A Day in the Life of a Lindblad Expeditions Wellness Specialist

I get a lot of questions from family, friends, and strangers about what I actually do on these ships that I work on. It’s a good question because I have quite a few roles when I’m on board the Sea Bird, Sea Lion and most recently, the Quest. Each day is different, so there is no straight answer, but here’s a general outline of my day:

600 Wake up

615-700 Coffee and personal time, usually checking email or writing

700-730 Teach a light stretch class on the sun deck

730-830 Breakfast and meeting with the expedition leader and other staff to go over the day and assign roles (hiking leaders, kayaking help, zodiac drivers, etc…)

830-1200 Morning operations:
– If we’re cruising and looking for wildlife I might be out on deck or in the spa giving massages
– If we’re hiking I might be leading a long, aerobic hike or joining a naturalist on the trail
– If we’re kayaking I might be on the kayak beach helping people in and out of kayaks and/or in a kayak or SUP board myself
– If we’re doing Zodiac cruises I might be in a Zodiac or back on board giving massages

1230-1330 Lunch

1330-1700 Afternoon operations (same as morning operations)

1700-1800 Personal time or massages

1800-1900 Cocktail hour and recap in the lounge. Staff give mini presentations about what we saw that day

1900-2030 Dinner with the guests or out in the lounge

2030-2130 After dinner presentation of some sort or bedtime!

2130 Definitely bedtime

That’s pretty much the structure of a typical day when I’m on the ship! Morning and afternoon operations can vary wildly, so I could be doing all sorts of different things depending on where we are, what the weather is like, how active our guests are, etc…. I love that my role as a Wellness Specialist includes on shore responsibilities like leading hikes, stand up paddle boarding and/or kayaking with the guests. If I had to just do massage all day I would go crazy. For real. But my days are broken up and provide enough variety that I rarely get bored or tired of the same itinerary. I also have free reign on the number of massage treatments I offer during a week. Sometimes we’re super busy and I only have time for 4-5 and other weeks are slower so I can fit more in.

Even when we have a plan, though, that plan can change in a minute if we see wildlife. Scheduling massages can be tricky, then, because whales or dolphins can show up whenever, wherever and I don’t want anyone to miss a great sighting. I have yet to have someone jump up off the table and run to the bow of the ship in a bathrobe though :-p

* As a side note, you probably noticed that I wrote the times in military time and that’s because we use military time on the ship. It was a bit of an adjustment getting used to, but now my brain can easily switch between the two.

An Update On My Whereabouts

Well, I just finished two weeks on board the National Geographic Quest in the Pacific Northwest. We traveled from Seattle to Vancouver (one trip) and then Vancouver back to Seattle (second trip). Along the way, we stopped at places like the San Juan Islands, Victoria, Alert Bay, and a few other little nooks and crannies. It was my first time on the Quest, which was pretty exciting. The ship is brand spanking new and was just finished being built in August of this year. I’ve only ever worked on the National Geographic Sea Bird and Sea Lion, so it’s really awesome to have another ship to rotate through. Lindblad does have other ships, of course, but the wellness specialists on non-American flagged ships (like the Explorer and Orion) are Philippino. I can only work on American-flagged ships that are required to employ American citizens.

But back to the Quest. It’s a bit bigger than the Sea Bird and Sea Lion. It can carry 100 passengers compared to 64 and the cabins are almost double the size. I love the Bird and Lion, but space is tight! There are 4 levels (actually 6 if you include the crew quarters and the lido deck that stores the zodiacs and kayaks), a designated mud room, a huge lounge with lots of windows, a dining room surrounded by floor to ceiling windows, a sun deck, plenty of observation room on the bow, and a beautiful little spa for me 🙂 It’s pretty nice!

I’ll be back on the Quest in December down in Costa Rica and Panama for a month, but right now I’m on the Columbia River finishing up the season on the Sea Bird. I had a day in Seattle after disembarking from the Quest where a few of us went out for a few too many cocktails then I took a train down to Portland to meet The Bird. We travel from Portland to Astoria and then up the Columbia and Snake Rivers to Lewiston and Clarkson. It’s definitely a different kind of trip than our typical nature/wildlife ones. Much more history focused (particularly Lewis and Clark) than adventure/outdoor focused, but we do a lot of cool excursions like wine tasting, biking in the Dalles, and jetting boating in Hell’s Canyon.

After this contract I have two months off where I’ll be spending some time in California and riding my new mountain bike!

Back on Board

When I left ship life in 2012, I never thought I would be back again. I was burned out as a massage therapist, I was tired of traveling all the time and perhaps most acutely, I was lonely. Nomadism does not serve long-term relationships very well at all and I desperately wanted a partner and a circle of good friends to hang out with. Shipmates do become family in a sense, but instead of bonding naturally,we’re kind of forced to hang out with each other despite differences that would have hindered friendships or relationships in ‘real’ life.

I had also gotten the idea in my head that I should ‘get a real job’, so my mind was whirling with career possibilities and grad school. Ultimately, I ended up leaving ship life to move to Seattle and start a masters degree in Nutrition at Bastyr University with the goal of becoming a registered dietitian. Over the next four years, I dated seriously, I made some friends, I collected stuff, I learned the intricate processes of biochem… But when I finished school, I realized that I didn’t want to work as a registered dietitian while sacrificing my freedom for a 9-5 job. I wanted to travel again and continue exploring the world. So I left Seattle and went back to ship life.

My first contract back on the boats was in August of this year: two weeks in Alaska on the National Geographic Sea Bird. I had actually spent most of the summer prior to this contract in England taking care of a beautiful old dairy farm along with two black labs, three goats, and two degus (rat-like things). My days where a mix of mountain biking, hiking, talking long walks with the dogs, eating good food, drinking wine, and knitting. I applied for the housesit on a whim in May while staying with my brother and sister-in-law in California because I had no plans for the summer. I didn’t really think I would get it, but turns out I did and it was perfect respite from the chaotic and heavy months I’d had earlier in the year (quitting my job, breaking up with my boyfriend, selling my stuff, etc…)

After two and a half months of exploring southwest England, I headed back to the States to begin my ship contract in Alaska. My flights took me from Bristol, England to Amsterdam to Seattle (overnight) to Sitka. I didn’t sleep much at all during that 20+ hour marathon, mostly because I was anxious about how it would feel to see the ship and step back on board again. Would I know anyone? How different would it be? Do I really want to go back to this lifestyle?

As I was waiting at the airport for my early morning flight from Seattle to Sitka, I ran into old friend – Alberto – who was heading to the ship as well. Alberto is from Mexico, but he’s a long-time Lindblad naturalist who I’ve worked with many times over the years both in Alaska and Baja. It was good to see a friendly face and catch up on ship and life news. He told me about some changes within the company and on the ships, but for the most part it sounded like things were pretty much the same.

And then we were in Sitka, taking a taxi to meet the ship at the dock. I have to say, the first emotions that ran through me when I walked up the gangway for the first time in four years were ones of excitement and homecoming. When you live out of a backpack for six years and the only real home you have is a tiny cabin on a 64-passenger ship, there’s definitely some fond feelings: a sense of adventure, freedom, belonging, wonder… Along with the not-so-fond ones, of course, which came right after those initial bursts of excitement and homecoming: restlessness, impermanence, seasickness (just kidding, I very rarely get seasick). But all in all it did feel really great to be back.

And now I’m on my second contract in the Pacific Northwest. We left from Seattle and are currently cruising north along the inside passage toward Vancouver, BC. There, we’ll drop off these guests and pick up new ones then head back down to Seattle. I’m actually on a brand new ship that I’ve never been on before – the National Geographic Quest – which was built on Whidbey Island just north of Seattle. Her maiden voyage was in July up in Alaska and soon she’ll be testing out the waters down south in Costa Rica, Panama, Belize and Honduras. It’s a bigger ship than I’m used to – about 100 guests compared to 64 on the Sea Bird and Sea Lion, but it’s beautiful and the deck/bow space is perfect for critter watching and sight seeing.

So that’s my story about getting back on board the Lindblad ships. More to come!

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A New Era, A New Blog

Well, here it goes: my nth attempt at starting a new travel blog after retiring my old one in 2012. Whereonearth served me well for about 7 years as I traipsed around the world working on National Geographic ships as a Wellness Specialist and traveling to far corners of the earth during my time off. I wrote about my adventures in Thailand, Ecuador, Russia, Baja, Alaska, and more. But after 7 years on board, I left ship life to settle into city life in Seattle. I got an apartment, I went back to school, I nested. I did all the normal things normal people do. It was good for awhile – city life does have its perks – but ultimately I become bored and disenchanted with that life. I missed the adventure of travel and living as a nomad. I wanted to feel free again, not trapped in a city full of people working a job I was only slightly interested in. So in early 2017, I quit my job, sold most of my things, and ended the longest, most serious relationship I’ve been in to date. Then I left Seattle and I went back to ship life.

During this life crises (or restructuring?) I tried starting Forever A Wanderer several times. The name actually came to me a few weeks before leaving Seattle when I was sitting on my back porch steps looking up at the stars and wondering if I was making the right decision to leave. I felt like I could also be making the worst decision of my life, but how could I know which path to choose? When the name came to me on those steps, though, I knew that I could not stay in Seattle because I am a nomad at heart. I am a wanderer and even though there were many times in previous years when I hated living out of a backpack or I just wanted a place to call home, I am truly happiest when I call the world my home. I crave the freedom to choose my next adventure and to move around freely with no permanent home base or things to tie me down.

So as I transitioned out of city life, starting a new travel blog felt like something I should do. I used to love documenting my travels on Whereonearth and sharing my stories with friends and family. For some reason, though, it has been really hard to start Forever A Wanderer. I’ve been putting too much pressure on myself to create the ‘next best travel blog’ and knowing that there’s a sliver of chance that blogs can turn into careers, I’m paralyzing myself with the need to be perfect. But unfortunately nothing about this blog is or will be perfect anytime soon (if ever). Part of me says ‘why bother then?’ while another part of me says ‘just do it’. Right now the ‘just do it’ side is slightly in the lead and I’m striving to follow the advice that Elizabeth Gilbert lays out in her book Big Magic – “Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants. For most of history people just made things, and they didn’t make such a big freaking deal out of it.”

So I’ve spent the last week gently forcing myself to just get started (Bird by Bird by Ann Lamotte is another great book on that topic). Who knows where this blog will go, or what it’ll be about, or whether anyone will read it. I just know that I have this strong desire to write a travel blog again, so here we go 🙂