How can I have my cake abroad and eat it, too?
January 31, 2011 1:58 PM   Subscribe

In a few years once I've finished college, I'd like to travel the world and pay for that travel, at the same time. How feasible is this?

I've read about people who teach English to make money, work in hostels to get free room and board, that sort of thing. How is this sort of nomadic lifestyle possible? Should one look for local work, or freelance for companies worldwide? Under-the-table work? Is the Peace Corps a viable option for this? The Geek Corps? I'd be happy volunteering for a few months provided my basic expenses are covered.

I'm interested in both first- and third-world destinations (really, anywhere and everywhere), but my main goal is to not stay in one place for too long.

Blogs by people who are doing this (with financial advice), or general ideas on how to make money while traveling are welcomed.

If anyone here has done or is doing this, bonus points.
posted by reductiondesign to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I am fairly certain that the Peace Corps would not be an ideal fit for what you are looking to do. Can you save money now? Set up a savings account that you contribute to while you're in college and then use that to travel once you graduate??
posted by AlliKat75 at 2:05 PM on January 31, 2011

Here's a friend's blog. She quit work, took around 14 months off and traveled South America by herself. She did not work her way to travel because she used part of her savings from working a regular job for 5 years. This particular post has some inspiring thoughts.
posted by thewildgreen at 2:14 PM on January 31, 2011

I knew someone who did this by traveling with a suitcase full of "stuff," that she bought in a first country, and that sells for more in a second country, leap-frogging along like that. But she had to know what to buy, what to pay, and things like that a bikini made in Bali, would have to be extra large to count as as extra small in some other places.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:20 PM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

WWOOF is what you're looking for. The jobs don't pay money, so you'll need to have enough savings to cover your transportation and incidental expenses, as well as any actual you know touristy things you want to do.

But that aside, you get a place to live and food on the table and an opportunity to meet and live with interesting people local to the area. All in exchange for relatively few hours of hard and rewarding work per week.

I WWOOFed (yes, it's a verb) in Mexico for four months in 2005 for a total cost of $1000, including two way transportation from Toronto.

There are only two caveats:

1. You really need to do your research on the individual farms that you're going to stay at. Pay close attention to the feedback from other visitors. If there's no feedback, ask the owner if they can give you contact info for one or more of their previous visitors before you commit, so you can follow up yourself. Some of the WWOOF sites are absolutely amazing, but the quality varies tremendously.

2. I've heard criticism of WWOOF for taking jobs (manual farm labour) in poorer countries that could be done by locals and giving them to first world tourists on a lark. There's some truth to that. On the other hand, bringing strangers into your house and to your dinner table is not something that everyone goes for, so it's clear that the people running these farms aren't just looking for labour. They want to provide an education and tourism service just as much as they want to receive labour. And that's their call. If you're uncomfortable with the economic morals of the situation, you can only visit WWOOF sites in first world countries. There are plenty.
posted by 256 at 2:25 PM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

You could look into HelpX, WWOOF, Bridge Volunteers, Volunteers for Peace, the7interchange, Workaway, and VolunTourism. I don't have personal experience with any of these.

If you're still in college, I would also suggest (even though it's not what you asked about) looking into as many grants and fellowships as possible for summer programs and so on. I got one that I wasn't expecting to get, and it was a good experience.

Please get training from a reputable program, such as a university-based TESOL certificate or a CELTA, if you decide to teach English. Knowing how to speak a language is an entirely different skill set compared to a) teaching and b) explaining the workings of your language. The world is full of untrained, unskilled English "teachers." A few of them are naturally skilled, which is great; the rest of them inadvertently make life pretty difficult for their students and for professional English teachers. (Yes, this is a sore spot with me.)

Good luck--I wish I'd traveled more when it would have been easier.
posted by wintersweet at 2:27 PM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

I did all my WWOOFing in the US and Canada, but I'll say that during peak season, some of my hosts were able to set me up with part-time work for cash with neighboring farms. If you figure about 20 hours/week minimum for room and board with your host, you can usually put in another 20-30 and still have time to explore in the evenings and weekends.
posted by pilibeen at 2:36 PM on January 31, 2011

I recommend the documentary A Map For Saturday (really great and recommended to me in this old AskMe).
posted by artlung at 2:42 PM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Programs like the Peace Corps are competitive and require a long commitment (Peace Corps is over 2 years) but cover all of your expenses, including airfare. If you're willing to put in the time and are interested in international development, they're ideal, but if you really just want to bum around and have fun without going into debt, they're probably not for you.

Working options-- I don't have personal experience with this, but I've looked into it. Teaching English can often cover your living expenses while you're in country, and in some countries (esp. asia), if you complete a certain amount of time (like a year or more) some organizations will compensate you for your airfare. In developed countries, you can sometimes get temporary working visas-- my brother went to Australia this summer on a work and holiday visa and broke even (including the plane ticket) by working in a vineyard. The downside-- he was an agricultural laborer in a small town all summer. Are you willing to do that? Then with hostels and things, a lot of time you can get your room paid for, but you're still looking at a significant amount of money spent on food and fun.

The third option is volunteering-- you can often get room and board provided to you for free or at very low cost if you're willing to be a full time volunteer (esp. if you're willing to commit a few months or more). Check out volunteer south, some of these provide housing and/or room and board to volunteers. Also, there's always wwoofing, which generally pays room and board in exchange for work on farms.

Basically, it's all about how much time you're willing to stay in one place and/or what you want your time to look like. If you're willing to commit long chunks of time and hard work in out-of-the-way places, it's not too hard to cover many costs after you've paid the airfare. If, on the other hand, you want to chill out and meet other travelers and move around a lot, you're probably better off working for a while and saving as much money as possible before you leave and just focusing on traveling and having fun once you get there.
posted by geegollygosh at 2:43 PM on January 31, 2011

The other way of doing this that hasn't come up so far is to learn how to do something you can do from anywhere and bring a laptop. I know people who consult, blog, write, program, design, etc. and have been travelling for years. Its like normal freelancing except you don't stay in one place too long. You have to be a bit more careful about staying in range of internet access, or occasionally be like, "I'm going to be unavailable from start_date to end_date" if you are going some place really remote, but that's just your new equivalent of a vacation.

With services like Google Voice and Earth Class Mail, it doesn't even really need to be very obvious that you're not around. The mail gets scanned and uploaded a website, phone calls get forwarded, texts and voicemails get sent to your email.

The work visa situation is weird. The governments have not really caught up with this reality. If you have an LLC based in the USA and you are doing web design for a company in Germany, and you have US citizenship/passport, but you are actually physically typing on your laptop in Thailand...where are you working? Where do you need to have a work visa? The answer seems to be "It Depends" and in reality, it seems like most people just drift around on tourist visas and avoid doing any work for people in economic zones that they are on tourist visas in. I have no idea how the law actually sees this, but that's what people do. Meaning, if you are in France and you are on a tourist visa, you don't do any work companies in Schengen Zone countries. The tax situation is complicated, too.

This is a completely different type of experience: you are out of the whole 'totally broke traveler/volunteer' community a bit, and you can't really disappear into the jungle for months at a time, but it has its advantages.
posted by jeb at 3:54 PM on January 31, 2011

I worked and travelled through Europe and North America a few years ago. It's quite possible, but you need to either have a) an ability to survive on extremely little or b) some savings (how much depends on how long you want to be away.

My jobs included kitchen work, removals work, apple picking, dodgy theatre ticket re-selling, cleaning, hostel work, running events at a bar, au pairing, babysitting, garden work, bartending, and construction. All of these are things you can do with little to no experience.

Having a work visa for the country you're in is pretty damn handy. Most of those jobs were in England where I had a working holiday visa; others elsewhere were under the table (and therefore paid far less).

Hostels (especially if they're big enough) can offer work for room and board, which is a great way to spend a lot of time somewhere without spending much money. You can work on your off days for pocket money. Also, you'll want to make friends. I only survived in Canada because (when my visa application fell through) I had a friend (who I'd met earlier that year, in London) who I could stay with, and who got me an under the table job in her restaurant.

This nomadic lifestyle is certainly possible, but most of the people doing it either have some source of outside income (rent, freelance work, etc.) that brings in the spending money while they survive on jobs, or they are limited in the travel aspect of the life. It's no trouble to set up shop in a new place and get by, and you'll have a blast, but if you want to keep moving around to new places and new countries, then you'll want to start with a decent figure in the bank.
posted by twirlypen at 4:41 PM on January 31, 2011

I traveled extensively throughout Europe, fourteen countries in all, for almost four months this past summer and the entire experience only ran about $1500. That included my airfare from NYC to London. How did I do it so cheaply? Couchsurfing, for one. Aside from that, I followed most of the other money-saving tips you can find in just about any book or blog on how to live within--or below--your means. Traveling doesn't have to be as expensive as you think it will be.
posted by HotPatatta at 4:49 PM on January 31, 2011

You can become a flight attendant. The job isn't always that wonderful, but you meet some interesting people, and the flight benefits are amazing. Stand-by, but free flights, and if there are enough seats you can even fly first class. I just got back from a Southeast Asia jaunt a few weeks ago.
posted by jnaps at 8:57 PM on January 31, 2011

I have some experience with this life style. I love to talk about it. I have lots of ideas, more if you're under 30. Please feel free to memail me with any specific questions.

I've taught English, worked under the table, couchsurfed, and managed to get visas as well. It's super fun, good life experience, and really not all that hard to do. The best thing you need is a desire to get out there, the ability to live on very little, and very little debt. I had no debt and a couple thousand in savings when I started, and that helped me tons (I'm sure you could manage a little debt, your options would just be more limited).

Let's chat.
posted by mosessis at 2:45 AM on February 1, 2011

I'm going to de-recommend Peace Corps based on what you wrote. Getting-your-travel-jollies is not really the purpose of the program. They really need people who are committed to community and/or technical development, often in really out of the way places. I didn't go this route, but the people I know who did had a great time and mostly worked their butts off. As someone else noted, this program and others like it are also very competitive and not to be taken as a lark. If you read back through AskMe you will find some PC volunteers who have been in the application process for a year or two before being shipped out, and not to their first-choice beach-filled post but to somewhere totally different.

WWOOF, on the other hand, is a great possibility especially in first-world countries where otherwise your room and board is $$$. There are other non-farm exchanges that have similar goals in helping out in exchange for a place, but I am blanking on the names.
posted by whatzit at 9:54 AM on February 1, 2011

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