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How to cross the Atlantic

Is it possible to cross the Atlantic without flying? We look at the options.

05 Jun 2024 3 min read

Cargo ship

In previous years, a common way for travellers to cross the ocean flight-free was by passage on a freighter. However, cargo ships stopped carrying passengers during Covid, and most haven’t started again.

There is no indication of if or when the practice might start again, but here are two websites where you might find out: and

In anticipation of this being an option in the future, here’s why travelling by cargo ship is great:

  • emissions are 40x lower than flying (e.g. a return flight to South America is roughly 2 tonnes CO2 per passenger, with cargo ship passage roughly 50g*)
  • you are not adding demand to a polluting industry – the cargo ship goes whether you’re on it or not, whereas that’s not the case with aviation, which exists as a result of passengers wanting to fly (if you want to reduce the number of cargo ships in the world, buy less stuff! 90% of what we buy has come in some part via a cargo ship).
  • it’s a unique and adventurous way to travel – there’s nothing like crossing an ocean and arriving at your destination by sea. Travelling from east to west you get an extra hours’ sleep every day, and it gets warmer. Experience ocean wildlife as well as the strange world of shipping.
  • cabins are comfortable, you have meals with the crew each night, and there is time and space to do your own thing. Crews often enjoy having passengers aboard as it breaks the monotony of life at sea. 

* Mike Berners Lee calculation, cited in Kate Rawles 'The Life Cycle, 8,000 miles on a bamboo bike'

Aspects that take more resilience:

  • you have to be incredibly flexible and wait for weeks then leave at the drop of a hat
  • the cost is high: it’s typically €100 per night (passage is around 10 nights)
  • there’s no entertainment on board – you have to make your own!

We have some inspiring stories here about people who have travelled by cargo ship: 

  • Christine and Peter cycled from Hadrian's Wall to the Great Wall of China, then got a cargo ship back from Singapore: "Had we flown, our bodies would have arrived home before our brains."
  • Lewis took a cargo ship to South America to go travelling: "A highlight was seeing the stars at night, because when else are you going to be that far from human habitation?"
  • Kate Rawles also journeyed to South America by cargo ship, at the start of an 8,000 mile bike ride through the Andes from Colombia to Cape Horn: "There are many ‘wow’ moments on a the cargo ship, like realising the size of the ocean, when you're travelling for days and days without seeing land."

Sailing ship

By far the greenest and most adventurous option!

Another World Adventures is a really good company offering transatlantic passages throughout the year, typically west to east in the spring, and east to west in the autumn, following the trade winds.

You don't have to be an experienced sailor to take part, although that can help.

Other companies include Voyage Vert, which aims to start transatlantic crossings under sail in the coming years.

Cruise liner

The Queen Mary II cruise liner is the only commercial passenger ship to offer regular Atlantic crossings. It takes around seven days to cross the Atlantic on the Queen Mary II and costs around £1000. 

It's operated by the cruise company Cunard, and while it’s not the same as a cruise ship (it’s built for cross-ocean transit rather than bay cruising), it still has a sizeable carbon footprint.

Our calculations show travelling from the UK to New York is around three times more carbon heavy than the equivalent flight:

Research done with assistance from T&E UK

Repositioning cruises

Cruise ships often need to reposition the boat after a cruise, ready to pick up the next cohort of holiday-makers, so the cruise line will sell cabins at a discounted rate.

It's a slightly cheaper and less carbon intensive way to cross the Atlantic – arguably the boat is going anyway so you're not responsible for the emissions from the ship itself, just for what you use on board.