The travel writer who won't fly

KATE COUGHLAN
Last updated 05:00 08/12/2013
Sherry Laskin

SHERRY LASKIN: 'I took my first cruise as a young girl, with my parents, on the Matsonia in the Caribbean and I have never lost that sense of excitement about the next cruise, even though I've done hundreds.'

Sherry Laskin
BY ROAD: It's been a long time since she caught a plane, but Sherry Laskin finds other ways to get around.

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When Sherry Laskin left her Florida home to join a Mediterranean cruise departing from Rome, she could have been there in 11 hours. Instead, it took 11 days.

It's been 20 years since Sherry Laskin boarded an aircraft, despite her fulltime occupation as a travel writer. She hates aircraft travel because she's scared of it - she thinks.

It is now so long, flying is a distant memory. "I've built up the fear in my mind, I guess, and convinced myself that I'm terrified," she says, "so I can justify why I do what I do. Believe me, this isn't the easy way to do things."

Her trip across the Atlantic and then Europe to join the boutique cruise ship the Azamara Journey on an immersion cruise to Tuscany and Provence is pure Jules Verne (see box for her itinerary), including mad dashes for trains that don't wait and a panic-stricken final-leg sprint for Rome's port of Civitavecchia and her about-to-depart ship.

On this trip Sherry is experiencing five different ocean and river cruises following the initial seven-day Azamara Journey cruise.

It took five months of meticulous research and painstaking planning before she could begin the maze of bookings that would take her round the world in 60 days.

Her trip began in Orlando when she boarded the Amtrak train for a 24-hour trip to New York and will finish when she arrives home on the Amtrak train in mid-winter.

In that time she'll have made two Transatlantic crossings, and taken six cruises and almost a dozen train and coach trips.

She'll have packed and unpacked and changed hotel rooms at least 30 times and lugged her suitcases in and out of countless train and bus stations.

"Stairs," she says, "are my enemy. When I see stairs my heart sinks because, even though I travel light, I still have two suitcases, a computer case and a backpack."

In spite of its drawbacks, Sherry's refusal to fly hasn't stopped her seeing the world, and having spent so much time on ships has meant she's become one of the world's foremost experts on the gentle art of cruising.

In addition to her website (cruisemaven.com), she is the expert on cruises.answers.com and is cruise editor of the about-to-launch onboard.com (owned by the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey group).

"Cruising is increasingly popular - 17 per cent growth every year and cruisers are getting younger and younger."

Sherry has traversed four continents but aims to see all seven.

"The Queen Mary is my luxe-bus across the pond," says this veteran of 13 (or it might be 15; she can't quite recall) Transatlantic crossings.

So travel without airport queues and claustrophobic long-haul economy seating is not from a more elegant place?

"Don't you believe it," says Sherry. "I'm always worried about missing trains, not making connections and missing the ship.

"The ships don't wait and it is very expensive to get to the next port."

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Sherry agrees it would be easier to hop on a plane - but she can't. "I went to a fear-of-flying course and the funny thing was, that course almost made me feel normal.

"Most of the other participants were unable to board the aircraft even knowing it wasn't going to fly anywhere.

"Almost all of them lost the plot completely when a recording of a jet engine was played.

"I'm not that crazy. I still can't do it though.

"I took my first cruise as a young girl, with my parents, on the Matsonia in the Caribbean and I have never lost that sense of excitement about the next cruise, even though I've done hundreds.

"When I first catch sight of the ship's stack from the train or coach or taxi, my heart leaps."

Kate Coughlan sailed with Azamara Cruises on a 7-day Tuscany and Provence cruise. Prices start from NZ$3000 per person. See azamaraclubcruises.com for the 2014 schedule. She flew on Cathay Pacific to Rome via Hong Kong. Cathay Pacific flies daily to Rome. Fares from $3500 return.

Sherry's Jules Verne-ish dash across two continents to meet her ship in Rome.

Day 1 Orlando, Florida to New York – 24-hours on Amtrak train. "This is a good service because meals are included and bottled water, and any service that has bottled water keeps me happy."  Sherry's water obsession began on a Greyhound bus that broke down in the desert.

Day 2 Taxi to Manhattan Hotel overnight. Taxi to embark Queen Mary at Red Hook (Brooklyn's port). "The Queen Mary used to dock in Manhattan but I guess that's too expensive now.

It is very moving to sail past the Statue of Liberty and watch the faces of the older passengers – they often cry. Maybe their parents arrived here as poor immigrants. "The Transatlantic crossing is always wonderful even though I've done it so many times I can't remember.

This crossing was special as the ship received a call for help from a solo woman rower who needed new sea anchors and a satellite phone.

The captain had to check it wasn't a hijacking before altering course. And there she was, just a tiny wee boat all alone in the middle of the Atlantic. It was so moving and made it my best-ever crossing."

Day 9 Disembark Queen Mary at Southampton, England. Cunard coach to St Pancras Station, London. Eurostar to Gare du Nord, Paris. Taxi to Westin Hotel, Champs Elysees, Paris.

"I always stay in 3.5 to 5-star hotels as I am travelling alone and believe that I will be safer walking in the streets near these hotels – which might be quite wrong but I want to feel safe."

Day 10 Taxi to Gare de Lyons, Paris. Rail Europe train to Turin, Italy. "I could have booked an overnight train to Rome but I am too fussy to walk down the corridor to a shared bathroom.

The TGV (French high-speed train) is great but French train stations can be daunting. Italian trains feel more relaxing."

Taxi to Hotel Grand Sitea, Turin. Day 11 Taxi to train. Rail Europe to Roma Termini Station. Taxi to Hotel Savoy. "I was heading for the pre-cruise Rome hotel for Azamara Journey to meet the coach and be transferred to the ship.

I should have had about half an hour to spare but even I always find it very nerve-racking in case I should somehow miss my connection.

I had booked a driver to be waiting at Roma Termini to take me straight to the Hotel Savoy, only to find the bus to the cruise ship at Civitavecchia had already left – one hour before the time I had been told. I panicked and had to ask the driver to take me all the way to the ship.

The good news was Azamara reimbursed me for the cost of the one-hour taxi ride."

- Fairfax Media

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