Life Lessons From Twelve Days At Sea

The Mediterranean is chilly in the Fall, ranging from 48-75 degrees Fahrenheit.  Anybody coming from San Francisco will feel right at home.  The cruise ship was packed with a couple thousand explorers.  Not only that, there were three other ships just as large following a similar itinerary.  Pretty good for the tail-end of the season in a supposedly difficult economy.

One of the best ways to travel is via a really large boat.  Every other day you’re waking up to a new city.  There’s never a need to pack and unpack your bags.  Meanwhile, the amount of activities on board is endless.  If you like service, food, travel, and a variety of entertainment, then cruising is for you.

Another positive about cruising is that you really have to time to observe your surroundings.  You’re captured, with nowhere to go, except for perhaps the tennis court on the top deck and the buffet line right below.  When you’ve had your second helping of peach cobbler ala mode and are relaxing in the jacuzzi tub, all you’re doing is contemplating.  In addition to coming up with a mercurial plan of writing full-time from a cruise ship for $12,000 a month, I learned a lot of things that I’d like to share with you.

LESSONS LEARNED AFTER 12 DAYS AT SEA

• Rules and old habits die hard. During formal night, we sat next to a well-dressed couple in their late 60’s. They were from Indiana and it was clear Diana wore the pants. Diana’s husband Bob wanted to eat the final morsels of meat on his lamb chops by hand like I did, instead of by silverware.  Diana wouldn’t let him, so he methodically and obediently listened.  Fifteen minutes after I had already finished my lamb chops, Bob finally exhaled a sigh of relief. It was as if he burned more calories trying to eat than he consumed!  He still looked hungry.

• There is no substitute for good service. When we checked into our room, we were greeted by Deden, our porter assigned to our particular wing of the ship. He told us that if we needed anything, to not hesitate and give him a ring. He brought us fresh fruits and a copy of the latest New York Times and Financial Times every morning without fail. Deden also even helped look for our missing Croatian Kuna that was mistakenly left at home. Deden was cheerful every single day. He showed me that it doesn’t matter what we do, so long as we do it with grace and good attitude.

• Waiting until we are old is a mistake. Over 70% of the passengers were over 60 years old. Several were in wheelchairs and many had walking canes that also served as expandable stools. At each city, we spent 5-7 hours walking. We were exhausted, but we were constantly smiling given there was something different to see at each turn of the corner.  I kept thinking to myself how I’ll be able to walk around so sprightly when I’m 65. My knees won’t be able to go more than 100 steps! Don’t wait until you are old to see the world. You might not be able to do it.

• Where are all the younger folks, protesting? I often wondered where the rest of the demographics wandered. On the island of Kortula, Croatia, we met three such people in their mid 20s. A teacher, a writer, and a marketer. Together, they were vacationing from London, just a short 2.5 hour flight away. Their friend had a house in the hills overlooking the ocean and had never considered going on a cruise. They had no idea about all the restaurants, shows, activities, and educational classes one could take.  Now they know and are thinking of planning a cruise next year.

• Going on strike is counter-productive. Our ship of 2,000 couldn’t dock in the port near Athens because the dockworkers decided to go on strike. Each of us would have spent on average $50, which would amount to $100,000 injected into the local economy. Multiply $100,000 by the five other ships who wanted to come visit, and that’s $600,000 a day. Given the strike lasted 2 weeks, that’s $8.4 million dollars in lost revenue for the Greek who depend on tourism money to survive. The protesters are only hurting themselves as the money is diverted to another city of workers who are working hard for their money.

• The older we get, the more we are aware of our mortality. I started talking to an elderly lady about politics in the live jazz lounge one evening. She said, “I’ll be gone in 10 years, so I don’t care so much about what happens to me. But, I fear for my children and the debt our government has put us in.” To be able to come to grips with the reality that one might not be around in 10 years is both courageous and frightening. I know I will die one day, but I never assume that it will be within 10 years. It’s all fine and dandy to say that we should live today as if it were our last, knowing full well that it likely wont be since we’re only in our 20s, 30s, and 40s. It’s another thing to say those same words in your 70s.

• Having money buys you freedom and happiness. A 12 day cruise costs around $2,000 for higher floor room, in the center of the ship with a private balcony per person. Given that you’ll likely go with someone, let’s double that expense to $4,000 and add on another $2,000 for tours and special events. Double the total again, a couple could live an adventurous life with one child on about $12,000 a month or $144,000 a year after tax.  Two people each making $5,000-$10,000 a month in passive and active online income is very feasible if you spend 20-30 years trying to get there.  Some do it in way less time.   Take it from someone who just 2.5 years ago had $0 online income.

• Going on vacation isn’t a license to be stupid with your money or your health. I can put on 10 pounds, in just one week if I’m not careful. Given this was a two week cruise, I was being extra mindful of what I ate until someone told me, “You’re on vacation, just go crazy!” Of course the person telling me was super skinny. Easy for you to say, I thought to myself. The same thing goes with money. I was at the poker table when a husband whipped out two $100 bills and gave them to his wife. “We’re on vacation, so go have fun playing craps. But remember, only on vacation!” It makes no sense to go way outside your normal spending and eating habits due to the repercussions when you return. Someone has to pay off the bills and go spend 100 extra hours at the gym. It’s not worth going too far outside the norm.

• Only fit people work out at a cruise gym. There aren’t a lot of healthy looking people on a cruise. Age + an abundance of all you can eat food does that to waistlines. Yet, it’s only the fit that I see at the gym. I sat down for a “Secrets to a Flatter Stomach” seminar, conducted by this beefy South African fella. He reminded us to avoid processed foods, caffeine, coffee, tea, desserts, sodas, alcohol, and basically anything that puts the liver into overdrive. We should eat anything we can “Pick, Skin, or Pull”, letting our liver process that fat into sugar, and allow our metabolism to speed up and our muscles to eat. Eat more seaweed he told us. It’s the best alkaline base food one can consume to counteract all the acid and toxins we eat.

• Some things are worth spending on. There were two things I spent money on which I would probably cringe spending on if I were back at home. The first thing is $100 for 250 minutes worth of “high-speed” satellite internet access. That comes out to $0.40 a minute, which equals $25 an hour. I spent 45 minutes on average a day for 12 days = 6 hours of use for $225. I felt it was important to somewhat stay in touch with the community (bet you couldn’t tell I was gone!). The second thing I splurged on was the 12 day spa access for two for $295. The spa contains an indoor heated pool, massage jets, multiple whirlpools, steam room, sauna room, heated beds, all the fruit and juices you can drink, and a private place to just relax. There’s nothing better than getting into a hot tub after walking for 7 hours!

• Everybody works hard. I spoke to our waitress Angely from Indonesia and she says she puts in 11 hour days. I asked her how many days a week she works, and she said, “From Monday to Monday, every day sir!” Wow, hardcore! She responded it’s a lot of hard work, but she was also glad to be able to send money back home to her family in Jakarta. She gets to vacation two months a year, and she’s not complaining.  The cruise director said he works 9-12 hour days depending on if the ship is docked or not and takes no days off either.  In fact, nobody gets a day off, just time in between shifts to unwind.  Yes, I do not believe there are people who work 40 hours a week or less and complain why they can’t get a head. Thank you Angely, Deden, John, and the entire staff for reminding us to up our game and take nothing for granted!

SPEND YOUR MONEY, ENJOY YOUR LIFE

There’s no point making money if all you’re going to do is hoard it. All those long hours working on your company or at your job should be balanced with pleasure. You don’t want to be 70 years old with all your accumulated wealth and look back and say that you should have spent more time enjoying life. You might have bad knees and be unable to hike up the hills of Mykonos. You might get glaucoma and no longer be able to see the canals of Venice.

You have a right to enjoy your life as long as you aren’t hurting babies and welching on your debt. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. There will always be people who try and make you feel guilty about your success. They just don’t know what it took for you to get there. Until the next vacation!

Photo: St. Mark’s Square, Venice from the room’s veranda. Sam.
Photo 2: Santorini Crater, Sam.

Regards,

Sam

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Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. Value Indexer says

    What’s even more amazing than the fact that only fit people work out, is that someone will pay $2500+ to be docked at a Mediterranean island with great scenery and then hop on a treadmill! I guess I could have gone out and found a rock/log to bench-press so I may not be much better.

  2. krantcents says

    Roughly 25 years ago, we decided that we wanted to travel while we still could! I cannot imagine traveling at 85 years old. At 85, the grandchildren will visit me! For an old guy, I am very fit and active, but who knows what I will be like in 20 years. When we cruise, we go to the gym everyday. This is in addition to the shore excursions. Interesting observation about the fit people working out. BTW, younger people do not cruise (particularly in Europe) because it is expensive and not interesting enough for them. I totally agree about not waiting to enjoy your life! Who wants to save all your life and sacrificing everything?

    • Financial Samurai says

      Just doing the math, you decided at 40 that you wanted to travel right? Just wondering what you were thinking about before 40 then? I think I started having the travel before too old epiphany when I hit 30 with a 10 year gap since 20 as I traveled way too much before then and was tired.

      • krantcents says

        We traveled before, but not on a regular basis. Before I turned 40, (both individually as a couple) we went to Hawaii, Bahamas, England, Scotland, Canada, France, Italy, Switzerland, Israel and domestically. Since then, we try to go every other year overseas.

  3. Untemplater says

    Fantastic insights Sam! I’m glad to hear you had a great experience. I’ve been on a few cruises and had a great time. I’ve gone with family and friends on ships of all sizes. I took a small ship from Florida to the Bahamas once and the ship experience was completely different from the big cruise ship I took to the Caribbean. I liked the big ship much better because there was more to do, more space to stretch out, better food, and we got to see more places. The Bahamas were amazing though so I’m still glad I went on the small ship. The crews work so hard it’s almost unbelievable. Working 7 days a week with those kind of hours and keeping a smile on your face is major dedication. 40 hour a week complainers should try working on a cruise ship so they can realize their current jobs are like a walk in the park in comparison.

  4. Invest It Wisely says

    Hey Sam,

    I already mentioned it in an earlier comment but sea living will definitely be a very big thing in the decades ahead. I look forward to it because I think it would be an awesome lifestyle choice. I’m definitely nowhere near the $12k a month category, but I have the time to build up.

    I had my first cruise a couple of years ago in the Caribbean and I definitely enjoyed the experience. There is something to be said for not having to lug your luggage everywhere and deal with reservations, unpacking, etc… every couple of days.

    Your partner is also lucky to be with someone with such a great outlook on life.

    • Financial Samurai says

      That’s what makes things fun… having a goal, and also having the time to work to that goal! Living in America and making a living really is like living in the Four Seasons compared to so many other places in the world. We shouldn’t take what we have for granted. We shouldn’t take our own abilities to do more, for granted!

  5. mike says

    Sam, I always like your writing. If this makes sense, you always have something to say.

    I took a cruise from LA to Ensenada. Swore I’d never do it again. It was a cheapo cruise, and others said that is not cruising. Sounds like I need to change my mind on the benefits of cruising.

    Loved your post. Don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Dennis Prager, but whenever he gets back from cruising he always talks about it, and it’s always fresh. Like your post.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Thanks Mike and glad you enjoyed the post. I wrote it from the veranda of our room actually. All I could hear were the waves.

      Try shoot for one of the larger luxury liners, with someone you really enjoy being with. It’s a fantastic experience. I’ll look up Dennis Prager, thx!

  6. Simple Rich Living says

    Though I have not been on a cruise, I have backpacked to many places. I plan to continue to do some every few years instead of waiting till I am 65+. I am always a big believer that life is all about balance with you have!

    • Financial Samurai says

      I loved my backpacking experience too. Feels so nomadic and free! Maybe you should not go on a cruise though if you like backpacking so much, since once you go, it’s a little difficult to go back! Trust me on this! Keep on back packing!

  7. 20's Finances says

    I love the point about not waiting until you are old to travel – that’s the motto that my wife and I live by – although, only once per year for a week because that’s all the time we get off (with spending a few days here and there for family, etc.).

    I also would like to disagree about protesting – that is, if you were just talking about the protesters themselves and not all parties involved. In fact, your figures seem to me to illustrate the opposite. Instead of saying it is counter productive on the protesters behalf, I think it highlights how much power they have. If they were protesting because of unfair wages (i don’t know the specifics) and their act of protesting was forcing the local economy to lose out on that much $, they are going to be quite effective in getting results.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Sounds good mate. Yes, the Athens protesters were very effective in hurting their own wages, and the wages of the common people who depend on tourism. I would protest too if the government lifted my retirement age from 52 to 54!

  8. Kris @ Everyday Tips says

    I totally agree with so many of these points. I first realized how important it is to enjoy life when you are young when my mother in law became handicapped with a brain tumor when she was 56. Retirement won’t come at a much younger age than that for us, but that is partially because we spend on travel now while we still have the kids with us and we are healthy and energetic. Her illness totally made me realize how fragile life is and how there are no guarantees. So you have to balance enjoying life and being responsible. It doesn’t have to be just one or the other.

    I am guessing a lot of the younger people had kids and couldn’t travel at that time of year!

    Welcome back, it sounds like it was a great. By the way, you would not have found me anywhere near a gym on a vacation like that. With all that touring around, I would have been plenty worn out just living life!

    How does it feel to be back? Are you energized, bummed out, or neither?

    • Financial Samurai says

      Hi Kris, thanks for sharing your story!

      I felt a little bit in a funk when I got back , not really charged to do lots of work. Usually I’m all amped up and itching! Perhaps it’s bc I loved Greece so much and did a couple hours of work everyday anyway. It felt like a great a good balance!

      I tried to make it so that nobody here could tell I was gone for two weeks out of the country. Did it work? :)

      • Kris @ Everyday Tips says

        I have had some vacations where I never wanted to come home (Miami Beach was like that for our whole family) and other times where I was ready to sleep in my own bed (camping…). It is interesting how some trips are invigorating, and others are not. Although I am usually never itching to get back to my ‘real’ job, but I do miss writing when I take a break.

        You were still quite connected, even at the high price of 40 cents a minute. I would say it was seamless!

  9. The Genius says

    Somem good reflection Sam. We all need to take some time out of our busy days to reflect more often.

    Funny story about the wife and the lamb chops!

  10. Aloysa says

    Sea can make you a philosopher, no doubt. Great life observations. I notice that I appreciate things more and learn more when I am on vacation. I guess somehow it opens up my mind not only to new experiences but … life lessons. :-)

  11. retirebyforty says

    You had a great time on your cruise! The cruise ship staffs are so super cheerful all the time. It’s amazing they work 11 hours day and can still be cheerful. I’m sure that’s part of the hiring though. A ship sounds like an amazing place to work when you’re young. It’s too bad the staff don’t have time to go visit the ports too (from the sound of it.)

  12. Marie at FamilyMoneyValues says

    Sam,
    Just a reminder that all of us over 60 are not ‘over the hill’ – hubby and still have more go than a lot of thiry year olds we know.

    Also, it doesn’t necessarily take a lot of money to travel. When I was a kid my family piled in the car for a two weeker each and every summer – and my folks were p-o-o-r.

    Your cruise sounded great!

    • Financial Samurai says

      Hi Marie, I felt over the hill when I hit 30, so it’s great to hear you’re full of energy at over 60! Does one of my points in the post about becoming more aware of your mortality as you grow older ring true? I’d love to get more perspective.

  13. Roy Marvelous says

    Hey Sam,

    Interesting to come across this post. I work on a cruise ship and we are in the Med at the moment about to cross to North America. And I blog as well :)

    To answer your question about age of the crowd, different companies appeal to different demographics. Generally speaking the longer the cruise and the smaller the ship, the older the crowd. Younger (ie. 30, 40s) tend to go on shorter cruises.

    The industry is actually booming, to many people’s surprise. In fact, cruising can be quite affordable when you think about it. You are staying in a luxury hotel and visiting a number of countries, all within 2 weeks.

    Finally, the irony of people protesting in a recession does not escape me. Meanwhile the rest of us who average working 10 hours everyday for 6 months plod along.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Good to hear from you Roy. Hope you don’t have to pay the crazy interest rates I did as an employee! What do you do on the ship?

      Anyway I can parlay a complementary 12 day cruise for two and blog about it every other day? Win, win!

  14. Darwin's Money says

    Great life lessons! The old people one hit me. I’m glad my wife and I had the time, inclination and money to travel to some great places before we had kids. As of now, it’s pretty much Disney world! We’ll get back to Europe and Hawaii with them when they’re older but for young parents who never traveled before kids, I could see how there’s some sadness or even resentment. I don’t want to wait until I’m 60 to do this stuff!

  15. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter says

    Sounds like quite the trip. Glad you had a good time.

    I liked this statement when you said “The older we get, the more we are aware of our mortality. ” This is definitely something that I am much more aware of now than I used to be. I make a real effort to make wise decisions so I don’t have regrets. You only get one life to live and it is short.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Thx Miss T. It’s kinda scary to think that one might only have 10years left to live. Even 15 years left seems really depressing.

      It’s important we remind ourselves of our expected mortality every once in a while to keep us in check but also keep us dreaming.

  16. Eric says

    I have been on four one week cruises (3 Caribbean and 1 Alaska). There are definitely parts of it I enjoy, but I think I am cruised out. My parents have been on 20 cruises and my Mom finally told my Dad that they are only going on land vacations from now on.

    My favorite cruise line I have tried is Princess. The crowd is a bit older (less young kids) and the ships are not as wild as their Carnival or Royal Caribbean counterparts. It lets me feel like I am really on vacation instead of bothered by too much commotion all the time.

    My favorite trips are on land. While I enjoyed a nice boat ride in Amsterdam last week, getting more than 5-8 hours to explore a city makes it a much more in depth cultural experience. That is what I value when I tear myself away from work for two weeks.

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