In 2016 I was given the opportunity to travel on a small French ship’s crew as the staff filmmaker. I received an email with the job proposition, and in 2 weeks was on a plane to begin my contract in Japan. Even though I had traveled plenty of times for work prior to this trip, I was able to understand how truly how travel changes life. 

An elderly man asleep in Tokyo's International Airport

The Beginning

I left behind my friends, my contacts, my cat, my fears, and everything that I was comfortable with to sail across the Pacific Ocean for 5 months. There are no weekends, no days off, and no vacations. Despite those challenges, this was an amazing opportunity to do what I love and see the world. 

In the last 3 years, I have traveled primarily for work. The nuances of arriving in a foreign place and meeting with guides were all familiar to me. Though, when I arrived in Japan everything felt different. Suddenly I had 1000 Yen in my hands and was on a bus to my connecting airport. I was excited, terrified, and exhausted. There was still the idea that none of this would be real until I stepped foot onto the ship. I felt like more than a stranger. I felt like a ghost. 

A Japanese flight attendant walks through Tokyo International Airport A vehicle drives through Muroran, Japan on a cloudy day The ghost city of Muroran, Japan

The next morning was akin to the first day of kindergarten. I was nervous, yet excited for something drastically different. What would the people be like? What would the environment be like? I had no expectations. To be quite frank, I didn’t make time to develop expectations. As with most things in my life, I accepted the situation and simply prepared for anything.

The following months would prove to be more difficult and challenging than anything I could have ever imagined.

The bow of a cruise ship during a beautiful sunset The French Flag beside the sun setting 4 AM views aboard a cruise ship in the Pacific Ocean A French and Eastern European crew member chat in between work A French crew member takes a break at the end of an excursion

The Journey

Working on a cruise ship is not glamorous. You share a remarkably small cabin with other staff unless you are an officer. Those officers are fed better and treated better than you. Capturing, editing, and selling every beautiful moment of each day offered translated to 10-15 hours of work most days. My “office” was a closet with no windows that had a Mac Pro Tower and gigantic Epson poster printer among other various things often found in a closet. It was cramped and overheated.

There was little time to enjoy myself. English wasn’t spoken very well amongst most crew members and the only “crew only” place on a ship was a tiny bar that was filled with cigarette smoke at all hours of the day. It was pretty isolating.

When I did have the opportunity to relax, I took images of earth in all its natural, beautiful glory.

A cruise ship in coastal Alaskan seas A beautiful sky above an Alaskan fjord A cruise ship off the coast of Hiva Oa

The Lessons

But the true challenge wasn’t long days, isolation, or a closet office. It was adapting to it all and waking up every day with a positive mindset. This didn’t happen overnight. 3.5 months was the worst of it. It’s usually the breaking point for most people who quit. The idea of quitting was incredibly tempting. The idea of feeling sorry for myself, shutting myself out from everyone, and refusing to see the best in everything was tempting. 

This may sound surprising to you. Why would anyone be sad or unhappy when they’re able to travel and see the world while getting paid? It’s something you have to experience to understand.

Instead of giving in to my selfish temptations, I was able to change my perspective over time. I made friends, I woke up with a positive mindset, and I realized how truly fortunate I was to have this opportunity.

The French nurse takes a break on a peaceful Alaskan day The cruise ship engineers joking around Two French crew members being silly in the crew bar A few crew members out on Alaskan sea in a zodiac boat The crew prepares for the traditional announcement of crew and captain A French crew member holds a unicorn plushie souvenir from Sitka, Alaska An excursion specialist sits at the bow of a zodiac boat on Alaskan waters Easter Island dogs crowd a French crew member begging for her lunch

The Experience

We were in some of the most remote places in the world. Locations like Hiva Oa, Fakarava, and Nuvu Hiva in French Polynesia, Eastern Island in Chile, Endicott’s Arm, and College Fjord in Alaska, and the the Arctic Circle. Meeting the individuals who live in these incredibly remote areas was a learning experience of its own.

The Future

How exactly did this experience change me? I began with a misguided sense of wanderlust and left with a new sense of purpose as a result of experience. I saw what my life could be while looking into what my life was.

Everything felt like a crossing from one chapter of my life to the next. In some ways I still feel like I’m in the process of crossing over. Since the end of the trip in 2016, there have been many subplots and side missions. I haven’t quite made it to the next major chapter of my life. I do feel I am close.

If you enjoyed viewing and reading about my transformative journey, please share your own experiences. I’d love to hear the ways in which travel has changed you.

You are welcome to view my other travel stories and stay in touch via social media or say hello@alexiaadana.com. Thank you.