Tips for guest vagabonding afloat

Traveling can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. For many boaters afflicted with wanderlust, a steady job can seem like a life sentence as we rush through tasks on our to do list like drones when we really want to be exploring the incredible richness the world offers.

My husband and I yearned for ways to feed our travel habit without liquidating our bank account. We found a way to combine our transportation and housing with our roving ways: by venturing off on a 31-foot boat. Aboard we figured out how to live on $33 a day, which was the income that our house rent brought in each month. Yes, we lived in remote places, away from modern conveniences, without television, cellphone, and Internet access. Instead we spent our time doing things that didn’t cost money: snorkeling, fishing, swimming in waterfalls, hiking through lush tropical rainforests and using free wind to sail from place to place even when the wind was barely perceptible.  

Beautiful tropical anchorages are what dreams are made of.

It wasn’t always easy.  Rum-soaked fruit drinks with magenta-paper parasols weren’t part of our everyday life.  We faced typhoons, storms, and times when we thought we might lose our boat against a coral reef or that a towering ship would crush our home into kindling and plunge us into the icy North Pacific Ocean. But that was part of the adventure. Our struggle to survive and meet our basic needs never let us forget that we were alive.  And we liked it enough that we voyaged for seven years.

Have you ever dreamed of exploring far flung places by boat, but have insufficient funds or interest in outfitting a boat for offshore cruising? Or a desire to devote years of your life to such a prospect? You don’t need to own an offshore voyager to taste the rewards of this lifestyle. Hundreds of backpackers find they can catch a ride aboard or even cross an ocean with the seasonal migration of sailors. Here are a few tips:

1. Pack light. This one is simple. Nothing will kill your chances of catching a ride faster than a trail of luggage behind you.

Get your sea bag ready, but don’t overfill it.

2. Keep in mind that weather dictates where and when these boats travel, so don’t consider this option if you’re in a hurry. Scour the Internet for information if this idea appeals to you, and check out the Latitude 38 Crew List online. Plan to visit places where large numbers of sailboats congregate in season: San Diego in October; Mexico in March; Fiji in November.

3. Be friendly and flexible. Being easygoing about your schedule and your dietary requirements will improve your chances of catching a ride, as will being someone who is open and helpful. Find out if you’re compatible before you sign up. A small boat gets mighty suffocating in the company of difficult, opinionated people.

4. Don’t over-advertise your boating experience. If you have some, it will be useful. Sound judgment, perception and a willingness to follow instructions are even more important. If you have little to no experience, see if you can take a short trip to get the feel for cruising before undertaking a longer voyage. Being out of sight of land for long stretches in a small, moving space isn’t for everyone.

Sailing experience isn’t a must, but it sure helps.

5. Find a solution to seasickness. If you’re puking constantly, you won’t be much help or popular aboard. Bonine, Meclezine, the Scopalmine patch and Sturgeron are good options. Ginger tea, taking the helm and studying the horizon also help immensely. Figure out what works for you and use it early.  

Traveling by sailboat can be an amazing way to see the world (albeit S-L-O-W-L-Y) and an experience you’ll never forget. Check out my blog for details on life afloat or read my book, Tightwads on the Loose: A Seven Year Pacific Odyssey, for stories of our adventures afloat. Or lessons in how NOT to voyage the world in my new book, Sea Trials: Around the World With Duct Tape and Bailing Wire.

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