Help me get my mother, who doesn't fly, from NYC to Sydney
January 7, 2019 4:04 PM   Subscribe

My mother is terrified of flying - there's no way I'll ever get her on an airplane. I'm a big time traveler though, and I now live in Australia (NSW). My mother is in New York. How do I find a cruise that'll get her here (and back)?

How do I get my mother, who hasn't seen much of the world because she doesn't fly, to Australia by boat?

I'm willing to travel with her from NYC to Oz - hey, I want to see more of the world too - but I'm confused about how to find the right cruise. Travel agent (I guess they still exist)? I've actually never taken a cruise before and don't know how people usually book them!

Tips on the best way to circumnavigate the globe also welcome. Bonus points if one way could be via Europe, the other via Asia.

My mother's retired, I'm not, but I am willing to take a sabbatical to have this experience with her. Also, either myself or someone else would accompany her on the return trip, of course :)
posted by jacquilinala to Travel & Transportation around Australia (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

I am an Australian and put some thought into this once when around the world travel without planes appealed to me. I didn't end up doing it because of the costs- more on this later.

In short, this is super tricky, but possibly doable. The issue is that while there are lots of overland ways to travel, actually getting to/from Australia without air travel is difficult.
The issue is that the ships that do travel those routes don't often take paid passengers.

There is a trans-atlantic cruise still operating (the Atlantic is a much smaller ocean), so the NYC to Europe bit is a bit easier. There are lots of overland ways to travel- the trans-siberian railway, etc- The Man in seat 61 is a great train travel resource. In fact, on googling around, here's what he has to say on getting to Australia.

Jon Faine drove from Melbourne to London (excerpt.) - not sure if any parts of this journey involved flying.

My idea of route would be to sail from NYC to the UK, then ferry/train/etc over land to some point in SE Asia, and boat.

It would be a big adventure, possibly more scary at points than flying, and also very expensive. But hey, if there is absolutely no way she'll fly, even with therapy, then best of luck!
posted by freethefeet at 4:36 PM on January 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

Is this any use:

I googled just 'travel to Australia from US by boat'. It may be that you are too specific on your searching so that is why obvious stuff is not coming up?

Options from the UK here - which may be more prolific in options, and then just find a cross Atlantic option?
posted by Brockles at 4:36 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

You don't mention cost. You can do a cruise around the world for $50K. I would look into container ships. There are agencies that specialize in that sort of travel. The experience of Seth Stevenson, who wrote "Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World" might be helpful, as well.
posted by wnissen at 4:37 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't have a lot of suggestions except to point out that most US-Australia cruises depart from Los Angeles. Getting from NYC to LA without flying isn't easy but it's not conceptually hard either. Drive or take Amtrak. You can get one of those cruises for as little as $3K (although you'd probably want a better room)
posted by GuyZero at 4:43 PM on January 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

Some more options here.
posted by freethefeet at 4:43 PM on January 7, 2019

I only know about American cruise lines, so most of the cruises I've seen are from LA to Sydney. My parents did one about 4 years ago. Cruises like this are billed as "transpacific" cruises, run about 4 weeks and are NOT cheap. My parents have a travel agent that specializes in cruises, but there are websites like CruiseCritic that can help you find cruises that fit your schedule and budget before you commit to an agent or a cruise specialist website.
One phrase you might want to look for is a "repositioning cruise", which tend to be less because they're basically moving the ships from the US to Australia and New Zealand for the winter.
Going by train to LA is very doable, but if you want to keep to boats, you could cobble together an itinerary that would go from NY to FL and then FL to CA. Larger cruise lines could even do this for you, like Holland America or Princess.
posted by fiercekitten at 4:47 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

(sorry- the end of my comment above is a bit flippant- I didn't mean it that way.)
posted by freethefeet at 4:49 PM on January 7, 2019

There are great repositioning cruises.

Here is one from LA to Sydney. $1900
27 nights stopping in Tahiti, Hawaii, and New Zealand. (you can also stay on a few more nights and have it drop you in British Columbia).

Sydney to Tokyo

This one goes NYC to Sydney seeing all kinds of cool stuff on the way. 77 nights 14K.
posted by beccaj at 4:55 PM on January 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

"Passenger freighter" is a term to get some non-cruise boat travel options.
posted by gideonfrog at 4:57 PM on January 7, 2019

Gosh, I wish I had citations for you, but I have heard sometime in the past that it was possible to travel for a nominal fee as sort of a guest on a commercial steamship. Obviously this is not glamorous travel, but it would satisfy your functional needs, and iirc was a pretty affordable way to get from point A to point B.
posted by vignettist at 6:22 PM on January 7, 2019

I would take Amtrak or drive to LA, take a cruise from LA to Sydney, and if you have the time and money, take a freighter back to the UK via the Suez Canal, travel around Europe a little, and then cruise back to New York.
posted by pinochiette at 6:53 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Gosh, I wish I had citations for you, but I have heard sometime in the past that it was possible to travel for a nominal fee as sort of a guest on a commercial steamship.

Having investigated this going the other way, there are berths available on some freighters, but they're not at all a nominal fee.
posted by pompomtom at 8:42 PM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is a tangent and may be a non-starter but I have had great reports from people about BA's 'confidence in flying' course. I wonder if an American airline runs something similar out of a New York airport...? The first-hand reports I've heard - from two separate people - and online testimonials are quite something.
posted by humuhumu at 1:42 AM on January 8, 2019

As anecdata, in my extended family in the UK somebody was extremely scared to fly and refused to get on a plane. At some point their son married a lady from Cambodia and ended up living there for a few years incl. the arrival of grandchild no 1.. They now live in Australia. The person overcame their fear of flying among other things by splurging on business class/first class travel. There is so much to make even somebody who is happy to fly in general deeply uncomfortable and miserable in economy for a long-haul flight. And the combination of faster check in, waiting in a comfortable and spacious lounge, significantly more space and better service for the duration and getting off a plane quickly the other end can make it easier to stay calm. My relatives are lower middle-class so this approach was very extravagant financially. But you’re looking at a variety of expensive options so depending what exactly causes your mother’s anxiety a combination of something like the kind course humuhumu recommends and paying to make the experience less miserable may as well be one of them.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:16 AM on January 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

One of the problems with transoceanic cruises is that they usually go mostly in one direction at one time of year, and then in the other direction 6 months later. For example, looking at Cruise Sheet (a pretty good cruise aggregator), Australia—North America cruises all happen in April, while North America—Australia cruises mostly happen in September & October. So your mom would either have to stay in Australia for some time, or find another way there or back.
posted by Johnny Assay at 4:45 AM on January 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have a friend that does the passenger freighter thing in his early retirement, and the attraction for him is that it is relaxed and there are all sorts of odd itineraries that you'd never pick up any other way (he did a two-month trip from Vancouver to Odessa on the ZIM Ontario via Korea, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, and the Red Sea).

But it's not cheap. He says it averages about $150 US a day, and he ends up missing beer and wine (most freighters have a ban on alcohol onboard). He said most options are about the same price, and that if one is cost-conscious to look at cruises instead. He did like the cabins, his cabin on the Zim Ontario was huge compared to anything but large suites on a cruise ship.
posted by kaszeta at 6:17 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Once upon a time i worked with a woman who was from australia and had traveled back and forth between there and SF by freight liner several times. Could you mom take a train across the US (would take 4 days or thereabouts it seems) and get on a boat from the west coast?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:09 AM on January 8, 2019

One thing to consider: do either of you know whether you get motion sick on boats? (I took a very short cruise and learned the hard way that I do not do well on boats. I was literally counting the hours until I could get off the damn boat.) I mention this because that long of a cruise would be... well, really long.
posted by purple_bird at 9:11 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

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