By Maria Staal

The first thing I did when I walked into my cabin was tasting the water that came out the shower. That might seem a weird thing to do, but I had just boarded my first ever container ship for a month-long journey from Europe to Australia and I wanted to know if I had to shower with seawater.

This was not the case, however! The water that came out of the shower was fresh and as I discover later, even suitable for drinking.

travel-by-cargo-ship

Now why would someone board a cargo ship to go to Australia from Europe? Wouldn’t flying be much easier? It probably would, but I had already done that once and this time I decided I wanted to see the world without flying and taking a freighter cruise seemed like the way to go.

People might not realise this, but most cargo ships have room for up to six passengers. Many shipping companies are eager to fill their excess cabins and allow passengers to book the 3-months round trip or parts of it, having them experience life on board for themselves.

What makes travelling by cargo ship such a unique experience?

  • Slow way of travelling – great for getting a feeling of how large the world is;
  • Giving the possibility to visit ports and places that are not on the beaten track;
  • Experiencing life on board – hanging out with the officers and crew, visiting the bridge and engine-room;
  • Resting and relaxing while the ship is at sea and experiencing the bustle of the ports when docked;
  • Encountering wildlife like whales, dolphins and flying fish.

It’s not even necessary to forgo luxury when travelling on a cargo ship. Cabins all have en-suite bathrooms, and the ships have a swimming pool and sauna. Meals on board are excellent – and an added bonus is that there are no restrictions on how much luggage can be taken on board.

cargo-ship-bow

Organising a freighter cruise is easy as worldwide there are many travel agencies that specialise in cargo travel. To find an agency, just google ‘freighter cruises’ or ‘freighter travel’.

Don’t make any allusions on being able to work for a passage. Due to insurance restrictions this is not possible anymore. The costs of a freighter trip are between $90 – $150 per day, which sounds expensive, but keep in mind this includes accommodation, full board and travel!

cargo-ship-travel

After my first container ship had dropped me off in Australia, I immediately booked my passed back to Europe on another cargo ship – but it didn’t stop at that. So far I have travelled on five different container ships and spent a total of nine months at sea. I can highly recommend this mode of transport. If you’re not in a hurry to get somewhere, this is a unique way of travelling, guaranteed to give you an experience you will never forget.

This post is part of a blog tour that focuses on Maria’s book Time Zones, Containers and Three Square Meals a Day. Visit the Travel Writers Exchange for an interview with Maria about how she wrote the book. Tomorrow, Maria’s new book More Stories of Time Zones and Containers will be launched on her blog Scribbles of an Author and Freelance Writer.

Maria Staal is an author and freelance writer, based in the Netherlands. She has written two books about her adventures on the container ships. Time Zones, Containers and Three Square Meals a Day and More Stories of Time Zones and Containers. You can find her online at www.mariastaal.com

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37 Comments

  1. Vi

    Hmm…”$90 – $150 per day”…It sounds like cruise ship would be cheaper. Of course it is different experience, but still..

    1. Maria Staal

      Hi Vi,
      Yes, travelling on a container ship is a totally different experience than being on a cruise ship. Each their own, of course, but if you’re looking for something unique, a cargo ship is the way to go. :)

    2. davendeb

      I don’t know if a cruise ship is cheaper than $90 per day. Most go for at least $750 per week or more. We went on a 4 day cruise to the Bahamas and it cost us about $500. But maybe you can find some cheap deals out there. You are right, it is definitely a different experience.

    1. davendeb

      Hi Dean, I have only learned about the cargo ships recently. We were talking with Michael of Go See Write in Jordan and heard that he had taken one. He agreed it was more expensive than flying, but what an experience.

  2. Heather in Lapland

    this sounds fantastic, but at 90$ a day? Wow, i’m surprised it’s so much. I guess you do have the added advantage of not having to share the ship with loads of tourists. And of course no cabaret – Now i come to think of it, it sounds like a steal… :)

    1. Maria Staal

      If you’re afraid that long hours at sea will be boring, you can always book a passage on a container ship that does three or four ports in one week. That way you spend less time at sea and see a lot. For instance, a ship that goes from mainland Europe to Dublin in Ireland with one or two ports in the United Kingdom. Or a ship that travels up or down the East/West coast of the United States. Or from Singapore to Hong Kong with some ports in Indonesia. The choice is endless, really. :-)

      1. davendeb

        Excellent suggestions, thanks! I think that I would like to try one of the shorter ones with more stops in the future. I think it would be a fascinating way to travel. Thanks for sharing the article Maria. I think I can speak for all of us that we are definitely intrigued and interested in giving it a try.

      2. Maria Staal

        Hey Dave & Deb, I can definitely recommend a trip on a container ship! It’s such a unique way of seeing the world and I am sure you guys would enjoy it! :)

      3. davendeb

        Thanks Maria, I think it would be the ultimate adventure. We are always making lists of what will be our next adventure and what will put us in that category of true traveler (at least our version of what one is) and I think we won’t be a true traveler until we take a trip on a container ship. You have inspired us. :D

  3. jill- Jack and JIll Travel

    I was interested in looking into taking a cargo ship for our S. America to Africa leg but didn’t realise it’s so expensive. And after being seasick every day on our recent trip to the Galapagos I think I might have to put this idea on the backburner for awhile :)

    It definitely sounds like a very unique experience though.

    1. Maria Staal

      Sorry to hear that you were seasick on your trip to the Galapagos. Did you go there by ship from the mainland?
      Most of the container ships are really big, so they move much less on the waves than smaller boats do. Therefore you are less likely to get seasick on a container ship. :)

  4. Warren Talbot

    Maria,
    Love your story and the journeys you have been on. This book sounds great and something we would love to read and see how life on a cargo ship compares. In addition to the wonderful experiences, having all that free time is a true delight for any writer (assuming sea sickness is not a problem). Several weeks of open seas, beautiful sunsets, and star-filled skies are a perfect combination for inspired writing. Thank you for sharing your stories.

    1. Maria Staal

      You’re welcome, Warren. You are right that the days at sea can be very inspiring for a writer. I never had much problems with seasickness, as the ships are in general very large and don’t move as quickly on the waves as smaller ships.
      I enjoyed my days in the ports just as much as I enjoyed being at sea. Specially as the sea is never the same from one day to the next. Every day it looks different again and that was fascinating. I also loved seeing the stars change, specially on a north-south route. That gave a real sense of moving around the earth!

    1. Maria Staal

      Hi Fran, mostly the water was not rough. But there was the occasional storm. It totally depends on which route you take and in what season. Crossing the north Atlantic in Feb-Mar-Apr usually will give you a storm or two. Same goes for the monsoon season in the Indian Ocean. But on the whole most of my days at sea were nice and quiet. :)

  5. Pingback: Traveling The World By Cargo Ship — TravelBark

    1. Maria Staal

      Hi Kate, it was indeed an amazing adventure! Yes, on all the ships I travelled there were other passengers besides me. But never more than 5 in one go.
      And I did two 3-month round trips, so in those cases passengers came and went, as most of them only do part of a trip. For instance, my brother was a passenger with me on the last ship. He went from Europe to New York (which took about 12 days with 4 ports), from where he flew back to Europe.

  6. davendeb

    Okay Maria, It’s time for me to ask the serious questions…someone’s gotta do it and be the hard hitting journalist here…
    Can we take wine on board or if not do they keep any in the gallie for you to buy? :-)

    1. Maria Staal

      LOL, that’s indeed a very serious question. :) The ships I was on people brought their own wine, beer and spirits on board, no problem at all. Also most ships have a small duty free shop, where the captain sells alcohol, chocolate etc for the crew (and passengers). Of course if you want to take the booze off the ship the custom laws of that country dictate how much you can take off. But for you own personal use on board, it shouldn’t be a problem to take wine on board.

  7. Trisha

    I’m with Deb & Dave……it sounds like a grand adventure, and one I would definitely pursue, but only if I can still enjoy a nice glass or two of red wine in the evenings! :-)

    1. Maria Staal

      That wouldn’t be a problem at all, Trisha! :) I have also heard that the food on board the French ships is extremely good. So if you choose to travel with a French shipping company, you can even make it a culinary experience…

      1. davendeb

        Ooh, I’m definitely going to look for a French Ship. This is sounding more and more enticing every time I come back to visit the comments. Thanks so much for inspiring us all and letting us know about this unique and exciting way to see the world.

  8. Pingback: Travel Cargo Ship Is An Awesome Way to Get Around - The Planet D: Around the World Adventure Couple

  9. Lauren@GreenGlobalTrvl

    I didn’t realize this was a regular way of travel. It would be great to experience life at sea. However, I would not be able to handle the length of travel due to sea sickness. Thanks for sharing. Good luck with future travels! :)

  10. Liv

    Hi Maria – loved hearing about your experiences. Which route do the ships take between Europe & Australia, to avoid Somalia?

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