I have limited life-advice to dispense, being a middling millennial and all (but dibs on the band name). If you were to create a heat map of all the places I’ve lived up to a year ago, only one single 15-mile radius within the same county would glow. Not that physical movement is commensurate with actual worldly wisdom, but it can seem that way for someone feeling stuck and uninspired with life (i.e. ‘me’ and maybe you, too?)
So, I quit my life and joined a cruise-ship.
And so should you!*
*Immediate and abrupt disclaimer! I recognize that there was a tidy coalescence of circumstance and privilege that led to me ever stepping foot on a ship. For one, my financial situation was such that I was able to walk away from a fairly well-paying job. Two, I was able to rent out my house to cover my mortgage and a storage unit for all my junk. Three, no significant other/kids/pets/plants—I’m a Single person with a capital S. Four, I am a white American whose first language is English.
Oh, and skills and qualifications or whatever.
Anyway: and so should you!
You’re not hot stuff. Prepare to be humbled.
I’ve outsourced my life-advice for this one. I think the world generally comes together in agreement on these two things:
1. Everyone should work retail/restaurants/customer service jobs at some point in their lives.
2. (However politically incorrect and yes, Not All Americans™), American tourists are just the f**king worst.
Reminisce with me for a moment: being screamed at during a Bingo session because a dauber is $2, and why didn’t you just give it to them for free?! Being screamed at because a guest missed their show reservations (and that’s somehow your fault). Being screamed at because a guest had to wait thirty seconds to be helped and you didn’t say, verbatim, “Would you kindly excuse me for a moment, please, my good sir?”
And you have to smile through it all.
Conversely, prepare to deal with guests who let loose a horrifying barrage of racism because you’re white and American/English is your native language, so it’s a foregone conclusion that you agree with them.
To those people, I’m happy to now be able to say: f**k off.
That was cathartic. Anyway, nobody strictly needs to experience the turds of the universe to understand what it means to be kind and patient and humble. And, you don’t have to be hit with someone’s shitty attitude to remember that the problem is with them and not you. Remember kids, use your Q-TIPs regularly: Quit Taking it Personally. We all have ideas of how not to be a garbage human without having to work on a cruise ship to get there…
But, it certainly helps.
My blood pressure has risen. Let’s move on.
The ultimate travel hack
So while you’re growing positively as a human with good interpersonal skills—or some bullshit like that—you get paid to travel the world!
Sure, there are a million ways to see the world on a budget. Not to disparage credit-card churning or AirBnB-ing for the modern traveler, I felt like I beat the system altogether. I was earning money to travel for seven months whereas guests were paying thousands of dollars for just one week.
I don’t know where your Happy Place is, but for me, it’s the beach. Happily enough, all my ports-of-call were Caribbean. The friends I went out with in port were impressed/concerned at how long I would float in the water while everyone was on shore shotgunning margaritas. It wasn’t because I thought myself better than that (says the girl who day-drinks in her driveway), but because something was clicking within my brain and soul at the absolute absence of anything negative: no more angry thoughts about awful guests, no more worrying about my mortgage, no more anxiety about my future. I didn’t even feel any urgency to make the feelings last because I had seven months at my disposal, and I’d be back.
Everything was so simple. Just me and the fish. All I had to do was close my eyes and float away, literally and figuratively.
In hindsight, I’d unwittingly been meditating and achieving temporary inner peace in the world’s biggest float tank. Whoops!
Meditation seems trendier than ever, nowadays. I hadn’t paid much attention to it before, but it really did do wonders for my mood, happiness, soul, aura, whatever. Again, you don’t need to work on a cruise ship to physically and mentally travel to your Happy Place. It’s just, I can say without a trace of insincerity that I feel like a different person after my meditative impressions of flotsam, and, yearn though I may, I have yet to regain that feeling back here ‘on land’.
Also, I pretended to be a mermaid a lot. It was awesome.
The people you meet
Unfortunately, life is full of compromise. You’ll always be working with people you don’t like, whether you’re working on a cruise ship or elsewhere. It gets hairier when you work and live with a thousand other people in, literally, a shipping container. But, since you already know how to deal with assholes and have zenned the f**k out, it’s easy to take it one day at a time.
In the end, it’s worth it to be able to play the role of an exchange student without being in, ya know, school. My heart did a little pitter-patter whenever crewmates would start a sentence with, “In my country…” My particular ship touted its 60+ nationalities among crew, and one of the canned phrases from the Cruise Director was ‘The United Nations could learn a thing or two from us.’
One night, after we’d finished our evening shifts, two friends and I were chilling in my cabin (Frequently Asked Question #A Million: How big were the crew cabins? LOL. They weren’t). We were playing a rather simple card-slapping game that alcohol made difficult by a factor of ten. I couldn’t stop the ridiculous noises that were coming out of my mouth every-time I took a pile of cards, and there followed tears and your stomach hurting from laughing so hard.
My 4’9 Brazilian friend took a moment to get sentimental with me and the 6’2 Dutch boy. “How amazing is it that we have three different continents right here? When would we ever be able to come together like this?”
Ouch. Right in the feels.
I knew then that the adventure had been worth it; much as I missed my friends back home, it’s a big world out there, and we have the endless capability to love, connect, and be a citizen of the world if we give ourselves the opportunity to.
Put your friggin’ phone away
However annoying it was, in the middle of the sea the Internet was as limited as it was expensive. Not only that, but you didn’t actually have the luxury of time to peruse Facebook. All this meant reassessing whether seeing the latest from Facebook was really that important. I still paid my bills online, but after that, I’d just do a perfunctory scroll through Facebook, download the week’s new Discover Weekly playlist from Spotify, and then go about my merry way.
For the first time since the mid 1990s, I could categorize my Internet usage as ‘less than two hours per week’. I felt weird and confused and maybe a touch more appreciative of the ‘real’ world around me†.
This isn’t to say I’ve turned my life around now I’m home. I spend more time in front of a screen than I did before my life working on a cruise ship. More than that, I don’t think unplugging would’ve been achievable if it weren’t purely for the circumstance of the situation. Maybe you really do need to work on a cruise ship to reap the benefits of a life less Facebook’d.
†Maybe correlative, maybe not, but I touched a sea turtle.
And there you have it. Would you work on a cruise ship, if you had the opportunity? I hope so. Sail away, my fellow pirates.
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