As someone who travels for a living (essentially), I sometimes feel guilty. I wonder if I’m really taking advantage of the places I’m going, or if I’m taking for granted the opportunities I have by living on a floating hotel. A lot of you who read this blog, whether you know me or not, probably think my life is quite glamorous. And sometimes it is. I mean, if I want I can dress up in formalwear twice weekly, eat fine food, and every couple of days I’m in a new exotic locale. But, like anything, after awhile it becomes routine. And while I’d love to act like I’m some kind of wealthy jet setter who can go to all the must-see places in each port, the truth is, I’m not. Sometimes it’s that I don’t have the money, but many times it’s that I don’t have the time.
And there’s not a lot I can do when we don’t have extended periods of time, at the same time I hate that I’ve been to Costa Rica and Guatemala 4 times now and yet have never been outside the port (although I’ve gotten some beautiful handmade jewelry, scarves, a bag and some really good food). But I’m not alone. Many crewmembers spend their port time catching up with family and friends via free wifi at restaurants and cafes, or simply relaxing off the ship, which can be a great reprieve from the hard work they do onboard.
And so while I do feel guilty I also just feel like I’m being realistic. This isn’t my vacation, and while I certainly try to take advantage of the travel, I can’t expect myself to see all the famous sites of the ports we visit. And if you are ever travelling and find yourself with similar limitations of money and time, I have some tried and true suggestions from myself and other crewmembers:
I rarely regret money I spend on a good meal, snack, or even a drink while I’m in port. Even a bottle of coke is fun if you’re drinking it in another country! If you can get something unique to the area (like crab at Tracy’s Crab Shack in Juneau, Alaska, or a crepe from a food cart in Tahiti), great! But even if you end up eating buffalo wings on a Mexican beach, I still think it’s a great way to spend your time. You can people watch, get to know your waiter, get to know your travelling partners, soak up the local language/culture, and more. If you are averse to spending a lot of money on food (although sometimes I think spending money on an experience is better than ending up with a bunch of trinkets you may or may not love years from now) then buy a drink or an appetizer. Or get a cheaper entrée but skip the drinks. Or split an entrée with someone in your group. I must say, whenever crewmembers get together to swap travel stories, we ALWAYS end up talking about the food we’ve eaten and our favorite restaurants!
Walk! Bike! Bus! Taxi if you must…
There’s nothing The Guns and I hate MORE than spending money on taxis, but occasionally it’s required, especially if you don’t have time to wait for public transportation. Also, if you’re in an area where taxi fees are set, and you’re comfortable with the price (in some countries cabs can be incredibly affordable, but there’s nothing worse than finding out its overpriced at the END of the ride, ask ahead of time if fees aren’t posted) then go for it, especially if you can split it. Often times vans can be really cheap, especially if you can split it amongst a large group. Our favorite thing is to walk, and we’re hoping to use some of the ship’s bikes at an upcoming port. With these options you have a bit more freedom to choose your route and your speed, you don’t have to make sure you understand a confusing bus/subway system, you can just go. Of course be smart- don’t go alone (especially on foot) unless you know the area. If you’re trying to go far though, look into public transport, whether it be bus or subway or maybe even a local shuttle. Try to look into a route map and schedule, but if it’s confusing don’t hesitate to ask the driver or someone at the station. If they are not super nice to you, remember they have a thankless job, just try to be sweet and explain where you’re trying to go, they’re the best person to help you. Again, I hate spending money on transport, and would much rather walk, but don’t let transportation be the only thing keeping you from exploring a city.
Avoid Tourist Traps/Generic Sightseeing Locales
A lot of places are famous for being famous- kind of like Kim Kardashian. If you feel like you’re just going someplace because you feel like you should, but you really have no interest… skip it. Especially if it’s just something to see. I usually try to go to places where I’ll not only be able to see something, but also experience something. For me it wasn’t just about seeing the art on the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta, but also about experiencing the sea wind on the boardwalk. I love that I’ve not only seen the Mendenhall Glacier, but I’ve also walked on it. If it doesn’t excite you, don’t do it.
Because I can’t ever end a blog post without contradicting myself… sometimes you should really take advantage of tourist traps or really common sightseeing stuff where everyone goes. Sure, it’s cool to get off the beaten path, but if you can’t imagine leaving a city without seeing or doing that one thing that everybody talks about, then just do it. If it ends up underwhelming you, then at least you can say you’ve been there. During one of our stops in Kauai The Guns and I took a tour to see the Waimea Canyon, aka Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Not the best day I’ve ever had (we spent most of it on a bus and only got to see the sight for about 15 minutes), but I’m so glad I did that and have the photos because it was amazing and beautiful. I just wish it hadn’t taken the whole day. And I have way more treasured memories from the time we spent riding scooters to different waterfalls on Kauai… but I know if I hadn’t seen Waimea, I would regret it. Also, if you KNOW something is a tourist trap, but you just don’t care and you really want to do it, then do it! As you know, I recently swam with dolphins in Puerto Vallarta, while the dolphins are a part of a conservation effort, the whole swimming with them part… um, yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s mostly for the money. And it has nothing to do with Mexico or Puerto Vallarta, really. But I really wanted to do it, and it was awesome, so even though I would technically qualify that as a tourist trap, I still did it, and I’m glad I did.
Talk to Locals
Not sure what to do? Ask somebody. Feel weird doing that? Ask at your hotel, or the barista at the coffee shop or your waiter, they’re paid to talk to you and are probably happy to be able to mention something other than the daily special. They live there, so you know they know what’s up.
Those are some of my thoughts? Anybody else have some travelling tips especially if you’re short on time or money?