Travelling by cargo ship or freighter is an appealing option for the adventurous cyclist.
You get to avoid airport stress, for a start. There are no bike boxes or worries about your trusty steed getting lost.
Best of all, you can continue a long journey while still being in touch with the earth’s contours and experiencing life on the high seas.
Finding out about cross-ocean and long-distance sea travel is not the easiest type of travel to get information on though so here are a few tips to get you started:
- Forget about working. Paying your way across the ocean on a cargo ship by working is not an option anymore because of insurance and union regulations. If you want to work, try crewing on a private yacht.
- Plan far ahead. Cargo ships typically have only a few berths and the most popular routes or ones with few ships travelling them may be booked up months ahead. We asked in September about a sailing in May, only to find it was full – eight months before departure!
- Examine routes before you leave. Not all parts of the world are connected by ship and there are certain routes and patterns that freighters tend to follow. A vessel may stop in a country but you may not be able to board or disembark there. The motto here is research, research, research to see if the trip you want to do is possible.
- Ask about visas. You may not need a visa to fly into the U.S.A. but you will need one to arrive by ship. Countries sometimes have special regulations for those arriving by sea.
- Save up some cash. Freighter trips aren’t cheap. Trans-ocean voyages easily reach €1,500-2,000.
- Plan for at least 7 days at sea. New regulations mean plenty of paperwork, and that means shipping companies now want you to be on board for at least a week, to recoup costs. Shorter trips are still sometimes possible, but there may be a surcharge.
- Provide your own entertainment. This isn’t a cruise ship so don’t expect evening cabaret shows and room service. There may be a swimming pool or ping pong table but mostly you should entertain yourself. Bring that unfinished manuscript.
- Be flexible. Dates can change and so can ports. If you absolutely have to be somewhere on a certain day, you’d better fly. “Our trip from the USA to Europe changed 3 times after initial booking,” say Scott and Becky of GoingEast. “It started as a trip from Charleston SC to Brussels Belgium, then changed to Savannah Georgia to Gioa Tauro Italy, and finally has changed to Port Everglades, Florida to Gioa Tauro Italy. Had we not been flexible with our departure times and locations, things would not have worked out.”
- Do it before you’re too old. Cargo ship passengers have to be in good health, both to climb long sets of stairs and because there are no doctors on board. A medical certificate of general good health is often required from your GP. An upper age limit is common.
Still want to know more?
You can listen to an interview we did with Hamish, the owner of Freighter Travel NZ.
For further reading and inspiration, go to another article we wrote – Adventure on the High Seas: Travelling by Cargo Ship Around the World. Other helpful links include:
- Cargo Cult
- How To Travel By Cargo Ship
- Australia to New Zealand
- The sea is the entertainment
- Cargo ships to Pacific Islands
- Escape Artist Travel
- Freighter travel experiences