This is a little story about how one travel experience changed my life. I really didn’t expect this to happen and I suppose that’s why this all came as a surprise to me and led to so many things in my life in the following years.
I also suppose it’s an example of going where your heart leads and doing the things that make you happy – rather than being in whatever current situation you happen to be living in. Ah, yes, change. That word. Change. A lot of people don’t like it and for good reason. It’s hard. It’s risky. It’s scary. I can attest to that, too, but I wouldn’t change a thing. So, what happened?
I had been a frequent traveler to Hawaii for work and I enjoyed visiting the Big Island quite a bit. With more than 25 visits, I knew the island fairly well and always basked in the aloha spirit and wonderful weather. One day, though, I thought to myself, if for no other reason, I should give the Caribbean a try because it’s closer to where I live. That, and a general feeling of discontent in my job and my personal situation, led to what was about to happen.
So, thanks to Facebook, I found this small ship sailing company that had three ships and offered barefoot cruises across the Caribbean. This is real sailing – small ships, real sails, personalized service – no massive cruise ships here and in no way like that.
I drooled over the videos and photos of the ships for months. For some reason, though, doing this felt a bit scary to me. Why? I’m not sure, but maybe because it’s a small ship, maybe it’s because of it being my first time in the Caribbean, maybe something else. Who knows. But I watched, and I pondered, and I figuratively drooled for a good six months before taking the plunge and buying my ticket. It was time to do this!
The sail began in St. Maarten and ended in St. Lucia, with visits to a different island each day. I remember standing on the pier in St. Maarten: small food shacks where people waited to board the big cruise ship on the left. On the right, a bit further down to another pier, was my ship. Yea, I called it my ship because it pulled at my heartstrings like few things ever have before. I felt that lump in my throat, that excitement in my heart, knowing that this sail meant something very personal to me. Something that nobody could ever take away.
Our small group met and boarded the ship and I felt at home right away. Classic wooden trimmings, tall masts, comfy quarters, and our Caribbean crew made us feel right at home immediately. The next 12 days were glorious. Visiting islands such as St. Barth’s (quite the luxe island), St. Kitt’s (oh the history!), Monserrat (still recovering from a volcanic eruption), and Martinique (such friendly people) as we sailed south, exploring them during the day, sailing overnight, meeting people on the islands, making new friendships with our shipmates, really connecting with the sea. It felt so natural to me that it blew me away. It’s as if I had finally found a home for myself that I may be trying to put into words here, but it’s still a feeling I can’t describe.
As Captain Jack Sparrow philosophized in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, a ship is more than just a ship, it’s about freedom. Not just the freedom to travel, but the freedom to think, the freedom to search for our true self, the freedom to live that life that makes us happy. So, you see, that sailing ship represented so much more than just wood and sails and a galley to me, it became a symbol, really a beacon of hope, that I did have the courage and fortitude to go forth and make a change for myself.
Now almost four years later, it’s hard for me to say what hasn’t changed in my life! It’s been hard, it’s been scary, it’s been fulfilling, and my eyes are now more open to people, to life, to the world, and to our big, wonderful universe, than ever before. My journey continues and I’m grateful for those 12 days sailing the Caribbean.
I suppose that’s what travel is all about. Doing something new, trying something different, seeing what happens. It’s not every day you’ll have the best life-changing experience you could hope for, but it does happen. Usually at the time you least expect it, too. Be present. You never know what’ll happen unless you try.