Help me get to Europe by boat.

Hi, Matt:

I am a fearful flyer, and I heard there are ships that you can take from the West Coast through Panama and on to the East Coast and Europe, which is where I want to go. Is this true? I've looked everywhere on the net and can't find any info about ships other than the Queen Elizabeth, ($8000 round trip). What's the story?

-- Cinizia Ellero, San Diego

Exactly how fearful are you? This could be the test. Once upon a time, people took boats to get across oceans because there were no planes. The point of the trip was the destination, not the voyage. The voyage consisted of throwing up, sharing bunk space with goats, and eating mildewed bread. Today, the voyage is the point. Cruise ships are floating resorts with enough food to revive a starving nation. And you end up at the same port where you started out. In the modern age, airplanes are where we share space with goats and eat mildewed bread.

I'd guess the ships you're talking about are freighters, not cruise ships like the Queen Liz. There are nice enough basic accommodations and food for paying passengers on ships that haul freight all over the world. You could probably assemble a subluxurious ocean itinerary from L.A. to Liverpool for about a third the cost of a cruise ship. On the down side, though, a freighter usually accommodates only three or four passengers, so waiting lists are the norm. And you'll make lots and lots of port calls en route. Because cargo is more important than passengers, if the captain gets a new load in mid-voyage, you might spend an extra week on board so he can deliver it, and there's no guarantee you'll end up where you expected if the ship is rerouted. But if you have patience, big wads of time, plenty of good books, and a sense of adventure, freighter travel might be for you. Find specialty booking agents on the net.

But let me guess, Cinizia-- you don't really fit the freighter profile. Which kind of blows your European vacation out of the water. So what the elves and I recommend is that you take all the money you saved by not going on the QE, sign up at one of the phobia clinics in town, and let them ease you out of your air terrors. Then you can take advantage of such perks as flying free to Europe as an air courier, which beats eight large spent on a cruise ship or three months on a freighter. Air courier information can also be found on the net. Hey, we're serious about this. Ya can't take the bus. Bon voyage.

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