The Ultimate Guide To Container Ship Travel

There is nothing quite as enchanting and enthralling as the open ocean. For millennia, humans have been captivated by the expansiveness of the sea and the adventures it holds.

For many, it is a chance to experience the infinite, lose oneself in the never-ending horizons and the incredible power of the wind and waves. For others, it is a chance to explore; the long space between here and there that must be traversed to reach new lands.

No matter what it means to you, the simple truth is that the open ocean is a true treasure of this planet. Traveling on it, however, has not always been easy. Today, the only way you can really experience the ocean is by going on a cruise, which can be fun and exciting and, for some, a bit overwhelming.

However, there are actually other ways to experience the sea besides just going on a cruise.

For example, did you know that you can book a ticket on one of the many container ships traveling around the world? Traveling this way is nothing like being on a cruise or an airplane, but it offers you things you can't find anywhere else.

Are you interested in traveling the world on container ships? Here is everything you need to know.

What is Container Ship Travel?

As the name suggests, container ship travel is a method of global travel using container or freighter ships.

These boats, which are often massive, carry goods from one port to the next, traversing the oceans and visiting countless cities along the way. For a fee and a little bit of planning (details we will discuss in a moment), you can join these ships and see the world in an entirely different way.

Remember, the primary purpose of these ships is not to move you and other passengers but to move materials. Because of this, there are quite a few things that are different about container ship travel compared to regular travel.

It's essential you know all of these differences, so you know what to expect and can have the experience you were hoping for.

A Brief History of Container Ship Travel

Contain ship travel is nothing new; people have been doing it for centuries. The only difference today is in how we do it.

In the old days, container ship travel was the only way most people could visit new lands. For most of human history, mass transit did not exist, and if it did, it was not for leisure like it is today. You couldn't just go down to the local port or book a trans-Atlantic flight.

Instead, you had to travel on a container ship, but to do this, you had to be adventurous, cunning, and hard-working. There was no way to "book" your trip, so those wishing to partake in a voyage would have to wander down to the port, find a boat that was taking passengers, and then convince the captain to let them come along.

In most cases, this meant either paying (which few people could do) or working. Sometimes, even if the ship was full, a motivated traveler could persuade the captain that he was needed, thus earning himself a trip.

The Birth of Commercial Ship Travel

Over time, as international trade became more widespread and industrialization raised wages and provided people with more downtime, passenger ship travel became more common. As a result, many trade ships were adapted to be passenger vessels, and ships were built solely to move people rather than products.

A great example of this is the "banana boat," which was the name given to the fast, refrigerated ships designed to carry fruit between Central America and Europe/North America. Another classic example is the Titanic, built to carry passengers between Europe and the USA in high-class style.

Eventually, this industry began to die down. As airplanes became more and more common, distances that once took a week to travel could now be covered in a matter of just a few hours. Slowly, passenger ship service began to dwindle, leading us to where we are today. Commercial cruises still keep this tradition alive, but it's nothing like it once was.

However, if you want to take a trip back in time and see the world in a new way, container travel is your opportunity.

Why Travel on a Container Ship?

In addition to letting you experience how people used to travel, container ship also has many other things to offer. Some of the main reasons why people travel on a container ship include:

Why Not Travel on a Container Ship?

Clearly, there are many reasons why you might be interested in traveling on a container ship. However, before you jump up and book yourself a trip, there are a few things you should know about container ship travel.

Here are some of the main reasons why people don't like traveling on container ships:

Types of Container Ships

Now that you know the pros and cons of container ship travel, let's talk more about the actual experience.

To book your trip, you will want to work with a container ship travel agent, of which there is only a handful. They will help you work out the specifics of your trip, but next to your final destination, one of the biggest decisions you will need to make is what type of ship you would like to travel on. There are many different varieties, and each offers its own unique set of advantages.

Here is a list of the types of ships you can travel on and what makes each one worth it:

  • Container ships – These are the largest ships out there. They are designed to carry shipping containers, the standard ones you see on ships and in ports worldwide. They are also the fastest ships on today's seas, so you can expect to move around the world more quickly than on any other vessel. However, the downside is that these ships are so focused on speed that they rarely stay in port for more than 24 hours. So, while you will get to your final destination sooner, you will wind up seeing less overall.
  • General cargo ships – These vessels carry all the stuff that won't fit into a container ship. On these ships, you will usually find cargo such as raw metals, timber, heavy machinery, vehicles, and more. They move more slowly overall, but because it takes longer to load and unload what's on the ship, you will get to spend more time in port, which means more chances to see and explore new places.
  • Bulk carriers – On these ships, you will find things such as coal, ores, and grains, etc. They usually have large holds under the deck for transporting these materials. Like cargo ships, these take a long time to load and unload, so you will be able to spend more time in each port.
  • Mail and supply ships – As the name suggests, these boats carry mail and other supplies, usually to isolated communities that aren't easily accessible from traditional shipping routes. Traveling on these ships is exciting because it will give you the chance to visit places you usually wouldn't get the opportunity to visit. Plus, these ships aren't subject to the same passenger regulations as other vessels are, so you may find yourself surrounded by more people than if you took a different type of ship.
  • Coasters – No, these ships don't "coast." Instead, their name comes from the fact that they stick close to the coast. Their role is to travel to smaller ports to pick up goods and then transport them to larger ports to be loaded onto ships to head to faraway places. This is a good option for someone who wants to travel on a container ship but who doesn't want to go too far from home or who wants the option to return easily.

Before contacting a container ship travel agent, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different types of ships available. Even after doing this, other things will still influence which kind of ship you wind up taking, mainly the length of your voyage and your desired destinations.

The Cost of Container Ship Travel

So, now to the big question. Container ship travel sounds unique and exciting, but how much is it?

As you might expect, this question is tricky to answer, primarily because it depends on the many factors we've discussed up until now.

However, in general, expect to pay between $100-$150 per night per person to travel on a container ship. It is possible to spend upwards of $500 per night if you want, but most people find a trip at the $100-$150 rate.

If that seems high, consider what you get: lodging, food, and transportation. Most hotel rooms cost that much, and they only offer one of those three.

Again, if you're traveling on a container ship, you need to take everything in context. This is not a "normal" experience, so don't expect anything else to be normal either!

Accommodation and Amenities Once On Board

We've mentioned this briefly, but here's a little more about what comes included in the daily rate you pay to travel on a freighter ship.


In general, your food is included in your rate because you will be expected to eat with the crew and officers. All ships have a dedicated cook (or cooking staff) who sets the menu and makes all the food. By joining the trip as a passenger, the team will simply include you in these meals.

If you want other food, you may be able to bring it, but check with the shipping line first, as this isn't always the case.

The quality and type of food served will vary widely from ship to ship, but plan for hearty meals that are easy to cook in large quantities.

Don't expect gourmet food, but you're also not going to get dog food. Some captains will do special things. For example, we've heard one story where the captain would throw a welcome barbecue every time someone new came on the ship.

As you might expect, mealtimes are an important aspect of life on a ship. With so much time and so little to do, guests often see meals as the highlight of the day. Again, entertainment is at a premium on these ships, so whatever gets people excited is sure to take on special meaning.

Sleeping Arrangements

Also included in your nightly rate is your accommodation. Again, this will vary from ship to ship, but most use leftover officer quarters, which means you will have your own bed and bathroom.

Depending on the ship, you may wind up having to share a bathroom, but as a paying guest, you would never be asked to share a room with someone else. If you're traveling as a couple, some ships may be able to accommodate you in the same room, whereas others might separate you. This is something you should ask about before making a booking.

Typically, there is no service of any kind, so you will be expected to keep your room clean. Depending on the length of your voyage, you may be able to change your bedding, but again, these are details you should ask about before purchasing a ticket on a container ship.


We've hinted at this a couple of times but expect little to no entertainment when you travel on a container ship. This is not a cruise. There will be no shows, no music, no swimming pools, no casinos, and very little alcohol. The crew and officers won't drink on the ship; whether or not you can depends on the specific vessel.

Some ships may have TVs in the room or a common area and other types of recreation, such as ping pong tables, but that's it for entertainment. These aren't guaranteed, so if you want to travel on a container ship, make sure you bring enough stuff to stay occupied. Bring books, movies, games, art supplies, or whatever else you can think of that will keep you entertained during the long day at sea.

Other Requirements/Considerations

Now that you understand the basics of shipping container travel, you're either thinking, "Yes, sign me up!" or "Why would I ever do that?" If you're in the second group, well, you're welcome, for perhaps we saved you from a horrible vacation.

If you're in the first group, then there are just a few more things we think you should know, such as:

Let's Travel the World!

Though not a very popular option, shipping container travel is an exciting and unique way to see the world. Yes, it's very different from a cruise, and yes, it will take a lot longer to get to your final destination, but the experience you will have will be unforgettable. Now that you know everything that goes into traveling this way, there's nothing left to do except book your trip and start seeing the world!