Onwards! My upcoming 26-day trip aboard a cargo ship from South Korea to Peru

At the end of September 2011 I left Ireland and embarked on a trip around the world without flying. 851 days later, I’ve passed through 21 countries to find myself in Busan, South Korea. Here’s what it took to get here:

  • 2 cruise ships
  • 2 motorcycles
  • 11 ferries
  • 20 tuk-tuks
  • 30 taxis
  • 35 buses
  • 63 trains

Next up…

My ride across the Pacific
My ride across the Pacific

That monster is the Hanjin Chicago, a cargo ship which will take me across the mighty Pacific Ocean, from South Korea to Peru, leaving Busan on January 29th and arriving in Lima some 26 days later.

I’ve received a lot of questions about this leg of the journey. Here are my answers to the most common…

How much is this costing you?

It’s not cheap. My 26-day stay aboard the ship, with all meals included, cost me $3,540/€2,605. Factor in all the associated banking fees, travel insurance, plus a doctor visit to verify I’m in good health (there’s no doctor aboard the ship), and the final cost is more like $4,200/€3,080.

The good news is that I won’t have to spend a penny on board for 26 days, and I’ll have all my meals cooked for me. Plus, you know, ocean views and all that.

Why is it so expensive?

Best I can figure, it’s because the freighter companies don’t care. They’re carrying multimillion dollar cargoes, and they only have room for 3-6 passengers on each ship. It’s not exactly big business for them, so they probably charge a high price to make it worth their while.

Was this your only option for crossing the Pacific?

No. My ideal was to hitch rides on sailboats, but that would have taken 2-3 months to get all the way across, which was more time than I wanted to spend at sea. (If I was willing to spend that long, something like this would have been epic.)

There were numerous other cargo ship options, but this trip aboard the Hanjin Chicago suited me best.

How do you go about booking something like this?

You google around for “cargo ship cruises” and see what’s on offer. They’re not hard to find. Here are five sites with listings for cargo ships that take passengers:

I booked my trip via Sea Travel Ltd. Getting everything organized requires a lot of emails back and forth and you have to send them a bunch of documentation, but it’s all fairly straightforward.

Will you be sleeping in a shipping container?

Apparently not. I’ve booked a single cabin aboard the Hanjin Chicago, with a private bathroom and shower. If the pics here are to be believed, it will be quite cozy. I’ve also learned that I’ll be the only passenger on board, so I might be able to blag an upgrade to a double cabin 😉

What is there to do aboard the ship?

Well there’s no Internet access, so I won’t be able to get my usual work done. There is a fitness room aboard, but I’m not expecting anything fancy, maybe just a few dumbbells and a ping-pong table. There’s also supposed to be a sauna and a “seawater swimming pool,” but again, I’m not expecting much. They’re not exactly catering for holidaymakers here.

I’ll keep myself busy though. Mainly I’ll be doing a lot of writing, brushing up on my Spanish, and reading many a fine book.

Will you be interacting with the crew?

The common language on board is English, so I should be able to chat with the European captain and officers, and the Indian and Filipino crew. I’ll be sharing meals with them every day, and I’m allowed on the bridge pretty much whenever so I’ll probably hang around there from time to time and ask which buttons I can push.

Also, it seems I’ll be something of a novelty as I’ve been told most people who travel aboard cargo ships are between 60 and 79 years old. My contact at Sea Travel Ltd. says young pups like myself are usually in too much of a hurry to consider spending 26 days at sea.

What cargo is the ship carrying?

No idea, but I’m hoping for zoo animals. Life of Ni.

Will you be stopping off at many ports along the way?

The first 18 days are at sea, as we go right across the Pacific to Manzanillo in Mexico. We have one more stop in Mexico after that and then we hit Callao/Lima in Peru and I disembark.

I’m not 100% sure if I’ll be allowed off the ship in Mexico. Apparently I have to speak with the port authorities and figure it out with them. I don’t believe we’ll be stopped for very long though, maybe 12 hours at the most, and we might arrive at night.

Here’s a map of the route:

Hanjin Chicago route across the Pacific
Hanjin Chicago route across the Pacific

If you feel so inclined, you can keep track of the ship’s position here.

Will you be writing about your experience?

Yes, I’ll happily tell you all about it, but since I won’t have Internet access at sea you’ll have to wait until I arrive in Peru at the end of February. Make sure you’re signed up to my Travel Ninjas mailing list below so you won’t miss the update.

Now, please excuse me while I go make final preparations for the trip. I need to find a volleyball and some ice skates to bring along with me. You know, just in case.

Oh, and your questions and comments are very welcome below. Just keep in mind that I’ll be offline for four weeks soon after this post goes live, so moderation and replies will have to wait.

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  1. Good luck with your voyage. I really enjoyed reading about what your sea journey might be like. I hope you will get on well learning Spanish. Yes, it was very expensive though you won’t be spending on board for 26 days. I look forward to an update once you arrive in wonderful South America. I hope that you will adore it in Peru.

      1. Hello Niall. I am interested in your book THE CARGO SHIP DIARYS. But I have not got a kindle.

        Can you tell me if I can obtain the book another way. Thanks.

        I’d also like to read about your trip round the world.

  2. This is the most interesting part of your voyage (to me). I do hope you will document this freighter voyage in great detail, because it’s an eventual goal for me and my husband)! Lots of pictures, please! I am very much looking forward to your update. Have a safe and fun voyage.

  3. I look forward to your reports of uber-productivity and mind-experiments eked out whilst cut off from the inter-nerd and the rest of civilisation.

    I expect you to be banned from doing laps of the deck by week 1, banned from hill sprints on the stairs by week 2, and banned from attempting to further extract software requirements from other crew members on the bridge by week 3.

    Have a great trip!

    1. “So Rakesh, what is the biggest pain you experience in your day-to-day work?”

      “The knowledge that I don’t get to be with my wife and young child for three months at a time.”

      “I see. And how much would you pay per month for software that solves this pain?”


  4. Ahh c’mon man! You’re going to be stopping in Manzanillo, 3 hours from our native Guadalajara, and we’re here in USA, big bummer. It would be awesome to meet you there! But I’m afraid our plans won’t allow it, since we’re traveling back to Mexico in March. Tough luck, at least you’re already in America, a lot closer.

    Good luck on the trip! be sure to bring tons of books, and document the trip, sounds very interesting being away from most of the world’s distractions. I don’t know what would I do away from women for so long…

    Also, please go ahead and check (Maybe download if possible, for the trip) the documentary “Zeitgeist: The Movie”, I just finished it and it’s AWESOME.

    Safe travels!

    Life Of Ni <– GOLD.


  5. Robert S. Rowan

    Dear Niall,

    I hope this reaches you before you go to the dark side of the moon (out of reach of the internet). You will have several weeks of peace and quiet (I hope). This could be a good time to deepen your contemplative nature. You have done much to build up and develop your physical and psycho/social qualities. This could be a good time to meditate. If you are so inclined I would like to suggest mindfulness meditation. In its simplest form, it involves focusing on your breath. I consider this method to be the most useful approach if none other are desired. I feel the breath to be the Swiss Army Knife of contemplative exercises. It has so many uses.

    Have a good trip and I am looking forward to what you have to say when you come back on line. I leave you with this last thought, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
    ― Blaise Pascal, Pensées


  6. Hey Niall,
    Enjoy your trip! Looking forward to hear all about your adventure. Hope all goes well!
    Good Luck!
    Joanne 🙂

  7. Pingback: Okay, let's try this again: My upcoming 26-day trip aboard a cargo ship from Japan to Peru

  8. Pingback: How do you practice for a heroic life? |   Rogue Priest

  9. Help ! I need to get from the U.S. to Manila by freighter or cruise line. So far I have struck out. Can anybody give me some advice on how to do this since I absolutely won’t fly do to a near death experience on an airplane. Your feedback is much appreciated. P.S. I am willing to go to another Country first and transfer ships if that’s what it takes. Thanks…

  10. Pingback: Ship Cost

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