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Version: travel_essay 12.19.22
december 19, 2022 // i wanna dance with somebody
i initially went on a cruise in my early 20s because it was the cheapest way to have a real vacation on $12,000 a year. our food would be included! we'd visit a bunch of places all on the same trip! i could reasonably save up for it (over the course of months juggling side hustles and gig work to scrounge up enough money), and bonus, that was the first time i'd ever left the country. it felt like a great deal, and it was, until i found out about what the cruise industry was like. of course there was a price for the cheap cost. it felt excessive. i had sworn off going again unless there was a greener option.
we were given the opportunity to take a virgin voyages cruise for a week right before christmas. i wanted to do research in the company before we decided, but i was shocked by the eco-conscious decisions. however, do not be fooled: a corporation is still selling that aspect to you. cruise ships are still incredibly wasteful. regardless, we liked the fact that the company was carbon neutral from its launch. we weighed the pros and cons, and ultimately, we made the decision within a couple of hours on a chilly october day.
even though this was my fourth cruise, virgin voyages feels like a whole other world. i'm actually making enough to be able to treat myself on the occasion ("i think i'm actually going to get the cocktail pairing," i whispered at dinner), and this is my first time with someone i'm dating (maybe sunsets aren't so corny after all). we swam together in the ocean and he kissed me under the coconuts. we watched the stars together on our balcony, and we were genuinely amazed when a shooting star blazed across the patterns in the sky. breathtaking.
frankly, i'm shocked at myself. this is the one time traveling i actually feel like i can let go, so to speak. i've never had my phone stolen on a cruise. it's full of people you'll likely never see again in the rest of your life, and it's self-contained in its own city, damn near. no mugging, no random violence, no reason to carry anything, nothing to fear—as long as the crew know what they're doing. (and, er, a global pandemic doesn't break out in the midst.)
we could just drink a frozen cocktail looking at the bluest water in the world, giggling to each other and thinking about what life is offering us. i toasted to him at dinner, treating him to an indulgent steak after he bravely swam with sharks in the bahamas, conquering a fear of his. we ordered champagne and cuddled with the balcony doors open, taking in the salt air. the food has been incredible, but this trip itself, with him, has been magical.
we were sure to carry cash everywhere we went so we could pay our local guides directly with a generous tip. one snorkeling guide in costa maya, paolo, was sure to tell us about his town relying on the cruise ship's tourism in order to survive. i couldn't help but feel like this ecosystem is unsustainable, both for the industry and the guides. obviously, the pandemic was especially hard, he said, but he was so hopeful for the future since the ships were coming back and bringing tourists again. at what point do you play into the machine, and at what point do you have any power to stop it? does anyone play into the guilt of tourism?
because i do feel guilty talking about it: traveling. i know there are so many people out there who are not able to have these opportunities, and i was one of them. i remember reading travel books and blogs wistfully as a young girl, thinking i'd probably never make it anywhere outside of north america in my lifetime. flights from memphis to london alone were $1,200 roundtrip and that was completely out of my reach. instead, i'd escape into books taking place in those locations, looking up photos and 24/7 webcams to see a place i'd always wanted to visit. if i could tell the 11-year-old girl who didn't think she deserved to be here that she'd been all over the country, the caribbean, and london twice, i think maybe her life would've sucked a bit less. if she knew she would go to italy in her 32nd year, maybe she wouldn't have tried.
thinking of this in the greater context of my life, i'm so thankful for the life i've lived so far. there's so much more i want to see, but i can't help but feel pangs of guilt whenever i get the opportunity to chase my dreams. all i want is to find the happiness i've missed out on throughout my life, turning down or missing opportunities because i couldn't pull myself off the floor, wishing i was ▮▮▮▮▮▮ . when it felt like i was failing, constantly, and i was doing it to myself because my mind was broken, or at least it was to me. when i felt so alone and helpless, even when i was very young. i just keep thinking that this is the reward for the pain in my life, but it's a reward i have to seek out and accept. i have to prove to myself that life is worth living by experiencing as much as life can offer me before i'm taken from this planet—and it's working. i can't believe this era of my life is the first time i've wanted to live, but i know it's only because of what i've done that it's been that way.
i spent over two decades of my life wanting it to be over. i'm finally pursuing all the things and places that make me incredibly happy. ▮