In 2010, with very little forethought or planning, I quit my “real” job and decided to go travel the world.
It’s a story that’s been told thousands of times before—by now, it’s almost a cliche. Go ahead, tell it to me straight: I’m a walking cliche.
All I wanted was to see more of the world, to break my endless routine, and to start doing something with my life that was a little bit more out-of-the-box than working in a cubicle 260 days a year.
Something about cubicle life didn’t sit well for me. And the meetings—there were just too many meetings.
I didn’t have much of a plan. I also didn’t have very much money. I wanted to see some other parts of the world, but I knew that my limited funds would only take me so far.
So instead of working for five years to save up enough money to travel for one, I came up with a new plan. A better one.
With my one-way ticket to Australia, I planned to work in bars, nightclubs and restaurants to support an exciting lifestyle, and to fund the next stage of my global adventure.
“How are you going to be a bartender, Jeremy? You don’t have any experience!”
“I’ll figure it out,” I said.
(I’m notoriously good at bullshitting my way into things, but that’s another story for another day.)
I paid about $200 USD for a Working/Holiday Visa in Australia, which was approved online in about three days, at which point I was officially legal to work in Australia for a period of up to 12 months.
Those 12 months turned into three-and-a-half years of travel, working my way through Australia, New Zealand, China and Southeast Asia.
It’s the way I’ve traveled ever since.
In fact, it’s the way I recommend that most new travelers approach their first trip. Not necessarily bartending, though. Working while you travel is a tactic used by even the most experienced travelers, but it’s also one of the easiest ways to start traveling the world.
It’s easy, really—take a trip for 3-6 months, then travel for a few months, and repeat.
A Non-Stop RTW Trip is an Exhausting and Expensive Idea
Don’t misunderstand me. Going on a huge trip is awesome. If you can swing it, you should totally go for it.
My issue is with the phrase “non-stop.”
Because of “non-stop,” I see RTW travelers burning out all the time. Not stopping is rough. It’s rough on the body, rough on the soul, and rough on the wallet.
According to conventional wisdom, the “ultimate RTW trip” is meant to involve:
- Enough money to get you around the world in one go
- Enough forward planning to join all your journeys seamlessly together so you’re always moving forward
- You being superhuman enough to never get tired, never get sick and always ploughing onwards, always fixated on meeting your next connection.
As an experienced world traveler, I want to set the myth straight.
You Don’t Need to Save Up the Money for the Whole Trip
It’s true that going around the world can be a lot cheaper than most people think. For example, Shannon O’Donnell did it on just $18,000. Yet that’s still a lot of money you’ll have to squirrel away, and it’ll take a good chunk of time to do that.
You’re Not Superhuman
Travel burnout is a thing, and in the words of Rocky Balboa, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there until your journey is over. Worse yet, if you’re physically and emotionally exhausted, your natural immunities are lowered and you’ll probably get sick.
Your Travel Plans Will Fall Apart
It’s a paradox that ruins many trips: to keep it affordable, you book the most expensive legs of the trip in advance. But the more solid your plans are, the more likely they’ll break when they meet the chaotic reality of world travel. In the words of travel blogger Stephanie Yoder:
This is a big part of why I now always tell people to be as flexible as possible with your big trip plans. I could never have anticipated 75% of the things that have happened in the past few years and I’m so grateful that my plans were loose enough to be changed (and that I didn’t buy a RTW ticket).
The bottom line is that going non-stop is tough—sometimes horrible—and it may actually be the worst decision you make on your RTW adventure.
Work and Travel: A New Roadmap For A Self-Sustaining RTW Trip
- Save up enough money to get you to a country that welcomes seasonal or casual workers.
- Stay in that country for a while, working and rebuilding your savings while seeing the world in a way you never could if you were just racing through.
- Repeat (1) and (2), circling the globe until you find yourself back home again.
I’ve spent seven years doing this. Working and traveling is still an adventure, but it won’t torch you or your budget. It’s flexible enough for you to alter your plans as you go, it offers a way for you to connect with communities on a deeper level, and the journey itself will generate savings, giving you more freedom to explore the world.
Depending on the type of work you’re doing, you can actually add valuable experience to your career. I’ve met doctors who work and travel, finding available positions in hospitals for six months to a year, and traveling the globe making great money, all the while rounding out their résumé.
Whether you’re six months into a trip or you’re in the process of planning your escape, working while you travel is one of the most feasible ways to travel.
The following countries offer working/holiday schemes for Americans to work and travel:
- Australia: Working Holiday visa (subclass 417) and Working & Holiday visa (subclass 462), bundled under the Working Holiday Maker program (12 months)
- New Zealand: USA Working Holiday Visa (12 months)
- Singapore: Work Holiday Pass (6 months)
- South Korea: Working Holiday Program (12-18 months)
- Ireland: Working Holiday Authorization (note: for stays of more than 3 months, you must also register with the Garda National Immigration Bureau)
Canadians have a bigger pick of the world to work and travel in. Right now, 32 countries offer working holiday visas to Canada’s passport-holders, including:
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
The travel site Global Goose has compiled a page of useful links on this topic, which you can find here.
And if you hold a passport for one of the 28 countries within the EU, you currently do not need special permission to work and travel in any other EU-member country – with the current exception of Croatian nationals (they face temporary restrictions) and the possible future exception of the U.K, which may be implementing restrictions in the near future as part of its ‘Brexit’ political shakeup.
(EU citizens planning to work outside the EU should check the individual working visa arrangements their countries have with the rest of the world.)
Where to Find Jobs Overseas
So you’ve saved up enough money and got your work visa—now you need to find a job.
Me? I find jobs when I land in a new destination. It's always easier to find work when you're actually in the same country and can meet with people face-to-face. But there's risk here, and you leave a lot up to chance.
But whether you're happy to wing it or you'd rather try to line things up in advance, it's always worth doing your homework first.
Start with checking out online job boards and job search aggregators. This can be a time-consuming activity, but seeing what’s available will give you a better general idea of the opportunities available, the average pay-scales and the average hours worked – plus, you might find the exact job you’re after. Try:
Next, search for more country-specific job boards and repositories of classified ads. For example, some of Australia’s most popular job boards:
How about social media? LinkedIn is a good place to go hunting and make useful contacts, and Facebook has Groups set up to help travelers swap tips and look for work in the place you’re travelling to. (For example, Australia has this Group for backpackers, with 70,000 members.)
And how about traditional social media? Does your former place of study have an alumni network? Say you’re an ex-student of the London Business School, – you have 28,000 people to reach out to, scattered across the world.
Lastly, you have your résumé – so polish it up and start handing them out in person so you can give them the full wattage of your charisma. Note: while good résumés look remarkably similar across the world, you may find there are a few significant differences. For example, in Britain and France a résumé is called a C.V. – and it’s standard practice in these countries to provide a local address or date of arrival.
Do your research, fit your résumé to the country you’re using it in – and get ready to hit the streets in your best button-down, wearing your most approachable demeanor. On-the-spot charm combined with the right attitude can go a long, long way.
Working and Traveling: How To Land The Perfect Job Abroad
Okay, there’s no such thing as the perfect job. Every job requires sacrifice. But the one piece of advice I’ll give is this: don’t look for the perfect job, look for the perfect job for you.
What are you interested in? What are your skills and qualifications? What benefits could those skills bring to potential employers?
If you have a vocational level of expertise – or the willingness to quickly level up your existing skills so you can be supremely useful to someone – then you’re ready to pitch them. If you're pitching through email, then it's all done in writing. If you're pitching in person (like in a bar, restaurant, or hostel), you'll be pitching in person. Your pitch needs to cover a few basic questions:
- Why them? What made you choose them for your pitch?
- Why this job? What are you going to do for them?
- Why now? What’s the super-timely reason they should employ you to do this job? What amazing opportunities would they miss if they didn’t employ you right now?
- Why you? What are your credentials? Why are you the best person for this job?? (Practical experience and attitude often outweigh formal qualifications, especially if you impress them in an interview.)
Bottom line: try to balance looking for the jobs currently available with pitching for the job you want.
Me? I chose to travel to Australia. But wherever you choose in the world, it’s the same procedure:
- Save up enough to get there (and no, it’s not about quitting your $5 latte habit)
- Get yourself there, and get yourself working
- Stay for a while, working your tail off…
- Return to step 1, and keep repeating until you’ve seen the whole world. Or as much of the world as you want to see, anyway.
Surprisingly simple, isn’t it?
What do you think about this plan? Have you worked and traveled? Would you? Let us know in the comments below!