When you travel from North America to another continent, you have two basic modes of travel: flying on an airplane or sailing on a ship. Both methods will get you to your destination, but they have vastly different appeals and downsides. If you think how sailing ships have crossed oceans for hundreds of years, while planes have only delivered passengers overseas for decades, you can get an idea of the different flavors of the two methods of travel. Curious about which method to take for your next vacation? Read on.

Travel Time

The most significant difference between plane and ship travel is the amount of time it takes to reach your destination. Most flights take just a few hours, and even the longest flights never last longer than one day, usually involving layovers. Ship travel, on the other hand, always involves multiple days to reach an overseas destination. A flight from New York City to London may take about 11 to 12 hours. Transatlantic freighters or cruise ships, on the other hand, average four to five days, not including side trips along the way.


Commercial flights are significantly less expensive than commercial sea travel. You can fly from New York to London for less than $1,000, in most cases, but travel cruise lines can cost two to three times as much. Because the cruise industry and cruise travel is for experience and pleasure, it is more expensive.

  • If looking to travel by cruise economically, Carnival Cruise Line is regarded as the most affordable cruise line.
  • On the other hand, if you are not in a hurry to reach your destination and have a shipshape skills, you may be able to sign on to a commercial vessel or cargo ship as a hand and sail for free.

Airlines have no such alternative without significant training time.

If you are looking for another inexpensive sea alternative, many freighter lines offer limited berths for a small number of people each crossing. The accommodations are basic but comfortable and the cost can run as little as under 100 Euros a day. The cost in American dollars varies, depending on the exchange rate.


Both flying and sailing are statistically very safe ways to travel overseas.

In 2010, worldwide air travel averaged one accident for every 1.6 million flights. Cruise-ship accidents, on the other hand, are harder to count. Not every country is required to report its accident numbers to a governing body.

The International Maritime Organization counted more than 1,600 cruise ship fatalities back in 2010, but even that isn't certain.

One thing should be noted: once you are in a plane accident, there is very little you can do.

Cruise safety is a little more secure. If your cruise ship goes down, following the rules about safety and listening to crew members will significantly improve your chances of survival.

Accidents do happen, but even in the foundering of Costa Concordia, the vast majority of the ship's passengers got onto dry land in relative safety.

Reasons for Use

People travel for many different reasons, but they usually only fly for one: to reach their destination in the quickest time possible. There are people who enjoy flying, but it's the rare passenger who purchases an airline ticket simply to experience airline travel. Flying is the fastest mode of transportation currently available to the public.

Those who travel on cruise ships make the cruise itself all or part of their vacation. Cruise ships are large, floating hotels with all the amenities of any other, including casinos, clubs, bars, multiple restaurants and entertainment all hours of the day or night. If a flight might be said to be a means to an end, a cruise is often the end in itself. Even traveling on a freighter is part of the vacation adventure, as it may take even longer, depending on the ports of call.


Airline passengers flying in coach are treated to the most no-frills travel experience possible. They may be offered a small snack such as a tiny bag of pretzels and a small glass of soda or water, and on longer flights are often offered a small sandwich box for purchase. First-class passengers get drinks and a meal, but they are not much more comfortable than their colleagues in coach on many airlines. While there are airlines that offer seats that turn into beds, seats that change into small cabins and other high-end amenities, these are the exception instead of the rule. Other than necessary trips to rest rooms and short strolls in the aisle, airline passengers are requested to stay in their seats with their seat belts fastened.

Cruise passengers, on the other hand, can enjoy the best of everything. Food is offered in many venues multiple times a day. Ships offer activities from day excursions to exotic ports to readings from famous authors. Cruise passengers enjoy a comfortable bed, room to move, personalized exercise and other classes and every other perk you might expect at a high-end hotel.