5 Things I Learned from Living on a Boat
In the Dunes at Illinois Beach State Park in Lake County Illinois

On January 15th, 2006, I hopped in the back of my family’s black Chevrolet Suburban with my parents and younger brother to begin the trip of a lifetime. We were headed down to Fort Pierce, Florida to take our 1994 Blue Water out of dry dock and into the water for its longest journey yet. Our plan was to spend two months living on a boat!

My dad stopped working, my mom started homeschooling, and my brother and I basically went on an extended field trip. We explored the eastern coast of Florida and The Bahamas. In the process, I learned so much about the world, society, and myself (not to mention boats). Lucky for us, what happens in the Bermuda Triangle doesn’t stay in the Bermuda Triangle these days, so here are my major takeaways from embarking on this once-in-a-lifetime journey:

Work and Save Money with Intention

When you spend as much time saving lives and witnessing traumatic injuries as my dad does while working in the Emergency Room, I refuse to believe that your cortisone levels and emotional wellbeing are not permanently affected by your work. But even if you (like me) are dealing with a less intense, but still toxic work environment, it can be extremely difficult to motivate yourself to get out of bed and go to work everyday from now until you’re sixty-five if you don’t have any sort of organized concept in mind about what you are working to accomplish.

On My Family's Bluewater Yacht in West End in The Bahamas

While it goes without saying that virtually all of us have bills to pay, debt to pay off, and potentially children to provide for, it is important to invest at least a small portion of your income in yourself. If you don’t currently have a dream vacation or passion project tugging at your heartstrings, this is the time to save up! But if you’re reading this, chances are you already have a strong case of wanderlust and live your dreams vicariously through your Pinterest boards. Take some time and find something you can look forward to: maybe it’s taking a week-long getaway, starting a class in a subject that interests you, or living on a boat off the grid like we did. Knowing that you are spending those forty hours each week working towards something amazing will energize you way more than coffee!

Invest in Experiences and Items that Enhance Them

If you’re familiar with wanderlust culture at all, you have probably heard the concept that it is better to spend your money on experiences than material possessions. While this is true to an extent, this mindset has led me to embark on adventures without the proper supplies, pursue new hobbies without the proper equipment, and ultimately sacrifice some quality of the experiences I paid for because I failed to invest in the material items that help make them happen.

If you want to live the van life, you need to buy a van; if you want to live on a boat, you need to buy a boat. My parents saved for years and did a ton of research before making their purchase. Also important is the fact that your expenses aren’t done when the initial purchase is complete; that is only the beginning! Engine repairs and other mechanical maladies are virtually guaranteed to be a part of your travel expenditures. We had to pull our boat out of the water to replace a prop or two along the way and almost had to abandon our trip entirely because of a catastrophic engine problem. Remember that your adventure budget needs to cover more than just plane tickets and city tours!

Surround Yourself with Ambitious People

This one is so critical. It’s also relatively easy to stick with once you start chasing your ambitions, though, because the people you’ll meet on your adventures will be other “yes people!” Yes, I have seen the movie Yes Man and know that you can’t say yes to everything. I use the term because it is the most fitting way I can think of to describe people who not only talk about their dreams, like living on a boat, but say ‘yes’ and take action to make them a reality.

With Friends in The Bahamas

Part of what makes being a “yes person” so difficult is that the regret from not saying yes to yourself and your dreams is a delayed feeling; it might not be until years from now when you lack physical mobility, financial stability, or time to pursue your goals that you wish you had. Saying yes is something you do on your own, but the path it leads you on will make you feel anything but lonely. We met some incredible people on our trip from all over the world and bonded instantly with them over our dreams of living on a boat that led our paths to cross!

Once-In-a-Lifetime Memories Can Happen More than Once

At ten years old, I came back home after living on the boat. As I started going to school again, people around me would say how lucky I was to go on my once-in-a-lifetime adventure so young. While I agreed with them and definitely was fortunate to have gone on the trip, I also panicked at the thought that the coolest thing in my life had already happened to me. Directly or indirectly, setting the bar so high contributed to my first major mental health scare, and I have since found it a productive practice to set ambitious goals that constantly keep me motivated and looking forward to new experiences, big and small.

If you can’t come up with a big dream off the top of your head, that’s okay; my dad always knew he wanted to live on a boat for awhile, but didn’t necessarily have this trip in mind at first. Through people he met, smaller boating trips he went on, and research he and my mom did, the idea for the houseboat trip to The Bahamas came to life. It’s like building your resume in the sense that you don’t know where you’ll end up when you first enter the workforce, but when you retire and look back on your experiences, you’ll see that each job contributed to your final (and hopefully favorite) job. Instead of fearing the unknown, I just prepare myself for a journey that I can’t quite see the end of yet.

Life with Purpose, Not for a Purpose

All clichés and pep talks aside, this is my ultimate life truth. As I mentioned earlier, an arduous journey with mental illness began a few years after living on the boat and it was my parents who provided a lot of insight on my road to recovery. If you do a quick Google search on the meaningful of life, you will find a lot of catchy blog post titles and Instagram captions about finding “your purpose” or discovering what you were “born to do.” This is literally just the result of a capitalist society brainwashing us into spending money with the notion that we might eventually stumble across the meaning of life on Amazon or at mall someday. Sounds silly when it’s phrased that way, right?

With Family in The Bahamas

Like any emotional void that capitalism tells us can be filled with “stuff,” we remain perpetually unsatisfied in our quest for meaning. Though we do need money to make travel and other dreams happen, we are often misguided about where to invest it. The takeaway here is that if you keep searching for a single, sole purpose for your life, you’re never going to find it. Instead, I find purpose in everything. Anything I need to do, whether taking an outlandish course in college or working a hard job, I determine the purpose of. In other words, I try to identify why I have to do this, what goals it helps me accomplish, and what I can learn from it. If there are things in my life that I can’t find purpose in, I stop doing them. If you’re going to do something, anything, make sure you can find purpose in it. You’ll never know what you are capable of if you don’t set out to pursue your dreams with intention.

What I Learned From Living on a Houseboat in The Bahamas Pinterest Pin

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Cindy Ladage

    I have written for years but after I retook wanted to become a travel writer so this was a dream for me. Nice blog on finding your purpose!

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