World Travel

Q&A: The truth about Semester at Sea

Q&A: The truth about Semester at Sea

Hi Lindsay,

I have just been accepted by SAS for the Spring 2011 voyage, and I randomly chanced upon your website. I am currently having a hard time trying to decide between a Semester at Sea program and a study abroad program in Berlin.

I know they sound very different, but I think they appeal to different parts of me, which makes it even harder to decide. Hence, I have some questions about your experience if you don't mind answering:

1. When you were traveling around the ports, did you feel they were too touristy? I don't want to limit myself to only exploring typical tourist destinations.

2. How strong were the academics? I know that the main experience comes from the ports, but I still want to learn and enjoy my classes. Did most people take classes seriously?

3. I wanted to clarify this with you. I heard that SAS had a reputation of being a "booze cruise" or a "party boat" in the past. How did you feel about that from your experience?

I just thought that it would be good to consult with someone who has been through the experience. Best, Alyssa

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Q&A: Easing parental worries about travel

Q&A is a series that uses questions posed by readers and commentators to address topics of travel, alternative lifestyle design, blogging, and other interests. You can expect to see this series one or two Saturdays a month right here on To send in your questions, contact me! This summer I was planning on doing a study abroad program, and now I'm waiting to hear back for responses.

I love how you encourage going somewhere if that's of utmost desire. I would die to do something like that, but how do parental worries factor into that?

Not to intrude, but do you happen to have lax parents who are chill with that? -Natalia

That's funny. You're funny, Natalia.

When it comes to my travels, my parents started off as anything but go-with-the-flow kind of people. It was very hard for my mom to come to terms with my travel desires, and she barely slept when I took off on my own in Vietnam (my first time solo in a foreign city).

Why All The Fear?

Saying goodbye to parents

Saying goodbye to parents

I've got all sorts of dramatic stories of parting from my parents for the road. And from the sounds of those stories, I seem like a terrible offspring - leaving my mother on her birthday for the next 187 days. I think parents really dread those moments of departure, feeling the weight of the lonely and troubled days in-between your safe arrival home. Of course, it's not without due cause - and, heck, I'm no parent - but I do think that's normal and temporary.

All parents are skeptical at first, fear the worst constantly, but eventually get used to you going solo the more you come back with reassuring statements about your experience. It's normal to want to take their fears into strong consideration, but my advice is to do your research yourself and not listen only to what your parents are concerned about from news and media exposure, as well as comments from their friends. Not everyone travels or sees the world the same way. Talk to other travelers who move and see the world the same way you do, and read books about the place; that will tell you whether you should be worried or not about your experience in a destination.

Curb Their Lack of Enthusiasm



Be sure to include your parents' concerns into your evaluation of future travels - doing otherwise will make you seem rebellious or immature - and be sure to follow it up with all the solid facts, research, and advice from experienced travelers/writers. The more they know you have your head on straight, the more they will trust your intuition as you fly solo.

It's also important to think about your track record and how it relates to your street smarts, travel savvy, and ability to take care of yourself. Your parents will probably always see you as a green 16 year-old, but as long as you've proven in the past you're not easily pushed over or taken advantage of, you can reason with them that you're prepared for what the world is ready to throw at you.

My parents still aren't cheerleaders for my non-professional travels, but at least they understand that I want to do it. When I had doubts about traveling around the world alone in 2008, my mom was surprisingly the voice that encouraged me to do what I want, which was against what she wanted for me. They tolerate my leisure travels these days, but my paid travel makes much more sense. It's a generational thing, as well.

Communication Makes the Difference

As a graduation present, my parents were kind enough to get me a World Edition Blackberry, which enabled constant communication via e-mail to my parents from wherever I was in the world - excluding Malawi, Cambodia, Kashmir, and Zambia, which weren't set up at the time for data usage.

While overlanding in Africa, I would wake up to the alarm on my phone and immediately receive an e-mail from my mom about the weather outside my tent flap. She was six hours behind me but still knew the weather I would experience that morning. This was certainly a way to placate her worries, because when I didn't respond to her e-mails for twelve days in a row (in Kashmir), nerves nearly sent my dad on a plane to find me.

It may be inconvenient to pay a phone bill or constantly find internet cafes to correspond from, but a quick e-mail affirming your happiness and safety are great ways to facilitate your parents' sleeping patterns.

A Mother's Perspective

It seemed only fitting to ask my mother her opinion on my travels, safety, and her feelings toward my independent travel lifestyle.

The summer before I entered sixth grade, I asked my parents if I could attend a military camp an hour north of our town, a camp my brother attended the previous two summers. Though his camp sessions were only two weeks at a time, I decided I wanted to experience the six week, intensive summer camp, which involved three different sessions of learning new skills, bunking with fifteen other girls in a log cabin, and all things military: general inspections, personal inspections, marching, etc. I went to this camp knowing no one previously.

Most ten year-olds don't normally ask for such experiences, and my mom noted this as major characteristic difference between myself and my peers. My independence was obvious at a young age.

Goodbyes at airports

Goodbyes at airports

When I wanted to travel alone for seven months through dangerous African cities and over-populated, crime-ridden regions in Asia, my mom was unnerved but also comforted by looking at my track record. According to her, I had proven myself, through my voluntary college responsibilities, multiple situations that exhibited my leadership, my friend choices, previous trip motivations, and a track record of wise decisions in life.

I've always been a passionate person, but that didn't stop me from analyzing my decisions carefully in the context of my life. Because I conducted myself well in high school, used my free time thoughtfully, dealt well with other people, I seemed like I could handle the road.

One thing that made my travels much easier on my parents, especially my mom, was the steady progression of my trips from easy to advanced: family trips, solo domestic trips, static study abroads, global study abroad, and finally solo global travel. I was weened slowly from my bubble life in northern Indiana and given the gift of time to slowly make mistakes and learn from them.

Mom Recommends...

To the hopeful world travelers in easing parental worries:

Showed maturity in what you do with your time and the people you chose to be with.

To the freaked out parents/mothers of world travelers:

We all want the best for our children and for them to do what makes them happy. If what they do to make themselves happy doesn't do the same for you, know the strong character they've always exhibited will carry over to the streets of India and help them deal with the world they encounter (hopefully they've researched!).

And don't believe, for one second, that one trip will get the bug out of their system. It never leaves their system. Trust your child, and don't make yourself sick. Bad things can happen anywhere. Living in fear is a choice.

The Bottom Line

We can't force our parents to feel the same way we do about the world and traveling through it. If it matters to you how your parents and family feel about your travels, approach the idea of changing their minds with as much fact, reason, and sensitivity as you can gather. Parents know better than anyone that college isn't the end of the learning experience. Hopefully we are all striving to be lifelong learners, and the fast track to learning is often located far from anyone's comfort zone.

World travelers aren't running from family, they're pulled by two worlds, both of which can't be ignored. To deny the movement impulse would be just as difficult as disregarding the friends and family that make us solid. Parents, we're going to be okay, and sure you remain okay. People are hoping you come back home.

My Family

My Family

Was this post helpful to you as a traveler or as a parent? Do you have any comments or anything to add? Please don't hesitate to comment below or contact me personally!

Jobs for World Travelers: A Life at Sea

This post was written on my October 2009 cruise of the Mexican Riviera. Lying on my stomach, covered in towels, face pushed through a terry cloth doughnut, I asked the woman rubbing hot stones on my calves what it's like to work on a cruise ship. After swapping stories from the high seas and travels on land, I decided a job on a cruise liner wouldn't be half bad, and she affirmed I was made for it.

Cruise Crews

Cruise Crews

One of the things I like most about being aboard a water vessel is the crew and the overall sense that they love the world and its people. Why else subject yourself to constant movement and Titanic-like nightmares? Because you can't get enough of a nomadic existence.

Nomadderwhere is about provoking the thoughts of its readers, compelling them to explore the world, and be open to the pull of their own passions. Since I don't enjoy hearing about wanderlusters who can't afford to travel but pine to see the world, I like to present information that gives them to ticket to satiate their global desires.

I nearly asked for an application on my last cruise, wishing I could be among those who experience a port sunrise every other day. Sitting in my cabin with a pad of paper, I scribbled some questions I had about the lifestyle and went looking for the answers when I got home.

The following responses are compiled from the websites of Norwegian Cruise Line, Cruise Job Finder, and Cruise Ship Jobs.

FAQs about Cruise Employment

Q: Where would I begin if I have varied interests and skills spanning entertainment and performance as well as travel logistics, planning and even service?

A: You'd have a very difficult choice to make. Here are the following cruise ship jobs:

Travel Jobs

Travel Jobs

* Deck Department * Casino Staff * Cruise Directors * Cruise Staff * Disc Jockeys * Entertainers * Expedition Leaders * Gentleman Host * Hosts and Hostesses * Lecturers * Naturalists * Production Managers * Shore Excursion Managers * Shore Excursion Staff * Water * Sports Instructors * Lifeguards * Youth Counselors * Beauticians * Cosmetologist * Massage Therapists * Fitness Directors * Fitness Instructors * Medical Staff * Personal Trainers * Air/Sea Reservation Agents * Bar Stewards * Bartenders * Bedroom Stewards * Gift Shop Positions * Hospitality or Hotel Managers * Photographers * Deckhands * Junior Assistant Pursers * Pursers * IT Staff * Dance Instructors * Administration Assistants * Booking Agents * Customer Service Representatives * Sales and Marketing Positions

It'd probably make a lot of sense to look at, first, the job you love the most, and second, the job that has the best hours, wage, and benefits. Jobs are split into departments, and pay scale is also determined by tipping and non-tipping personnel.

Q: What is involved in the interview process?

A: Before you apply for a cruise line job, think about what kind of job you would like to have and what the real chances of getting it are. The chances of getting hired depend a lot upon when you apply, your qualifications, and current openings. Apply for a specific job. Don't just send an application for "any position available". See the descriptions of various job positions.

Write a resume (curriculum vitae), and send it with a cover letter to a recruitment agent or a cruise line company. The best course of action is to apply to the various cruise companies of your choice. Highlight the most important points in the covering letter, briefly stating what makes you a great candidate for the position. You will be given/sent application forms if the recruitment agent or personnel department of the cruise line company assess your resume positively. Read the forms carefully. Fill them in, express yourself concisely and clearly. Attach the resume and the covering letter with the form, even if you have sent the resume earlier.

If the cruise lines are looking for a person with your qualities, education and experience, you will be invited for an interview. The interviewer will try to find out about your experience, abilities, education and motivation for the job. Do your research and try to find out as much information about the cruise lines as possible. Search the Internet and have a look in the library. Perhaps you will be asked about the cruise company at the interview. When being interviewed, it's important to share any pending commitment information.

If you are successful, you will get a "Letter of Employment" a few weeks after the interview. The letter of employment includes information about the cruise ship, the date and place of embarkation, your job position, and other instructions. You will need to go for a medical examination and get the internationally recognized medical certificate.

Q: What is the average duration of a USA resident contract, and are they expected to complete a certain amount of consecutive contracts (allowing for breaks in between)?

A: Assignments vary depending on the position and brand. It can be anywhere between four months to ten months. Although you work 7-days a week while on assignment, crew members get bulk time off upon completion of the assignment period. Each assignment concludes with a performance review. Based on the evaluation, you will be asked to return. In some cases, we can even provide a return assignment before you even leave the ship.

Most cruise line contracts typically require a four to six month commitment for new employees. Some cruise lines allow you to take a limited amount of vacation time during a contract and other do not. If this is important to you, it should be discussed prior to accepting the position.

If you decide that cruise life is not for you and break your contract you will have to pay for all costs to get yourself home. And, if you sign a contract for 6 months, you may prolong it to 10 months. Then, a compulsory break of 6-8 weeks follows.

Q: What amenities are covered in a contract? All food? Visas and insurance? Anything specific to cruise employees? Which costs are expected of the employees to be responsible for?

A: Many people who work on cruise ships save most of the money they earn because they have so few expenses. Your room and board is usually provided for free. Most companies also offer a generous benefits package that often includes: medical and dental insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, 401K plan, profit sharing plans, travel benefits for you and your family and vacation time, etc.

Food on a Cruise

Food on a Cruise

For most assignments, the cruise lines will provide full transportation from your home to the ship and back for the full assignment period. Valid passports are needed for all our new crew members. New hires that are not US citizens, US Permanent Residents, or Canadian will need to obtain a C1/D visa.

Although the room is small, you will have a comfy bed, a shared tv, personal closet space, and a full bathroom, including clean sheets and fresh towels. Laundry services are free. There is a common room where our employees can gather to play games, share experiences, and even to watch a movie. In some ships, we even have an Internet Cafe just for our crew.

Depending on the cruise line, some companies will pay for crew member's uniforms and some will require their crew members to purchase their own uniforms. Almost all of the cruise lines require their crew members to purchase their own shoes that are in accordance with uniform regulations. Make sure you determine what the company policy is on uniforms prior to accepting a position. There are shops onboard that our employees can shop from, at a discounted rate. And some of the best bargains can be found at some of the ports you'll visit. While you're onboard, the medical doctor onboard will provide you medical care, as free medical care is required by maritime law.

Another perk is that some of the cruise ships even have bar allowances for their staff, so this will limit your bar expense. Also, you get reduced price cruise vacation for family and friends

Q: What are some less obvious inconveniences of cruise employment or issues most employees must tackle regularly that differ from other jobs in tourism?

A: Norwegian Cruise Lines says its a seven day work week with 10+ combined hours per day. Employment on a cruise ship is definitely a full time position. However, due to the intensity of shipboard work & life, it is on an assignment basis. Yes, when you're not scheduled to work and off duty. We have a zero tolerance policy for certain positions and alcohol limitations, and no matter what, you are responsible for being on time for your shift and sober! Reporting to work under the influence or hung over is cause for immediate termination.

Space onboard is very limited, and any offer is for the employee only, not the whole family or pets. Guest facilities are for guests only. Employees are provided with employee only facilities. We have a well-equipped gym onboard for you to keep in shape! Not all ships have employee-only pools, but many itineraries incorporate beach destinations where you can relax with a swim.

There's not much privacy if you're a member of the crew. Quite often you'll have to share a room with at least one roommate or more. If you like to spread out, working on a cruise ship isn't the job for you. Speaking of sharing a room, quite often your roommate will be from another country, so there may be difficulties communicating. Other difficulties may arise if your work schedule is different from your roommates.

As stated previously, this isn't a 40-hour work week situation. Even though you'll have some time off, if the passengers can see you, you're liable to have to work. Also, some cruise lines will have employees work more than one job, so that will cut down on the amount of free time you have, as well.

Things are not as expected. Many new cruise ship employees think they'll have the same benefits as the passengers. This isn't the case. Unless the passengers are off the ship at a port of call, it's unlikely the crew can lounge by the pool. Food choices are also quite limited for the crew, regardless of what new employees might believe.

Q: How are voyages assigned to cruise employees? Are longer trips assigned based on seniority, or do assignments solely depend on need and availability?

A: Crew members are assigned to a position, not necessarily a ship. Although our preference is to bring back returning assignments on the same vessel, there's a chance that you'll be moved to where the role is needed. The ultimate final word is the Captain, Master of the vessel. There is a clear chain of command that should be followed in seeking advice, assistance, resolutions, etc.

Of course, being a cruise crew member isn't the only way to sail the high seas on a massive vessel.

View in the mornings

View in the mornings

Q: What are the living conditions like aboard a cruise ship at sea?

A: While it is true that accommodations are sometimes cramped, especially on smaller vessels, and you’ll be sharing your cabin with little or no privacy, most find the experience similar to their fist year in college dorm, but without the homework. Usually staff have their own dining room, away from the passengers and on days off, employees can hang out by the pool, sunbathe, or use the spa. Some ships provide extra amenities for employees, such as televisions for each room, a special crew bar and lounge, and special recreation lounges near the crew quarters. Employee gyms are also provided.

Q: The travel opportunities sound great, but what about people who are not comfortable being out at sea, especially for extended periods of time?

A: People who would rather stay on land can still take advantage of the lucrative travel industry for seasonal or year-round jobs. There are over 300 land tour companies in North America (and many more in Europe and throughout the world) that hire tour guides and managers. These companies provide guided tours to all corners of the globe, offering excursions such as scenic bus trips, river rafting adventures, and trolley car tours.

The Bottom Line

Cruises have a stigma of creating stuffy, unauthentic travel experiences for their unadventurous customers, but life at sea is thrilling, and those who are employed on these vessels are incredible people: eclectic, diverse, and entertaining. It offers free travel, the comforts of a home while still on "the road," and could help vagabonds save loads of money for future travels with very little costs of living. Few jobs in this world have "world traveler" in the title, but this one comes about as close as they get.

Was this post helpful to you? Are there any other jobs for world travelers you'd be interested in learning about or sharing? Contact me or comment below, and let's help the passionate find their dream jobs.