Friday, December 15, 2006

Sea Travel

Every few weeks, I get an email from a stranger inquiring about freighter travel. That's travel by ship.

They are usually excited about sea travel for one of three reasons.

1) They assume it will be inexpensive and/or romantic. Many believe they can work their passage on board a ship. (No, you can't. There are highly trained professionals on ships. Even the most junior toilet-cleaners are trained at maritime academies in disaster drills and safety.)

2) They are afraid of flying or know someone afraid of flying. Or can't fly for a medical reason.

3) They want to lower their personal carbon emissions by not using an airplane.

Unfortunately, cargo ship travel--freighter travel--is no great bargain. Sure, it produces fewer carbon emissions than planes and does not involve going up in the sky in an aluminum tube, but you must pay dearly for these privileges.

When I took freighters across oceans in 2001 for, the US dollar was at an all-time high, convenient as many freighters were priced in Deutsch Marks, which was worth about half the USD. It still was not a bargain, but compared to today's prices in euros, it was a deal.

Want to go from Europe to Cape Town? That'll set you back $3,300, or a little less if you go with "Budget Accommodation" on the Royal Mail service between the UK and South Africa. One-way. And how do you plan on getting home?

Trans-Atlantic voyages aren't cheap either. The best deal I could find was for $1155 from Valencia to New York one-way. That's about three times the cost of a round-trip plane ticket between New York and London, and if you aren't looking to go to Spain, you still have to get up north from there. Heck, you can usually score a single cabin on the QE2/QM2 to Southampton for less than that. And the food is better.
When I tell people this, they are usually flabbergasted, or sometimes outraged.

"Why does it cost so much? How do they expect to get any business?"

They don't necessarily care about your business. Freighter companies transport freight. It is nice to take a few passengers, but they don't seem real fussed if no one signs up. A freighter is
not a passenger ship. It's a working ship. And they feed you three times a day and clean your cabin. So you are not paying just for transport, but for room and board.

Go for the ambiance of leisurely staring at the sea for days on end. Go because you hate flying. Go because you want to reduce your carbon emissions (though I cynically daresay a fair number of people are hopping on this bandwagon while cheerfully ignoring readily available public transport or renewable power available through their energy provider). But don't go for the fare, cuz there's nothing "fair" about it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Every banana a guest. Every passenger a pest" - Unofficial fruit carrier motto.