The one recurring feature of a long backpacking stint (aside from dirty laundry and malnutrition) is public transport. As any traveler can testify when you get the option of taking any other mode of transport rather than another long-distance bus, you grab it with both hands. When that mode of transport is a boat, you’re in for a real treat (unless of course, you’re rowing across THE ATLANTIC OCEAN earlier this year across the Atlantic, that’s a whole different ball game entirely!)

The only better way of course is working out how air miles work and flying business class for free! Unti you crack that, still with the boats.

taking a felucca on the nile

My love affair with traveling by boat

I’ve taken boats up the Nile, down the Mekong, across Japan, Korea, and China, from Ireland and France and I can’t get enough of them. I hold the experiences very close to my heart. Why exactly? For a start, I once hitched on a cargo ship to enter Yemen, the 196th and second last country on the planet I had to visit (on my journey to every country in the world).

And then there’s the Mekong hitch-hiking story, illegally entering Myanmar and Laos and spending 7 days as a Chinese Sailor! And of course rowing across the Atlantic!

Here are the 5 reasons why I think traveling by boats beats any other mode of transport, no contest:


With your knees jammed somewhere up around your chin in another cross-country bus, you truly begin to appreciate the luxury of space that boats can afford. In fact, I revel in it so much that I often run to the center of the deck and burst into spontaneous starjumps simply because I can. Seriously, you can walk around at your leisure, even sometimes order food and drinks, and spread out and sleep if you really need to.

Leisurely pace

Some may argue that this is a negative aspect but I beg to differ. Boats are not lightning fast, far from it but this is another aspect I enjoy. You meander across an ocean or down a river at a leisurely pace, giving you time to genuinely appreciate the journey that you’re on. You can plan your next steps with all the free time you find yourself with and kick back, read a book and sanctimoniously think of all the people around the world darting to and fro in their fast-paced jobs while you, unhurriedly, enjoy the rolling of the water.


This certainly applies to the boats that I take although I fully appreciate this isn’t always the case. As a budget traveler, luxury yachts and cruise-ships aren’t my haunt at all but cargo boats, slow ferries, feluccas etc certainly don’t burst any tight budgets. If you choose wisely and are in no rush, boats can be the cheapest mode of transport. You don’t (can’t) spend too much money while you’re onboard, the tickets often include accommodation and food, you can bring your own booze and snacks on board – all in all, a bargain mode of transport. Apart from that, boat outfits are also cheap to buy. Consider to get the quality and direct value.


Don’t even bother trying to tell me you didn’t dream about sailing boats as a kid, following in the footsteps Christopher Columbus or Vasco De Gama or chasing pirates in the high seas. This lets you (discreetly!) relive your childhood dreams in the most traditional long distance transport available. Land Ahoy!


Possibly the best aspect to traveling by boat, certainly for a backpacker, is the social side. You’re stuck on this vessel for a long-time with a finite group of people to converse with, before too long you’ll be swapping stories like old friends.

traveling by boat
taking a cargo boat down the Mekong river

So there you have it, I’ve nailed my colours to the mast (genius!) and made it clear that boats are far and away from my favourite form of (budget) transport. If you get the chance to jump on board a ship any time soon, do it and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Happy travel =)

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