Traveling to Japan from the USA avoiding air travel?

  • This may be a bit of an odd question, but is it possible to make it to Japan without using an airplane. I have an inner ear disease and the last time I flew, it literally left me incapacitated for a week. My doctor said it's just not a good idea to take a chance. I want to visit Japan and possibly move there, however I cannot fly.

    Does anyone on here know of ways around this? I have done some googling, but they all seem to be "Stupid" answers like "Sneak into a shipping container". I could easily go by way of boat or ship, but the only things I've seen are private charter and cost upwards of $20,000 to rent them.

    I know this is a unique situation, but I'm going to possibly get a job there so I need a method other than flight to get back and forth from the states.

    Thanks ahead of time for any suggestions.

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  • Relaxed

    Relaxed Correct answer

    5 years ago

    Travelling by cargo ship (mostly container but also bulk or ro-ro, never heard anything about travelling on a tanker, presumably for safety reasons) is totally a thing. More information and links to specific agents can be found in previous questions tagged “freighter travel”. Many websites advertise specific journeys but you can always contact an agent and see what they can find for you. The only US-based freighter travel agent I know is Maris Freighter Cruise.

    It's not particularly complicated but relatively slow and expensive and needs to be arranged well in advance (you will also need a certificate from your GP and special “deviation” insurance – to protect the ship's operator against losses if they need to change the ship's route because of you, e.g. in case of medical emergency). The price is not fixed nor based on distance per se but simply USD 90-110 per day (+insurance, agent fees and embarkation/disembarkation fees), and crossing the Pacific takes at least 20 days, so around $2,000 (this also covers food on board, you get meals at fixed times with the ship's officers, alcohol at the discretion of the captain, sometimes not at all – it's not a cruise, freight goes first and your entertainment a distant second!).

    You could also go the other way around and cross the Atlantic (on a cargo ship, a regular passenger line or a seasonal “repositioning” cruise) and then go on to Asia by train or cargo ship. Not quick or cheap by any means but certainly a journey to remember. If you are prepared to go for less luxurious options (cheap freighter option or cheapest offer from Cunard, kupe on the trans-Siberian), you could probably manage it for $5,000-$7,000 I think. A friend of mine went to Japan from Europe taking buses to avoid expensive Western European trains and buying a platskartny ticket directly in Moscow (so one class below kupe, you get a bunk in a carriage with 50 other passengers); it was much cheaper than a pre-arranged tour, possibly even competitive with the plane, but you have to love adventure!

    Exactly where you end up on the west coast of the Pacific Ocean is not very important. Once you have reached East Asia or the Russian Far East, the last hop to Japan is not a problem, there are many ferries.

    I am waiting for someone to mention hitchhiking and sleeping outside to shave a few hundreds from the budget!

    A friend of mine biked (a lot of) the way from France to Mongolia (the blog, in French), but it took them a year ;)

    I have read that Maris and http://www.travltips.com are the only (major?) US ones.

    seat61 has info on the trans-Siberian railway and connections to/from Japan: http://www.seat61.com/Trans-Siberian.htm

    So you can spend $2000+ on a freighter, or (as another answer suggests) $1000 on a cruise liner?

    @Adeptus Yes. I also mentioned cruises with respect to the Atlantic side of things, incidentally.

    @MatthieuM. What's up with French people and cycling to Mongolia? My French friend did exactly the same.

    @gerrit: French is on the West side of the Europe-Asia continent, Mongolia is on the East side, I guess it's just the longest bicycling journey they can think of :) (note: the original target was China, but they had issue going through Tibet from India so changed plans).

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