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?