Travel advice & practical information for travelogue:
'Exploring the South Pacific'
Documentation, visas and other bureaucracy
It can be a long and frustrating process arranging travel on a freighter. Not that many ships carry passengers anymore, they carry fewer these days because there's no doctor on board, and there are varying age limits. The most popular routes are sometimes booked a year or more in advance, so it's wise to get started early. Travel to a specific destination can also be frustrating, because shippers prefer to book passengers for the full voyage.
The documentation required is also daunting, depending on which countries the ship will stop in. Visas, vaccinations, release forms, contracts, proof of travel insurance and medical certificates acquired no more than 30 days in advance of sailing are some of these. Handy to have a scanner so you can sign things and simply email them back. US citizen entry requirements for other countries can be found at: www.abriggs.com/high_level/foreign_entry_requirements.php
Booking freighter passage
Fortunately, most travel agents specializing in freighter voyages are familiar with all these requirements and are good at handling things in a timely fashion. My favorite is www.cruisepeople.co.uk because they have more varied and interesting offerings. For information about what it's like to be on a freighter, www.freightercruises.com is the most complete - with the caveat that I have found this agency less than responsive. For some it may be useful to know that some companies, CMA CGM among them, now have a "dry ship" policy. This doesn't prevent your bringing liquor on board, as long as you're discreet about it (luggage isn't inspected), and nobody objects if you search out liquor stores ashore.
Before my first voyage, I spent hours on line looking at maps of ports and collecting tourist information for every port city, all of which I printed and took with me. This was very useful preparation, although foul weather and a nighttime arrival prevented my disembarking in two of them. Unpredictability is a watchword in freighter travel. One never knows how long the ship will be in port, and shore leave is always at the captain's discretion.
Communication on board
Internet: some companies are now offering individual email accounts through their own satellite connections. This is email only - no browsing is available.
What to bring
Packing took me two months! I was going to be in three climates and I had to keep extending my checklist when I remembered something else I couldn't be without. Be prepared for 220 voltage and take enough of your prescription medications to last the whole voyage. Ships' medical stores are pretty complete, including antibiotics, and there's a "slop chest" for cigarettes, toothpaste and other small items, although brands are limited.