The Pre-Departure Costs of Travelling By Cargo Ship (A Note to Self)

1. Social Costs

Please know that if you choose to travel by cargo ship, you will have to suffer many crimes against your sanity, the most prevalent of which will be that you will soon discover that every single person you know and their grandmother has always wanted to travel by cargo ship.

At first you will enthusiastically engage these people, but then you will come to understand that they really just want to talk about their own travel adventures.

Be prepared: Some women will express their concerns about you safety traveling alone. This you will take in stride because it is evident that they care about you. Your male acquaintances will laugh when they joke about how “popular” you will be with the crew and about being alone with so many men “without escape.” A coworker will tell you that you might get raped with the same gravity he would use to chat about how it might rain overnight.

As the time left until you leave ticks down, you will no longer talk to anyone about your trip. It will be your secret.

2. Financial Costs

If you’re going to make this adventure happen, please disregard that your 1,100€ a month job can barely cover your living expenses. Empty your Spanish bank account to pay for the deposit (you can eat light at the end of the month). Empty the bank account back home that you’ve been slowly draining for the past four years to pay for the remainder.

You’ll contact three different companies, all offering the same trip on the same ship, right down to the same cabin, for three different prices. When you ask why the first two are quoting you such high prices, the answer isn’t clear. When you ask one UK-based company if you can pay in US dollar or Euros, the answer is not clear. When you ask if they can price match, they stop responding to your emails. The fare includes the room, all meals, port taxes, deviation insurance—which covers the cost of the ship having to make an emergency stop because you have a grave illness—and the booking fee.

3. Mental Health Costs

When you do settle on a company and itinerary, the “invoice” they send you doesn’t even include your last name and is actually just an excel sheet with a picture of a boat on it:

Your head will scream, international money transfer scam! You will be extremely stressed about sending all of your money away. You will wire the money anyway.

4. More Mental Health Costs

You are required to have insurance to cover any medical expenses you might incur abroad; insurance for repatriation of your body if you happen to die; and travel insurance. Your school’s group policy definitely does not cover anything outside of the country and expires five days before your departure date. You try to figure out if you can get back on your mother’s U.S. insurance—it’s complicated and confusing and you abandon this plan. You settle on a Diver’s Alert Network policy that your dad renews every year. It’s just evacuation insurance and not full-on trip insurance or health insurance, but you give the travel agents that information anyway, and hope for the best. They don’t say anything.

5. More Financial Costs

The cost to get from your home in Madrid to the port in Le Havre, France is about 200€. This involves a 14 hour bus ride to Paris and then a train to Normandy.

You will use your internet skills and Couchsurfing.com to find a family that is willing to host you in a tiny village outside of Le Havre as you wait for your ship to come in. You’ll give them a bottle of wine ($40) and help their teenage daughter with her Spanish homework (free) as a meager thank you for their hospitality. A storm will delay the ship, you’ll have time to explore Normandy while you wait for the go-ahead to make your way to the port. And of course, each of those days will be spent watching the last of your cash dwindle until you aren’t sure if you’re going to have any money for the actual trip itself. Spoiler: You’ll have a little bit. Next time: Where your money will go during a month-long trip in which you are confined to a boat on the water for 90% of the time.

Liz Rush lives in Portland, Oregon and co-authors a tumblr comic strip.// photo by michael bentley

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