Blessings and burdens of a lone traveler 

As I explained previously, I made the decision, right or wrong, to prematurely end my cruise ship employment contract. There is no sense rehashing the reasons here when you can simply read that post.

Until I find an occupation that will make me happy and while I have some free time it seemed like a good idea to take a roadtrip. Without much planning, I left one morning to drive from Tennessee to New Jersey and New York to visit with family.

This,  I suppose,  would go to the pro column. If you decide to suddenly hit the road, the only person who can veto your plan is you. At the same time and chalking a point up to the con side, there is no one to advise you against making such a trip without having made at least something of a plan. It’s all on you.

Being alone, depending on the circumstances that lead to it, is both a blessing and a curse. I never desired to be without my wife, never looked forward to a time when she would be gone so that I could be free to do my own thing. On the contrary, I assumed that we would simply go on and on, never for one moment having even the most remote notion that I would outlive her. So making plans to do things by myself, even after over five years without her, is still not comfortable. 

When starting out on a trip, a strange feeling comes over me, as though I’m trespassing onto private property. The farther away I get from what is familiar the more uncomfortable. My dad had a phobia, among many others, of traveling far from home.  Despite my discomfort, I push on, switching my focus from where I’m leaving to where I’m going. I refuse to allow myself to be victim or cater to such fears. 

At one time, not even that long ago, I could barely drive a couple of hours before struggling to keep my eyes open. Yet, on the last couple of trips, much to my surprise,  I stayed alert from morning till night. Traveling alone means the freedom to stop or continue as you please but there is also no one to take the wheel while you rest. I don’t see well at night and driving on dark highways is very scary and difficult. Not only does sleep want to have its way, but for me, driving on a highway at night is like pushing toward an abyss. I’d rather pull into a rest stop and have an uncomfortable sleep in my car than continue. Sometimes that is exactly what I have done. My car is rather small and not the best for a nights sleep but it does save a lot of money. One advantage of traveling alone is that if you decide to do something weird like sleep in your car, there is no one to tell you that you can’t.

Since taking on a minimalist lifestyle, most of what I own is already in my car. For those who still have a home, a downside of traveling alone is that there is no one to remind you of what you might have forgotten. Even if you make a checklist it’s only going to be as complete as the person who wrote it could think of. Again, it’s all on you.

One thing I don’t really enjoy is sitting in a restaurant by myself. It feels lonely and awkward.  On the other hand, you can eat when, where and what you want. If I am going to stop for a meal I like breakfast the best. I had some really great bagel sandwiches on this last trip. 

The best part of traveling alone is stopping anywhere that looks interesting even if it is not on your agenda. Once I went way out of my way to go check out an area I’d missed only to be disappointed when I got there. I wish I’d had someone to talk me out of that one or at least share the blame. The worst part is that when you see or experience something really cool there is no one with you to share it.  On this last trip I actually stopped a stranger to tell him how awesome a sight was. He probably thought I was nuts.  If not for being able to post on social media allthose moments of “Hey, look at that!” might have been lost.

If I should ever increase the frequency or distance I travel in the future I would seriously think about joining some organization for single travelers. As a rather shy and mostly introverted individual I suspected that I would prefer being alone when traveling. Discovering that I don’t always feel this way is something of a surprise to me. I guess in the long run there will be times for the seclusion of being by myself but also times where I might value the company of other travelers. Perhaps I am not that weird after all. 

Thanks for reading. 

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After two months of shiplife… 

It took lots of research over a couple of years time before actually getting hired to work on a ship. It isn’t an easy job to get and deciding to end my contract early was not easy either. Working on a ship is nothing like working a land job but like land careers it has its pros and cons. I’ll attempt to share enough here to satisfy the curiosity of anyone considering shiplife or perhaps you are just wondering what it was like. There are endless YouTube videos on the subject but you might want to hear from someone you actually know, namely me. 

A little background 

I’ve always had what you might call a safe job. Fairly regular hours, mostly decent pay. We do what is needed to provide for our families. I’ve done this for most of my life. Even so we still struggled to make ends meet and never succeeded in getting ahead. When my wife of almost 30 years lost her battle with cancer, it gave me cause to evaluate my future. With the kids grown and I found for the first time in a long time there is no one to take care of but me.  For the most part my life seemed to consist of one stressful job after another. One day I changed all that by working at the Grand Ole Opry. This changed my perspective on what is possible. 

The research 

Deciding what it would take to be happy was and is still a work in progress. A friend and colleague told me about how he once worked on a ship and how much he loved it. That conversation was 7 or 8 years ago and although I did not act on it, the idea stuck in my head. At that time most of my kids were still at home and my wife was well. I’m sharing this part just to let you know when I first heard about shiplife. Fast forward to about 2015.  I decided to find work in an environment where people were mostly happy and excited. Thus began my research into jobs at hotels, tourist attractions, spas, amusement parks. I also began to develop a desire to travel. After much research it made the most sense to look into ship life. Free housing, free food, free travel to places I’d otherwise only dream of. 

Getting there

It wasn’t easy. After applying for several positions over the course of a year with no results, a friend stumbled upon an ad that seemed custom made. And so I began the application process. This included a lot of forms needing to be completed and a lot of waiting. Then a physical to determine if I was fit for duty. Having made it through all that,  I received my travel package to Vancouver so I could join a ship there.

Preparing to be homeless, sort of 

I was living in an apartment. Obviously I could not take my furniture, cookware, decorations, etc. with me to a tiny crew cabin. Even most of my clothes would be unnecessary since the crew basically spends most of the time in a uniform suited to function. And so I started giving things away to any of my family that would take them. Once they got tired of being offered second hand items, I started giving things away to neighbors, community centers and whoever else would take them. My goal was to only be left with what would fit in my car. I succeeded in this and also gave up the apartment. If part of the goal was to be rent free it would not make any sense to keep paying for an unused apartment. I knew it meant I’d have no where to call home but that really didn’t bother me at this point.  The notion of a “normal” life lost its meaning after I lost my wife. 

The journey  

I was now prepared to leave behind all that was familiar for a way of life I could not visualize except for the videos and pictures that others shared on the internet. After arranging for a family member to carsit, I left for Vancouver. Here I was, after hardly ever going anywhere, leaving the US to meet a ship in Canada. Thus began my adventure. After spending a night at a hotel, which was paid for by the cruise line as was the flight, a shuttle took us to the port. I say us, as there were several others who were transferring ships or beginning another contract. I was the only newby in the group.

On the ship 

To be honest, I don’t remember a lot about my first ship. It was the Nieuw Amsterdam. I was guided to my cabin by my manager, a young man from Bosnia. There I met my roommate from the UK. The room was tiny, tinier even than I could picture from all the videos I’d seen. Bunk beds, as I expected, a desk and chair, side by side closets, drawers under the bottom bunk for shoes and such, and of course a bathroom. I found that it was easier to stay in bed while my roommate got ready for work to avoid having to maneuver around each other. I didn’t know it at the time but this was to be the first of a total of five ships that I would be assigned to before eventually returning home. Who knows how many more ships I might have worked on if I had stayed. Let me say at this point that I was told how unusual it is to transfer to a second or third ship so soon after joining and I went through 5! My team on this ship was from all over: UK, Thailand, Argentina, India, and the US. Subsequently I would work with people from Bosnia, Serbia, Russia, Alaska, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, Scotland, Italy and everywhere else. It was fun hearing so many different accents in such close proximity and such a brief time. 

I learned quickly that this was not casual photography. People would not be lined up awaiting their turn to have a photo taken and then happily purchase them. My previous work at the Opry spoiled me as there was really no pressure on guests to have their photo taken or to purchase. This was going to be much different. Sales and numbers were all important. Plus there was almost everything about photography that I did not know. I had a lot to learn. 


Sleeping 

The first person assigned to a cabin gets to choose bottom or top bunk. So as the NEOP, the term used for new hire, but also if you are new to the class (size) of a ship, I was given the top bunk. A short ladder was standard in each room to get up there but usually it was quicker to step on a chair then onto the desk and up into bed. You could not sit upright in the top bunk or you would hit your head. There was a curtain across each bunk that could be drawn for privacy. Each bunk also had it’s own light for reading and a switch to operate the room light so that you would not have to get out of bed to turn it off. Since there are no windows in crew cabins, without a light it is pitch black. There is no sunrise to awaken you so you better have an alarm. The bunks are not uncomfortable once you get in them. On one ship the room always felt very warm so I only used a sheet as a blanket. On another ship I was so cold that I used two blankets. Once you become accustomed to the size of the room and develop a rhythm where you and your room mate are not both getting ready at the same time it’s not bad at all.  Cabin availability is a bigger deal than one might imagine. You might even be transferred to another ship simply because there is not enough room. Several times I was fortunate to have a room all to myself but this is very uncommon and usually very temporary. 

Food 

The ships all have a crew mess on “A”  deck. This is the same deck where most petty officers and other staff live. A deck is just below deck 1. There is also an officers mess which may be somewhat nicer than the crew mess but that varies with the ship. Crew are the people who clean, cook, and maintain the ship. Staff are photographers, retail, entertainers, etc.  I was staff and a petty officer so we were permitted to eat on the Lido deck. Every ship of every line has a Lido deck or so I’m told. This is informal dining where you may eat just about anything you can imagine. I still could not tell you of some of the foods I tried as I couldn’t identify them. In the crew mess much of the food is oriented toward Indonesian and Phillipino diets. There are deserts galore and as much as I tried to resist I was not able to.

The job 

I mentioned earlier that being a photographer on a ship is not easy.  During embarkation we set up a shooting area for passengers boarding the ship. They are weary and many are grumpy so it’s not always the best time to take a photo.  Once on board we, the photogs as we’re called, walk around the ship and try to take photos of guests as we start our voyage. We also set up studios around the ship trying to get anyone to stop for a portrait. We photograph them each time they leave the ship for shore excursions, each formal night as they are eating dinner. We also try very hard to book them for upscale photo shoots. If you do not have a somewhat aggressive personality and love photography then I would not recommend this job. The photos are displayed in a gallary in the hope that they will be purchased. It’s the photogs job to sell them and maximum the number sold. I’m not gonna lie. If you have the right personality there is a lot of money to be made. 

Friends 

You cannot help but make friends. After 5 ships I met a wide variety of people from all over the world. Within minutes you are sharing stories and building close relationships. I still keep in touch with several of the people I worked with. You must remember that when you work on a cruise ship it is also your home. It’s where you eat and sleep.  It is a community of people who are literally all in the same boat. One night I walked into the crew mess and they were having a birthday party for one of the crew. Before I knew it there was a plate handed to me and I was thrust into the line for food. I didn’t understand a word they were speaking but I was part of the family.


The places  

I joined a ship that was cruising to Alaska. I’d never been there and heard it was among the most popular of cruises. To say that there were beautiful and amazing sights would be more than an understatement. If any of you who are American, in possession of a passport and pretty good with a dslr camera then you may have a fairly easy time getting hired. Only Americans may work in the Alaskan ports. Even now HAL is seeking American photographers. The Alaska run varies slightly with each ship but mostly you can expect to visit Vancouver, Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau, Sitka, Victoria and you will see glaciers, lots of amazing, breathtaking glaciers. Seeing them is a surreal, change-your-view-of-the-world experience. Had I continued with the rest of my contract I would have ended my run in Australia or Singapore with many other amazing places along the way. 


The verdict 

If you can get a job aboard a ship I advise you to take the opportunity. A word of advice though. Find out all you can about the available positions. Make sure you are qualified for the work. Make sure you are willing to do it for 6 months or more. In my case I entered into a position which was not at all in line with my personality or skills and that was my mistake. For that reason I made the difficult decision to end my contract early. Now I am investigating other positions, the correct term is function, so that I can go back and pick up where I left off. If you have any questions I’ll try my best to answer. 

Get rid of all the things – Part VII

A few days ago I finally got rid of my largest and heaviest piece of furniture. For years a beautiful wood china cabinet had to be loaded and unloaded any time we moved. It displayed all of our wedding china and silverware. Now of course I have no need or use for such things. As is the way with minimalism, you get rid of that which is no longer useful or ceases to bring joy. As a widowed man, living alone, I can think of no occasion where I would need to pull out “the good china”.

And so, having fully embraced the idea of owning as little as possible, without any hesitation, and after lowering the selling price to a pathetic amount, I watched as this heirloom went out the door and onto the floor on the buyer’s flatbed trailer.

There are still many thing with which I need to part but I am not placing any pressure on myself to meet any deadlines. As it becomes convenient to find homes for the rest I will do so. Recently a coworker casually mentioned that she was about to shop for a large crockpot. Having replaced mine with a much smaller version, I was delighted to give her the large one, making both of us happy.

When a lounge chair broke a couple of weeks ago, although I was momentarily disappointed that I could no longer use it, I admit total satisfaction as I dumped it into the trash. An armchair that I am still using will stay until I no longer live in my current apartment. The same goes for an old school desk that is somewhat of an antique. The chair will find a home with one of my kids and so will the desk. For now neither is in my way. It won’t be long before the washer becomes non-functional after which I have no problem seeking out a local laundromat. There are no plans to burden myself with a replacement.

I’ve made so much progress since starting this journey and in a relatively short time. I could see where this lifestyle is not for everyone. I am glad to find it is working so well for me.

More to come soon.

A conservative minimalist

I have heard minimalism associated with a liberal mindset. Tree hugging, saving the planet from people, climate change aka global warming all seem to be associated with the trend toward tiny homes and a simpler lifestyle. While I am all for doing my share not to pollute, I do not consider myself an environmentalist. I am in every sense of the word a conservative. My politics both social and economic are conservative. The traditions I embrace, conservative. My moral and spiritual outlook, conservative.

So I do not feel it is proper to assume that anyone who is in interested in tiny houses, simplifying or minimalism can’t also be a conservative. As you may have read in my previous posts, I am on a mission to reduce my material possessions to as small a load as possible. I have found great satisfaction with each item that I can get rid of. Now that my nest is empty and the love of my life has moved on to her heavenly dwelling, my years of gathering the things that we think we need to be comfortable are over. No longer am I interested in looking around and admiring all that I have accumulated over the years. My greatest assets are my children and grandchildren.

As I look around my apartment and see what’s left of furnishings and trinkets every item is now something which can be weighed for what use it is to me or what satisfaction it brings to me on an emotional level. Less is becoming more. As I divest myself of what no longer has any significance to me, that which remains becomes more valuable because it passed the test of usefulness and intrinsic value. We came into this world with nothing and when we leave there are no material possessions that we can take along. Heaven and the presence of God are their own rewards, so no need for any excess baggage along the way.

Seeing what I can next part with has become an ongoing project. Some items have been more difficult to get rid of, not because of my attachment to them but because people no longer have an interest in them so they are hard to sell. Progress has been very good though and I am greatly satisfied with how much I have already been able to sell or give away. Now that we are in a new year I hope that by the end of it I will have rid myself of everything I no longer want to have around. It gives me a feeling of cleanliness each time I see something go out the door.

In the movie” Everything Must Go”, the main character is forced to get rid of almost all his possessions. I am very glad that this has been my own choice and not a result of any unfortunate circumstances. It makes the journey all the more fun.

must-go

 

Get rid of all the things – Part VI

Hi everyone. Yes, I am still here. Since last writing, I have continued my journey toward simplification and minimalism. I admit that I am not yet where I would like to be. One of my hopes last year was to start working on a cruise ship. Unfortunately, this has not come to pass. I still have hope that maybe I will see this happen but in the meantime, life goes on and there is other work to do.

Every day I look around and see what else I might be able to do without. In many ways, it is easier to live with less. Consider the difference between going to the store to pick up a few things at a great big market and a small local grocery store. Because your choices are less complicated the trip is much shorter. Minimalism is a little like that. Instead of choosing between 5 or 6 different pans and spatulas with which to cook, there might only be one or two. Instead of a couch, several chairs, and a loveseat, my choice is limited to the same armchair and ottoman. When they are worn out, I would like to have something easier to transport, maybe something that folds up or deflates.

Someone recently asked me if I have reached the point where if I moved I could do it with just my car and no van or truck. Although it was meant as a joke or to ridicule me, I have embraced it as a goal. I gave my dresser, chest of drawers and shelves to a family member. My dvds are in neat piles stacked against a wall in the living room next to the tv.  A china cabinet which once held place settings of china, now stands completely empty, waiting for a buyer. The contents are in boxes which I will distribute to my kids and if unwanted will be sold.

The biggest change I have made is in the bedroom. I realized that even if I got rid of all furniture there is still my bed. It is probably the only thing that would need to be moved via a truck or van. To this end, I had to consider alternate ways of sleeping. I ruled out sleeping bags as I am a bit old to sleep on the floor. Cots are not comfortable for long term use. Air mattresses tend to leak and deflate. An option that I had not really considered has turned out to be a winner. After doing some research I read that a hammock can be very comfortable not only for camping but as an indoor bed. After considering several kinds I found that the Brazilian style is best suited for full-time bed use. The cost of hammock and stand was minimal. I paid around fifty bucks with free shipping. I bought the least expensive one I could find, just in case the experiment was a failure.

hammock

Last night was my 5th night sleeping in the hammock. I have not always had a good night sleep but this has been due to not having everything set just right. I did not really expect to hop on and be perfect right away. It has been a learning experience. My twin bed in still just a few feet away. Although I have been tempted a couple of times to take the easy way out and just sleep on the bed when the hammock didn’t feel right, I fought this urge and won. Last night was the best of the 5 nights. With a hammock, I can simply fold up the fabric and put in my car if I decide to move. The stand only took about 10 minutes to assemble and came with a carry bag for easy transport. Once I am fully acclimated to the hammock the bed will go on sale. I really love the idea of not being burdened by the traditional bed. I can say that I’d recommend it for a couple but for one person it, so far, has been the answer I was seeking.

Minimalism is a sort of eccentricity. While most people are shopping for bigger and better, the minimalist seeks ways to get by with less. With that comes a quest for the unusual and untraditional. I am liking this way of thinking more and more all the time.

 

 

 

Get rid of all the things – Part V

So many little things can, when accumulated, be as bad as just a few bigger things. In my conversion to living more simply, I am having to let go of my tendency to toss the little things into a drawer thinking that they will not make any difference to my overall, not really out of control but still a nuisance, clutter.

As I look around for more stuff to part with, it’s the little things that escape notice and fly under the radar. If I was playing the increasingly popular Mins game I would be counting how many items I am getting rid of each day. I prefer to freelance. Guess it’s my rebellious side that comes out on occasion. When my wife passed, I did not attend grief counseling nor seek out traditional methods of dealing with my grief. I cannot recommend that for everyone though. Similarly, I am using my own methods of parting with the material things I want out of my life.

You really have to play some mind games with yourself. Not only do you have to ask yourself if something is useful, or will I ever use this but you also have to ask how long it might be before that set of eyeglass nose pads will ever become a necessity when you tend to buy your glasses at a dollar store. Discount cards and coupons for places you never or hardly go to are not worth hanging onto. How many buttons are worth saving? Okay, I am not throwing the buttons away. I am putting them with other buttons instead of having a few scattered here and there. If you are going to keep something around at least put the item with others of its kind.

My personality can often be extreme. Unchecked, I have the capacity to throw literally everything away. This could be a good thing as long as it’s not going to be something difficult to replace. But the loose watch batteries I’ve accumulated would only cost a dollar or two if I need some in the future. So they must go. The spare shoelaces that I never seem to need can also go even though they don’t take up much space. Sometimes I feel like replacing my laces just to use the new ones even though there is nothing wrong with the ones in my shoes. That’s a little dumb but I never said that I am beyond doing some dumb things.

It is getting much easier to toss things in the trash than I ever thought it would be. I am glad I’ve started this trend. I’ve got plans for later on in life that will require me to have a little as possible to burden me or slow me down. I believe I’m off to a good start.

Get rid of all the things – Part IV

Going through my top dresser drawer makes me feel a bit like Forrest Gump opening a box of chocolates. I never know what I am going to get. Over the years what should have been a drawer for socks, handkerchiefs or some other article of clothing has become something entirely different.

Instead of a dresser drawer, it is more of a cross between the kitchen junk drawer and the trinket box from To Kill A Mockingbird.  I have put off tackling this area because of the variety of items it contains. There is no one category to define its contents. Over the years I have to come up with different ways to keep it somewhat organized. I hate junk drawers and especially despise just throwing everything into a heap. So over time, when I emptied a box of checks I took the boxes and used them as separators. Yes, I know it sounds tacky and yes, it is as bad-looking as it sounds. But, in my defense, it was somewhat organized.

I waded in, slowly, not wanting to drown in the sea of debris that was a distorted but not entirely inaccurate reflection of who I am. Key rings of various sizes along with non-functioning mini flashlights and a laser pointer with weak batteries filled one box. “Maybe I can fix this flashlight?” In another box I found a mini screwdriver and loosed the tiny screws that prevented easy access to the flashlight’s battery compartment. Now apart, I tried removing the battery but realized I had tossed potential replacements into the trash just a moment earlier. Into the trash I ventured hoping that somehow I would miraculously grab one of the stronger batteries and not a dead one. There was no methodology applied in doing this. I grabbed the closest one. Thinking I was one step closer to salvaging the light, I was unable to remove the old battery and the guts of the device began to fall apart.

In you really want to get rid of something and don’t have the heart to toss a gadget that appears to be potentially usable I will share my secret to overcoming this. Take it apart and try to fix it. If you are like me you will fail at this. And so the mini flashlight, the battery I was going to use to revive it and another mini light on the same key chain all went into the garbage. Even the mini screwdriver broke into two pieces and so that was tossed as well.

Even though this was a small advance it was still a step in the right direction. Next I encountered 2 to 3 shoelaces. Why? Because I would forget that I had one and then buy another. Why? Just in case. Okay, there is nothing wrong with having a spare set of laces. But these have been in the drawer for months and maybe years so they too will go, along with several sun-glass neck cords.

What’s this? A very small pouch of something that looks like translucent rubber bands. I have encountered this item before. I did not know what it was the previous times and still do not recognize what it could be used for. I open the pouch this time because now I am in the proper frame of mind. After turning the item around several times I decide that it might be something to hold bed sheets in place. Or not. In the past I recall putting this item back, afraid that I would throw it out and then realize later that it was needed. Not this time. Into the trash it went. A sense of accomplishment brought a smug grin to my face. I was mastering the drawer. It is only a matter of time now. I’ve got a couple of days off this week. If I can empty this one drawer to the point that whatever remains is of impending usability I will have hope that the next drawer will be handled with increased momentum. Pray for me.