Most students, when working to save for a year abroad, spend half that year working long day shifts like battery hens crammed in call centres, or all night in bars that just about pay the minimum wage. Europe is easily accessible whether it is by train or a low-cost airline, however, when your sights are set on crossing the Atlantic, the cost of flying can take a large chunk out of your precious travel budget, especially considering the new government air taxes. But what would you say if you could begin your travels earlier, earning money on the way to your chosen destination?

Every year thousands of travellers take to the seas working on yachts and cargo ships as a way of crossing the Atlantic. Most ships heading westwards venture through the Caribbean and along the Panama Canal before arriving at the Pacific Ocean. This route poses the perfect opportunity for any traveller, granting easy access to both the Americas. This is also ideal for any traveller heading for the east coast, as many ships stop at the main South American ports before heading around Cape Horn at the tip of the continent. The voyage however, is not for the faint hearted. If you suffer from sea sickness or have any qualms about sharing dorms with weathered fishermen, you should probably stick to air travel – the journey can last as long as five weeks depending on your destination, and the route taken. However, don’t let this put you off; many of the ships are known to make stops at places such as Easter Island, the Galapagos Islands, or the Cape Verde Islands, undeniably some of the most beautiful places in the world. The tasks expected of you differ according to the type of vessel you choose to work on. On a yacht it could be anything from cleaning down the deck to helping steer the boat whilst the driver takes a nap. On the larger ships, depending on its function, it may be cooking for the rest of the crew or scaling the fish from the most recent catch – the latter is definitely not recommended to vegetarians.

So where do you start? Firstly, it must be said that you do not need sailing experience as most companies will provide training before you embark on your journey. However, for jobs on some of the more glamorous yachts, experience and qualifications are preferred. Secondly, the vast majority of vacancies are accessible via the internet due to the international nature of the business, and can be found either directly through the shipping company, or through special job agencies. If you’re lucky, you may find yourself working for up to £350 a week on some of the most expensive and luxurious boats in the world.

Make sure you think long and hard about your point of embarkation when considering working as a deckhand. The ships from Britain will have a larger proportion of English speakers and simple things such as food will be more to British taste. French operators, as civilised as they are, offer good food and wine to their crew, however, on foreign vessels it can never be presumed that English is the universally spoken language. In this case, a basic knowledge of the language is recommended, or it could be a very lonely trip!

So, if you are prepared to get your hands dirty and don’t mind spending a few weeks with a group of grey-bearded men, why not try this once in a lifetime, unique and largely unknown way of kicking off your travels?

Richard Magennis

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