How to cross an ocean
May 17, 2008 5:25 AM   Subscribe

I want to travel from Wroclaw, Poland to my family in Seattle, with less than 1000USD, without flying, within five weeks.

I'm studying in Wroclaw, Poland, almost half way around the world from my home (I remember as a kid looking at the globe and Ukraine is exactly on the other side of the northern Hemisphere from Seattle).

I'm finished June 23. I intended to stay away from the US for as long as possible, but that whole human heart and loving friends thing urges me to return. That being, I didn't buy a return plane ticket.

My only obligation after June 23 is to see my cousin and uncle in Brighton for a week or so. After that it's time to go.

Perhaps the first question is, "Which direction: East or West?"

The criteria for this choice, in order to provide some constraints are:
1. I have less than 1000USD so the cheaper the better.
2. The five week time frame: the point is to return to my loved ones, so I don't want to be on the road for a year.
3. I've flown probably 200 times in my life and I'm over the airports, the turbulence and the rapid descents at the end. So we've ships, trains, autos, horses, bikes and my feet to work with.

And that's where all the questions I browsed on metafilter haven't answered my question, and why I'm asking you now:

I know how to buy a plane ticket, and I'm accustomed to train travel and I've hitchhiked a few hundred miles before (so the continental portion of travel doesn't bother me) but how do I cross the oceans?

I've researched tramp steamers a bit but the interactive map doesn't show any available ships!

Does anyone have experience hitching rides on ships? Are there other ways to cross oceans (crew on a yacht, tall ship or canoe?)

Is the Bering straight potentially crossable? I'm aware the north pole is melting so that's not really transgressable.

What's the least expensive way to [not fly across] an ocean? And which ocean should I cross?
posted by Galen to Travel & Transportation around Seattle, WA (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I would take a cheap bus like Eurolines to Moscow or St. Petersburg, then take the Trans-Siberian train to Chita (I randomly plugged in June 5 and it was $257), then bus or train to Anadyr in the north east, where there are ferry rides to Alaska every two hours. From Alaska I'm sure you could find a bus to Seattle. Money will be tight. Book early. Travel light. Bring maps and guides. Give yourself a lot of time.
posted by farishta at 6:06 AM on May 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Disclaimer: I've never done this, these are just Google results. YMMV.
posted by farishta at 6:09 AM on May 17, 2008

If you do go through Russia, seems very helpful (linked to in previous post). I researched cheap buses to Russia from Poland and it seems that your best bet is an $85 train ride from Warsaw to St. Petersburg, where you can get on the Trans-Siberian. There are bus routes, but they aren't much cheaper and take something like 30 hours. I'm having trouble finding a way to get to the northeast, but the linked website should help. At least, money wise, it looks like you can do about half of your journey for around $350. Good luck!
posted by farishta at 6:29 AM on May 17, 2008

You could work on a freighter going from China to the West Coast, if you can get a job. The American embassy may be able to arrange one for you if you call ahead.
posted by Pants! at 6:37 AM on May 17, 2008

A final note: if you decide to travel through Russia, this will be of help. And whatever you do, avoid the currently unstable North Caucasus, which shouldn't be an issue if you're generally going NE. Mefi mail me if you make the journey, I'd love to hear about it.
posted by farishta at 8:25 AM on May 17, 2008

Going through Russia is probably going to be your best bet. The hard part is getting across the Bering Strait; once you're in Alaska, Seattle is just a boring car/bus/train ride away. This guy (who I just found randomly on Google) gives some advice about getting from Russia to Alaska.

You could work on a freighter going from China to the West Coast, if you can get a job.

A similar question was asked not too long ago. The truth is, one can't just show up at the docks and ask for a job. You can pay to be a passenger sometimes, but you need some kind of training to work.
posted by Nelsormensch at 8:34 AM on May 17, 2008

Try the forums at Bootsnall; you might be able to find some people who have done something very similar. I'd start with the Around the World forum, but there are others that would probably have good info, too.
posted by mosessis at 8:52 AM on May 17, 2008

I was intrigued so I looked, and I found no reference on the web of a ferry from Anadyr to Alaska. There are references to a ferry from the Anadyr airport to the city every two hours, but that's not quite the same thing! Did you look at the map? It is hundreds of miles from Alaska, and even then to a part of Alaska that has no road connections to the rest of the continent.

$1300 from Valencia to New York in 11 days, though, on this site. I couldn't find anything cheaper.
posted by sergent at 8:52 AM on May 17, 2008

Sergent: Sorry, my mistake, I misread a forum post on waytorussia (hence my disclaimer-I haven't done this, just throwing out ideas). I think that going through Russia via the Trans-Siberian route will be cheapest, so long as one can find a cheap way to Alaska through Nelsormensch's first link. Again, apologies for the error.
posted by farishta at 9:57 AM on May 17, 2008

if you get to alaska, consider the alaska marine highway system to seattle rather than trying to bus it. some parts of alaska are not road-reachable from the main part of US/Canada, while the marine system serves many of them.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:03 PM on May 17, 2008

Can you let us know what you decide? I'd love to hear about your trip.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:23 PM on May 17, 2008

Thank you entirely for the advice. I've followed up on it already, especially that of farishta and Nelsormensch.

I found two large difficulties with going east via Russia: 1) the Visa is difficult to attain (I'm a US citizen) and relatively expensive (100USD consumes over 10% of my budget). 2) At the end, crossing to Alaska means clandestine bribing and immigration, according to Nelsormensch's link. That worries me. Leaving from China feels less sketchy, so I will follow up on Pants! advice to see if the Embassy can help.

One of my friends suggested I try leaving from London, to eliminate the trans-Asia portion of the trip. The QE2 sails for 700GBP to New York, which leaves me to hitchhike across the US (something I've attempted before -- got stuck in New York!) or Canada (which I'm thinking will be far easier -- the Canadians I know are trusting and kind).

Overall I'd rather cross Asia (the currency is much weaker than Europe's).

Does anyone have any advice about a southern route via Turkey, Iran, the Persian Gulf, Turkey and SE Asia?

Thanks again for your advice. This is serious for me as I do want to return to the US (for the friends, not the policies! ;P)
posted by Galen at 4:38 PM on May 17, 2008

And by "Turkey, Iran, the Persian Gulf, Turkey and SE Asia" I mean to pass through India once rather than Turkey twice :)
posted by Galen at 4:41 PM on May 17, 2008

You're going to run into serious difficulties when it comes time to cross the ocean. The Pacific is a very, very big puddle, and with only five weeks it's not at all practical to cross it by boat. In a similar vein, Asia is a huge fucking continent and five weeks will leave you too rushed to enjoy it (remember too that things don't really work on fixed schedules outside of the first world).

I don't know much about crossing the Atlantic, but I'm sure you can do it. Really though, nowadays a plane ticket is going to be much cheaper. You're right about probably spending all of your money in Western Europe, too.

I think this is an awesome idea and high five for having an adventurous spirit, but to be honest five weeks and $1000 just isn't enough to pull it off. If I were you, I would buy the cheapest ticket I could find out of Istanbul and use whatever's left to travel to the crappiest, most out of the way part of the Balkans or Caucasus I could afford.

But then, the thing about hardcore travel is this: "can" and "can't", "possible" and "impossible" are entirely relative, and you should never let anyone discourage you from trying.
posted by borkingchikapa at 10:20 PM on May 17, 2008

Oh, and you probably know all about this, but in case you don't check out the hippie trail. There are a lot of great links in the citations on that page.

None of that will be helpful to you now because the political conditions have changed so much, but the firsthand accounts are great reads.
posted by borkingchikapa at 10:30 PM on May 17, 2008

You could also shell out for the Russian visa and try to hitchhike all the way. I don't see any reason you couldn't hitch from Wroclaw to the Bering Strait given enough time; plenty of travellers have had great success hitching in that part of the world. Could you be bothered to learn some Russian first, at least? That would add a lot to your trip. There are also plenty of hospitality networks such as Couchsurfing and Hospitality Clubthat help to enhance your cultural experience and reduce, if not entirely eliminate, your accommodation costs.

The "Southern Route" you suggested is not going to be possible if you're including visa costs in your budget; it also would just be a terrible shame to rush through so many fascinating countries in an effort to merely cover the ground as quickly as possible. Please don't do that. You will (or should!) be frustrated and regretful.

It doesn't seem like there's any reason for this five-week deadline, so why don't you forget about that and have an adventure you can enjoy along the way? Travel is much more interesting when you remove the restrictions that usually prevent you from being spontaneous; you're lucky to have the opportunity already so take advantage of your freedom, including your freedom from money, and see where it takes you.
posted by xanthippe at 10:23 PM on May 18, 2008

One of my friends suggested I try leaving from London, to eliminate the trans-Asia portion of the trip. The QE2 sails for 700GBP to New York, which leaves me to hitchhike across the US (something I've attempted before -- got stuck in New York!) or Canada (which I'm thinking will be far easier -- the Canadians I know are trusting and kind).

I'm not sure if you realize this or not, but 700 GBP is roughly $1400.
posted by nonmerci at 11:29 AM on May 19, 2008

nonmerci: living in Europe, I'm all too aware of the exchange rates :) Thanks though.

I'm definitely leaning towards crossing Russia and taking the relatively brief flight (though I'd rather not) from Kamchatka to Alaska. From there, either hitchhiking through Canada, or, if I have the money, the ferry straight to Seattle.

Xanthippe: thanks for the heads up on visas in multiple countries. Those extra costs add up quickly. I'm still inexperienced with such things, as I've only traveled within the Shengen area and North America.

I'm considering the advice to throw off the 5 week limitation, and really just go, but the argument against that is I promised myself -- after lengthy solo drive between LA and Sacramento -- never to travel alone again.

I'll update here again closer to my departure.

Thanks again for the great advice!
posted by Galen at 5:31 AM on May 20, 2008

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