A guide to frequently asked questions concerning freighter travel - if I have missed anything out, please feel free to request further information by making a post in the forums.
What Is The Age Limit?
Most freighters have a maximum age limit of 79 or 80, although sometimes as low as 75. This rule is necessary because freighters do not have doctors onboard. Some ships will also require a medical certificate from your doctor, for passengers over the age of 65.
No shipping company will accept children under 5 years of age and some will set a minimum of up to 10 years of age.
Where Can You Go?
Freighters only travel to countries that import or export goods - so there are a few areas of the world that are hard to get to, like Alaska. It is also next to impossible to book very short voyages (see below).
Can I Just Book A Sector Of A Voyage?
It is quite common for shipping lines to allow one way bookings, or other lengthy sectors, on their longer voyages - you can either fly home, or take another ship back a few weeks or months later - but they very rarely allow bookings for small sectors of voyages, lasting only a few days.
For example, a ship which travels from the USA to Australia and back, on a round trip voyage of 40 days, would almost certainly let you book a one way voyage of 20 days - but a smaller voyage departing from Miami on a 14 day tour of the Caribbean, will almost certainly only take bookings for the complete round trip - you can't just hop between islands, spending a few nights onboard.
How Much Does It Cost?
Freighter voyages typically average about US$100-130 per day. There will also be port taxes & deviation insurance to pay, which will usually add around $300 per person to the cost - this fee is the same, whatever the length of your voyage.
For further details, see our costs page.
What If My Voyage Takes Longer?
Most shipping lines will operate on the basis of a fixed price, based on the number of days your voyage is scheduled to last - If your voyage is a few days shorter you will receive no refund, but if it is a few days longer you are not charged extra.
However, if there is a major alteration to your schedule and a large chunk of your voyage is lost, you will usually be offered a refund based on the number of days lost.
How Do I Book?
You will need to contact a specialist freighter travel agency. You can choose from several agents to contact on our bookings page.
If you know exactly when and where you plan to travel, or you want to secure a particular cabin on a certain ship, it is best to make your reservation as early as possible - the most popular ships, during peak season, can be booked up to a year in advance.
However, if you are more flexible in your travel arrangements, there are always plenty of ships with cabin space available heading somewhere - but I would advise you to give your agent at least 1 months notice if possible.
Agents will require a deposit when you book (usually around 25%), with the balance payable a few weeks prior to departure.
I can't stress this strongly enough - if you want to travel by freighter, you really should book well in advance - shipping lines and freighter agents can't process last minute bookings.
Most agents will not even consider a booking request less than 30 days before your planned departure date - experienced travelers usually book around 3-12 months in advance.
Passport, Visa & Medical Requirements
You will need a valid passport, with an expiry date that extends 6 months beyond your intended return date - the visas and innoculations required will depend on your own nationality and your voyage destination.
It is your responsibility to make sure these are in place - if you do not have the necessary visa or innoculation certificates, you may be forced to remain onboard ship when it arrives in a foreign port for which you do not have the correct documentation.
Definately not - there is no way of getting a free, or reduced price fare by offering to work. This may have been possible many years ago, but modern insurance and union regulations now make this impossible - so just sit back and enjoy the voyage.
Please do not contact a freighter travel agent with this question - they get asked this all the time and it drives them nuts!
Do Freighters Have Telephone Fax & Email?
Yes they do, but these are very expensive satellite connections - maybe $4 to $5 per minute to use the telephone - so you will only want to use them in an emergency!
The best method of staying in touch with home is by email, this is available either for a modest fee, or sometimes provided free of charge.
Do Freighter Have Stabilisers?
No, but freighters are designed differently to cruise ships, they run much deeper in the water - which means that stabilisers are not as necessary anyway.
If a smooth voyage is something that particularly concerns you, it is best to travel on the largest container ships - the bigger the ship, the smoother the ride.
Can Disabled People Travel On Freighters?
This will depend on your level of mobility. Unfortunately, if you are not able to climb stairs, you will not be permitted to travel.
Are Ships Safe?
Freighter ships are subjected to thorough inspection processes, just like regular cruise liners. The days of the rusty old tramp steamer are long gone!
How Much Luggage Can I Take?
There is no strict luggage weight allowance similar to those imposed by airlines - although you obviously need to bear this in mind if you are sailing one way and flying home.
As a general guide, you would have no problem taking as much as you are comfortably capable of carrying - say 2 large suitcases - if you plan to take more than that, clarify the situation with your agent when booking.
What About Spending Money Onboard?
You will need cash for onboard purchases - usually US dollars or Euros - credit cards and travellers cheques will not be accepted.
What About Using Electrical Appliances?
Most ships operate on 220 volts.
A passenger freighter booking agent can't arrange for cars or motorcycles to be transported - they can only book your cabin - you must contact a separate freight forwarding company to arrange transportation of vehicles.
If you are booking well in advance, it is possible that you may be able to arrange transport for your vehicle on the same ship that you are travelling on as a passenger - as long as the type of ship is one that carries vehicles - but you should be prepared for the possibility that you may have to travel on different ships.
Can I Take My Pet?
Generally, the answer to this will be no. It is extremely rare to find a freighter shipping line that is prepared to allow pets to travel with their owners. For more information, see our taking pets page.
What Size Are The Ships?
The largest container ships can be over 1000 feet long and 70,000 tons - of course, there are plenty of much smaller ships too!
For more information, see our ship types page.
How Many Passengers Are Onboard?
The golden number in freighter travel is 12 - this is the maximum number of passengers that any ship can carry without having to have a doctor onboard.
Many ships will have accommodation for fewer than 12 passengers - it is quite common for only 2-3 people to be onboard - you could even have the entire ship to yourself!
There are a small number of ships that are designed as passenger cargo liners - a kind of cross between a freighter and a cruise ship. These ships will have a doctor onboard and therefore not be subject to the usual maximum of 12.
What Kind Of People Travel On Freighters?
The lengthy duration and substantial costs of most freighter cruises mean that your fellow passengers will quite often be middle aged or older - typically well educated, retired professionals, who prefer quiet contemplation to the frantic activity of a cruise ship.
The solitude also attracts a fair number of artistic types such as writers, artists and musicians, who find that a long voyage is an ideal opportunity to get lots of work done without being disturbed. Art Garfunkel was a recent passenger on one ship!
Add to this mixture a few younger, adventurous people, who are looking for an 'offbeat' travel experience - and some entrepreneurial types who can run their business from a laptop anywhere in the world - and you get a good cross section of your fellow passengers.
What Do Passengers Do all Day?
If you are looking for casinos and dancing girls, a freighter is not the place for you - but for most people, that is the whole point.
Passengers just like to spend their time relaxing, reading books, playing cards or simply sitting on deck watching the ocean go by.
What Facilities Are Onboard?
Passengers and ships officers will both have the same standard of cabins. Most will be air conditioned with private bathroom facilities and have features such as a TV with VCR, mini refrigerator and sometimes a phone for internal calls within the ship.
The ship will have a dining room and a TV lounge where passengers and crew will gather in the evenings to watch movies on video - most ships will carry a good sized video and book library. It is also common to find exercise rooms and saunas onboard.
Many ships trading in the warmer latitudes will have a salt water pool - but don't expect anything olympic sized - think more along the lines of a plunge pool!
What Are The Meals Like?
In the relaxed, unstructured routine of a freighter cruise, it is not surprising that mealtimes assume a great level of importance for most passengers - and unlike on a cruise ship, where dining at the captains table is a rare privilege, passengers eat with the officers every day.
The quality of meals are not up to the lavish standards of cruise liners - but they are generally more than adequate, with some ships also providing free wine.
There is a degree of luck involved here - mainly whether your ship has a good or bad chef! It also stands to reason that the nationality of the crew will have a large bearing on the type of cuisine served.
What Will My Cabin Be Like?
The cabins onboard a freighter ship were originally intended for the officers and members of the shipping company, so standards of accommodation are very high. The cabins are usually of a size that would be classed as a mini suite on a regular cruise liner!
You will usually have a bedroom, bathroom and separate day room, with large picture windows instead of a porthole - however, your view may sometimes be obscured by containers. Check with your agent, who will have details of cabin layouts.
Do I Need To Tip?
No, this is not obligatory, but most people choose to offer a tip to their cabin steward and dining room steward. Often this will be the same person.
How Long Is The Ship In Port?
It varies, depending on the type of ship, how much cargo it needs to load and also on the efficiency of the port itself - most container ships will spend around 12 to 24 hours in port - but some general cargo ships/bulk carriers can spend 2-3 days in port.
If longer port times are important to you, ask your booking agent for advice on the most suitable voyage - you may also wish to consider the possibility of a 'layover' - getting off the ship entirely in a certain port and spending a few weeks there before boarding another freighter to continue your voyage.
What Happens In Port?
When planning trips ashore, it is worth noting that large freighter ships are often required to dock at container terminals which can be located some distance from the city itself.
Most shipping lines have a local agent in each port, who will be happy to arrange excursions for passengers - or you can, of course, simply take a taxi into town by yourself - but you must make sure you are back in time, or the ship will leave without you!