Why This Independent Backpacking Nomad is Going on a Cruise

Two towering cruise ships dockedA lot of people hate cruises. Oversized boats filled with oversized people. There’s a particular disdain for them among backpackers and other “real” travelers. “Cruises aren’t travel,” people say. “You don’t get to experience the local culture. You don’t get to explore the places you visit. You’re shuttled from place to place in pre-fabricated tours in gigantic groups.” Cruises are considered fake travel for people who want to pretend they’re traveling some place without having to do any actual traveling.

I’ve been on three cruises my entire life. The first was when I was 16 and went with my family around the Caribbean. I remember going to Cozumel, Mexico and sneaking off to drink Kahlua on the beach. (Sorry, mom and dad. I guess you had to find out sometime!) The next cruise was a Dave Matthews Cruise with some friends (I’m a huge Dave Matthews fan). It was three days to the Bahamas while watching Dave Matthews Band play on a boat. It was epic.

My last cruise was five years ago. I went with my family up the inside passage of Alaska. It was gorgeous seeing glaciers, and I even got to see killer whales chase, kill, and eat a porpoise. The whole trip was a lot of fun.

I love cruises for the same reason that everyone else hates them: because cruises are not travel.

A cruise is an adult playground on the sea. It’s like Las Vegas except on water. It’s a giant buffet, pool, random activities, tall glasses of fruity drinks, and sheer gluttony. It’s bacchanalian fun.

A cruise is a vacation.

To me, the definition of travel is going out, exploring, and learning about the world and the cultures that inhabit it. It’s about discovery. A vacation, on the other hand, is simply a break from day-to-day life where you can relax and not do anything.

And I think that distinction is often missed by the cruise haters. Getting away from home doesn’t always have to be about exploring unknown lands, trekking through primordial forest, or navigating the bus system of Calcutta. No, sometimes all you want to do is relax. You don’t want to deal with anything or plan anything. You want a break. You want to shut your mind off for a bit.

The side of a cruise ship, showing the levels of rooms and the deck

If you view a cruise as travel, you’re going to be disappointed. If you view it as a vacation, then I think it’s easier to accept the Disney-like atmosphere of it all.

After all, all travel serves a purpose.

So, next week, I’ll be going on a Royal Caribbean cruise with my friend Jason, my intention being to just sit by the pool, cocktail in hand, and work on my tan. I plan to gain 10 pounds at the buffet and then work it off at the gym. I’m going to mini-golf on a boat and sleep late. I’m going to keep my computer closed.

I am going on vacation.

And I’m really looking forward to it. I could use a break. I’m a bit burnt out. Between three conferences in the last month, my final book edits, traveling back and forth from Asia, a tour in Japan, running this website, and just trying to live life, I’m frazzled.

A lot of people think travel and what I do is a 24/7 vacation. It’s not. It takes work trying to figure out your way around the world. It’s fun work—but it’s still work. Throw in running a business on top of that, and you find yourself running nonstop from dawn until the wee hours of the morning. It drains you, especially when you do it 365 days per year.

So, tired and exhausted, I’m going on vacation to recharge my batteries.

Crowded pool deck on the cruise ship

I’ll admit that it’s been a long time since I’ve been on a cruise. I have no idea what to expect. I’ve never been an adult on a normal cruise just trying to relax and be a “tourist.” This is new territory for me.

I may hate it. I already know that I’m not looking forward to the land excursions. I hate those things. I see them around Europe, and it’s just a large mass of people. Try seeing the Acropolis in Athens when 937,439,282,349 tour groups from the cruise ship are also there. It’s aggravating. I plan to make my own ship excursions.

Moreover, I’m going on the largest boat in the world—the Oasis of the Seas—and I may find that to be just too large and too overwhelming. Who can say! All I know right now is that I’m giddy with excitement about my vacation.

But I’m not going to pretend that a cruise is anything more than it really is: a vacation. It’s a week where your mind can shut down, someone else can plan your life, and your only concern is what time the buffet starts.

Because we all need a vacation sometime.

So that is why this intrepid nomad is taking a cruise—and who knows, I may even enjoy myself.

  1. Kim Law

    Love reading your articles Matt. You absolutely deserve a well good rest and hope you get it. Thank you so much for answering my question on “can over 30’s teach” as I was losing hope of travelling as I noticed I can’t get a holiday working visa anywhere xx

  2. Jeff Taylor

    This is one reason why I won’t take a cruise.



    With that said, if they were to clean up their act I would consider it. I know it might seem like a small reason why not to go on a cruise, however, it’s a simple fix.

    You could argue for the same reasons regarding the use of fuel and the pollution it creates, but there aren’t any other option that are feasible or tried and tested.

    -Jeff Taylor

    • NomadicMatt

      Royal Caribbean has done a lot to actually reduce their water consumption by half. There will be a post on this too.

  3. My father was a bohemian artist type. When we invited my parents along on a Caribbean cruise some years ago, his response was “What am I going to do on a cruise?” Needless, to say, he was “Mr. Cruise”. He was a gregarious sort and by the time we left the boat, everyone we passed, knew his name. He was even in the talent show on the last night!!

    We went on another family cruise to Alaska a few years later. Our group was my husband and me, our 13 and 17 year old sons, my 70-something year old parents, my sister-in-law and her partner and my husband’s 90 year old grandmother and her 87 year old friend. Although getting them all aboard was a bit like herding cats, it was the perfect multi-generational family vacation. Everyone did what they wanted to during the day and we all met for dinner each night. On one day in Juneau, the older crowd went on a bus tour, my sons and their aunts went white water rafting, my son took a helicopter ride for dog sled mushing on an ice field and I went hiking next to the Mendenhall Glacier.

  4. Dana

    Kim, where is this question you posted and the response? I’m curious about this info too, being over 30 myself. Also, some countries allow WHV up to age 35 but not many.

  5. Danielle

    I just have to say I wholeheartedly agree! I have never been a fan of cruises precisely because I couldn’t equate them to travel, but once I started looking at them as a vacation (and a very good way to experience certain destinations like Alaska for instance), I grew to have an appreciation for them that I did not have before. And no one says you have to follow the herd. On our last cruise, my husband and I skipped the main dining room, the shows and the shore excursions and did our own thing when and where we wanted and had a great time!

  6. For someone who travels full time, you probably are in need of a vacation. I can see how this could possibly appeal to you. As someone who has a house and a traditional office that I go to daily, I value the time that I do get to travel. And because of that, I consider traveling as any place I go besides home. So, with that being said, I hate cruises. I went on two cruises in the last two years with my family, and while I enjoyed the time spent with them, I loathed the entire atmosphere. A couple of months ago I wrote a post entitled, “I Hate Cruises” and it brought a mixed reaction. With over 100 comments, half agreed while the other half disagreed. I even got my first trolling, hateful comment.

    With all that being said, I’m curious to know how you, a perpetual traveler, respond to a cruise.

  7. Joey

    Have a blast! I’ll be cruising this same ship in December thanks to my in-laws’ generosity. It’ll be my 3rd cruise. I’m much more of a road tripper personally but there’s something to be said for kicking back once in a while with nothing to do. We’re still undecided on whether to do an excursion. I’ve never done one and am hesitant to blow the money on it.

    • Eileen

      Check out cruisecritic.com and book your own excursion/tour. They are usually cheaper, smaller and more personal. You often actually get to know the locals who run these excursions.
      Have Fun!

  8. I LOVE cruising. As far as my husband and I are concerned, it’s the best way to travel. You pay one price (often very, very low if you use your head) and your trip, food and entertainment are paid for. You unpack once and your comfy hotel room travels with you everywhere you go. You can do as much or as little as you want and you never have to talk to another person besides the one you are with if you don’t want to! Of course, there is the disadvantage that you are only in a location for a very short time but that allows you to see a number of places that you might not be able to afford to travel to individually – and decide if you want to go back and spend more time. We never go on the ship excursions – too expensive and often too crowded – but make our own way, sometimes booking our own tours and sometimes just finding our own way around. We have seen some wonderful destinations on cruises. It does not matter how big your ship will be, you will find your own comfortable places to hang out, to eat and to just relax. You don’t have to justify this trip to me – just enjoy yourself!

  9. Matt, I believe travel is about experiencing… experience new cultures, new people, history, beaches, skydiving, Stone-Age tribes, anything… Different experiences. I’ve been in war and in peace, dived (I cannot swim :), hundreds of experiences and sites. I’ve never been on a cruise, but I would not say NO. It will be another experience in my memories portfolio… Enjoy your cruise and take Alexandra with you. She would kill for a cruise.

  10. There are two kinds of people: Real travelers and those who classify people in to groups. LOL

    Whether cruises are “real” travel or not doesn’t particularly bother me. What I have trouble with is paying a ton of money to be mostly confined to an enormous hotel. It’s like going to Vegas and rarely being permitted to leave the Bellagio.

  11. Eileen

    I also love cruising. I consider it a hotel room with a really good view, a means of seeing places I might want to return and a good value. My husband and I are not nightlife people so we are up in the morning and off to explore the port and do the things we love. Ship excursions are pricey and crowded so we avoid them. I’ve been cave tubing in Belize, river tubing on Domenica with just our family and local guides. We’ve been snorkeling on various reefs and wrecks. While cruising the Greek isles we passed on the Athens tourist destinations and made our way via local ferry to the island of Poros near the Peloponnese to visit my sister’s ex. Ate at his family’s taverna and hiked the island. It was our favorite place in Greece. We are usually back on the boat for dinner and turn in early. Adventures had, crowds avoided!! Several of our friends sneer at the concept of cruising but it works for us.

  12. After I read this post I had to comment. I’m on the same page with you about traveling. There is vacation and then there is traveling. Anyway, I don’t see anything wrong with either. Plus, I think if you travel all the time why not throw in a bit of vacation? Enjoy your cruise, I’ve yet to take one myself but I think they sound fun!

  13. Good for you, Matt! Justin and I have never had a desire to go on a cruise until we met some people in Croatia who just seemed so relaxed on their cruise. They were seeing the whole Mediterranean and were really just chillin’. It was like they were actually on vacation — whereas we were traveling! There’s definitely something to be said for that. Enjoy your vacation — and it was great meeting you in NYC at the Loreley!

  14. I used to be a cruise hater but after two Holland America cruises and two Semester at Sea voyages in the past four years, I am now officially a fan. It’s a great way to travel: You don’t have to pack and unpack in each destination. Not sure I could ever brave the Oasis of the Seas, though, as I do hate huge crowds! Can’t wait to read what you really think about it…

  15. chris

    I love that you described the DMB cruise as Epic. I laughed out loud due to the overuse of it on Ants but here it worked well.. Enjoy the cruise.

  16. I myself love travelling and experiencing different cultures, food, and seeing all the different kinds of people around the world. Have been in and around Asia, there are times that I kinda find cruises very uninteresting because my idea before was you’re kinda like stuck in a rather large hotel in the middle of the sea, and it’s more like pampering rather than travelling, but as the years went by, I started to realize that they aren’t so bad after all, you just know which cruises to pick and sometimes, cruises offer the most breathtaking views of places you can ever imagine.

  17. I have to say, I have some snobby prejudices surrounding cruises. That combined with the time constraints I have on travel means I’m not really interested in cruising, at least not at this stage of my life. But hopefully I’m wrong, and you end up having a fabulous time with great food/drink and fun people.

  18. I hope you do enjoy yourself. 😉 Thanks for pointing out the distinction between vacations and travel. These two things often get confused. I’ve been on two cruises and they were fantastic vacations!

  19. I hope you have a fabulous vacation! Sounds like a gigantic ship, do tell us afterward what you thought about it. We recently were on a completely different cruise cruise – perhaps more alike the backpacking style, but not in a good way! Cruises sure can be different from each other…

  20. Matt, you and I have had “the cruising talk” over the years and as you know my opinion totally changed after I took a Silversea cruise last year through the Greek isles. It was amazing and I look back on it so fondly.

    However, I think what I loved about it was that it disproved my preconceptions that all cruises are overcrowded, filled with screaming children and only stop in port for a few hours at a time. I think the mega ship you are going on would give me the shudders for the reasons I just mentioned, but hopefully you are more easy going than I!

  21. Hey Matt, just found this place and have been eating up all your articles. It’s all very level headed and well thought out. Enjoy your holiday, would be jealous, but am currently cycling round Italy and it’s boooooootiful here.

  22. Jess

    I have a soft spot for cruises (I’ve been on four). I feel like a lot of the travel blogging community discounts them as not being “real” travel — but you often can’t beat the price, or the chance for pure relaxation.

  23. Karrie

    Wow Matt, good to know you going on a cruise. First i’ve ever heard it said that a cruise is not really travel, just a vacation. Interesting perspective though. You will have loads of fun for sure; so Bon Yoyage!

  24. Cool man! Glad to see you stepping on board a ship. You’ll have to let me know what you think and you can review it on the show when you get back if ya want. No better way of all inclusive travel. Enjoy it!

  25. I’ve been looking into cruises as an alternative way of getting from the US to Europe. You can get massive discounts on cruises by booking at the last minute-ish and, for a family of three, it can work out almost as cheap as flying. Not to mention the prospect of dropping the little one of at a Kids’ Club for a few hours of play so I can take that all important vacation from being a mommy. If you think travelling is tiring now, try doing it with a toddler! 😉

    • NomadicMatt

      Take the Cunard line. They do NYC to London for around 600 and have naturalists on board. It’s very formal though. Might not be the best line for kids but you can pretend you’re sailing in the early 1900s!

      • Silvia padilla

        I was researching Cunard and I couldn’t find this particular cruise? Any more info you could provide appreciated! Thanks

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