How the Man Cleaning Your Toilet on a Cruise Ship Can Afford a Mansion on Bali…and How You Can Too!

How the Man Cleaning Your Toilet on a Cruise Ship Can Afford a Mansion on Bali…and How You Can Too!

By |2016-07-22T00:00:04-04:00November 15th, 2009|Work & Travel|25 Comments

I have to admit, I’m not exactly a rat race escapee. I actually never entered the ‘real world’ in the first place.

Instead, when I was 22 years old I took a gamble that ended up paying off, giving me the financial means to live a nomadic lifestyle of steady travel for the past 10 years.  This gamble I speak of had nothing to do with Las Vegas or waiting for some wealthy relative to pass away in order to receive a hefty inheritance.  It had nothing to do with setting up my own business or investing my money either.

So what path to freedom did I take?

I have two words for you: CRUISE SHIPS

I’m serious. I went to work on board cruise ships.

Before you laugh this off, let me firmly state that cruise ship employment is one of the most under-utilized paths to freedom out there. If you think it’s just a bunch of third-world employees earning slave wages or a fun, get-it-out-of-your-system summer job for a college student…you’re way, way off.

Let’s take a closer look.

Yes, it is indeed true that cruise ships are full of crew members from third-world countries who work 12-hour days for salaries that hover around the seemingly pathetic $500 per month range.

But wait! Before you reprimand the cruise lines with an angry ‘tsk, tsk, tsk’, you might be surprised to learn that these crew members rarely have reason to complain. Instead, they often spend 5 or so years working on board ships, banking that $500 per month (which is a lot more than they would earn at home) and end up ‘retiring’ back in the Philippines, Indonesia or India at the age of 34 with $25,000 in savings.

They then proceed to outshine us 4HWW seekers by living a big fat 0 hour work week for a long, long time. In fact, I’ve seen photos of massive mountaintop villas on Bali, complete with swimming pools, guest quarters and manicured gardens owned by crew members such as the 30-year old Indonesian guy who cleaned my cabin every day!

The bad news here is that you’re probably not from the Philippines or Indonesia. The good news is that it doesn’t matter and you’re still able to benefit from cruise ship employment in the exact same way.

If you hail from Western Europe, North America or Australia, the system works a little differently. Cruise lines generally won’t hire you to clean bathrooms or bus tables, instead giving you an opportunity to work in the more lucrative positions, such as those in the Front Office, Entertainment and Shore Excursions departments. As a result, you can expect your starting salary to be anywhere from $1700 – $2500 per month.

Hold on, hold on. I know at first glance those salaries don’t seem so attractive, but keep on reading, it gets better…

Assistant Managers and Supervisors (there are dozens on board every ship) can earn $3000 or more and Department Head salaries can exceed $5000 per month. And when you consider that promotions are common (more common if you engage in certain relations with your boss) given the high turnover rate, moving up a notch or two is almost a certainty, unless you get locked outside of your cabin while completely naked…twice.

Still not convinced this is ‘real’ money? Consider this…

During the four years I spent on board ships, I had ZERO, yes ZERO, living expenses. Keep in mind that every cruise line provides ALL crew members with free room and board. Just imagine the serious amount of cash you can save by eliminating those two expenses from your life.

The only things I spent money on were a few drinks in the crew bar every now and then (which cost about $.50 – $1.50 per drink) and the occasional lunch off the ship while in port. I rarely spent more than $150 per month…for 4 years!

So consider this equation:

DECENT SALARY ($1500 – $6000/month)
– MINIMAL EXPENSES ($150 or less per month)

A four-month contract can put $10,000 in your bank account just like that, allowing you to take off on whatever adventure you’ve been dreaming about before the next apple-picking season even begins. Try saving that amount on land in such a short period of time…I’m quite certain that rent, car payments, utilities and food bills just won’t let it happen.

Maybe you have some grandiose (or abnormally expensive) life goals. Well, if you were to work 2, 3 or even 5 years on board a cruise ship, financially-speaking, you’ll be set for a long time and could accomplish virtually anything on your dream list. (Mentally speaking you’ll suffer from insanity-related symptoms due to the screaming passengers, never-ending time zone changes and $1.00 vodka shots.)

Of course, realistically-speaking, I’m not going to pretend that ‘ship life’ is nothing more than a paid vacation. Almost every position (except for those damn musicians who work about 3 hours per day) involves long, draining hours of work with perhaps only a few hours of free time when in port. But your friends back home would probably slap you in the face for complaining about a job that allows you to explore Hong Kong, Jordan, Malta, Norway, New Zealand, Alaska, Fanning Island (look it up – it’s unreal!), Hawaii, Costa Rica, Aruba, St. Kitts, Greece, Russia and on and on…during your daily WORK BREAK!

Actually, take it from me, your friends will want to slap you every time you mention your job at all. As they amass debts, pets and endless sets of matching dinnerware, you’ll be saving a great deal of money while living a lifestyle unlike any other.

And whenever your ‘ship life’ comes to an end, whether it be after four months or four years, you’ll have the ability to do whatever you want…to travel around the world, move to Thailand, work on that book you’ve always wanted to write.

You’ll have a freedom that most people believe is unreachable, yet in reality takes only a few months at sea to attain.

For more details on the behind-the-scenes-realities of ‘ship life’, check out this story I wrote for Everywhere Magazine.

Let’s hear your thoughts! Have you considered cruise ship employment or know of any other unique jobs that offer a quick route to financial freedom?

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  1. […]  Tour Leader or Tour Guide •  Flight Attendant •  Work on a cruise ship * •  Airport customer service check-in attendant (It’s minimum wage, but you get free […]

  2. Lesley April 13, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Hi I would like to know if there is a age limit as in too old for housekeeping positions as I am very interested but I am 54 years old and am currently working in a 5* hotel in Southampton UK.

    • Wandering Earl April 18, 2014 at 5:02 am

      Hey Lesley – It depends on which position exactly. You wouldn’t be hired as a general housekeeper, not due to age, but because those positions are filled by citizens mostly from SE Asia. For a management position in the housekeeping department though, depending on your experience, you would definitely be considered if you had the right background.

  3. Neil February 24, 2014 at 12:53 am

    Hi Earl, I just want to ask if they are hiring Filipino (Philippines) with no ecucation and experience related to cruise ships?

    For me it’s a little bit unfair if the job position that they will give depends on race.

    • Wandering Earl March 2, 2014 at 3:46 am

      Hey Neil – Most positions on the cruise ship require a university degree.

  4. Emmanuel February 2, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    Thanks a looot for this article, Earl!!!
    I will use the tips you shared with us right away

    ps: the only link i could access to is the one you gave to Dominique, apparently all the other links are broken 🙁

  5. Dominique January 8, 2013 at 6:46 am

    hey earl! the links to your ship life article are all broken now. (i guess it’s older)
    and i can’t find it through google.
    do you know of any other way i can access it?


  6. Christina January 11, 2012 at 7:35 am

    A graduate in a year and a half and this is my goal! Thanks for the advice. (:

    • Earl January 11, 2012 at 8:19 am

      Sounds great Christina! Let me know if you have any questions….

  7. […] How The Man Cleaning Your Toilet On A Cruise Ship Can Afford A Mansion On Bali…And How You Can… […]

  8. Luana April 20, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    Ship’s life was one of the most valuable experiences in my life, I don’t miss the long hours schedule working in the back office, but I do miss the intense nightlife at the crew bar,being scort during the tours and of course all the people I met from different nationalities plus the places I visited, in my third contract I realized I had to move on to achieve some other goals I had ,but well how I miss that!

    • Earl April 20, 2010 at 8:51 pm

      Hey Luana – There are definitely a lot of positive aspects of ship life, but you’re exactly right, the longer we stay on board, the longer we have to put off everything else we want to accomplish. I hope that you’ve made some progress with your other goals since you left the ships!

  9. johnny - March 24, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    yeah i know mate – crazy eh? i’m defintiely keen on learning about building websites, altho it’s tempting to outsource it and get someone to do it for me but that way i’ll never learn. From what i understand, you disappeared to Mexico and learned your skills, i might have to take a leaf out of your book and do the same thing!

    i read your shiplife post, it seems like a pretty stressful experience but one that i would love ot try. Did u find it quite easy to get your first job? I’ve heard that can quite a struggle?

    iv been to india a couple of times actually but never got offered any roles – how did u manage to do that?
    .-= johnny –´s last blog ..Cheap travel – boat from Thailand to China (taking a cargo boat, up the Mekong river, from Thailand to China)… =-.

  10. johnny - March 23, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    hey mate,

    awesome site, awesome stories, awesome life! I feel as if u are me in 5 years lol! I left 4 years ago and have lived in 5 countries, visited around 30 and been a teacher, counsellor, salesman, producer etc and recently was thinkin about the cruise ship game! i have subscribed to ur site and im looking 4ward to reading more.

    i just started my own blog ( tryin to chronicle my last 4 years but im struggling with the technology a bit! did u make this site yourself?
    .-= johnny –´s last blog ..Cheap travel – boat from Thailand to China (taking a cargo boat, up the Mekong river, from Thailand to China)… =-.

    • Earl March 24, 2010 at 4:12 pm

      Hey Johnny – Thanks so much for your comment. It’s always wonderful connecting with other long-term travelers wandering around the world! It is funny, your list of everything you’ve done is eerily similar to mine. Don’t forget to get over to India so that you can add Bollywood actor to your CV. That was probably my favorite ‘work’ experience over the years…

      As for cruise ship employment, its not a bad way to earn some good money in a quick period of time as long as you don’t mind living a bizarre lifestyle. I don’t know if you read my article on Ship Life, but it gives a better understanding of what to expect.

      With my blog, I designed it using Atahualpa theme for wordpress. It is a fully customizable theme so basically, I created what you see using the tools that the theme provides and not by using a set template. It’s still a work in progress and learning the technological side, while not terribly difficult in the end, is incredibly time consuming! But Atahualpa definitely makes the entire process much easier to handle…

      I’ll definitely be following your blog as well and look forward to hearing more about your own adventures. And thanks for subscribing! Keep in touch…

  11. T-roy November 22, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    So give us some pointers on how to get a job on a cruise ship? Got any links to any websites that are used for hiring employees? 6 months on and 6 months sounds like a sweet deal and would allow one to travel infinity like you said. The only other job i can think of that lets you work a few months and retire the rest of the year are the king crabber fishermen in Alaska…and it has a 100% accident rate! lol

    By the way, just got back from Cuba and had a good time, even though they tried to probe at immigration on the way out because I was American (as i didn’t have anything and only assumed that). Was talking to some amigo’s about that trip sailing down the Amazon River at the start of the year. I might actually have some takers who are wanting to go.

    • Earl November 23, 2009 at 1:00 pm

      Hey T-Roy…
      The best advice is to contact the cruise lines directly through the employment sections of their websites. After filling out the application and sending it in, the KEY is following up…email, phone, just keep following up until they finally set up an interview. Often the recruitment departments are incredibly busy and disorganized, so they need the applicant to hound them!! Another excellent option is the cruise employment agency at – they are based in the UK. Forward your resume to them and keep following up. They have some of the best contacts in the industry. One piece of advice – don’t use an agency that charges you money! There is no need for it and all they do is forward your resume to the cruise lines, which you could do yourself in just a few minutes…

  12. Jonny | November 21, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    Right, I am seriously looking into this as another cheap way to see the world. Thanks for the inspiration.

  13. Casey November 19, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    I enjoyed your story and am gonna check out the behind the scenes in Everywhere Mag. Obviously, the best part was “unless you get locked outside of your cabin while completely naked…twice” but the rest was great too, haha.

  14. Liz November 16, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Been there, done that!! And yes… it was pretty addictive! It was not only about the money (but hey, I won’t complain). Traveling around the world and getting paid at the same time was just too good to be true! I highly recommend it! =)

  15. Cody McKibben November 16, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    Great advice man! That’s a great career path I’d never really even thought about, like at all (although I did have a girlfriend who wanted to ship off and do that). I just never really thought about the full benefits. Cool story, thanks for sharing Earl.

  16. James NomadRip November 16, 2009 at 2:28 am

    My old roommate had his cousin come stay with us once long ago. He lived in his van at the time. He got a job as a sound stage tech or something on a cruise ship, and we haven’t seen him since!

    Not a bad way to save up some cash pretty quickly.

    • Earl November 16, 2009 at 4:54 pm

      That’s funny. I’ve actually met quite a few crew members who end up on board for 10, 15, or even 20 years. I remember one Jamaican guy on my first ship who had spent 25 years in this lifestyle. Once the cash starts coming in, it definitely gets a bit addictive! Thanks for commenting James!

  17. Hugh November 15, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    Ah, you confirmed a suspicion I have always had – that a gig on a cruise ship is a great way to see the world, meet interesting people, and save money. Growing up, that was always an idea in the back of my mind but I never acted upon it. A little past the age where I would do it, but maybe I’ll recommend to my kids someday!

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