Dear Umbra,

I just read about Brits swearing off flying and feel such a sense of elation that I’m not the only one! Difference is, I’m in the U.S. I can’t take the train to Thailand. Any ideas on transoceanic travel? What will it take to get from Boston to Europe by boat?

Anna Churchill
Watertown, Mass.

Dearest Anna,

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!

Not much — just planning ahead, a hardy stomach or a good supply of Dramamine, and a few weeks of adventure on the high seas. My choice for you today is freighter travel, also an interesting option for those of you who seek alternatives to cruise ship vacations.

Try a slow boat to Antwerp.

Photo: iStockphoto.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

I have a friend who swore off flying years ago, then traveled as a passenger on shipping freighters for several transatlantic voyages. Back then, it sounded a bit like hitchhiking, but after her last voyage (full disclosure: terrible seas, seasick for three weeks, appears to have thrown over her anti-flying vows), she told me it was becoming a more formalized system. From what I have found, she was right, and I think it’s all to your benefit.

Freighter travel is just that: shipping as a passenger on a large container vessel. The boats can take up to 12 passengers without qualifying as a passenger ship (which would require them to have a doctor on board). The passengers sleep in comfortable cabins, eat with the crew, and spend their days gazing out to sea, reading, quilting, using the onboard exercise equipment, and going ashore at ports of call. Costs seem to be about $70-$130 a day, including food. You book through a special agent, and ships go around the world.

Do I need to point out the two obvious differences between the ocean liner and the airliner? One will be the price — $1,200 or more to get to a European port, not to mention getting back. The other will be the time. First you’ll have to get to an East Coast port of call like Montreal or New York (Boston doesn’t seem to cater to passenger freighters). Then you’ll cross the ocean and end up in Antwerp or something. This system will not work for Londoners wanting a weekend Manhattan shopping jaunt, families, people who can’t use stairs, or the agoraphobic. It might work for retirees, or the novelist looking for a completely secluded retreat coupled with a week in Paris.

Look into it, at least for fun. The internet will respond to “freighter travel,” or you can start with these sites. Smooth sailing!