Lonely Planet Writer

Retired Australian farmer cruises the world by cargo ship

Retired Australian farmer John McGuffick, 72, has shunned traditional modes of travel in favour of cruising the world on cargo ships.

Australian farmer cruises the world by cargo ship.
Australian farmer cruises the world by cargo ship. Image by Bridget Coila / CC BY-SA 2.0

McGuffick, who took his first trip on a cargo ship in 1998, has travelled thousands of kilometres over the past two decades, criss-crossing the oceans on routes such as Southampton to Gothenburg, Philadelphia to Brisbane, and the epic 110-day journey from Dunkirk to Singapore. Though he’s had a few hairy moments, the seasoned traveller now believes there’s no better way to see the world.

In an interview with Bloomberg, McGuffick recalled the highs and lows of cargo-ship travel, noting the quality of the food can make or break the trip. “I’ve had some magnificent meals that you wouldn’t even get on passenger ships,” McGuffick said. “One Filipino chef made crepes the size of dinner plates and stacked a foot high.” A less successful meal involved raw minced beef drizzled with a cracked egg.

He advises first-time cargo ship travellers to spend time observing how things work on board the ship, before getting up close and personal with the crew and their equipment. While he has found crews to be generally friendly, McGuffick doesn’t recommend getting in their way. On one occasion, McGuffick was on deck trying to get a photo of the rising sun, when his camera flash startled the captain, who was trying to avoid gas pipelines.

The retired farmer, who now lives in the Australian town of Cooma, in central New South Wales, is not alone in his love of cargo ship travel. Julie Richards, from Freighter Expeditions in Sydney, told Bloomberg she gets ten to 20 emails a day from people looking to travel on a freighter, and three-quarters of them she cannot help due to the extensive wait lists for the most popular routes.

The increasing interest in this alternative form of travel doesn’t just benefit travellers – there are benefits for shipping companies too. On the route from Shanghai to Rotterdam, a paying passenger brings in at least ten times more revenue than a 20ft container full of flat-packed furniture.