So my plan has become to travel around the world without flying. When I mention this to people one of the first questions I get is how will I get across the Oceans – and my answer has been to arrange passage on container ships to cross the worlds two greatest oceans.
The first of these leaves in a day or two’s time on Monday the 16th March, and should take me from Yokohama, just outside Tokyo, Japan to Manzanillo, Mexico’s biggest port, sitting on the West side of the country.
The process for arranging this has been surprisingly straight forward. The immediate question I get when I tell people I am going to take a freighter is “how on earth do you organise that” and I am almost embarrassed that my answer is that I just Googled it. Googling “freighter cruises” or “freighter voyages” will bring up a number of websites either explaining how it works or from travel agents themselves that will help arrange them for you. There are multiple agencies offering this service, I ended up going with two German companies for my trips. I do not yet have much to say about the second as my trip from the USA back to Belgium still seems far away, but the German Company, Slow Travel Experience, with whom I have arrange my trip from Japan to Mexico have been great to deal with. It pays to shop around as different agents seem to have different contacts with different shipping firms, so routes offered are not always the same and prices can vary.
Once you find a route and travel agent you want to deal with you can expect a lot of paperwork. For my trip I have had to sign several contracts, sign a liability waiver, provide proof of travel insurance, proof of Yellow Fever vaccination and get a medical certificate signed by a doctor less than 30 days before the start of the voyage, which ended up costing me quite a bit to get sorted in Korea.
The price of a cruise is something else I am often asked about. It is not cheap. There are no longer enough jobs to go around qualified and experienced seamen so the chances of working your passage are gone. However this drop in jobs means that ships no longer require as large a crew, which means that there are empty cabins on offer which are then offered for sale to passengers. So my trip to Mexico will hopefully involve me living in a relatively spacious double cabin with en suite and I think even a window view (of a container…) The cost also covers all food. So flying is cheaper than taking a boat, but if you compared flying plus two weeks worth of accommodation and food the price becomes much more competitive.
As for the voyage itself I obviously cannot comment. yet But in terms of procedures before hand, I was contacted by the port agent in Japan just over a week before my planned departure date, in an email he confirmed the estimated departure date and told me that the immigration office would be closed at the weekend and as my ship was due to depart on the Sunday this would mean I would have to go through immigration procedures on the Friday. So I have done so. Meeting the agent at his suggested train station I was taken by car to the immigration offices where after some discussion in Japanese my passport was stamped with an exit stamp from the future, saying I have left, or rather will leave, on the 16th March. Which feels strange on the 13th March. The agent also told me some fun facts about the ship, the CMA CGM Nabucco – the ship is crewed by a French/Romanian crew, and there are 34 crew members, whilst his female colleague told me I had a beautiful voice…
On a freighter cruise the max number of passengers will be 8 as any more requires the presence of a trained doctor on board (hence the need for medical certificates). This obviously means there isn’t a great deal of availability so you should try to book in advance. That said some routes are more popular than others…for example Japan to Mexico it seems I will have as company a grand total of 0 fellow passengers. Zero. Zilch. For 14 days. I’m going to get bloody good at solitaire…
The other key thing to mention would be that the ship will have no wi-fi or phone coverage, so it will be pretty much radio silence from me until I land in Mexico, although I might try to schedule some posts on Japan and Korea to post whilst I am away. Of course once I arrive I will share my experiences of the trip. If you want to see where I have got to, you should be able to locate my ship by searching for the CMA Nabucco, on the Marine Traffic Website.
Hope to see you all on the other side….