As much as I love having the hard conversations and talking about the big life moments, sometimes it’s just as fun to talk about how community and friendship are really working.
Vickie Leuenberger traded cold Canadian winters to live full-time on a boat cruising the Caribbean Sea and its surrounding islands. She fuels her adventurous lifestyle through 4 different streams of income.
Her stories of unexpected generosity and kindness from complete strangers, especially in moments of adversity, will give you the chills. She also shares so many practical and actionable tips for anyone who is curious about this alternative lifestyle.
My biggest takeaway is that the cruising community is so much richer and more beautiful than I could have anticipated, and I think it’s safe to say that many of us are craving the types of experiences Vickie talks about in this episode.
In this episode you’ll hear about:
- “Cruising culture”, what surprised Vickie the most about living on a sailboat, and how she stayed mentally prepared for the adventure
- The fast and furious nature of building community – including the unexpected generosity of other cruisers when Vickie’s motor died on her boat
- How the cruising lifestyle changed Vickie’s perspective about family and relationships (it’s actually common for some cruisers to have children who live on land after experiencing sailing for many years!)
- The beauty of the Caribbean’s relationship-centric approach to life – rather than focusing on consumerism, it’s all about who you are connected to
- How Vickie now helps set the tone of cruising culture with new cruisers by leading the way and showing them the ropes
- Why curiosity is the #1 skill you need to have to be successful living on water (curiosity solves most problems!)
- Vickie’s favorite tips for anyone considering this lifestyle, including getting formal training, avoiding cheap equipment and electricity, joining Facebook groups, and yes, even getting couples therapy first, if you’re sailing with a partner
Vickie describes the unique joys and challenges of living on a boat in this episode, including the incredible kindness and willingness to help others. How do you think acts of kindness and generosity are observed in today’s culture on land?
Notable Quotes from Vickie
“I see connections as a pipeline. When the connection is really small, it’s like a small straw. And it’s so small that both of us cannot be in it at the same time. Like, I send you something through the straw, and you send me something back. Then as your connection grows, that pipeline grows, and then at one point, we can see, the connection is so big, that we can see each other whole, we can both be in that too. We don’t need to just send things through it – it very much feels like that. It feels like I can be whole, like I can be myself and I don’t need to wait my turn to send something back.”
“Self responsibility on a boat is so important. You can’t fall into victimhood, because if you do, you’re not going to be able to survive this lifestyle. Living on a sailboat, you really need to be in a mindset of, ‘what can I learn from this?’ [Curiosity is] one of the skills that is becoming more and more valuable because curiosity will solve almost all of your life’s problems. If you’re curious about other humans, you’ll connect with other humans. If you’re curious about how to fix your problems, you’re going to find solutions for them.”
Resources & Links
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Inspiration for the Cruising Lifestyle
Until next time…
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Podcast Intro/Outro 00:02
Alrighty, gang. Here’s to nights that turn into mornings and friends that turn in family. Cheers!
Podcast Intro/Outro 00:18
Hello, Hello, and welcome to the Friendship IRL podcast. I’m your host, Alex Alexander. My friends… They would tell you; I like to ask the hard questions. You know who I am in the group? I’m the person that’s saying, “Okay, I’m going to ask this question, but don’t feel like you have to answer it.” And now, I can be that friend for you, too.
Alex Alexander [Narration] 00:50
Today’s episode is a fun episode. I love having the hard conversations and talking about the big life moments. But sometimes it’s fun to just talk about how this is really working community, like a vision of what’s possible. And that is today’s episode. I loved having this conversation with Vickie, I loved hearing about the cruising community, it is so much richer than I could have anticipated. And I say during this episode multiple times that I’m gonna pack it up and become a cruiser. But that’s slightly a joke. But simultaneously, I think so many of us are craving, the types of experiences she talks about in this episode. So currently in the world, it seems like the options are pack it up and go find these experiences, or just continue to live the way we are. My hope, though, is that in listening to this episode, you might see that there is a way for us to hopefully choose different actions and start to slowly lead the movement and build something better than what a lot of us are experiencing right now. I promise. The episode is not as cryptic and broad as my description was right there. I don’t want to ruin any of the beautiful stories. And there are so many in this episode, a couple that honestly gave me chills, because the power of connection is so strong, so impactful in our lives. And you’ll hear that. So with that, let’s get to the episode. Hi, Vickie.
Vickie Leunberger 02:49
Alex Alexander 02:50
How are you doing?
Vickie Leunberger 02:51
I’m great. How are you?
Alex Alexander 02:54
I’m really excited that you’re here today. Because honestly, I think that you are doing something that so many people want to do, but are nervous about what is on the other side of making the choice and packing it up and doing the thing. So I don’t want to butcher it. Why don’t I let you tell people the big life pivot you made and what you’re doing right now?
Vickie Leunberger 03:21
Yay. Okay, of course. So basically four years ago, I decided I would move my life onto a sailboat and start cruising, start life aboard. And it took me, at that point when I made that decision, I knew nothing about sailing, nothing about meteorology, diesel mechanic… for boats, I was single. And I just had this really strong desire. Fast forward to now I’ve been living full time on my boat for nine months cruising the Caribbean Sea. I have visited eight or nine different Caribbean islands with my partner, just him and I on the boat, and I work online.
Alex Alexander 04:04
What an adventure. That takes so much courage to just pack it up and go do the thing. And I have so much admiration for anybody that does it. I hope you feel that way about yourself and just doing the thing. And I mean, you said four years ago, but you’re only full time cruising as of the last nine months. What was it like when you first got there? Like was it the same as what you expected it to be like?
Vickie Leunberger 04:36
Yeah, a lot of things were and I think I was mentally very well prepared for that adventure. Like I knew the good sides of sailing, but I was also very honest with myself about the challenges of sailing. So of course a boat, everything is broken on a boat. You just don’t know it yet. And cruising is just fixing your boat in exotic places. So I knew that a big part of cruising with the challenges of repairs and all of that. A lot of things surprise me though, like, definitely when it comes to the community, the sailing community is not something that I expected. And I’m so grateful for it. I knew that island time was a thing. So the rhythm is very different from the culture what I was used to back in Canada, so I moved from… I’m from Montreal, Canada, so I speak French and English. Moved to the Caribbean, where there’s some French and English islands, so at least I didn’t have the language barrier. That’s a big plus for sure. I think I’m pleasantly surprised and very happy with the move. I don’t have any regrets. But there were lots of challenges, that’s for sure.
Alex Alexander 05:39
Lots of memories now to look back on. Maybe all the things you learned very suddenly in a… not dire but like, I really need to figure that out. When you got there, so you said you weren’t expecting the community, which is what I’m excited to talk about, obviously. Was it like a slow burn to get connected into the community? Was it a fast and furious introduction to people? What was it like getting to meet other people?
Vickie Leunberger 06:06
So when it comes to meeting other cruisers, so other Liveaboards, not talking about the locals, I’m really talking about other people who live onboards, Fast and Furious is such a beautiful way to describe it. This deep understanding of the choice that we all made and of the challenges of life aboard and so whenever you pass by another sailboat, you know, you got a friend there. It’s incredible. Like you’re gonna be at anchor and a stranger’s just gonna come up to you and be like, Oh, I knew the past owners of your boat. Where are they now? How are they doing? What are you doing tonight? Want to come over for sundowners. sundowners is the thing for cruisers are at the Sundown every day. People gather and have drinks, you know, alcohol…
Alex Alexander 06:50
So much of fun. Yeah.
Vickie Leunberger 06:53
Everyone’s always invited kind of vibe. You need to be very good at setting boundaries and saying when you need time for yourself, because you can very rapidly end up having friends over every single night of the week.
Alex Alexander 07:05
I mean, this sounds like my dream, but I probably also would be burnout at a certain point. I love that it’s just this like, open invite at the end of the day, like a community-wide known thing that wherever you are that night, people just gather together. I don’t know if I’ve talked to anybody who’s part of a community where that’s like a thing every day. What a beautiful experience.
Vickie Leunberger 07:28
Oh, yeah. And you mean, it’s normal to stop by someone’s boat and ask for something like, “Hey, do you have an extra piece of tape? Do you have Sickaflex?” This is what I’m thinking about, which is something you can use to repair just about anything. “Do you have a battery pack? I need some help restarting my motor.” And people are incredibly generous of their time of their money, of their energy and this community. And when we ask people like, what made you decide to be so kind to us? And they tell us, it’s the power of this group where they know that someone’s going to be there for them when they need it. So they feel comfortable giving generously when they see someone in need. And it’s the little things you know, we were at the grocery store the other day, and we bumped into a cruiser that we never met before, but that we know them because we know that their friends of friends. And all they were purchasing was a battery. So obviously, we just grabbed the battery and added it to our groceries. For us, it was like, well, you know, why have them take out their card, their wallet, just pay one battery when we had our whole groceries right there at the cashier, so we just grabbed their battery, paid for it. We never met this person before, you know, but it’s normal in this environment to do things like that.
PODCAST EPISODE! Hear all about why I created Friendship IRL here.
Alex Alexander [Narration] 08:40
And welcome to the vibe of this episode. Because I am sure many of you just heard Vicki story and you thought, When is the last time I experienced something like that? Beautiful. So you’ve heard me talk before about this idea of reciprocity, versus what I like to call nourishment. And to me when I heard this story, this was such a beautiful example. That basically I think when… well what I hear when we talk about friendships, a lot of western culture is this idea of reciprocity of you know I give to you, therefore you give back to me. To me personally, it feels like some sort of tally system. And I think a lot of times we can get caught in kind of tracking this in our friendships, whether it’s, I called you so now you call me, that’s a really common one. I hear or it’s, well I called you so you have to do something for me. I need you to plan something or host us or gift me, you know? We’re like waiting to feel like there’s this Equal Exchange. And I love this battery example, because they just threw this battery in their cart, hadn’t met this person, had no idea if they were about to walk outside the store and go their separate ways and never see each other again. And when I talk about this idea of nourishment, sometimes I get worried that people are gonna say to me, well, that’s impossible, because the world doesn’t operate that way. And I do think that there’s something to be said of, if you care about this, if you want the world to look different, some of us just need to put ourselves out there and try and do things differently. Because as you’ll hear in this episode, this is kind of this common theme that you don’t really know, but you just give what you have to offer. And trust that in moments where you need something, people will show up for you. I’m excited about this episode, here we go.
Alex Alexander 11:07
What a different culture then, you know what you came from back in Canada, what I’m experiencing here in the US like that is wild. I mean, even to think about with good friends of mine, if we go to the store, and that’s what’s happening, I will totally just throw their battery in the thing. But there’s always that pushback that’s very normal of like, no, no, you don’t need to do that. You don’t need to that. It’s a $2 battery. It’s fine, it’s fine. But even your closest friends and you don’t even know this person, I love that so much.
Vickie Leunberger 11:39
Yeah, they’re a cruiser. So we know that, you know what I mean? That’s the… we know their struggles. We know… I know that these people are from Brazil. And I know that they crossed over from Brazil, and I’ve seen an Instagram post, we just feel connected to them, we feel connected them, we feel close to them, close to their struggles, close to their… their reality. So it just… it feels natural.
Alex Alexander 12:02
When you first joined the cruiser community, was it hard to fall in to these new norms? Or was it easy? Like in the beginning, if somebody had thrown that battery on their cart for you, would you have said like no, no, no? Or did you just pick it up pretty quickly?
Vickie Leunberger 12:20
Oh, I think you’re 100% right. I think if someone had done that for me, on my first week of cruising, I probably would have been kind of embarrassed or ashamed. Or, you know, why is this person helping me? So yeah, I think that’s something that I kind of learned watching other cruisers and learning. And also, we had a time in this cruising adventure where we would not have survived if it was not for help of other people. We had a moment where our motor was dying. And we decided to cross over on a journey of like four days of sailing, and we were at sea for four days. So that’s three nights of no sleeping, barely any eating and three meter waves, a bunch of stuff broke on the boat as we were sailing. And then at the end of the third day, our batteries stopped charging. So we had no more sailing instruments, no more chartplotter, no more wind instruments, no more… like we had nothing to help us to guide us. So we were just like on paper maps and using the stars and using the compass and trying to figure out where… where the hell we were going. And then we arrived in Canouan, which is a small island of the Grenadines. And I will always remember this there was Kiki, who we had met once before on another island. Okay, so sorry, I need to give you the backstory for this. When we… when we decided to leave on this big, courageous, reckless, maybe kind of stupid sale of sailing without an engine, if we’re being honest here, we’re not that stupid in the sense that we created a WhatsApp group with a cruiser waiting for us on each island. So that if we were ever in trouble, or if we were ever able to kind of reach them out on the VHF radio, they could relate in the WhatsApp group with their parents and everything that we were safe and we were, you know, somewhere amongst the islands. o, first of all, there’s some people that accepted to join our group that we’ve never met before. Just on Facebook group, like, hey, we need someone on this specific Island. That can be a reference point and have your VHF radio open. And if you hear Yellowbird on the VHF radio, please relate to the WhatsApp group that we’re safe. There were strangers. They were friends, and there were people that we’ve met once before, so maybe acquaintances, right? One of them was Kiki. And Kiki, who when we eventually got internet was the biggest cheerleader in this WhatsApp group like reading this conversation still brings me to tears today because we didn’t have access to a phone for four days. But for four days, all of these strangers collaborated with little bits of information of, oh, I think I heard them. I think they’re over there. Okay. You know, it seems like on the GPS, I see their position over there. And he was just being the biggest cheerleader. He was like, “Go, go Yellowbird, keep flying!” And just cheering everyone up. And he’s the one who welcomed us in Canouan when we’re told by the Coast Guards, because that’s how the story ended, we ended up being towed by coast guards onto this island. And he welcomed us just like, full of love and joy. Giving the biggest hug, invited us over for dinner, paid some food for us. And it was just like, we are so happy that you’re safe. We’re so happy that you’re with us and you are loved and you’re supported. You’re going to be okay. That’s someone I’ve met once before. This is insane. This is insane. And that was the moment I think when my brain understood that this community goes beyond what I can understand or have known before.
PODCAST EPISODE! What is a Friend? and the 4 Types of Friends We All Have. Listen here.
Alex Alexander 15:53
Yeah, you experienced that I’m sure it was mind boggling. And people listening, this is going to be mind boggling. But that’s exactly why I love hearing stories like this. Because these aren’t told enough like this is possible. Random strangers caring about you enough and connecting and talking to other people and supporting you when you got in and feeding you so you have one less thing to worry about, after all the… I’m sure, emotional, like strain and stress, I’m stressed. I was in there, just like holding you up in these small little ways. It’s out there, it exists. And for all the people who feel hopeless, that this kind of stuff is impossible, like it is happening. And we need to tell these stories more so that if people think it’s possible, maybe… maybe some people in your home and where I live will start doing this kind of stuff in small ways.
Vickie Leunberger 16:50
My mom came over to visit us for Christmas for one week. And that’s one of the first things I told her because obviously I’m young, right? I’m in my like, early 30s. My mom’s in her 50s. And we’ve had a lot of people in their 50s helping us out a lot. A lot of people that are retired for whom the sailing life is their retirement, you know, game. And they see us and they were so young and courageous. And they… they want to help. And they help us like you said in any ways. I was sick at one point in Grenada and this South African couple adopted us and she made me homemade chicken soup, and she brought it over to my boat. And our… Zodiac sunk. At some point, we had no more ways to get to land and three different bows all in their 50s, 60s, 70s would every morning, come get us on our boat and offer us a ride back to land if we needed to do groceries or go work at a cafe or anything. So when I was with my mom for Christmas, I told her that if there’s any gifts you could give me as go back to Canada and help out young people in their 30s whether it’s like to buy them a lunch or to like bring them out to the movies or give them a ride, if they need a lift. Because so many parents adopted me here. And I’m just hoping that she can go back to Canada and offer what all these people are offering to me. Yeah, I really hope that this has a ripple effect. Definitely.
Alex Alexander 18:26
Oh, yes. Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed on this podcast, like, this is such a beautiful example. Because I think, you know, so much of the Western culture narrative is like this box, right, of find a romantic partner, have some kids, follow your career, make enough money that you can support yourself entirely. And that’s how you’re successful. And then we have all these people who like, we have older generations who want to help their kids, who want their kids to maybe have kids or go after a certain career or do a certain thing and they want to help them. And sometimes I want to be like, okay, maybe your kids want to do that. Maybe they don’t. But if they don’t, there are still so many people around you who do, who would love that support, the exact type of support that you want to give. And these people that are out there cruising that are with you who are maybe a bit older, like maybe they have kids at home and they’re hoping that somebody at home like your mom is giving them a hand because they’re out here living their retirement dream and able to help you. It’s just like such a beautiful example of how this out of the box thinking can let people do what they want to do but still support each other. Like you don’t have to do it alone.
Vickie Leunberger 19:56
Oh, no, never. And I love that you’re saying this because to me it’s obvious now, but it’s super common in the cruising world. Like I know, personally, cruisers to have kids that are 12 and 14, and that are being raised by other people on land back in Canada. Like this is a thing. There’s some people who just love the water so much. And even though they love their kids so much, their kids wanted to experience land. And how do you compromise that? Like your house has been… let’s say, you’ve been living on the water for 10 years, your kid is 14, and she wants to be part of a horseback riding lesson. And you don’t want to say no. And they send them for a year to live with relatives or live with other people. It’s kind of normal here. There’s no judgment here of that. And like you said, there are people who helped us, who do have kids in their late 20s that are in university somewhere else. And they came and we met them, some of them visited their parents for the holidays, the adoptive kids met the real biological kids, and it was super interesting to connect with them as well and, and tell them how much we love their parents and how much we’re grateful for their parents, you know, so yeah, it’s crazy how it kind of… living this lifestyle really changed my vision of what family is and what relationships are.
Alex Alexander 21:17
And, you know, I mean, sure, that gives these people, like biological kids, some comfort also to know that like, you’re here, and you would help them to and they might expect to see you on a whatsApp chain if their parents were moving around. And you would definitely be checking in and sending them messages. It’s just a way broader, like our connections and our community doesn’t need to be this like linear thing. It can be so much broader, and we can create what feels right.
Vickie Leunberger 21:54
Oh, yeah. Yeah, so true. That is so, so true. I think I told you this story when we first met, I just thought of it, I thought I’d share it with everybody. When we were in Trinidad and Tobago in September, my dad came on my boat for three weeks to help us do some repairs. This is the longest time I spend with my dad alone, my parents split up when I was young, and he remarried, had two other kids. So it was very, very special. It was the longest time I spent just with my dad and especially as an adult, we kind of had to redefine our relationship. And he was living on my boat, which was also another elements, it was very nice. And I dragged him to yoga. In the morning, there was this Cruiser is also a yoga instructor who gave free yoga, because that’s also part of the cruising community, just kind of sharing whatever your gifts are. And so we went and did yoga. And I remember… I remember her saying, connect to everything, detach from everything. And that really resonated with him. It’s like the first… He’s never done yoga before. He’s not really tapping into any kind of spiritual things. But it really, it made him realize how disconnected from the world he was and how attached he was to objects or success or performance or his job. But really, he didn’t connect that much with me as a kid or connect that much with friends. And he’s like, it’s crazy. You know, you’ve been in the boat yard for what? A month, and I knew everyone’s name and the boat yard. I said hi to every single worker and my dad would just follow me. And the boatyard being like how do you know everybody? Because I like to connect with humans. So he connected with this yoga teacher on Facebook after that, and when we were at sea, and we were stranded, and we called for a towing, calling the Coast Guard’s, that yoga teacher happened to also be crossing on another boat a couple of miles. And she heard our mayday on the radio, and she messaged my dad on Facebook to say, “Hey, your daughter will be safe. The Coast Guards will be towing her.” You know how like, it’s…
Alex Alexander 23:53
Gives me chills a little bit. Yeah.
Vickie Leunberger 23:54
It’s crazy that this yoga teacher, the only person he added on Facebook was the one that was cruising beside us. When we called for help, you know, it made me feel so protected. And just the power of those relationships and those connections and… so yeah.
Alex Alexander 24:12
And it’s such a simple act like she happened to hear. She remembered instead of questioning it and be like, oh, I don’t know, is this weird? Was able just like send a simple message of reassurance that probably meant the world to your dad. And now to you in turn. Now that you’ve heard it. Seriously gave me chills. Like you told that story and it’s like, okay.
Vickie Leunberger 24:37
It happens. It’s out there, love, support.
Alex Alexander 24:41
Are there any other like unwritten rules like this that relate or you know, that you learned that are different, I guess than at home?
Vickie Leunberger 24:52
That’s not so much related to cruising so much as the Caribbean because I didn’t really talk about interaction with the locals and everything. But one thing that really surprise my partner in AI is how much the Caribbean culture is relationship oriented, rather than consumer oriented. So Canada and the seas were very, it’s all about consumerism, capitalist. Intention is often money, you’re gonna give the best service to the person who gives you the most money, you’re gonna go repair the engine of the person who pays you the most. And if you pay extra, you’re gonna get service quicker, faster, better. And the Caribbean? That’s not gonna work, you could be the richest boat in the bay, it doesn’t mean you’re gonna get faster service. Here, it’s all about relationship making, who you’re connected to, will make the difference between if you get the last loaf of banana bread from the lady at the corner store. Or is your engine getting repaired this week, or in four weeks? It’s like their peace of mind is more important to them than money. So working with people who make them feel good, working with people who are polite, who are kind is more important to them, than who is paying.
Alex Alexander 26:08
Would you say that it’s like very first impression based or very, like, who knows who? Like vouches for you to get a sense of there’s like, they’re all important, because I’m just saying if you show up in a port in a country for the first time, and you need help, you just wait until you get to know people? Like how does that work?
Vickie Leunberger 26:29
You have to be kind in your way to ask for help. Like, we found this amazing restaurant super close to here, actually, in Backway. And we were just amazed at how good the food was. And we met the chef and we met her husband and we met their dog and how they rescue their dog. And at the end of that meal, we told them about our boat and our problems. And they said, hey, you know what? We know somebody who can help you with that? Do you want us to call him? And then they call their buddy, and then we waited. And then his buddy came. And yeah, I can help you fix something for your boat. So that connection made it possible. You know, if this guy does not have a website, he does not have flyers or any ways to find it. So if it wasn’t for us talking to this restaurant owner about our problem, we would not have received help. Yes, it’s about nurturing long term connection. But first impressions are super important. Just being polite, kind, asking how they’re doing, asking about their friends and family, just being human and not being… if we came right away and said, oh, we’re looking for someone to fix our boat, if you’re already asking before you’re giving, I feel like that’s very important. But giving can be as simple as a smile.
Alex Alexander [Narration] 27:42
I just want to run through that one more time. Because on my second take on listening to this conversation again, what Vickie said is, most of these people don’t even have a website. And it’s such a simple thing to say. But then if I really think about it, what that means is they never made the website, I’ve made my website multiple times. What my website, what that means is I sit in a room, normally by myself, toiling away at these things that I put out there. And I have no idea of what people take from it. When I go to find a service, and I’m looking at people’s websites, I am in my home on my couch or my phone, whatever, scrolling through people’s websites, reading these things. And what I’m thinking is, I wish somebody would just tell me if I should hire this person. So quite often, not always. We’re alone when we make the website. And then we’re alone when we look at the website. And really all we want this entire time is just to be connected to the person, to have somebody else tell us what we should do and if we should hire them and what their experience was like. So, they don’t have that. They don’t ever have to do all that alone part. Instead, these locals are just out in the world, living with people in community, enjoying their time. And then getting a phone call from somebody saying, “Hey, I have worked for you, these people are really nice.” So what I’m hoping for, when I’m alone, looking at my website, or looking at somebody’s website to hire them, these people are just naturally doing. If you think about it, it’s kind of wild. Because I think really that’s what we want in the end. And we’ve just created all these barriers that we have to wade through to get to what we wanted in the first place that we could have never wasted our time. Just something to think about and buy something to think about. I mean, I’m also thinking about it. This is kind of wild. So a lot of times when I think about making connections or I don’t know, someone trying a new job, right? I think there’s some power and just like slowly without expectations, just starting to like, put it out in the world. When you’re meeting with people, right, just saying, oh, having a nice conversation. And at a certain point, you know, it’s this kind of thing where you just say, oh, like, someday I hope to start a podcast. And you’re not expecting anything back. from them. It’s more just you being authentic. Like, this is a thing. I would like to do this, is kind of vulnerable, right to share your goals. We’re just kind of like putting it out there. And the right people will comment back or say they know someone or whatnot. But you don’t go into it. I think you’re very right. Like in the US, people go in with the ask versus this other approach is a little more… let me offer up some real interaction, some connections, some hello and then just like being curious about the other person, and allowing them to be curious about you, if they connect with whatever you said.
Vickie Leunberger 31:14
Oh, yeah, totally, totally. And I have a friend here visiting me from Canada, she’s only been here for four days. And she’s amazed. The word she used was your so… I find you almost too generous. So here’s the thing. The locals in the Caribbean will, especially if your girl will always say hi to you. “Hi, beautiful. I hope you have a beautiful day.” And in the America, that’s kind of perceived as catcalling, right? You feel like you’re gonna get street harassment, you feel like they’re gonna want something from you, or you’re gonna get… we have these assumptions. And I had to completely rebuild those assumptions here in the Caribbean, because these people just genuinely want to say hello, and have a nice day. And they’re gonna continue walking. And if you just smile back and you say, “Hey, enjoy your Tuesday, enjoy your Thursday”, they’re gonna keep walking, and they’re not going to come and ask for anything. They just expect a small bit of human connection. And she was like, “Well, I had like short conversations like, ‘Oh, are you also on a boat? Oh, yeah. I live on a boat. Great. You work at a little cafe over there? Great. We might come see you on Friday. Bye. Have a good day.'” And that’s it. They’re not asking for anything other than human decency. But we’re so trained to like expect people to approach us for… because they want something from us, that now we’re defensive of this. And it was great because we bumped into someone and we said hi. And it turns out that that guy comes every morning in a small boat, between all the… the sailboats and sells us pastries. I was glad I said hi, the day before because he recognized me. He said, “Hey, I saw you yesterday in front of the store.” And I said, “Oh, what are you selling? Fresh mangoes? Croissants, cinnamon buns? Perfect. I’ll take three of those”, you know? So you never know. You never know. How far as simple ‘hi, how are you’ can go. Never.
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Alex Alexander 33:20
Yeah, and just really staying like open to that in every interaction of we never know the connections. And that’s again, not coming from a want. It’s coming from like, you just never know. They might put it out and you might be the one to give. Because you have the exact right thing that they need or a version of what they need. That’s like such a beautiful, I’m slightly jealous that’s how you get to exist on the day to day.
Vickie Leunberger 33:49
I love what you said the word exist. I think that’s exactly what it is. You know, you’re saying like, I’m not trying to take or give. I just am. I can just be. I can be my joyful self. I can smile, I can say hello, I can say have a good day. And I genuinely want people that I crossed my path today to have a good day. And then we sit down with someone and we have no idea is this person going to repair my boat in two days? Is this person gonna introduce me to the person who’s going to repair my boat in two days? We don’t know. We don’t know. So it’s just being. I’m just being a human being. Not a human trying, not a human doing, not a human giving, not a human taking just a human being.
Alex Alexander 34:31
And like in between, you have space to offer and to give and to receive and to ask, like you just kind of go with the flow based on what’s available to you and the capacity you have at the moment and the skills that align and just feels like there’s less pressure honestly. I think at home in Canada in the states when somebody says something to you, like, if I say, I want to start a podcast, there’s almost this pressure to like come up with some seventh removed connection or something they saw, like, people, I think a lot of times feel this pressure, where if I’m going to put it out, they have to reciprocate, and they’re like desperately trying to do so. When in reality, it’s like, if you don’t easily have a connection, want to give the connection have the capacity, like, just move on. It’s okay. You don’t have to give it all back. It doesn’t have to be transactional versus, like, I am jealous. It just sounds like you get to exist. And whatever feels right. One way or the other, is what happens.
Vickie Leunberger 35:50
Mm hmm. Yeah. I love your perspective. I love that word also transformational. Transactional versus transformational relationships. I think that’s, that’s huge. And I think that’s where the connection is, you know, I kind of see like, I see connections as a pipeline. Or two, we know when the connection is really small. It’s like a small straw. And it’s so small that both of us cannot be in it at the same time. Like, I send you something through the straw, and you send me something back. And then as your connection grows like that, too, that pipeline grows, and then at one point, we can see, the connection is so big, that we can see each other whole, we can both be in that too. We don’t need to just send things through it. It very much feels like that. It feels like I can be whole, like I can be myself and I don’t need to wait, my turn to send something back. You know, that makes sense?
Alex Alexander 36:41
Yeah, like you can just start off with more of a tube than a tiny straw to begin with that that’s the space, the… I mean, the culture. The culture is probably the right word there. That’s like the default setting is this larger tube, instead of a tiny straw?
Vickie Leunberger 37:00
Like you said, I think for the tube to work, both people need to start with that same assumption. And when I was in September, people were offering me their big tube, and I was still expecting, responding with a straw, right? So I needed to first make that shift of, oh, what happens if I open my heart to everybody and start with the assumption that this relationship can be meaningful if I allow it to be?
Alex Alexander 37:25
Okay, so now I have a question from that. Now that you’re ingrained in this culture now that you’re no longer operating from a straw but a tube, when you meet new people that are new to the culture and they’re operating from that kind of like, beginners straw mentality, how does it feel on your end? Does that make sense? Like, do you feel like you are showing by offering things up? You’re helping them get there? Do you feel I don’t want to put words in your mouth? The reason I’m asking that is because I get questions on this podcast a lot from people who say, you know, this all sounds great, what you talk about on here, but not everyone has shifted their perspective yet. And it’s really hard to be operating in a way that like, doesn’t feel like it’s reciprocated. And I’ve talked about this in a variety of ways. But I’m just curious on your… how that feels for you.
Vickie Leunberger 38:30
Yes, yes, yes. So the first thing I want to say is that I actually love being a leader in kind of setting the tone for the experience of a cruiser, a new cruiser. So it’s happened twice this year that we met someone that it was like their first week on a boat. And we were the very first ones to approach them with their little dinghy. Say, Hi, where are you from? Where are you? Oh, this is our first boat, we just got it. We’re so nervous. Or, you know, we’ve been sailing for seven years. But usually, just the summer. This is our first boat in the Caribbean. And then it was so beautiful to be kind of the groundbreakers, like to be like the first one to give them an experience of what it’s like to be a sailor and invite them over on our boat and cook for them and just be like, as warm and welcoming as we could. And it was amazing to see the same people one month later doing that to other people.
Alex Alexander 39:32
I love that so much.
Vickie Leunberger 39:33
It’s such a privilege to be those people who are able to create the experience for them and just kind of showing them kind of like a puppy with an older dog, you know, shows them like where the food is going to be and where you’re supposed to pee and all of that, like we’re able to be those people and we are aware of that and we’re recognizing the privilege of that. So that’s the first thing. Outside of the cruising world, it definitely feels uncomfortable to operate from that tube and being with people with a straw. But I feel like you just need to push through it. It is going to be awkward. People are going to stare but it comes from…
Alex Alexander 40:13
Stares are such a good way to describe it. Because people are shocked quite often.
Vickie Leunberger 40:17
Yeah. Like, the best example I have is I have this one friend who used to be a lawyer and is not a lawyer anymore. And she’s amazed by our friendship and what our friendship is. And she’s like, I don’t understand what’s different with you. And she said, “Yesterday, I had brunch with all of the people I went to law school with. And I was sitting on that brunch, and I thought that brunch was so boring. It was so transactional, everyone was just like, how’s it going with your baby? My baby is well. How’s it going with your husband? My husband as well. Oh, Katie, I saw you put your house for sale? Yes. Yeah.” And there was no, it wasn’t meaningful. It wasn’t deep. It wasn’t juicy. It was just kind of surface stuff. And then I asked her, like, what did you do about it? What did you do to make the branch different?
Alex Alexander 41:04
It’s a great question.
Vickie Leunberger 41:06
As like, you’re one of the elements. You’re sitting at that table. I’m going to use the word a strong word, why are you victimizing yourself as I had a terrible brunch? Everyone around me was boring, and everyone around me was transactional. Okay, what did you do? And she was like, “Well, if I started to talk about problems in my life, or challenges, or just being vulnerable, that’s what it is, right? It’s vulnerability.” She’s like, “I don’t know, if they would have judged me, how they would have perceived me.” And I was like, bingo, you’re part of the problem, because you were sitting at that table, and you didn’t allow yourself to feel vulnerable, you… you weren’t able to push through that resistance to, to get out of that straw, and to be the tube at that table. And so that says, I try to be that person, when I’m at a table. Well, conversation feel forced and awkward and stuck, I open my deck of cards, I pour my heart out, I take the risk. You know, you’ve described me as courageous. To me, that’s even more courageous than sailing.
Alex Alexander 42:01
It’s that giving peace. I love that you’ve talked about this in the cruising community, but also going back to a different version of your life. Because I think you’re so right. Like the cruising community, when you meet these new cruisers, and you show them the way, right, you’re leading. You love doing it, because you know, what’s like, collectively waiting for them that you’re not gonna be the only ones to do this, that they’re very quickly going to fall in to this new way of life. You know, it’s kind of like you stand there, you’re like, just wait, just wait, this is gonna be so beautiful. You don’t even know it. Welcome. Here’s your first experience. And I think you’re totally right. In the straws land.
Vickie Leunberger 42:50
Yeah, I love it.
Alex Alexander 42:52
And in Canada and the US, it’s when you put yourself out there like that. There’s not that same feeling. There’s not the trust, like you are rocking the boat when you do it. And you have to either decide that it matters. And you don’t want to live in straws land all the time. So you’re just going to do it. Or you’re nervous and are frustrated and go with it. I think you’re totally right. And then what I was going to say is it goes back to kind of that like giving piece, because it’s one thing to sit at that table with all those transactional interactions and start asking really intense questions. It’s another thing to just start giving the real answers. Because what I find is, in those situations, if I start giving, like a real answer to something that isn’t three words, or cookie cutter or fine or good. You know, I don’t need to dump my biggest traumas on the table. But I just say like, oh, yeah, this week’s been really overwhelming. And this happened. And that happened. Generally, the flood gates open, other people start following suit because they want to, because they wish this was different too, but we don’t have that same trust, like people are going to probably leave that table and then go to another dinner and be transactional. Like, it’s not welcomed to this new way of life. It’s a very different experience. And I think that’s something that people listening are going, I don’t know, to maybe take with them. Like if you want to live differently, we have to do different things. So that was one of my biggest things actually about starting this podcast is I think that a lot of the stuff that’s out there about friendship and community is repetitive and honestly kind of shallow. It’s just like the same stuff on repeat, and it’s not working for a lot of people. A lot of people will feel lonely and disconnected. But we’re just trying to do the same things over and over and over again, hoping for different results. So like, we have to rock the boat, if we’re going to have different experiences. One way to do that could be packing up your life and cruising in the Caribbean. Another way could be speaking up at brunch. ,
Vickie Leunberger 45:22
And I think… like, we didn’t talk about this much. But another thing is, people will say that you need to love yourself, but a lot of people don’t know how to love themselves. And I think if you start to perceive your relationship with yourself just like any other relationship, that really, really helps. And I know that I’ve been able to create much deeper relationships around me and make a lot more friends. Because I started focusing on how I feel about me. And I’m able to trust myself. When I make promises to myself, do I keep them? How do I talk about myself? How do I show up for myself? Like all of this really, really helps. And it’s interesting, like, I just remember, I remember climbing the self esteem ladder, and just kind of peeking from the top and being like, what if I climb that last step, and I’m just going to become like self obsessed. Like, I’m gonna love myself so much, then I’m going to ruin our relationship and have no more friends. I remember peeking at the top of the self esteem ladder, and just kind of being scared to take that last step. And then I did it. And the complete opposite happened. It’s like if finally when I started to honor everything that was inside of me, I started to be able to see it so much deeply inside of people.
Alex Alexander 46:42
I have a bunch of episodes coming up about pretty much exactly this, but it’s kind of like those rumors that it’s lonely at the top. You know where that phrase. It’s like, in reality, the transitions are unfortunate, because as you become new versions of yourself, friendships change, and things shift. But there is either new versions of those old friendships, waiting for you, or new friendships or both. It doesn’t have to be, quote, unquote, “lonely at the top.”
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Vickie Leunberger 47:12
Mm hmm. Oh, yeah. Fascinating.
Alex Alexander 47:14
I was also thinking about… we talked about previously, as you were talking about, right, this kind of like balance when you’re out cruising between needing to be individually prepared, but also sharing what you have. And I thought that was such kind of like a beautiful physical analogy of what we were just talking about, of, you know, getting sure in yourself. Like you have to be accountable for yourself as a cruiser, right? You’re saying like in case you get stuck, you really need to be prepared. But simultaneously, that also makes you better prepared to help others, to give freely, because you know you can do it.
Vickie Leunberger 47:57
I remember, we were talking about co-ops and we’re talking about… it makes no sense that in Canada and the US, there’s 10 people living on a street and all ten of them own a land mower. Right? But then I kind of made the parallel with the cruising life. And I was like, the truth is that I need to own my own land lower. Obviously not, you know, that’s an image, I don’t have one on my boat. Because sailing is like your own little floating island. It makes us ready to help and ready to be generous in a way as well. It’s an interesting image.
Alex Alexander 48:30
Yeah, it’s like you’re taking responsibility, seems right for yourself and your safety and your well being and your boat, and your course and your action. Like you have to do all of that. But in doing that, you also know that other people are doing that so they can step in and help you and you trust their advice. Probably because you know, that they have to learn all these skills too in order to survive. So if there is some nuance you don’t know, they’ve hopefully probably researched it. And like, it just creates all these people who are like really taking responsibility of themselves to a level where they can just give freely and what makes sense.
Vickie Leunberger 49:18
Yeah. Oh, no, that’s so important. Self responsibility on a boat is so important. And you can’t fall into victimhood. Because if you do, you’re not going to be able to survive this lifestyle. Because you know, you need to be able to spend a whole week without a… you to be able to spend a whole week without a shower. You need to… you cannot be in a mindset of why is this happening to me? Because if you are, you’re gonna be miserable living on a sailboat. You really need to be in a mindset of, okay. You know, what can I learn from this? You mentioned curiosity at the beginning of the podcast. I think that’s probably one of the skills that is becoming more and more valuable or more and more obvious to me that people need to develop, because curiosity will solve almost all of your life’s problem. If you’re curious about other humans, you’ll connect with other humans. If you’re curious about how to fix your problems, you’re going to find solutions for them, like curiosity to solve so many things.
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Alex Alexander 50:19
I literally recorded an episode with someone yesterday, and we went into it, you know, she really wanted to talk about like vulnerability and the importance of being your authentic self and whatever. After this whole conversation. What we came to in the end is like, what we’re not talking about enough is about curiosity. We can talk about authenticity and vulnerability, all we want really at the core of that is curiosity about yourself and about the people around you. I’m very excited to hear that episode. It’s just not maybe discussed enough is where we got yesterday.
Vickie Leunberger 50:52
Yeah. For me, it’s really associated to getting back to that childlike state, before culture or society forged you or molded to, I don’t know it sculpted you. Like, it’s to go back to that childlike state of curiosity is also very much associated to playfulness. You’re constantly playing and playing is how kids learn, right? So when I’m on my boat, and my diesel engine is broken, if I go back to that childlike state of curiosity and playfulness, I’m just gonna start taking the engine apart piece by piece, like it’s Lego. But at first my ego and my western brain is going to be like, you can’t do this. You’re not an engineer. You don’t know this, you’re not good enough. Bla bla bla bla bla bla. But if I go back to that childlike stage, I opened the diesel mechanic manual, I open YouTube, I start taking the pieces apart, there’s oil, you know, coming out in some cases. There’s gas coming out and then okay, now I need to ask for help. And I go find an old pirate on his boat who has nothing else to do in his day then help me out and I’m like, “Hi, old pirates. I took my engine apart, do you want to come play with me?” And then he comes sit with me and my diesel and engine oil and saltwater and we put the pieces back together. And wow, the engine works again.
Alex Alexander 52:21
And all just because you stayed open to figuring it out and going on this adventure. Also, again, slightly jealous. I’m just gonna pack it up after this episode. I’m moving to the Caribbean to become a cruiser. This sounds like my dream life. I’m in. It sounds so rich and all the experiences. If you were to tell somebody who was considering I know they’re gonna people listening to this, if you were going to tell somebody who’s considering like, doing just that, packing it up and joining the cruising life, is there anything you would say to somebody who’s considering it?
Vickie Leunberger 53:00
Yes, yes, yes. Get formal training when it comes to sailing. Have a bigger budget for repairs than you’re anticipating, like double it. Buy good equipment first. Do not go for like, just I’m thinking of dinghy, especially your Zodiac like the equivalent of our car, right, where we use to go from our boat to land. We’ve been on the sea for nine months. This is our third one. We learned lesson the hard way, we wish we bought a brand new one from the beginning and not buy secondhand ones. So get the stuff that you’re going to use every day, invest money in it. Do not go cheap for electricity. Do not go cheap o. On boat equipment, safety equipment. Connect with cruisers before you go, join Facebook groups. Tell them your plans, tell them what kind of boats you’re looking for. People will be so generous in helping you. And people will also tell you that you’re crazy and that you should go and take courses. But you don’t have to listen to the few haters on Facebook groups. Listen to the ones that are telling you that it’s the most amazing life. Yeah, find someone who’s done exactly the kind of sailing you want to do. Like do you want to cross oceans? Do you want to do the Panama Canal? Do you want to cruise in French Polynesia? Do you want to stay in the Caribbean like find cruises that are there doing what you want to do? Are you a family? Connect to other families. Are you pregnant? Yeah, if you’re a solo female sailor, connect with other solo female sailors. Like find the people that are doing because they exist. Learn to read maps, like nautical maps before you go that was probably the most useful course I’ve done. Oh, if you’re in a couple, definitely, we did that. Get some couples therapy before you go so that you can get some communication tools before you’re out there at sea and that the only option is pushing your loved one overboard as you can. You know?
Vickie Leunberger 54:45
Because it’s a high stress situation sometimes. Yeah.
Vickie Leunberger 54:48
it’s a very stressful environment. And some days you, you know, you’re not gonna love your partner as much and there’s no ways or place to escape. You’re on a tiny floating island. So yeah, get some couples therapy before you go. That’s another thing I would say, just like preventive. Like give us some tips, communication tips. What can we use if our relationship kind of goes off the tracks and while we’re on the sea? Yeah, off the top of my head, that’s what’s coming now.
Alex Alexander 55:16
I mean, that was a number of great actionable tips for somebody. I will note that in my consideration of just packing it up, leaving Seattle, and becoming a cruiser. I’m not going to try and convince my husband who doesn’t like swimming really, or the water that this is our life plan. It’s not going to go well. I think I’ll find a friend. Maybe I’ll find a friend and we’ll just cruise for a year. Vickie, thank you so much. I’m excited for people to hear this episode. I think there’s so many beautiful takeaways from it. I really appreciate you being here.
Vickie Leunberger 55:49
Thank you so much, Alex.
Alex Alexander [Narration] 55:51
That was a fun one, wasn’t it? Just me. Because maybe this is my retirement plan. Anyways, I know that this is not everyone’s retirement plan. This is not everyone’s… this probably sounded horrible to some people. But there are others that this is gonna sound like the dream, no matter what. It goes back to that curiosity piece of seen hearing that there are different ways people are living, that this community where people just care is possible. And some little examples of how we might decide to lean into this and be the leader. Make some changes, build something that sounds a little bit more like a space where we can just exist than many of us are experiencing in our day-to-day lives right now.
Podcast Intro/Outro 56:56
Thank you for listening to this episode of Friendship IRL. I am so honored to have these conversations with you. But don’t let the chat die here. Send me a voice message. I created a special website just to chat with you. You can find it at alexalex.chat. You can also find me on Instagram. My handle, @itsalexalexander. Or go ahead and leave a review wherever you prefer to listen to podcasts. Now if you want to take this conversation a step further, send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting. And use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out. No need for a teary Goodbye. I’ll be back with a new episode next week.