.
I hadn’t been serious about traveling to Antarctica until that point because, on one hand, he was right. I simply did not have the money—neither of us did. We were 27 and experiencing our third significant economic recession. Not only did I have zero generational wealth, but I also had substantial generational debt. The odds have always been against me.
But on the other hand, this is exactly why my boyfriend was wrong. I had absolutely nothing to lose. By a twist of fate that only exists in Greek mythology, a few days later, a message popped up on my phone from my good friend that read: “I’m getting married on a cruise to Antarctica. Wanna go?”
If banks can take risks, they’re unprepared to back up, why couldn’t I? I paid the deposit for two tickets to Antarctica. I’d worry about getting my boyfriend on board later.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
If you are planning a similar scam—I mean, a loving grand gesture—here’s how to keep it all under wraps until, quite literally, the very last possible second. It will be the best prank you ever pull off.
Step 1: The Setup
A few months went by after our initial conversation before I decided to bring Antarctica up again. As expected, his response was the same: irresponsible, irrational, and impossible.
I nodded along, knowing the confirmation email of our tickets was bookmarked in my inbox. Okay then, I’d just have to make Antarctica a surprise then. Everyone loves surprises, right?
For the sake of brevity (and moral scrutiny), finessing my way into two tickets to Antarctica turned out to be the least interesting part of my scheme. I booked the cruise about a year and a half before its departure, so the large majority of the financial part involved months of pulling 72-hour work weeks, alternating between overtime, additional freelance work, and unnamed odd jobs.
Thankfully, because of my general pattern of reckless spending, when I told my boyfriend I would be working more, I was met with “mmm, makes sense” instead of outright suspicion.
“Oh, by the way,” I approached with nonchalance. “My friend Sara is getting married on a cruise, and we’re invited. Do you have two weeks of vacation left for December?”
While he loved traveling just as much as I did, he detested all the planning work that went into it. Along with my hot body and impeccable taste in television, he appreciated that I enthusiastically enjoyed trip planning. All he had to do was pay the Venmo requests and show up at the airport. That level of complete and unwavering trust was the foundation of our relationship. “Where is the cruise going?” He asked.
“Argentina,” I answered truthfully.
Step 2: The Execution
At the one-month countdown to departure, things started to get dicey. We needed to fill out passenger forms before we left for the cruise. I chose the most inconvenient and busiest time during the work week, the hectic scrambling before the Thanksgiving holiday, to present him with the forms. Quickly scanning them over, his only question was, “Wait, this cruise does polar expeditions?”
“Yeah, like Iceland, Greenland, the North Pole—you know, polar.”
He shrugged and signed the forms.
About two weeks out, when his coworkers began to inquire about the exact details of his trip, my boyfriend sent me a text asking for unreasonable details like an itinerary and a packing list. I once again had the opportunity to come clean and blurt out the heavy secret that had been weighing on me for a year and a half. Instead, I searched for cruises from Argentina that had nothing to do with the seventh continent.
“Oh, we’re doing a…Patagonia cruise,” I said. I sent a sketchy link to a random cruise that mentioned visiting Los Glaciares National Park. That would hopefully be enough explanation for needing cold weather clothes. Since neither of us had any geographical knowledge of South America, it made a passable-enough lie, I continued, “Make sure to bring waterproof pants because the landings are from the water. It’s very important you bring waterproof pants.”
“What is your obsession with waterproof pants all of a sudden?” He asked.
The cruise company we were taking, Poseidon Expeditions, was extremely adamant about bringing waterproof pants. In fact, wearing them was a requirement in order to step foot on the continent of Antarctica. Without them, I would have paid all of that money just for us to be stuck on a boat.
“No reason,” I texted back.
Flying to Argentina was the easy part. In fact, the flying part was a downright party. We watched the final match between Argentina and France for the 2022 FIFA championship in the Buenos Aires airport for our layover. The real challenge was at Customs and Immigration.
We approached the immigration desk as usual, though this time I was drenched through my shirt in sweat. She asked for our passports, names, duration of stay, and what cities in Argentina we would be visiting.
It was one thing to lie to the love of your life. But to her?
“Ushuaia,” I said as softly as I could while she verified our information.
Unfortunately, my boyfriend has an extremely common first AND last name in Latin America, so she had plenty of time for small talk as she scrolled through.
“Oh! A cruise out of Ushuaia? Which cruise company?” she asked.
I whispered the truth, Poseidon Expeditions, which she repeated back loudly. I shot my boyfriend a look, but he just blinked. He had forgotten the fake details anyway. I held my breath for her to mention something about Ushuaia being the doorway to Antarctica or Poseidon Expeditions being known as one of the best Antarctic cruise companies. But instead, she simply stamped our passports and waved us on.
Ushuaia, however, wasn’t subtle. On the eve of our departure, our cruise included a night at the famed Arakur Hotel before we set out on the frigid Antarctic waters. The moment we walked into the lobby, we were greeted by a giant banner: WELCOME, ANTARCTIC TRAVELERS.
My heart dropped. I looked at my boyfriend, but he still had the same blank smile of someone just happy to be abroad two years into a global pandemic. We checked in, and again, they slid papers toward us that had ANTARCTIC CRUISE plastered all over them. No reaction. We ran into Sara and her fiance Nick in the lobby that night for dinner, and when my boyfriend went to the bathroom, we both exploded from disbelief. Does he not know? Was he pretending? How did it manage to go on for this long? We quickly shut back up on his return and sat mostly in silence until the food arrived.
“That was a bit awkward, no?” My boyfriend mentioned on the walk back to our room. “Maybe they’re just shy.”
Step 3: The Getaway
The morning of, we had free time to roam Ushuaia. We split up from Sara and Nick and explored the various murals and shops throughout the small scenic city.
“Wow,” my boyfriend explained, zooming in on his phone’s GPS location. “We’re so close to Antarctica. Maybe we should’ve just gone there, huh?” He laughed, and I forced myself to join, dehydrated from two days of nonstop anxious perspiring. “Just for fun, let’s pop into the last-minute ticket booth just to see how much tickets might cost for a future trip.”
I looked around for a hidden camera crew because the torture was getting unbearable. “Sure, why not.”
Tickets for our exact cruise were 50% off in person.
The unraveling continued as we boarded the bus to the cruise ship port. The staff and crew of Poseidon Expeditions waved all of us aboard. They were wearing jackets with ANTARCTICA patches on the arm. I glanced back to my boyfriend, but he was gleefully enjoying his welcome drink. We sat in the front of the lecture room while we waited our turn to check into our cabins.
The charismatic expedition leader sauntered toward us with a smile, asking us about our day and where we were from. With a grin, he looked us each in the eye. “Will this be your first trip to Antarctica?”
The three of our heads snapped to my boyfriend, fight or flight kicking in. My boyfriend’s carefree demeanor shifted, his eyebrows knitting together in confusion. But just as his mouth opened to form the question that would give the entire plot away, we were called to check into our cabins.
By then, I was completely delirious. My palms were sweaty, my knees weak, and my arms spaghetti. While my boyfriend ooo’ed and aww’ed over the spacious cabin, I was doing everything I could to calm my social panic. I pointed out the various notebooks and pens, and stickers displayed across the desk with ANTARCTICA boldly displayed across them, but he paid them no mind.
What if he sued me for misleading him and wasting his time? What if he never figured it out, and I had to pretend he was in a simulation and none of this was real? What if, even worse, he gasped really loudly in shock at the realization, and everyone turned to look at us, and I had to frantically explain myself in front of strangers?
He frowned at me. “Why are you acting so strange?”
I needed to tell him, like now.
“There is no Patagonia cruise. We’re going to Antarctica.”
A gear in his brain clicked. “Wait, really?”
I nodded, watching the most serious look pass over his face. Then he erupted into a contagious fit of laughter so powerful we both ended up on the floor. Well, I might have just passed out.
“We’re going to Antarctica?” He asked and proclaimed between gasping for air.
“Is it the wildest f–king thing on the planet?” I asked.
“Not quite as wild as you,” he said.
This is the absolute CUTEST story!! I am formally requesting this be made into a limited series on Netflix or something! <3