Freighter Travel Gets You There Slowly but Surely

Take a leisurely cruise to China or Chile

Container vessel on Baltic Sea

Hans-Peter Merten / Photodisc / Getty Images

Boat travel is a charming alternative to long-haul flying, and far better for the environment, too. A little known and inexpensive boat option, freighter travel, is popular with student travelers and adventurers of all ilk, but figuring how to hop aboard a freighter isn't as simple as you may expect.

When it comes to budget travel, with Easy Cruise ships bobbing up in world ports, "regular" cruises are now navigating the cheap boat travel world. So what's up with freighter travel, cruises, and boat travel in general?

About Freighter Travel

Freighter travel is more expensive than flying (fares range from $65 -$130 per person per day, depending on the freighter company you travel with), but it's a life-changing experience. Freighter boats travel the same seas as do their luxurious sisters in cruise lines, like Cunard, but there the boat travel similarities only begin.

Because of the length of freighter boat trips (Long Beach, California to Tokyo generally takes about 13 days), you'll have time to strike up friendships and possibly meet travelers returning home -- your destination area -- who can become contacts and give you valuable travel tips. Keep in mind that freighter travel is the opposite of glamorous, and you may find yourself without much to keep yourself amused. Keep yourself entertained with a well-stocked Kindle and a newfound appreciation of boredom. 

How It Works

Most freighter travel is set up in the form of a cruise that returns to a starting point, but almost all freighter companies offer one-way fares, which is the way to go. You can set up one-way trips, or "segments," as they're called in the freighter industry, and arrange for a segment to get there and a segment to get home.

Or you can choose to fly either way -- taking a boat to your destination can be a great segue from your busy life here to your busy life there, but you may want to fly back in the interest of time.

Cost and Reservations

Hopping a cargo boat without a reservation and with the intent of working off your passage is seldom feasible; most freighter company crews come from the Pacific and the Far East, and the captain is rarely looking for a temporary boy/girl. Go through Freighter Cruises -- a freighter boat travel agency (yes, there's such a thing).

About Cruise Ships

Freighter travel (freighter cruises) is the most economical way for student travelers to sail the high seas (though most definitely not the cheapest way to cross the oceans), but if you just won big bucks on a game show, you might consider a luxury ocean liner for the sheer comfort factor. Bear in mind that fellow cruise ship passengers are likely to be older and the cruise ship atmosphere far more formal and insulated than that of a freighter boat.

Short and Sweet (and Cheap) Cruises With Easy Cruise 

Meet Easy Cruise, a no-frills cruise line touring the Mediterranean Sea and the Caribbean islands (and one day, the world, evidently - expansion plans are underway). EasyCruise is meant for young people* on a budget - if you fit that bill, you probably wouldn't fit in with passengers on an expensive cruise line hunting down seafood buffets and the shuffleboard court anyway.

*Easy Cruise defines "young people" like this: minimum passenger age is 18; Easy Cruise says, "We have not, however, set a maximum age restriction, as people older than our target range (20-40 years old) might be young at heart!"


Whether traveling by spendy cruise ship or freighter boat, boat travel is boat travel. It's vital to pack sparingly, avoid motion sickness, and spend onboard pennies sparingly to enjoy your high seas adventure.


Packing for travel on a boat, whether a cruise ship or a freighter boat, is no different than packing for any student travel. Spare the stuff, and spoil your back.

You're probably traveling with a backpack anyway. Backpack packing is smart for boat travel because it can be hard to get at your stuff in a "cozy" boat berth (bedroom or cabin), just like accessing your things in a hostel can be problematic. Traveling with a daypack is smart; you'll want to take it with you onshore explorations.

Motion Sickness Prevention and Remedies

The bigger the boat, the less likely you are to experience motion sickness. Be prepared for this potential pest, though; spending a boat trip tossing expensive onboard cookies overboard is no fun.

Onboard Food and Drink

Food and drink on a freighter is almost always included in your freighter passage cost - do not count on carrying any food with you as the ship may forbid it. Food and drink on a cruise ship is usually spendy, but eating is a primary onboard activity, and some cruise ships have truly terrific cuisine.