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Welcome to the Container Class

You think you’ve seen everything – from luxury liners with 5-star superior suites to sustainable hideaways with activity programs far away from mainstream tourism? But have you ever considered a trip in the ‘Container Class’? Organizational skill, flexibility and a hefty time budget are among the main requirements. These will be rewarded with rest and recreation, unconventional insights and unexpected experiences.

Every year, about a billion tourists worldwide embark on a journey of relaxation or diversion, to ‘lose themselves’ or alternately, to ‘find themselves’. The motivations for travelling are manifold. In any case, the results are sure to provide many new impressions and plenty of material for conversations. If you want to spruce up your travel reports with some unusual experiences, why not try an unconventional method of travelling and hop on as a passenger on a cargo ship?

Cargo is king

One thing is clear: Given that you’ll be taking on the role of a passenger rather than that of a customer, you won’t find the usual conveniences on a cargo ship. There will be neither entertainers nor leisure programs or wellness amenities. The crew serves the ship and the cargo – not the passengers. Shore excursions are possible, but only permitted when agreed upon with the ship management and provided the route and schedule allow for it. Then, if you don’t return from your trip in time, the ship might put back out to sea without you. On the other hand, the ship is not obligated to stick to the port layover times stated at the point of booking, since these depend not only on the prevailing weather conditions, but also on the loading and unloading operations and the number of available cranes and manpower. Hence, layovers can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days – flexibility is of the essence.

Comfort? Adequate.

Although you won’t find luxury on a freighter, comfort is not completely out of reach. In fact, it’s not uncommon for these gigantic ships to offer a swimming pool, sun deck, library or bar. The cabins are often quite well equipped, too – with a bit of luck, you might even get one with a mini fridge and a TV or video device. Washers and dryers are available to the crew and guests as well. The ‘entertainment program’ is provided by the everyday goings-on. After all, passengers are usually allowed to move about freely on the ship, with the exception of the cargo hold, engine room and kitchen. Anyone who is familiar with the dimensions of modern container ships can imagine what it’s like to take a walk on one of their decks. There is even limited access to the bridge, allowing visitors to get an up-close impression of operations on the high seas. Finally, many modern cargo ships come with an on-board steward who looks after the wellbeing of crew members and fellow travelers.

The comfort may be sparse, but the views are magnificent

A hand for a bunk

In earlier times, if you wanted to ‘hitch a ride’ on a cargo ship, you could try to convince the captain of your handyman’s skills and bargain for a place to sleep in exchange for your work on the ship. Of course, arrangements like this are no longer possible today. The crew of a cargo ship usually consists of a maximum of 20 to 30 team members, each of which has been professionally trained, and every move is perfectly coordinated. An inexperienced layman would only be an inconvenience.
However, since a growing number of travel enthusiasts are seeking to experience the fascination of a weeks-long voyage across the sea with nothing in view but the horizon, more and more shipping companies have started offering travel opportunities as an additional source of income. A maximum of twelve guests is allowed to travel on board of a cargo ship, otherwise, international maritime requires the presence of a doctor.  

New line of tourism

Meanwhile, passenger interest is showing a clear upward trend, and a variety of travel destinations are being offered along with various travel durations. For instance, several container giants of near-identical build are traversing on the route from Europe to Asia. One such round trip in 77 days can be booked for 7,700 euro upwards. Alternately, there is the simple route from Kelang to Hamburg in 22 days, starting from 2,200 euros. There is even a 112-day trip from Genoa via China to the US West Coast, including return. This unusual experience is valued at around 9,520 euros.

Shorter and thus more affordable itineraries are available for booking as well, such as the rather manageable route on inland waters from Strasbourg to Dortmund in just six days for upwards of 540 euros. The prices cover transport, cabin and meals on board. Add to this the ‘port fees’ (embarkation and disembarkation charges) as well as the costs for various insurances – the latter being an important requirement.

Better safe than sorry

Since there is no doctor on board, a deviation insurance is highly recommended. This insures travelers for the case that the ship has to stray from its course due to illness of a fellow traveler and the scheduled dates cannot be kept. When booking from a travel expert, this insurance is automatically included. In addition, a travel and liability insurance are essential: One can only imagine how a serious illness or medical emergency in the middle of the Pacific could end.

Getting used to the unusual

If you’re tempted to reach your next travel destination by container ship, be prepared to bring a lot of time – and you will be rewarded with memories beyond comparison. Trade in narrow rows of seats, endless queues, tight sightseeing schedules and fleeting impressions for a newfound type of peace and quiet, a novel sensation of distance and the priceless luxury of getting to know the ocean in its most beautiful manifestations. Then all that’s left to do is marvel at the opulent shades of blues, greens and greys in which the ocean can present itself to the patient observer.

Many shades of blue, green and gray