Alternatives to Flying, How about A Cheap and Slow Cruise Boat Trip?

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating; many of us just hate traveling by plane. For some, it is out of a real fear of flying. For others, the sheer, cattle-car style of transportation, those crowded flights, is what we hate. Most of us now dread the task of just “getting there.” Unlike those vanished days of yesteryear when the traveling itself was a big part of the adventure, today, it is just no longer much fun. Far too many of us now just see it as a necessary obstacle to overcome, so we can get to where we can start actually having a good time, our destination. The Golden Age of travel is no longer, it seems.

Cruise Ship in Ensenada, Mexico, Author Tomás Castelazo, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Cruise Ship in Ensenada, Mexico, Author Tomás Castelazo, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Or is it? Did you know you don’t necessarily have to fly, not if you have the time? Yes, we all know about trains, and those are great for actually “seeing” places, the actual countryside throughout mainland Europe, as well as the United Kingdom, and other destinations. But how about when it comes to having to cross the oceans? Then our alternatives are less, of course, but there still are alternatives.

For instance, cruise ships offer one way to go. It is actually possible to travel from one location to another, without having to perform a cruise “loop,” as in, say, a Caribbean cruise of the islands, which starts in South Florida and ends there. Instead, you can actually take part of the cruise, in some instances. Or, for example, just go from New York to London. As the article, One-Way Cruises, mentions, you can take the Fred Olsen Cruise Line, which starts and ends in London, but only stay aboard until you reach Los Angeles, just a part of the trip. Some cruises start in an American port and finish in another, so that you can use them to get from point “A” to point “B.”

With cruise ships, you must allow for considerable time, since they stop at many ports for the entire day in order to allow the regular passengers to enjoy them. And, of course, cruise ships entertain and feed their passengers constantly, so if that’s your thing, and you are in no rush, then cruises ships are one way to avoid having to fly. Cruise ships also allow you to take extra luggage without penalties, which is another good thing for those of us who can’t exist out of just one or two small suitcases for weeks at a time. The drawbacks? Well, cruise ships don’t always go where you want to go, they can be expensive, as well as being very crowded.

Freighter, Courtesy Wikmedia Commons

Freighter, Courtesy Wikmedia Commons

There is another alternative. This one captures my imagination; that is, traveling by freighter. Why? Because when I was young, my parents took me down to the docks in San Diego, California, to look at the ships. We were standing on one pier, as my ex-navy father pointed out the various features of a cargo ship. Suddenly, a crewman hailed us from on board. He invited us to tour the vessel. With some trepidation, for my mother had fears of us all being “shanghaied,” we boarded the ship. The crewmember, an accommodating Greek man by the name of Erasmus, gave us a complete tour of the entire vessel. We met other crew, and then to our surprise, were invited to lunch with the captain and officers. There we were, eating a sumptuous meal, with stewards in attendance, and chatting as best we could with our hosts. It was a wonderful experience, and one I’ll never forget! So traveling by freighter is something I suggest you might want to do.

Freighters often have room for a few passengers and surprisingly, their accommodations are quite good with spacious staterooms. These are often bigger than cabins on cruise ships. What’s more, traveling by cargo ship allows you to visit sometimes very exotic ports, not just ones on the usual cruise lines’ itineraries – translation – “tourist traps.”

Exotic Port of Hong Kong, Author Acred99, Permission Matthew Laird, Carl Manfred Luig, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Exotic Port of Hong Kong, Author Acred99, Permission Matthew Laird, Carl Manfred Luig, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Also, although the food is quite good if not very varied, the hours in which you will be served meals are far more limited than on a cruise ship. However, many cabins have storage spaces for you to stock some of your own food specialty items, and often passengers have access to a pantry whenever they wish. However, standards of accommodation all depend on the freighter in question, and the price they are charging. The higher the price, the more likely you are to get all the amenities. Speaking of prices, it is more the rule than the exception that freighters are far cheaper than cruise ships, precisely because they don’t offer an endless, diverse variety of entertainment, and round-the-clock meals. So if price is of importance to you, think about traveling by freighter. And don’t fret, because freighters’ accommodations are usually well worth the money you do pay. Times have changed, so have the standards of service on cargo ships, and for the better.

What are the positive attributes of traveling this way? Well, instead of just trying to “get there,” to start having fun, you will probably enjoy the journey itself. The freighters mostly have some sort of bar, often at least a small swimming pool, basic gymnasium and/or sauna, and even a lounge with books. Again, do remember this varies from ship-to-ship, and if the ship is French, for instance, those books might be predominantly in French. So take some bestsellers along with you. Take whatever helps you pass the time. Also, the cabins/staterooms often have many amenities, including such things as board games, CD players, and such.

However, when traveling by freighter, your emphasis should be on having a leisurely experience, of getting to know people, the ship and the crew, and of often entertaining yourself. There will be very few other passengers to mingle with, but that makes you special. You will undoubtedly meet the captain, officers, and many of the crewmembers. All told, between the ship’s crew and the few passengers who are on board, there may be no more than 30 or 40 people aboard a freighter at most, as opposed to perhaps thousands on a cruise liner. Children will probably be non­existent. So take the opportunities offered of any tours of the ship that may be given. Learn the vessel. Attend the evening get-togethers, and above all, relax!

Finnish Cargo Ship, MS Global Freighter, Stateroom, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Finnish Cargo Ship, MS Global Freighter, Stateroom, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

What are the negative attributes? Well, freighters usually do take longer to “get there,” because they have to load and unload cargo at different ports, hence the term, “slow boat.” Ports-of-call can change suddenly and so you may be disappointed if you had your heart set on seeing a particular one. And freighters don’t tarry long at such ports. They get in, unload, load (however long that may take), and then get underway. Sometimes, they do have delays, waiting for a berth at a particularly crowded port. These can even be several days in length.

Bridge and Helmsmen of Freighter, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Bridge and Helmsmen of Freighter, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Once in port, your freighter is usually at an industrial one, not one geared for tourists. This means you will have to come up with your own means of getting somewhere interesting, in town, or wherever, and you had better have some of the local currency ahead of time. For this, I suggest using’s website, is very user friendly. They have actual images of over 180 currencies, an online currency conversion calculator, and a Google-style world map you can use to just point and click to your country of destination. even has a mobile phone feature for those whose mobiles have Internet browser capability. Just go to If your mobile phone has enhanced features, then why not try, instead. This way, you will know the local currencies by sight, know what the current conversion rates are, and can take along some of each currency ahead of time. So, if you need to hire a taxi at the docks to get you to town, or hop the local bus, you’ll have local money to pay the fares.

And speaking of fares, these really do vary for travel by freighter. They differ based on which ship you are taking, the company involved, where you are traveling, how far, and when. Also, you must use a travel agent to book your trip. But they are still far cheaper than cruise lines. For instance, an 84-day trip, hitting ports in the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the Pacific, can go for as little as $10,000. That’s almost three months at sea, numerous ports, and all your meals and lodging covered. Compared to standard cruises, that’s an incredible bargain!

One great site, which is set up very similar to’s Google-style Earth map, is: Here, you can click on your start and stop locations, and it shows you the full length of the voyage and costs, or points where you may board along the way at considerably reduced costs. For instance, the cost for a partial trip aboard a freighter shows:

Hamburg – Singapore 33 – 37 Days
Cost: £2,845 or $4,629
. ( )

That’s over a month of travel, various ports of call, and going half way around the world or more, into the bargain. Consider what a whole month on a cruise ship would cost compared to that freighter. Really, when it comes to prices, there is no comparison.

Does traveling by freighter have its drawbacks? Yes, but if you have the time, they can be an eye-opening, marvelous, casual, relaxed, and comfortable way to take a journey. Always keep in mind, though, that where you embark and debark can depend on the particular freighter, its schedule, and rules for passengers booking trips. So do your research. Also, freighters are generally smaller than cruise ships and lack stabilizers. This means you will feel the motion of the sea more. If you are prone to seasickness, then freighters may not be the way to go for you. But if this isn’t a problem, why not try traveling by cargo vessel for a change? It would give you a chance to enjoy the trip itself, rather than just trying to “get there.” That’s something our times seem to have lost, that ability to have fun during the trip, as well as at the destination. Freighters, as in a ‘slow boat to China,” could bring this back for you. It allows you to “stop and smell the roses,” or in this case, the salt air.

Sunset in Tawian, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Sunset in Tawian, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Rob Shelsky, Contributing Editor
Robert Rademacher, Editor-in-Chief


Brief History of the Cruise Line Industry

Welcome to Strand Voyages

One-Way Cruises

Travelers Not Tourists

Destinations And Prices

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One Response to Alternatives to Flying, How about A Cheap and Slow Cruise Boat Trip?

  1. Pingback: Robert Gillespie (newworlg « Alternatives to Flying, How about A Cheap and Slow Cruise Boat Trip? « Chat Catcher)

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