Smooth Sailing

When I was younger, I wouldn’t have thought that I’d be such a fan of cruising as a form of vacation.  I’d seen the commercials with Kathy Lee, and wondered why anyone would want to spend several days on a big ship out in the water.  The thought of visiting a hot, tropical island was never very appealing to this girl, who sweats in anything above 80 degrees, and I don’t think I was aware then that cruises stopped at locales other than the Caribbean.

Plus–as much as I like the water–I honestly thought I’d go stir-crazy if I were stuck on a boat for 7 days.  Of course . . . that was before I realized just how much stuff the cruise lines like to pack into each and every day.

So, while I never thought I’d do too much cruising in my life, I’ve been on three cruises in about five years.  Heck . . . if we include the one I’m on right now, that’s four in five years!

I’m not sure why it never would’ve occurred to me that I’d enjoy this.  There’s plenty of stuff to do on the boat; plenty of activities or excursions to partake in at each port of call.  Plus, the ship is large enough that you’re sure to find a nice, quiet area, if you’re looking for solitude.

That’s something I DEFINITELY took advantage of on my last cruise.  I took a 7-day Mexican cruise for my birthday last year . . . by myself.  Craig was also looking for some alone time, and didn’t feel he could take the time away from work, so I went off on my own.  There had been so much stress in my life for the previous two years, and I just didn’t want to be around people too much.  So–with a couple of exceptions–my days looked like this:

Wake up
Go to buffet area to eat breakfast
Go back to room
Read until I fall asleep
Wake up
Go to buffet area to eat lunch
Go back to room
Watch movie or read until I fall asleep
Wake up
Go to restaurant for dinner
Go back to room
Sleep

I’m not kidding you . . . that was my life for that week.  There was an 80s Music Trivia Challenge that I participated in (lost by one point), and I did step off the boat in our two ports of call; Cabo San Lucas (AWESOME snorkeling), and Puerto Vallarta (found a cool cemetery to photograph).  Otherwise, I kept to myself 80% of the time.  And let me tell you, I NEEDED it.  Toward the end of the cruise, my system must have been rested, because I was doing more reading than sleeping when I was in my room, but I still enjoyed the peace and quiet.  And I’ve found myself longing for another “do almost nothing” cruise lately, though this time I’d be okay with Craig joining me . . . cuz he desperately needs it right now.

But the cruise we’re on now is a bit more exotic.  We’re somewhere in the middle of a 14-day European cruise.  Craig and I wanted to take Athena to Europe, and she seems to like cruises, so we let her pick out the route.  We leave out of Southampton, UK, and stop in Gibraltar, Nice, 3 places in Italy, Spain, and Portugal.  Craig and I definitely have our cameras at the ready, and I hope to come back with a TON of cool photos to boost my photography career.  But, more importantly, about half of the days will be At Sea.  While we’ll definitely spend some time together as a family (this is Athena’s last summer as a high school student, and she’ll soon be off to college), we’ve also got our own agendas for the At Sea days.  Athena will likely spend it with the teen group on the boat, or in the pool as much as possible.  Craig will also spend some time at the pool, or stippling in a corner somewhere, and he’s discovered that there’s a miniature golf course on the boat.

As for me?  Well, I’ll probably join Craig on a few activities here and there on the boat, but I’m also packing 3 or 4 books for me to hole up with in our room . . . before I fall asleep.

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Get Out More

As you probably know by now, I’m very fond of travel.  So it shouldn’t surprise you that I’m here to encourage everyone to get out more!

There are over three hundred million people in this country, and yet only a third of Americans have a passport.  Canada and the U.K. each have twice as many.  When I saw that number, I was astounded, and wondered why ours is so low.

I found several factors.  One is that people seem to like the safety and comfort of their own environment.  My brother, for example, is perfectly fine staying only in the state where he lives, and generally not going anywhere more than 50 miles outside of his city.  He thinks I’m crazy for wanting to travel the world, just as I think he’s nuts for NOT wanting to.  However, apparently people like him are the majority.

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Photo courtesy of Alyx Morgan

I think another big deterrent for Americans traveling is fear of the cost; many probably feel they wouldn’t be able to afford a vacation abroad.  Even I used to think it would take thousands of dollars to venture across the pond, as the Brits say.  But my friend, Nikki, showed me how to search for great deals, and my first trip out of the country from Chicago to London twelve years ago only cost me $380 round trip.  That’s cheaper than flying across our own country, even back then.

If you’re savvy in your search, you can find very cheap fares on sites like Orbitz, or Priceline.  While others, such as SmarterTravel, Travelocity, and Travelzoo all have weekly emails that showcase various vacation specials.  And don’t forget to sign up for the airline newsletters.  When Craig and I went to Sydney and New Zealand in 2010, we got a sweet deal from the weekly emails from Qantas, and our round trip tickets were less than $900 apiece.

The media also has something to do with people’s reluctance to travel, in my opinion.  Foreign countries don’t make it into our media for doing good things, usually.  Here in America, we tend to only hear about the bombings, religious wars, or natural disasters.  So when people think about traveling to South America, for instance, they visualize the drug lords in Colombia, or the political and civil unrest in Nicaragua; both of which haven’t been a problem for years.

You also have to factor in the work-mentality that exists here in the States.  Whereas most other countries have an emphasis on leisure time (such as taking a one-year break between major life phases, which is common in New Zealand and the UK), here companies frown upon employees taking a lot of time off.  As a result, many Americans wind up not using all of their vacation time, or else working while on it.  The thought of working while on my vacation just makes me shudder.

I did some research and found over 40 countries whose workers receive many more vacation days than what’s considered “normal” here in America.  And some countries offer a month or more of paid vacation, ON TOP OF paid holidays; much of Italy shuts down for the month of August alone.  Here in the States, we don’t even have a legally required minimum for time off, and many temp agencies won’t even pay their workers for the nationally-recognized holidays!  There’s also the disparity of time off for child birth.  Several other countries offer 6-12 months paid leave, and I believe it’s Germany that allows up to two years off, and the mother has a guarantee that her job will still be hers when she returns.  No wonder more Europeans travel than Americans.

I’m sure another reason American’s don’t travel to foreign lands is that we have scads of places to travel here, without needing a passport.  The whole of Europe could fit in just half of our country.  Traveling from one state to the next takes about as long as going from one European nation to another, and each state has its own culture and sights to see.  Though, that still doesn’t explain why more Canadians have a passport than Americans, when they have roughly the same amount of land as we do.

Photo courtesy of Alyx Morgan

Photo courtesy of Alyx Morgan

And while the Southern states have a different culture and attitude than New York, it’s still largely American culture.  There are vast differences between our way of life than, say Paris, London, or Asia.  Disney’s EPCOT Center offers a small taste of foreign lands, but they pale in comparison with the real thing, not to mention that they’ve been Americanized.

Besides, seeing the world is such a broadening experience.  Even just a short trip overseas can teach us that we’re all very similar, with just enough differences to make a trip worthwhile.  That’s something you can’t get from watching a movie or reading a book.

So Get Out More!

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