When I was in college I didn’t travel that often. My parents divorced when I was young and I was raised by a single mom who didn’t have the money to pay for me to go to college. I paid my own way through school with loans, jobs, scholarships, and financial aid. I barely even remember eating out that much in college, so I sure didn’t have money to travel more than maybe a few hours away for a road trip but even that didn’t happen that often.
Then when I was a junior in college, I received a card in the mail stating I may have won a prize. It listed several possibilities such as a TV, a check for $500, a VCR (this was the late 90’s), or a cruise to the Bahamas. All I had to do was go to some kind of informational meeting about a product that I don’t remember what it even was now. At the end of the meeting, they would draw a number and if it matched the number on our card, we would win the prize associated with the number. As you may have guessed by now, I won a cruise to the Bahamas.
I had never even been out of the country and I was a poor college student so I didn’t even care that it wasn’t even a “real” cruise but only a day cruise from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on a small cruise ship to the Bahamas, where I was provided with a free hotel stay for 3 days/2 nights, and a day cruise back to Ft. Lauderdale. I had to pay a nominal amount for some fees and/or taxes but it was maybe $75, so I happily paid that and got ready for my first international trip.
The cruise and hotel stay was for myself and a guest so my boyfriend and I drove to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida where the cruise ship was to depart during our summer break a few months after I won the prize. Neither of us had ever been out of the country and neither of us had a clue what we were doing. We didn’t plan a single thing but went along with the flow of things and figured it out when we got there. I still remember driving to Ft. Lauderdale because the air conditioning went out on his car literally the day before we left, so we had the windows down, getting blasted with hot air, while we drove along the interstate.
The day cruise was pretty uneventful really. We left Ft. Lauderdale sometime in the afternoon and were only on the water for a few hours, arriving that evening. The water was pretty rough when we got out in the open water. I remember walking to dinner on the ship and watching the ship being rocked from side to side. Fortunately I didn’t feel that sick and was just a little nauseous. We had dinner, which was nothing special, and not long after that the ship was docking in Freeport, Grand Bahama Island. There was a small casino on the ship and some sort of show was going on in another area but we didn’t gamble and we only watched a portion of the show.
If you’ve never been to Freeport in the Bahamas, it’s not a place I would recommend visiting now. When I was there in the 90’s it was sketchy as far as being safe and since then it’s gotten worse. The U.S. Department of State currently rates the criminal threat level for New Providence Island (Nassau) as critical with the criminal threat level for Grand Bahama Island rated as high. There are parts of the Bahamas that are safer than others, so just know that the many areas of the Bahamas are not all the same and do your research before you go.
There isn’t really that much to do in Freeport either. You can visit Port Lucaya, go to the beach, and if you have the money (unlike I did) you can go horseback riding, ziplining, go diving in Lucayan National Park, or you can go snorkeling, which I splurged on and spent the money for. The snorkeling trip I went on was an all-day excursion and we were given free access to all of the Bahama Mama alcoholic drinks we wanted. Yes, I was a college student, and yes I had way too many Bahama Mama’s that day, so many in fact that all I wanted to do was stay in my room that evening and try to sober up. The snorkeling was fun but definitely not the best I’ve seen now that I’ve been snorkeling many other places in the Caribbean and Hawaii.
My boyfriend paid for us to go to dinner at a nice seafood restaurant the second night we were there. We went out with two other couples we met on the “booze cruise” and had a good time. Honestly, other than snorkeling, going out to eat a couple of times and lounging at the beach during the day, we didn’t do that much. Again, we were poor college students who hadn’t planned a single thing ahead of time.
Despite barely even leaving the United States and going to a country that didn’t even require Americans to have a passport for entry back then, I feel like that trip is when I first caught the travel bug. Despite not planning anything to do on that trip before I went, not choosing where I was going to stay, where I was going to eat, or a single other travel-related thing other than the fact that my boyfriend and I had to drive to Ft. Lauderdale and back to West Virginia after the cruise, this was a pivotal moment in my life as a traveler.
After my free trip to the Bahamas, I began to pay attention to where other people were traveling. I still didn’t have money to travel anywhere substantial and knew I wouldn’t until I was completely through with college, which included graduate school to get my Master’s degree, but that didn’t stop me from dreaming and starting to build my bucket list of places where I eventually wanted to travel.
That free trip to the Bahamas was the vacation that opened my eyes to the rest of the world. Never would I have guessed that would happen when I went to that meeting to see if I won a TV but ended up winning a cruise to the Bahamas. It may sound a bit dramatic to hear me say that trip to the Bahamas changed my life, but I feel like it did in many ways. It made me realize the world is enormous and there’s so much out there that’s vastly different from the places where we live. There’s so much to see and do, if only we go and explore.
Is there one vacation that stands out to you as one that opened your eyes to travel?