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For Adventurous Travelers: Container Ship Tourism

(Photo: Roel Hemkes)

Never mind a cruise ship. Those are like floating 5-star hotels. A more offbeat approach to sea travel is to book passage on a freighter. This is called “container ship tourism.” Most large freighters have cabin space for a few passengers. For a few thousand dollars, you can book a month-long journey across the ocean. Andy Wright of Atlas Obscura has a fascinating article about this very old yet largely unknown form of travel. He talked to Julie Richards, a travel agent who specializes in this field:

Ships departing Australia often make their way to Asia, the United States or Europe. Ships sailing from the west coast of the United States head to China or Hong Kong, while those from the East Coast or Savannah frequently sail to Europe. Trips may last just a few days, although some travelers sign on for 60 days or even around-the-world journeys. Meals are provided, rooms are cleaned once a week and passengers do their own laundry. Once in port, travelers can go ashore to explore; it’s their own responsibility to make it back to the ship in time for departure. Richards says most of her clients are single men, and the typical cost is about $120 a day.

(Photo: Judd Splitter/Freighter Bum)

You’ll probably get a reasonably comfortable cabin. But you’ll have to entertain yourself. A container ship offers nothing like the cruise ship experience. And according to freighter travel enthusiast Robert Rieffel, the food varies widely:

Passengers dine with the officers, and the cuisine is often dictated by the officers’ country of origin. Every day the Rieffels were offered a traditional European breakfast of sliced cheese, hard bread, butter and marmalade favored by the mostly Ukrainian officers. There was juice and coffee, eggs and bacon. One day, Rieffel writes in his book, dinner consisted of “salad, soup, beef tips in gravy, potatoes, green beans, a potato salad with calamari, cheese, cold cuts, bread, butter, wine cake and coffee.” Spittler’s German and European officers had a proclivity for hearty meals like pot roast. Alcohol, candy bars and other treats can usually be procured from duty-free shops. Spittler stocked up on Bacardi rum and Teacher’s scotch, parlaying his leftovers into a party for the crew towards the end of his voyage.


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