If you’ve ever wanted to sail around the world, you’re in the right place. This is the strategy I used to sail across the Atlantic visiting five famous European cities for less than the price of a room at the Motel 6. And you can use the same strategy to find dozens of trips just like it every year.
Introduction: Sail Around the World for Cheap
This is the story of my unforgettable three-week journey by boat to Portugal, Spain, France, and the UK.
I wasn’t a stowaway either. Quite the opposite, I lived in the lap of luxury for three weeks. Fed by an award-winning chef, with twice daily turndown service, 24-hour room service… I traveled like royalty.
But just as the title suggests, I was able to do this for $57 per night.
In other words, the whole trip cost about the same as if I had driven a half hour away to a dirty Motel 6 and ate potato chips and watched Gossip Girl in bed for three weeks.
(I’m not above any of that, actually. Maybe next time!)
The thing is, I didn’t use any special connections. This exact trip and others like it are available to literally anyone reading this article if you know how to find them.
I am excited to finally publish this article because I believe that it will be transformational for many travelers. I plan to explode many common misconceptions that I used to have about traveling and that still persist among some of the top travel bloggers and their audiences.
Here are just a few of the myths I busted during this unforgettable three-week trip to Europe:
- If you’re on a budget, you have to backpack and/or stay in dingy hostels
- Cruises are only for fat/stupid Americans
- You have to be rich to take a three-week trip around the world
- You have to be rich to stay in luxury accommodations
- It’s impossible to get delicious and healthy food on a cruise
In case I sound too high and mighty, let me add this. Until this trip, I accepted these myths too, and I was just as happy break myself of this type of thinking as you will be.
Although cruising will never be my primary mode of travel around the world — after all, you just can’t get everywhere by boat — it is an important part of my repertoire. And it should be for you too.
How I Discovered and Planned This Trip
As a kid I always dreamed of sailing around the world, stopping at as many ports of call as possible, making short visits to the seaside towns and cities, and making a list of favorites to revisit again in the future.
If you’re a fellow travel junkie, you’ll relate to this: My favorite way to waste time on the couch at home is to check travel prices (flights, cruises, trains, airbnbs, etc) in hopes of running across a super cheap getaway that I can squeeze into my travel schedule.
I’ll admit, often I find nothing at all. But persistence pays off, and I find more incredible deals than I am ever able to take advantage of. I constantly have a wealth of dirt cheap trips to choose from and still turn most of them down.
(If you want the exact list of tools and methods I use to generate tons of cheap trips to choose from all year long, I’ll be writing about it soon.)
During one of these sofa-travel-agent sessions last February, I discovered a trip no one in their right mind would turn down. A 16-night cruise to Europe aboard a five-star ship… Price: $599. This cruise would normally cost $2000-3000 depending on the time of year. I rubbed my eyes to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Nope, it was real.
There was just one little obstacle to overcome. The cruise ended in London, so I would have to find a way home.
I quickly checked one-way flights from London to the US, and found a ticket on Norwegian for $192.
I decided right then and there it wasn’t something I could pass up. From there it was super simple. I purchased the 16-night cruise. Bought a one-way flight to Fort Lauderdale where I would join the cruise. Then bought a one-way flight home from there.
Since I’d be docking right outside of London I decided to extend my trip. I’d stay in London for two days then fly home — London to Boston.
Now let’s do the math.
How I Flipped from a Staunch “Anti-Cruiser”
I’m a HOT or COLD kind of person. I vary between extreme opposites. I either love something or I absolutely hate it. There is no in-between for me.
I’ve traveled all my life, but I’ve always been staunchly anti-cruise. Cruises were something my parents always talked down about. Overpriced, too many people, gross buffet food… plus, you’re stuck on a lame touristy schedule. Ick.
Well, four years ago I realized I was wrong. I was itching to get away, but my budget was tight so I was really digging deep when I ran across a new website: Vacationstogo.com. After being forced to enter my email address to get access to their deals, I was extremely skeptical.
But once I was in, I could view a private section of their website labeled “90-Day Ticker”. This is a complete listing of deals on cruises all over the world that depart in the next 90 days. It’s the equivalent of a blowout sale on under-booked cruises. And boy they were amazing!
That very day I booked a three-day cruise for $300 — on a five star ship. (Cruise ships are ranked from 2-6 stars. Five stars means it’s a luxury experience.) Exactly what I needed!
I quickly found that the same cruise was selling for $600 on the cruise line’s website, and I was hooked.
Today vacationstogo.com is now in my main lineup of travel sites that I check at least once a month. And every year since I found the website I go on at least one cruise.
Let me just say, if you’re pretty sure you hate cruises for all the reasons I listed above, it’s time to give them a second chance. Here’s why.
Cruises allow you to visit multiple far-off destinations in a very short amount of time. They also include food — often from award-winning celebrity chefs (more on that later) — and although they CAN be expensive, I’m going to show you a couple tricks that will make them incredibly cheap.
Plus, I see the “lame schedule” as a feature not a bug. I’ve discovered some of my favorite places on earth because they just happened to be on my cruise itinerary. Even though they would have never made it on my GO list.
Where I Visited
My ship had five planned stops.
- Ponte del Gado, Portugal (Azorres Isalnds)
- Lisbon, Portugal
- Bilbao, Spain.
- Le Havre, France
- Southampton, UK
But fate had another plan.
I was on a stationary bike in the gym at the front of the ship when I started noticing very large waves. The ship was really rocking. I’m pretty sure I was turning green, but I also didn’t care because we only had two hours until we reached our first destination!
We would see land for the first time in 6 days!!! After my torture session on the bike, I hurried out to the balcony of the gym to walk around the hull of the ship to see if I could catch a glimpse of land.
But the wind was intense, and I could hardly make it to the front of the ship. I walked back into the gym just in time to hear the devastating news! Due to a tropical storm heading directly towards us, we were changing our path skipping the Azores Islands.
I was heartbroken. It was actually the main reason I wanted to try this cruising across the Atlantic business in the first place. Not only were we skipping the Azores, we wouldn’t see land for another two days!
Thank God for room service. I drowned my sorrows in cookies and whole milk and eventually got over it. (Unlimited cookies and milk is one of the best and worst things about cruises.)
Stop #1: Lisbon, Portugal
As luck would have it, we arrived in Lisbon a day ahead of schedule, so we got an extra day and night in the city. Lisbon had never been on my GO list but wow! The food, people, cobblestone streets, colorful buildings… My goodness it’s captivating.
If you truly want to eat “Lisbon” you’ll want to stop in a cafe and try some salt cod, which they prepare at least 142 different ways. I recommend salt cod “a bras” (ah-BROSH). Essentially a “hash” of eggs and potatoes (and of course salt cod) and typically served with greens and olive oil.
I also tried the national beverage of choice: Port. It is fun to say that I drank port in Portugal, but I don’t normally drink so don’t look for a helpful review from me.
I also learned one word in Portuguese: Obrogado (oh-bro-GAH-do). Which means “Thanks” (the first word you should learn in any new language).
The extra day we spent in Lisbon more than made up for missing Ponte del Gado. If Lisbon isn’t on your travel wishlist, then PUT IT on your travel wishlist.
Stop #2: Bilbao, Spain
Bilbao is an industrial port covered in skyscrapers and is the capital of Basque Country.
It’s also home to the “other” Guggenheim — my personal favorite museum in NYC. We took a bus to the city central and walked directly to the museum right before it opened. This is one of those times when being stuck on a lame touristy schedule pays off.
I would have never chosen to travel to Bilbao on my own, but it would have been a shame to never visit the second Guggenheim there.
Afterward, we stopped for tapas before deciding to toss the rest of my “plans”. I walked through the city for a few hours and then returned to the ship.
Overall Bilbao was an odd experience only saved by Frank Gehry and tapas.
Stop #3: Le Havre, France
Le Havre is a beautiful little city in its own right, but the real reason I had been eyeing this stop is that it’s only a two-hour train ride to Paris. And somehow I had never been to Paris before.
The only wrinkle was the stop was eleven hours total. It would be a crunch, but I still couldn’t let “Paris for the day” pass me by!
We got up at 6:00AM and were ready and waiting, first in line at 7:30 to get off the boat.
I purchased my train ticket ahead of time. Don’t do this! I paid around $60USD for round trip tickets, but no one ever checked our tickets on either ride. Next time I’ll hop on the train and purchase a ticket IF and only if a steward comes through the car.
The train station was right around the corner from the port in Le Havre. The train ride was about two hours through beautiful countryside and the train was empty.
We arrived at the station in central Paris, about a 10-minute walk to the Arc de Triomphe. We didn’t have a lot of time, but I was happy to be on land on a beautiful Spring day in Paris.
I spent the day doing what most people do in Paris. Gazing up at the Eiffel Tower — it’s far more impressive in person than I ever realized. Strolling down the Champs Elysées. Eating croissants, cheese, and that thing you can’t pronounce at the corner patisserie.
Knowing that our time in Paris would be rushed, I had set an afternoon alarm for “time to go!” and an additional alarm for “I’m not kidding. Leave now.” But I still lost track of time — trying to decide which parfume I couldn’t live without.
After checking out, I scanned my map and rushed off in the direction of the train station. With about 20 minutes til the train left I thought I would be able to “NYC walk” it.
But I quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen and started trying to hail a cab. Ever notice how you pass a million empty cabs all day but the moment you need one they all vanish? That’s what happened, and I started feeling desperate.
I stopped at a hotel and asked the concierge to help. He made a quick phone call and told me the cab would be there in a few minutes.
A few minutes passed and I started getting nervous. Tick tock, tick tock. Ten minutes until our train leaves.
Finally the cab arrived, and I judged we had just enough time to make it to the station before our train left. Sadly my French sucks, and I told him the wrong station.
As soon as we realized our error, we paid the cab driver and lept out of the car. There was only one chance of making our train: run. We were just under a mile from the station and we had six minutes left.
And I’m in leather ankle boots and a trench coat.
But I ran. I ran as hard and as fast as my short legs could carry me. I felt like I was in a movie! We ran all the way to the platform and made it literally moments before the train started moving.
The train was completely full, but we crammed in and stood the entire two-hour trip back to Le Havre. We were the last people to reboard the ship that night. Phew.
Stop #4: Southampton, UK
Fifteen days after leaving the US we arrived at our final destination in Southampton, UK. I played with the idea of going to Stonehenge because it was less than 50 miles away, but in the end we decided with only two short days to spend in London we would skip it this time around.
We checked into our hotel, drop our bags, and set out to explore London. Right away we stopped for tea, then walked to Westminster Abbey. Big Ben didn’t seem as big as I remember from Peter Pan, but it was still my favorite site and so marvelous.
We spent the rest of the day eating at random pubs and cafes, shopping and exploring the city by foot. Be sure to visit the London Tower bridge both during the day and at night. Two totally different experiences.
(Also, remember all London cabs are cash only.)
What I Ate
Cruises often get a bad wrap for having gross food. My experience has been the opposite. I’ve only sailed aboard five-star ships, so maybe that’s why.
However, I pay less for my five-star cruises than others pay for an equivalent 2- or 3-star cruise, and there’s no reason you can’t do the same. (I tell you exactly how at the end of this article.)
But rest assured, the food is good. On days at sea, my diet would go something like this. I skipped breakfast. I’d make myself a HUGE salad for lunch of fresh greens, cabbage, vegetables, grilled chicken, and balsamic vinegar.
Then I’d go to the gym for an hour. The fitness center was honestly better than my gym at home. And it was located at the front of the ship, with full floor-to-ceiling windows to see the vast ocean in every direction.
Then we would eat in one of the main dining rooms in the evening. This is not a buffet. The food is made fresh and is usually healthy and delicious.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that I was fed by an award-winning celebrity chef and I didn’t have to spend any extra money either. I’ll tell you how we managed that.
On this ship, there was a private dining room where celebrity chef Curtis Stone would prepare a special menu for a few guests who spent a lot of extra money. This is a common arrangement on five-star ships.
I didn’t care to pay the extra money, but I wanted to try the dishes he was preparing for the big-spenders on the ship. Here’s the trick. I took a picture of his menu every night. (It was published in a little leaflet available upon request.)
Then the next night one item from that Curtis Stone menu would suddenly appear on the main dining room menu, which is free. It wouldn’t be labeled as a Curtis Stone creation, but it is. Order that.
I repeated this little trick virtually every night and ate the same dishes as all the wealthiest passengers — just a day later and without spending a dime.
You won’t necessarily be able to do this on every single ship, but it is a common practice to trade dishes among the dining rooms to keep guests from getting bored. Look for it.
There was one food-related experience that I spent a little extra money on during this trip.
That was at the Laduree at Harrod’s in London. I had had Laduree’s macarons on several occasions in the US, but my mom is an absolute tea-junkie so we stopped in for a pot and decided to stay for brunch.
Everything they do is just absolutely so perfect. From tea to juice to croissants and jam to caramel macarons. The brunch tasting menu is a whopping $80, but it’s enough food to split between at least three people. Consider sharing it. It will change your life.
What I Would Do Differently
After every trip, I like to sit down and make a note of what I would do differently, so that I can learn from my own travel mistakes.
This trip was no different. Two big things come to mind.
If you ever take a Trans-Atlantic cruise that ends in Southampton (and I hope you do), book your transport from Southampton to London in advance.
We had planned to take the bus to London and read that buying a ticket at the station was simple and affordable. However, we got there at the same time as about 2,000 other cruisers.
Sometimes I’m impatient, and that morning I just so happened to be grumpy and impatient. It was cold and rainy, and the bus station was completely full. The next available bus wouldn’t leave until 1:00PM — six hours later.
We canned that idea right away decided to find a private driver to take us to the city. Even after negotiating the price down significantly, the difference in cost was extreme ($10 per person for the bus vs $75 per person for a private car).
As my dad would always say “prior planning prevents piss poor performance”. So buy your bus ticket ahead of time instead of waiting until the day of. Wasting money sucks!
On the other hand, taking a car to London was way faster and more comfortable than the bus.
Something else I wish I could change was the way I packed. I’m usually the best packed person around, but I made some major mistakes on this trip.
I packed waaaay too cute to cross the Atlantic, and I was constantly cold. We did have access to laundry on the ship, but honestly I needed more workout clothes, leggings, sweaters and other cold weather items.
How to Sail Around the World Yourself
The Quick Guide to Finding and Booking a Cruise Just Like This one
Finally, I want to talk about how you can book a trip just like mine for $57/night or even less.
There is nothing magic about how I found this unforgettable trip. They are out there. It’s just a matter of finding them among the thousands of other more expensive trips.
It’s a little like finding a needle in a haystack. But there are a few simple tricks that, if you know them, will dramatically improve your odds of finding an incredible trip at a price you can afford.
Trick #1: Use the right tool. Go create an account at vacationstogo.com right now. It’s free, and you can always unsubscribe from the emails if you don’t want to see their advertisements.
Once you have an account, you can browse the “90-Day Ticker”. This is where you will find the best deals on five-star cruises. These are cruises that are under-booked, so they drop the price through the floor to fill it up at the last minute.
Often times you can get cruises up to 80% off the retail price.
Trick #2: Search at the right time. The cruise that I took is known as a “repositioning cruise”. That’s when the Carribean cruise season comes to an end, and the cruise line’s fleet is “repositioned” to Europe to start the Mediterranean cruise season.
These cruises do not return to their port of departure, and most cruisers prefer not to hassle with the travel arrangements so they tend to be more more difficult for cruise line’s to book out. But you and I are going to be the people who don’t mind the hassle.
Most fleets start repositioning to Europe in late March and continue through April. Take advantage. Start looking for your cruise in January and February.
Trick #3: Be persistent.
You can’t just check the 90-Day Ticker once and give up. The prices will fluctuate depending on how well the cruise is selling. Check at least once a week and be ready to book at a moment’s notice.
If you use these three tricks, I guarantee that you can find an incredible cruise for you and a friend this Spring. Give it a shot and tell me how it goes.
If you have questions about how to sail around the world yourself, leave them in the comments. I would love to help. This an all the guides I write are totally free, but if you find it helpful please give a share on your favorite social media!