- Our Land Cruiser was not being loaded onto the ship.
- We weren’t informed about this until 10 days later.
- We needed help from the highest authorities in Malaysia to get it arranged (so Coen didn’t have to ‘just’ fly back to Malaysia to sign a paper).
- We waited 5 weeks longer than anticipated in Argentina for the Land Cruiser to arrive.
What can I say? Shipping can be stressful.
Finding a shipping schedule that fit our travel plans had been at the root of this problem.
Finding a Shipping Schedule
Let’s take a look at how you could conquer that first hurdle: finding a shipping schedule.
Two elements play a significant role in planning an around-the-world-trip by car:
- What shipping routes exist between continents?
- When are they available? Which is something that may vary due to seasonal demand.
Before driving to the other end of a continent:
- Check if a shipping route to your next continent exists. For example, there are many container shipments between Asia and Europe, but it is practically impossible to find an affordable shipping company to take your vehicle by container shipment from South America to Australia.
- Does it fit your budget. Tip: be flexible with the dates of shipping. Shipping a month earlier or later may not only make a large difference in the availability of container shipments but can also save hundreds of dollars.
- Check seasonal demand. For example, in the months before Christmas it will be expensive to ship from Asia to Europe and the U.S. – all containers are fully loaded with Asian merchandise for the December holidays. Simultaneously, this period will be relatively cheap for shipping a car from Europe / U.S. to Asia, as most containers return empty.
Where to Find Schedules and Information
- Main shipping lines have websites with timetables, including dates and estimates.
- PIL shipped our Land Cruiser from Bangladesh to Singapore.
- CMA CGM shipped our Land Cruiser from Malaysia to Argentina and from Suriname to South Korea (here and here).
- Check their websites. Here are overlanders currently on the road.
- Search on international travel forums such as Horizons Unlimited and Expedition Portal.
- Check newspapers or relevant magazines on shipping schedules. Many countries have some sort of newspaper like a Financial Times or other economic newspaper that gives an overview of all container shipments of that particular week or month. From this you may determine which agencies it may be relevant to visit.
- In Malaysia this weekly magazine is called Asian Shipper.
Visiting Shipping Companies
You can organize your shipping in two ways: through a shipping agent or independently. Either way, in the preparatory phase we have preferred visiting both shipping agents as well as shipping lines. As much as may be available on the Internet in the way of timetables, we found it surprising how much additional information is found by talking first-hand with shipping agents and lines.
Before deciding on a shipping route consider the following:
- Security. Some ports are safer, cheaper or easier to ship to than others.
- Length of the journey. Some container shipments ply between two or three ports and therefore reach the desired destination fast. Others sail half around the world, stopping at many different ports, therefore taking much more time to reach the desired port of destination.
- Costs at the port of arrival. Some ports are much more expensive than others, or procedures are much more arduous. Try to find out what handling fees and duties are charged at the port of arrival. It may make the difference in starting your overland journey in Australia on the west coast rather than on the east coast.
- Reliability of the shipping line. Are quality and reliability the criteria, or is budget the determining factor? Some shipping lines are internationally renowned for their service and quality, but often this comes at a price. If budget is the determining factor, remember that this may also have its price, whether in damages or stress.
To return to what I said in the beginning of this blog post: Our first shipments were in the pre-social-media era and so information was more difficult to find, let alone to read other overlander experiences. We started our search too late, became too stressed, were in a hurry, and made bad decisions. Our main lesson: don’t be in the hurry and take the time for a proper preparation.
Would you like to share your shipping experience(s)? Please do so in the comment section below.
(Originally published in 2013 / updated in 2017)