Depending on your talents, tenacity and where you want to find work, there are thousands of different ways to earn your keep, that can range from selling shave ice in the West Indies for a few weeks, to guiding travellers through the mountains of China for the rest of your days.
That being said, of course, there are a few tried-and-true jobs that can help both the casual worker and the professional travel with purpose. Check out our top ten.
(1) Find a seasonal gig on a farm
When it’s time to bring in the harvest, farms from Uganda to Peru will hire extra hands in exchange for room and board. Imagine spending your days pulling weeds in Sicily, or picking jackfruit on the eastern Filipino coast while eating (really) fresh, home-cooked meals and hanging out with other hired farmhands. Workdays can last as long as the sun is up and enjoying a couple of days off per week is standard. These jobs are best for people who like working outdoors, don’t mind a bit of manual labour and prefer short-term gigs that usually range from one week to a month or so.
Most casual workers looking to schedule gigs in advance gravitate to organic farms like the ones listed by national coordinating bodies under the umbrella of World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). For a modest fee, they will send you a list of accredited farmers looking for help; these workdays last a maximum of six hours.
Where to start: wwoof.org
(2) Become an au pair
If you like working with kids and you don’t have a criminal record, au pairing could be for you! Lots of families, mostly in European cities, need live-in childcare and will hire foreigners with no experience or training to work as nannies. Most of these jobs are filled by young women (and some men) between 18 and 25 who can babysit and handle a few basic domestic duties. The job is low on manual labour but definitely not for those without experience taking care of kids or doing laundry.
You can expect free room and board in exchange for your services, as well as some pocket money and time off. The best part of the gig is the chance to partake in a meaningful cultural exchange with the family you work for and, if it’s not an English-speaking country, there is a great opportunity to pick up another language. Poke around some au pair job sites and negotiate a contract before you book your flight.
(3) Join the seasonal workforce at a special event or in the tourism industry
These aren’t great jobs for wallflowers, but if you can handle a crowd and enjoy customer service, casual work at a festival or other special event can be a great, flexible gig in almost any country. Annual events, like music or cultural festivals, sporting events and trade fairs, hire temporary, short-term workers with little to no qualifications or experience.
Similarly, there are jobs to be had in the seasonal tourism industry, for example, campsites, hotels and catering companies. You could find yourself doing anything from handing out ice cream at a beachside resort to tearing tickets at a desert music festival. In these cases, a little restaurant or customer service experience and, even better, a second language, can go a long way. Salary expectations will vary and you will probably have to arrange your own room and board.
Where to start: Research some possibilities in the region of your choice and contact the event organizers, hotels or campsites by phone, email or snail mail to inquire about any openings.
(4) Work in a hostel
The possibility of casual work exists at many private hostels around the world. If you ask around, there may be a need for help with cooking, cleaning, general maintenance or night porting duties—basically all the ins and outs of running a hostel. This kind of work is best if you’re passing through and need to make some extra money, or if you want to secure a long-term gig at the hostel in question by working your way up. Even better, some hostellers have been known to start their own mini-businesses selling goods or making breakfast, for example, as long as the hostel doesn’t already offer these services.
Where to start: Chat withthe hostel manager(s) and see if anything is available.
(5) Teach English (casually)
Some days it feels like everyone and their mother has at least considered teaching English overseas at one time or another. If you’re comfortable leading a classroom of children or adults and you’re looking for a break from your job or education, trying to travel long-term without saving a fortune beforehand, or just looking for a way to make a living in a non-English speaking country, teaching English makes sense for a lot of reasons. For one, lots of countries, from Georgia to the Philippines, have a demand for English teachers. What's more, being a native speaker of the language means you’re already qualified, although having a degree in education or enrolling in a TEFL/TESOL/TESL certificate course can certainly help your job prospects.
Whatever your qualifications, there are lots of ways to approach this job market. You can use an English teacher recruitment company to help you arrange a contract (a good idea for first-timers) or scour job boards and navigate the world of work visas and teaching contracts yourself. Just keep in mind that most contracts should include accommodations, that it’s generally better to secure a contract before moving abroad and that placements can range from private to public schools and usually last around one year.
(6) Teach English (professionally)
While teaching English abroad might be a popular go-to gig for the casual worker (see #5), lots of people also make a career out of it by securing a string of contracts, either in the same place or in entirely different continents. How long you want to work and where is up to you, though it’s probably best to make sure your next job is lined up before you run out of money or your visa expires. As you gain work experience, you can potentially increase your salary expectations and make a good living.
Where to start: Check the resources listed in the previous section.
(7) Become a travel writer
Travelling the world and getting paid to write about it may sound glamorous and exciting, but it does have its downsides. Even if you’re aiming to stay in five-star beachside resorts, the tolls of travelling constantly and working on the road can include hours of pitching stories, contacting tourism boards in different time zones, 16-hour red-eye flights, tight deadlines and weeks without a hot shower. That being said, it can also mean seeing more of the world than most people will ever see and getting to share those experiences with an audience of envious readers. If that sounds appealing to you, make sure you can put together a legible sentence and, these days, knowing how to work a camera is essential.
Whether you want to write for guidebooks, newspapers or Verge (hi!), the starting point is the same: travel, write and pitch those stories to websites, newspapers, magazines and guidebooks. The pay won’t always be great, so this isn’t a field to get into for the money. There are courses you can take to learn the trade, which can be helpful, but most travel writers learn on the road. The most important thing to remember is to do your research and find the unseen angle that no one else has covered.
Where to start: Read these Verge articles to get a better sense of what awaits you as a travel writer:
Try your hand at travel writing by contributing to the Verge Storyboard. Each week we select an article submitted by our readers, to be published on our Readers' Storyboard. Get published and start building your travel writing resume.
(8) Work in international development
Job opportunities in the field of international development are about as diverse as they get. You can find yourself managing databases for the United Nations, researching papers at a university or, for example, making a contribution with an NGO on the ground. This can mean organizing the distribution of mosquito bed nets in Senegal or helping local partners design sewage treatment systems in India. If you’re flexible, open to new challenges and interested in making a difference, but you also understand that you can’t save the world in a day, this could be for you. If you’re just starting out or working for a smaller NGO, the pay won’t be great, but some larger NGOs and governmental organizations—including the UN—offer very competitive salaries.
While it’s possible to work or volunteer for an organization like Oxfam or Free the Children without a degree, many who choose to make a career in the field study international development, political science, environmental studies, economics or a particular region like Latin America. Volunteering for a development NGO is also a great way to enter the field and learn more about it before committing.
You can start by contacting an NGO with an office in your area to inquire about volunteer or job openings. If you’re already overseas or you’re planning to be, keep an eye out for local grassroots organizations that can often accommodate new volunteers or workers. Find out what kinds of skills are needed and how you can contribute.
Where to start: Check out the article in this section on the work of a logistician with Médecins Sans Frontières. You can also read this Verge article that offers a glimpse into the work of humanitarian aid workers, one of many professions in the development field: First on the Ground in Haiti.
(9) Become a travel guide
Being a travel guide doesn’t necessarily involve leading a group of tourists through the must-see celebrity hot spots of Los Angeles. It can also involve using your knowledge of an area to guide inquisitive travellers into a remote region in Madagascar or Peru. It can involve living in tents and jungle hammocks, climbing cliffs and tending to food poisoning. Wherever there are travellers who need a little guidance, there are opportunities to be a travel guide. In order to make this your career, you will need plenty of knowledge, flexibility, an openness to challenges, and an ability to lead and work with people—even if they’re cranky, sunburnt and want to stop for bathroom breaks every five minutes.
One particular offshoot of the travel industry that may appeal to you is adventure travel. These guides may require a range of hard skills, such as rock climbing, outdoor survival skills and emergency first aid. In fact, growing interest in the field means there are many outdoor education programmes available at universities and colleges; private companies also offer guide training and specialized skill development. In terms of pay, tour companies generally offer their leaders a daily wage plus a local allowance and tips.
Where to start: Read this Verge article to get a look at the life of an adventure guide: Work in the Outdoor Industry.
(10) Put an international spin on a degree in the health sciences, environment, law or business
It may sound cliché, but in such an increasingly globalized world, almost anyone can take their unique set of skills, education and professional background and carve out a niche in nearly any country. In particular, though, people with certain specializations tend to do better in the international job market than others, especially when you factor in a second language and experience overseas.
For one, a professional background in the health sciences as a doctor, nurse or paramedic (among others) can lead to working for an organization like Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or other aid organizations.
With a degree in law, you can pursue international human rights and commercial or trade law. The pay, however, tends to be less than if you were practising law in North America, so you have to think of it as a trade-off and a life choice.
With a business degree (or better yet, an MBA), you could work as an international business consultant. This involves travelling to any number of countries for weeks, or maybe even months, at a time to consult with governments, private companies or NGOs on business strategies, banking or investments, just to name a few. In this case, pay ranges quite a bit, but you can expect to make a decent salary depending on whom you work for.
If your background is in the environment, there are also lots of jobs working in national parks or consulting on green projects with NGOs, among others, that can take you far and wide. For job postings in the environmental field, check out stopdodo.com and Working Abroad: A Beginners' Guide.
Where to start: For more information on how to move your job prospects overseas, check out these Verge articles: Working Abroad: A Beginners' Guide, Working Abroad: A Beginners' Guide and Plan to Work Abroad.
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