World travel as a lifestyle?
December 31, 2010 4:29 PM   Subscribe

I want to travel the world as a lifestyle, but I'm a recently-graduated programmer with no job experience. How do I make this a possibility?

I've wanted to travel the world for much of my life, staying in one place for no more than a couple of years (and as little as a couple of months, or even weeks) at a time. Unfortunately, I've been somewhat busy with college for the past few years, so I haven't had much of a chance to plan. Now I'm 22, and I feel my dreams slipping away from me. I have a CS degree from a prominent university, but I've never had a job, so I don't have a huge amount of savings, nor do I expect anyone abroad to want to hire me -- especially in this economic climate. (I currently live in the US.)

How do I get on with my dreams as soon as possible, preferably by the end of the year? I've read previous questions on the subject, but most of them either assume that the traveler has money, or that they'll only be traveling for a couple of months. I want to make this my lifestyle. What steps should I take to make this a possibility? (If it matters, I'd like to go to England first.)

I'm sorry if this question seems hopelessly naive, but please work with me. If it's even a remote possibility, I'd like to live life on my own terms. Any advice at all would be much appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
TEFL qualification is one avenue. And don't assume you can't get a job in your field oversees. Apply, apply, apply.
posted by idest at 4:45 PM on December 31, 2010

I have a friend who is a coder and translator and seems to have no fixed address. Near as I can tell, he lives out of a messenger bag, and over the past few years has lived in Tokyo, San Francisco, Beijing, New York, and Philly. I'd put you in touch with him if you weren't anonymous.

He definitely does have paying work—it's not like he can magically live in these expensive locales with no income.
posted by adamrice at 4:45 PM on December 31, 2010

I had a coworker who had a previous job with a company that set up networks all over the world. He spent most of his time flying to Exotic Locales to set down a few routers, see the sights for a day, and vamoose. It's not exactly "traveling," but they gave the job to pretty much anyone who applied (who had their head around networking basics) just because it was so stressful.
posted by griphus at 4:47 PM on December 31, 2010

nor do I expect anyone abroad to want to hire me -- especially in this economic climate.
Well, the economic climate isn't the same worldwide. The US and most of Europe are screwed, but there's lots of opportunity in developing nations. Brazil and China are pretty hot right now.

If you want you could sign up with an NGO or something, maybe. And you can program from anywhere.

And teaching English is always a possibility.
posted by delmoi at 4:49 PM on December 31, 2010

Is joining the Navy at all an option?
posted by restless_nomad at 4:56 PM on December 31, 2010

I knew a programmer who did contract work for 6-12 months at a time. He lived very frugally with no unnecessary bills. At the end of his contract, he had a huge pile of money saved up and he traveled the world until it started to run out. Rinse, repeat.
posted by CathyG at 4:56 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Look into jobs that allow you to telecommute? One of my friends works for a company based in Houston. She lives in Greece. One drawback is that she has to work on their timezone, i.e. starts at 2pm local time or sth like that, but she could live pretty much anywhere she wants.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 4:58 PM on December 31, 2010

The 4 Hour Work Week is an entire book that has, as its premise, instructions on how to do exactly what you want to do. It was written for someone exactly like you...with your qualifications, lack of familial or financial commitments, and overall youthful exuberance. You might find it useful and inspiring.

Personally, for me, as someone without the above mentioned qualifications, it read more like one of those "Yo, Wanna know how to make a lot of money without doing a lot of work?....Write and sell a lot of books explaining how to write a book that promises to tell people how to make a lot of money without doing a lot of work!" books. But then again, I may just be grouchy.

Seriously pretty much is an instruction manual for doing just what you have asked about.

Good luck. Should you succeed, just contact me via MeMail and I will give you an address to which you can mail my consultancy fee. Per The 4-Hour Work Week, I'm not handin' advice out for nothin' ya know!
posted by nickjadlowe at 5:32 PM on December 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

If you get into consulting, you can do your work from anywhere. Now, if the word "consultant" sounds like a guy a lot older than you, take a closer look. A consultant is just somebody who does work for someone else. Really, if you want to think of it as getting short-term work, gigs, freelance projects, temp work, whatever -- that's fine. Ideally, over the long haul, you build it into a real business, so that you have something sustainable. But, in the meantime, if you just take bits and pieces of freelance work, you can build it up. I don't travel all over the world all the time, but I do live on the West Coast of Canada and I've got clients all over the world. By the time I was 23, I was doing consulting work for a Fortune 500 company with offices in the US midwest, California and Toronto.

However, since you're a recent grad, you might try for one of those work abroad programs that the UK, Australia and so on offer to young people, usually those <30. Even if you get a job waiting tables, you can still build up a volunteer or career history to accommodate your consulting goals -- and then you really can eventually work from anywhere, doing what you life, not just what pays the bills.
posted by acoutu at 6:23 PM on December 31, 2010

Many of the big software companies have offices around the globe and allow such transfers. I could easily go work in Europe or Japan in my current job, for example. I'm not sure whether they'd be open to starting you in an overseas position or not but I really don't see why not if the visa situations can be handled.

These companies (Google, Microsoft, Facebook, that sort of thing) are starved for talent at the moment so if you are really good you'd at least have a shot (no guarantees... despite an engineer shortage, most of these companies are still extremely picky about hiring).
posted by wildcrdj at 6:52 PM on December 31, 2010

You could try getting freelance work off oDesk and elance.
posted by blargerz at 6:52 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Like CathyG recommended, I had a friend who worked for a year at an insurance company, living Very Frugally. He then took off with the ~$15k he saved and traveled the world. Every once in awhile he worked under the table, but he was still traveling years later. With your skill set, you should be able to work until you have savings, then go.
posted by ldthomps at 7:51 PM on December 31, 2010

I'm in customer service, and a lot of companies that are based in the US have locations abroad. They also often have a fairly large need for tech-savvy folks. I'm in the Philippines now for a year because my comapny knew I wanted to travel overseas, and they had a new project in an area where I had experience. It may take you some time to get there -- it took me about a year, and I wasn't exactly doing what I wanted at first, but I knew the opportunity was there, so I stuck it out.

Also, remember: most Americans probably aren't willing to relocate overseas. It's too far away and too scary or they just aren't interested in packing everything up and having to lay down new roots. If you make your interest known, and are willing to work hard and demonstrate that you're committed to the company, you have a much better shot at being promoted abroad. Remember also that a lot of companies struggle to implement their corporate culture in their overseas offices, and you can use that to sell your desire to go abroad.

So definitely look for companies and openings abroad, but also look at individual businesses and sectors that tend to have large foreign presences as well. You may have to stick through something in the US for a while first, but make your goals known, and if it's a good company and you do good work, they'll likely be happy to work with you. Feel free to MeMail me for more on that...

But if you're focused on getting out within a year, teaching English may be your best bet (although obviously that would preclude going to England). Sign up for a TEFL class now and get certified, and you can pretty much write your own ticket in a lot of places. Peace Corps applications will probably take about a year from start to deployment, so depending on how quickly you want to go, that may or may not be an option.
posted by wandering steve at 8:44 PM on December 31, 2010

Develop an expertise, find something that you can do that is in demand wherever you want to go. Teaching English is a great way to get your feet wet in a country, and I have a lot of friends who used it as a way to transition into something more "real". When I taught in China, I worked around 15 hours a week, 9 months out of the year. I only made $600-1200 a month, but with free housing that was enough to do a lot of traveling with the off time.

And don't worry about your age, time slipping away, travel being for the rich, etc. When I was your age, I had only been only a plane about 3 times and had been in maybe 6 US states. I've been to 21 countries now, and until two years ago, I had never made more than $20,000 in a year.
posted by bluejayk at 8:46 PM on December 31, 2010

This is a bit different than what you are talking about, but have you considered working for the US State Department as a Foreign Service Officer? Most postings are for two years at a time, and while you'll be back every few rotations to work in DC, typically you'd spend most of your career overseas.

You won't be doing this in a year, but you could, for example, try to travel or work overseas and in the meantime be applying to the State Department.

You wouldn't have total control over your career and postings, but you would have some input into where you'd work, plus the good benefits and pay of the federal government.

If you are at all intrigued, they have a little quiz you can take to see if this kind of job might be a good fit.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:17 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't suggest how to do this but I can tell you what will make it impossible. Debt. So...that said....avoid all debt. Happy New Year!
posted by snowjoe at 11:35 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are lots of computery-types traveling around the world off of freelance dollars - that is, they work on the road. Most of the terms for this are pretty obnoxious but you might try googling 'digital nomad' or 'location independent' for a taster. The folks I've met have, by and large, arranged their own contracts through their network in the industry. It's certainly doable with a little resourcefulness!
posted by clipperton at 3:14 AM on January 1, 2011

Oil Exploration an entry position as a seismic observer typically requires a technical degree and involves working one month onboard a ship and then one month off with enough cash to travel anywhere you want.
posted by Lanark at 7:19 AM on January 1, 2011

The State Department hires IT specialists.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 11:22 AM on January 1, 2011

Seconding what Gringos Without Borders and bluedaisy said. I'm not IT but I am Foreign Service, and absolutely love it so far. If the Foreign Service lifestyle appeals to you, the easiest way in is probably as a specialist - the starting pay is higher than you'd get as an FSO and it seems like there's less competition in the hiring process. Lots of info out there (including many blogs about the hiring process, lifestyle, etc) if you want to learn more...
posted by photo guy at 6:25 PM on January 1, 2011

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