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The Container Ship Tourism Industry (atlasobscura.com)
145 points by todayiamme on Aug 10, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 41 comments

I must admit that I've researched this on-and-off for years. Surprisingly, it's reasonably expensive (ie. not inexpensive). That said, the reviews I've read have been nearly universally positive: as the article notes, the crews love interesting company (they spend months on the boat painting from stem-to-stern and you're naturally inclined to discuss the outside world and not-painting-bulkheads).

Boredom: if you step onto a container ship as a guest without at least a month of "work" to do, you're to blame. I admit, I'm uncertain of bandwidth and such; but there is some. Download sources before boarding! And I ain't much of a writer, but I might take a whack at writing the Great American [short story] during the journey so that I wasn't bored. Point is: riding a largely automated ship for 2-14 days without a plan is nearly the definition of boredom; plan against boredom!

Having taught myself Ruby on Rails while cruising in Alaska 8 years ago, learning without the internet can be pretty blissful. Just make sure you download the sources first! [Yes, Ruby doesn't need that. I'm looking to learn Rust...]

EDIT: I have no affiliate relationship, but this (http://www.freightercruises.com/) seems pretty solid (e.g. http://www.freightercruises.com/seaworthy_news_1310.php).

It's especially easy to be a programmer without internet these days because you can download the entirety of StackOverflow and Wikipedia to your hard drive! I wrote up a brief post when I went on a repositioning cruise with unfathomably pricy internet: http://www.archagon.net/a-few-pointless-thoughts/2014/6/17/b...

Stackdump is simply amazing.

Hadn't heard of that. Props!

I guess this is where *-doc packages come really handy.

Realistically, would a satellite internet connection be prohibitively expensive for non-data-heavy browsing for a couple of weeks (meaning no Youtube, just programmer-work related Google/Wikipedia/StackOverflow, etc)?


Yup. According to http://www.groundcontrol.com/IsatHub.htm and http://www.groundcontrol.com/BGAN_rate_plans.htm 50mb will cost you around $400. (Just a quick search but when I researched this a little more in depth a few years ago prices weren't too different from that). + the modem which is ~$2000 IIRC.

Of course this is if you would buy the data for yourself. Though quiet a few ships have sat internet installed. The data rates are usually pretty low so it's good enough for email but not for surfing bloated websites like Stackoverflow or Google.

And then there's the alternative of 3G/4G GSM when you're near the shore.

Nearly all cruise ships currently charge for Internet access by the minute, not the bit, and throughput can vary widely. Typical prices start around $1/minute and with bulk minute purchases, may get down to $0.30/min.

This is starting to change, with some now offering unlimited connectivity for ~$15-30/day.

I actually did this, back in 2004 when I was obsessed with "traveling authentically." I sailed from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Cork, Ireland. It took two weeks. I was surprised at how quickly the boredom set in, as there is really nothing whatsoever to do on a boat like this once you've read and watched the few decent books/movies on board. The only scenery that changes on the open ocean is the clouds.

It was cool to interact with the crew but also strange and somewhat depressing as the life of a sailor is really not that great. The average crewman is from a very poor country and they are at sea for most of the year to support families back home that they only get to see for a few months.

Lots world wide could be fitted with a standard socket so that your container house could be (1) taken from the ship, (2) put on a truck, (3) fitted on to a lot.

Sockets could be stacked to create medium density housing. You could relocate your house to any city on earth with the right socket.

Considering how many containers are lost per year (thousands), I wouldn't risk my house on that chance.

EDIT: More like ~546 containers per year from an industry survey, out of 120 million moved in a year. Not quite as good as commercial air flight, but not as bad I was thinking.

Thousands out of more than 120 million container trips per year, and the loss of containers was primarily from two large accidents. http://www.southernfriedscience.com/?p=17474

Your container may be safer than your house, and the financial solutions is the same: insure it.

Thanks, I stand corrected. The odds aren't too bad in that case. Hell, now I am intrigued by the prospect too.

Always a good time to plug cargolaw.com. They have an incredible collection of container ship disasters. You just have to be able to withstand the awful website design.

Here are some good examples:




Thousands out of how many containers? Hurricane Sandy destroyed thousands (about 2000) of homes in Long Island but people are still eager to live there.

That reminds me of one of the short fiction works that was posted to Kuro5hin.org back before the site fell apart -- the story was called T.E.U. (http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2003/4/3/19455/41933), and was based on a wealthy guy who traveled by having his container-house moved from place to place.

See also Clifford Simak's _The Werewolf Principle_, where mobile (and semi-sentient) houses are the norm and people think that old-fashioned static houses are a crazy idea. What happens if you fall out with your neighbours? What if you get bored with the view? What happens if the fishing goes bad?

You would also need standard connectors to local utilities like power/water/plumbing. And you'd need to secure all your stuff to the floor or walls whenever you move. And of course you'd travel separately from your container, because being stuck inside a stack of containers for two weeks is not fun. But it might work for some people.

> the typical cost is about $120 a day

I don't want to discourage anyone from traveling on container ships. It sounds like fun to me. Please be aware that some cruiseship travel can cost less (much less?) than $120 a day, and they make your bed everyday amongst many other amenities.

I think for most of us here the appeal of booking a container ship route would be the isolation that hypothetically allows for uninterrupted programming plus the romance of the idea. On a cruise ship, you have to deal with personnel and other guests daily. Personnel might constantly be trying to engage you in social activities, you always have to tip everyone, and if you do bring a lot of computer stuff it might get stolen.

But that said, 120/day is not cheap. As a hacker getaway, you can book a hut by a fjord in Norway for far less than that...

And the hut by the fjord will have pretty good connectivity too.

Here's repositioning cruises, for less than $50: http://cruisesheet.com/?rt=0&max_cpd=80

You probably already know this, but as a heads-up to others browsing that site, quoted prices for cruise ships are per-person based on double occupancy, so you'll only get a rate as low as $50/day/person if you're traveling as a pair sharing a room. If you're traveling single, you pay anywhere from a 50-100% supplement. Picking a few of the ones from that site at random, it looks like most are charging the full double price if you want to book a room as a single, so ~$80-100/day. Add in the ~$10-15/day quasi-mandatory gratuities and you end up not saving much vs. the $120/day container ship, though certainly for a much different kind of trip.

The least costly line I know of is Pullmantur. Their repositioning cruises across the Atlantic are frequently under $50/day for a solo passenger.

US$37 / day at current exchange rates and including taxes and semi-obligatory gratuities: http://www.pullmantur.com.br/pt/cruzeiros/-/cruzeiros/posici...

US$39 / day: http://www.pullmantur.com.br/pt/cruzeiros/-/cruzeiros/transa...

Heads-up: English is not the primary language of most passengers, but from what I've read, the crew can accommodate it.

Norwegian also has some that are under $100/day including taxes and gratuities. The one below is $968.95 for 13 days ($75/day), assuming you take the promo where the cruise line pays for the gratuities.


(click all the way through to the final pricing page - the first page isn't what you get charged)

Also recommended if you find the idea intriguing, a long-form narrative article on the subject from last year: http://roadsandkingdoms.com/2014/slow-boat-from-china/

I spent 6 years traveling full time from 2008-2014. One of the things that I really liked about the way we did it is that there was not tourism involved... we lived in each country as long as a visa would allow. For instance, in Bath UK we got a basement condo in an ancient methodist church that had just been converted to condos for 6 months.

This form of travel- on container ships- will show you a side of the world, the shipping industry, the people who work in it, working ports, etc that you'll never see on a cruise ship. The accommodations and value is probably not competitive with a cruise ship, but the experience is not going to be similar at all.

We spent 2 years in Chile, starting with Startup Chile-- but it really got good when we started making friends with locals.

Tourism is a totally different experience from travel!

I crossed the Pacific on a cargo ship last year, 26 days from Japan to Peru, as part of a 3.5-year trip around the world without flying.

I made a video about my cargo ship experience here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uj9yA7KjIuw

A few quick points:

1. Yes, it is very expensive to travel by cargo ship. It cost me about $4,500 total. I'm glad I did it as it was a cool experience, but given the cost I'd be hesitant to do it again.

2. Why is it so expensive? Best I can tell, because the cargo ship companies don't care. Taking passengers isn't their primary business. They're transporting multi-million dollar cargoes, so they probably figure that if they're going to take the odd passenger, they might as well charge a high price to make it worth their while.

3. For anyone interested in how to go about booking a trip on a cargo ship, I explain how I did it and provide a few links here: www.ndoherty.com/cargo-ship-2/

4. Perhaps the craziest thing for me was the lack of security on the ship. My bags were never checked at the port in Japan and the captain told me the door code for the bridge within an hour of boarding the vessel. The bag check when I got off the ship in Peru was also half-assed at best.

Oh, almost forgot:

5. There was very limited internet access aboard the ship. We could just send and receive email once or twice per day. That was it. I brought a lot of books with me on the ship and did a lot of writing, so I didn't get bored, but I imagine most people would. I think a few days is plenty of time to spend on such a ship unless you have a plan to make use of all the down-time.

I am extremely intrigued. A few weeks of mostly solitude wherein I can see a few interesting sights, meet a few interesting people, and the whole thing is extremely affordable? This sounds right up my alley. Now, to convince my wife and family…

I've been wanting to do this for years, but it's hardly "extremely affordable" – on average, it's anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 per person for a 2-4 week trip.

Cruises can be waaay cheaper than that. Six adults from my family recently went on a 9 day cruise that was really nice to the Bahamas, I think the whole thing was under $4000.

On a freighter? I'd love to know more.

Or one of those Caribbean leisure cruises? Those are cheap upfront - to get you in the door - relying on in-ship purchases (like alcohol & restaurants) to make the majority of their money.

I am intrigued too but for different reasons - seeing the world from a different perspective. But if I was looking for mostly solitude, I will pick couple of weeks of camping in a national park or somewhere remote.

Recently I did two weeks of camping in Glacier National Park MT. It was solitude and bliss, no cell service, no Internet, as primitive as I could handle.

I'm intrigued too. But at $120/day for a few weeks... that's a few thousand dollars. That's not in my vacation budget at the moment.

A fun little trip on a related note is the Alaska Ferry (Alaska Marine Highway I think) which leaves Seattle (well, suburb) and spends about 4 days heading up to Alaska. You can sleep on the deck with a sleeping bag (or in a little heated patio) for real cheap and get great views with chances of whales. Cost is similar per day.

Cool little blog link: http://jackandjilltravel.com/roughing-it-on-the-alaskan-stat...

And if you want a bit more luxury and want to be paid for it, cruise ships are hiring IT staff all the time. You could be incredibly under paid but still see the world.

If you are into old school and sailing you can also go on a trip with Tres Hombres.

Dont expect any comfort there but it's cheap and a fun.


Thanks for posting that, that's really interesting. Haven't heard about this one before.

A very interesting concept. I like the sea but hate cruising. For me, a cruise is basically a hotel pushed into international waters (or some other legal fiction) for purposes of cheap labour. But a freighter seems a different matter. I'm not saying that they pay people well, but at least taking care of me won't be their primary job. A freighter has a job, it has a purpose for going somewhere beyond labour laws.

And I'd bet good money there is far less risk of norovirus on an freighter than on the floating retirement communities that are modern cruising.

> For me, a cruise is basically a hotel pushed into international waters (or some other legal fiction) for purposes of cheap labour.

It's not a complete free for all once in international waters. The law of the flag the ship sails under (i.e. the jurisdiction where it is registered) applies. However, in practise many ships fly a flag of convenience, e.g. Liberia. The minimum wage in Liberia for unskilled labour is $4/day(!)

Does it support Docker?

My uncle did a few cruises around the world on cargo ships, it always seemed like a great way to see the world on the relative cheap. Of course, he was a retired, single, Army officer, so taking the months such a voyage required was more practical for him than most.

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