Freighter travel is a less crowded, cheaper alternative for crossing a sea or ocean, not using airplanes or commercial cruise ships or ferries.

A well-kept secret in these days of airport anxiety and worry about aircraft emissions is that it is still possible to book a regularly scheduled sea passage to most parts of the world. While the world-famous Queen Mary 2 offers sometimes two departures in a month between Southampton and New York, many cargo-passenger services offer sailings every week of the year.

A tour of ports tells us what’s going on. From Southampton, for example, there are four weekly sailings, two each to the Far East and the Mediterranean, from Long Beach, there is a sailing nearly every week to the Far East, from Le Havre a weekly sailing to Martinique and Guadeloupe and so on. In all, there are now about seven or eight regularly-scheduled weekly services accepting passengers. In addition, there are frequent sailings to Australia and New ZealandSouth America, the Far East and West and South Africa.

Essentially, you are paying a cargo vessel to transport you along with whatever they are ferrying across the sea, usually containers these days, although some multi-purpose ships still survive and you can sail from the USAand Europe to China and Japan in a heavy-lift ship or from the Great Lakes to Europe in a grain carrier. Imagine having your own 100,000-tonner for just five passengers instead of the 5,000 that a similar-sized cruise ship might carry – many of the new container ships that serve the Far East from Europe and from California are now in this category.

Passengers on freighters are mainly retired and early retired people who can afford the time (it takes about a day of sea travel to cover an hour of air travel). There are also many returning students, relocating executives and their families, airline pilots (yes) and these days, people who are simply tiring of air travel.

The shortest passages are of course Transatlantic and these vary between eight and twelve days each way, while a voyage can be made around the world in between 80 and 120 days.

Probably you will need someone to introduce you into the freighter world, because it is a bit of a fuss for a company to take a passenger when they also take a multi million dollar cargo. However the crews seem to enjoy the company of passengers since the work is very monotonous.

There are some agents arranging trips, which charge around USD 100 a day. With an introduction it might be as cheap as USD 50, but don’t count on it as many freighter trips, especially tramp trips that were cheaper, have been withdrawn since 2001.

A cheaper alternative is becoming part of the crew. can help you with this.

Eat and Sleep
Typically, you will have a small cabin and access to crew facilities, such as lounge and common areas. On some German ships, there are actually cabins that include both a day room and a bedroom, as well as en suite facilities. All freighter cabins are outside rooms except on Grimaldi Lines, who also have inside cabins.

Single travellers really benefit as single supplements are usually limited to between 10% and 25% (compared to 50 to 100% on cruise ships) and some ships have single cabins that are sold at the same fares as the double cabins.

Wine, beer and spirits are available at duty free prices (cruise ships now charge shore prices), and on French and Italian ships table wine is included with lunch and dinner.

See and Do
There are no major activities, restaurants, besides the mess hall, or other diversions aboard. At sea also no TV and radio, but much video and sometimes literature. Some ships have a (sea-water) pool and sauna, a gym and table tennis on board. The main activities are enjoying the sea, the weather, the birds and dolphins and the landscape while near port or close to land or even transitting canals if that is the voyage you have chosen.

Stay safe and healthy
Because of international regulations, unless the ship has a doctor aboard, the ship can only carry 12 passengers or fewer. For this reason, there are also age limits, usually between 70 and 79, depending on the line, and a medical certificate provided by the line normally has to be completed by your doctor before travel.

Because there are not many passengers, there is a lot of time that one has to oneself. Passengers are likely to receive a basic security training (Here are the emergency missiles).

Travel agencies specialized in freighter travel
There are few travel agencies in the world that have specialized in freighter travel.