Travel on commercial ships

Cargo Ship Sunset View

Adventure on the High Seas Aboard a Freighter

Article and photos by Friedel Rother
Resources updated 3/2015

Sunset view from a cargo ship.

Imagine for a moment that you are on the deck of a ship, sipping a glass of wine. You turn your head towards the water just in time to spot a pod of dolphins swimming by. After lingering in the sunshine for a while, it's time to head inside for a 3-course evening meal and a splash in the pool before retiring to bed.

Now, what kind of vessel are you on?

Barbecue with crew of cargo shipNo, you are not on a standard commercial cruise ship. This is no luxury liner hopping between Caribbean islands. It is a modern freighter. Hundreds of cargo ships, carrying everything from fire engines to apples, are crossing the world's oceans and many are happy to take you along for the ride.

A far more intimate and relaxed experience than you might imagine, the experience on board is a sharp contrast to the rough and industrial outward appearance a container ship tends to project. You will be one of a handful of passengers amongst a crew that is unlikely to number more than a few dozen. There will be no organized games of bingo or evening cabaret show. You might, however, be invited to karaoke with the sailors and you will almost always dine alongside the captain, who is far more likely to turn up in shorts and a t-shirt than full uniform.

Our introduction to freighter travel was a relatively short 5-day sailing between Australia and New Zealand. We joined the French ship CMA-CGM Utrillo in the busy port of Melbourne, where our mounds of luggage including two bicycles and 11 bags were quickly hauled on board and into a spacious cabin by a host of cheery Filipino deckhands.

The Costs of Cargo Ship Travel

Here was our first taste of the wonders of sea travel — plenty of luggage allowance. Not an eye was blinked at our 100kg (220lbs) of possessions. We were entitled to bring double that. In this case, we felt the €500 (~US$550) per person cost for our trip was worth it as the excess luggage fees on the equivalent short flight would have been considerable, not to mention the stress of showing up at the airport to a bill of unknown proportions. About €100 (~US$110) per day is the average fare to budget for a freighter trip, with €80 (~US$90) the minimum and certain coastal trips on the higher range.

Hospitality on Board

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