How does one 24 yr old fresh out of college make money while traveling? Starting in New York. Teaching English?
March 19, 2012 10:30 PM   Subscribe

I am terrified to travel. Trying to overcome some of the most basic of challenges is intimidating such as where do I eat, where do I sleep, how do I make money all come to mind. I figure I keep a bag of rice with some peanut butter and oats on me for food. I'm thinking a tent for a place to sleep and panhandling if I wind up screwing this up too bad. I would day labor no problem if it comes down to it, wondering if anyone has any experience with this? I keep trying to find travel companions, but everyone keeps falling through.

I'm about to graduate from college in New York state. I kind of wanted to travel around Asia and Europe, but I don't have money and think I would prefer a first trip to be in the US. I keep getting told this is the best chance I have to travel at this point in my life before I get tied down. So how do I make money? I thought about working on websites while traveling, but I figure I would spend time traveling from New York down the Appalachian trail and then ending up some place down south, maybe making my way across Texas and up towards Oregon.

I've been trying to work up the nerve to do this, and with a thousand terrible 'what ifs' floating through my head, I could really use some support.
posted by Nighthawk3729 to Travel & Transportation around United States (28 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
You don't make money (or you cheat and wait tables here and there). You bring some with you and live cheaply. This is part of why people travel in Thailand or Vietnam or central America on these sorts of trips: you can get a bed in a hostel for $4/night and you can't generally do that in the US. The other main reason to travel in these exotic foreign locales is because you really get to experience a different culture that's not at all like the US. You don't get that in Alabama or Texas or Oregon.

You can live on like $10/day in many countries as a backpacker. You eat cheap local street food and cook breakfast for yourself at the hostel. You take $0.50 buses to new cities with travelers you meet on the way.

So what do you do for cash? Save $5000, quit your job and go (or put it all on a credit card and worry about it when you get back). Come back when you run out of money. Live as cheaply as possible. Meet random people. Get drunk with an Australian engineering student on the beaches of Mexico or get lost trying to help a girl from Colorado find some hostel in Munich. Try to figure out how to buy a bus ticket to the other side of the country in a language you don't really speak, because it's way cheaper than a cab with a driver who speaks English. Bargain with local street vendors for a price close to what the locals pay. Let other people suggest things that you're not sure about but you do them anyway because they might be exciting.

Worst case is you have to come home early.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:56 PM on March 19, 2012 [23 favorites]

I have one friend who spent several months traveling the world successfully, and another one who's broke, busking, was arrested, had all her things stolen, and is living out of Occupy tents. The difference? One is responsible and saved a lot of money, the other is not (like, don't leave your stuff laying around in public) and was in debt when she left.

In other words, as tylerkaraszewski says, save a lot of money. If you have friends abroad, visit them. It's... really hard to screw this up-- you're probably not going to starve to death if you don't have rice on you (also, oats and rice seem like fussy foods to carry around on your person). Pick a place that interests you and isn't too expensive and cut corners wherever you can manage. Do a lot of research. Give yourself time to wander. Know what the deal will be with your phone and how to access transportation and you should be good. (Also, the U.S. is super boring and has terrible transit, I wouldn't do a once-in-a-lifetime trip here.)

Part of the fun is building each day from the ground up-- finding out where to sleep, what to eat, meeting people, exploring a city. Have a loose plan and play it by ear.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:08 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and the reason it's hard to screw up is because if you don't know what to do next, you ask someone. Speaking English is an asset.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:08 PM on March 19, 2012

Are you the the type of person who can, with ease, walk into a bar/restaurant/shop that doesn't have a "help wanted" sign and confidently ask for work?

I'm not, and I had trouble finding work while backpacking. Lots of people are that type though, and they always seem to get by fine.

I would day labor no problem if it comes down to it

This is easily said, but do you have much experience with this kind of work? If you do, great, but if you don't you need to realize that there aren't many places these days where they'll give you work just for showing up.

All that said, a roadtrip across the country sounds like a great idea. If I were you I would work for 6 months living as cheaply as humanly possible to save up some cash for this trip so you're not out on your ass if you can't find work on the road.

Look for help wanted signs at backpackers' hostels. You don't even need to spend the night there, they'll probably have a job board right in the lobby.

The best advice, though, if you're nervous about all this: just make sure you always have enough money for a bus ticket home. That way the worst that can happen is you can't find work, you run out of money and you get on a bus. No harm, no foul.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 11:14 PM on March 19, 2012

I don't like the idea of anybody who's never traveled depending on money they hope to earn while traveling, especially when the backup plan is panhandling. That is not travel, it's more like being a hobo, albeit an international one if you leave the states.

Is it possible at all for you to save up $3-5k by working full time for a couple months? I've met people abroad who have been broke and saving up money to move on to the next place and well, they've never come off as a fellow traveler, but rather someone to avoid.
posted by loquat at 11:18 PM on March 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

Sounds like your fear is keeping you from doing something incredibly stupid. I agree with everyone else- get a job (or two or three) and save up before you go.

Your current plan will get you beat up and possibly arrested. Nobody likes a panhandler.
posted by myselfasme at 11:50 PM on March 19, 2012 [13 favorites]

I think that the scenario you are afraid of- overseas travel- is likely to be much easier and more pleasant than the one you propose. Swap pad Thai for oats and peanut butter and a tent for a bed, for a start. And lots of other Americans doing the same thing. I do agree that you want cash first though. Otherwise it can all become a little too muh like normality except with a crappier job, bed and food.
posted by jojobobo at 12:36 AM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think everyone else is doing a good job explaining that trying to work your way through travel is problematic. So let's look at your other questions: Trying to overcome some of the most basic of challenges is intimidating such as where do I eat, where do I sleep,

Go to your library and get guidebooks. They are intended to answer these questions in very location-specific ways. There are hostels all over the world, including the USA. As many people have pointed out, travel abroad can be cheaper outside the US; you won't find a US hostel for much under $30 a night, whereas in some places abroad you can both eat and sleep for $15 a day.

If you really want to stick to the US, you can plan a 30-day tour of the US combining a hostel guide, couch surfing, and a greyhound bus pass for maybe $50 a day. I actually think that would be a ton of fun, but if you can't work and save up $1500 minimum before taking a trip like this, I would suggest it's a poor idea to undertake this kind of journey.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:49 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I keep getting told this is the best chance I have to travel at this point in my life before I get tied down.

I've been trying to work up the nerve to do this, and with a thousand terrible 'what ifs' floating through my head

There's no reason you have to travel right away, or at all. Just because people say you should travel when you're young doesn't automatically mean that it's for you. Listen to your gut. If this terrifies you, then maybe wait until you're comfortable. And if that day never comes, don't feel guilty. This isn't something you have to do at all.
posted by delight at 2:22 AM on March 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

> I figure I keep a bag of rice with some peanut butter and oats on me for food. I'm thinking a tent for a place to sleep

If your traveling in the States or Europe, yes, you'll need this stuff.

But the good news is, you can dispense with all of this if you hit countries in Asia, Subsaharan Africa, or Central and South America where the living is easy--and cheap. As others have pointed out, you can live in these places in hostels--or, better yet, cheap hotels--for $15 a day or less. Your tent and food will be encumbrances weighing you down.

I once met a dude traveling through the Sahara with small, 6" x 6" messenger bag. That's it. Contained one change of clothing, laundry soap, travel docs and nothing else. He'd wash his clothes nightly in the sink, drying them in the intense Saharan heat. A full load of laundry was bone-dry in thirty minutes, according to him.

If your headed to a tropical destination, you won't have this option, and you'll need a day or two to dry clothes. But still, you can get by with laundering in a sink on most occasions, going to a laundromat in a pinch. Three days of clothes should be sufficient. Choose the smallest bag or backback you can find, and cram everything in. By toothpaste, razors, and paperback novels when you get in-country. Hit the Internet cafes for your email.

The advantages of traveling light are many. Mostly, it means you can check out in the morning, wander through the market or beach-side kiosks, go for a hike, run a few errands, and then jump on a bus in the evening--all without making a trip back to the hotel or to a coin locker in a train station to collect your gear.

In every country you'll visit, you'll see backpackers over-stocked with sleeping bags, pots and pans, and the kitchen sink, sweating as they struggle with their gear through the tropical or Subsaharan heat. They're not remembering that everything--from housing, to food, to clothing, to personal necessities, to Internet cafes--is available in-country.

Be the traveler whose pack or bag is so small it's invisible, and laugh at them.
posted by Gordion Knott at 2:54 AM on March 20, 2012 [9 favorites]

It sounds like you are not ready to travel.

I think the part of you that is telling you you can't handle it, is right, and you should not do it. I was forced into a comparable situation when I was not ready for it. I even went to my doctor because I was so anxious, and he essentially told me I was a YAVIS with no real problems and I should go and do the same thing that other people in my demographic were doing.

I won't describe it in detail now because I'm about to go into a meeting, but suffice it to say I was unable to manage in all the ways I had anticipated and more, was not able to force the world to provide me with what I needed at the moment I needed it, and the financial damage held back my life and career for at least a decade afterwards. The trip lasted three weeks, BTW.

Don't do this because They (who walk around in the woods and are Swedish) say you should do it. Do exactly and only WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE you want, and do it only when you are sure you have the mechanisms in place for things to go right. Do not fuck up your life for the sake of conformity.
posted by tel3path at 3:34 AM on March 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

I am terrified to travel. Trying to overcome some of the most basic of challenges is intimidating such as where do I eat, where do I sleep, how do I make money all come to mind.

The reason why you are terrified to travel but many people who do the same thing aren't is because they have money and a budget for their food and lodging before they leave, and you obviously don't. You're not "terrified" to travel as much as you simply have a voice going off in your head telling you, "I do not have the resources to travel right now."

Money first. Then travel.
posted by deanc at 5:51 AM on March 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

Seconding tel3path - you don't have to backpack across Asia. You say you only "Kind of" want to do that -- do the kind of travel that you "definitely " want to do. It's okay.

Although, I do think traveling in the U.S. is a great way to get your feet wet when it comes to travel in general -- your trips can be as short or as long as you want and you'll still get something out of them, and if things totally screw up at least you'll be close to home.

Try a road trip, in fact, if you have access to a car - you'll have the transportation already right there, and you an see a lot if you even just take a week. Plus it'll be enough of a challenge to make you feel like "I surmounted obstacles!" and that'll help you be more comfortable with something a bit more challenging.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:52 AM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I keep getting told this is the best chance I have to travel at this point in my life before I get tied down.

That's not necessarily true. My mother had me when she was right out of college working as an English teacher. She never got the chance to travel when she was young. She made a career change later in life, and after my brother and I were grown and on our own, she took jobs with her multinational employer that had her living in Buenos Aires, Milan and London, and traveled for her job all over South America and Europe and frequently to Africa and Asia. She is now making enough money that she can vacation anywhere in the world. Obviously, this path isn't available in every career, but if you want to travel, you can find other times in your life to do it.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:30 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

People, I think, often look back later in life and say, "I wish I had traveled more when I was young and had more time." Which is a fine thought later in life when they have the desire and means to travel. But in the moment, you might not want to and you might not be able to, and if either of those issues is a factor, you shouldn't travel -- you will waste time and resources and get a bad memory.

There will be opportunities to travel later in life. I promise.

If you're planning on panhandling to afford moving from place to place, you can't afford to travel. If you're terrified of your plan, there's something wrong with the plan.

At minimum, if you still want to do this after the answers in this thread, you should pare down your trip a little. You don't have to do everything all at once, and circling the entire United States is huge -- and again, obviously something you can't afford. Travel part of the Appalachians and call it a day (or something like that).
posted by J. Wilson at 6:38 AM on March 20, 2012

I side with those who say you should not travel if you have this degree of anxiety about it.

To be candid, the tone of your message suggests that you have bigger fish to fry before you're in a position to take on major challenges. Usually I favor telling people to take the plunge, you'll cope and you'll love it, but something tells me you should listen to yourself on this front -- and then go talk to others about yourself.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:49 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Asia? Europe? The Appalachian Trail? Working on websites? Day labor? Panhandling? You're a little all over the place here.

I think you're having trouble working up the nerve because you haven't entirely thought this through, and you're not completely prepared for it (this may also be part of the reason you're having trouble finding a traveling companion).

If you spend more time thinking and planning and whatnot, I think you'll find that you've suddenly got the nerve you need.
posted by box at 7:12 AM on March 20, 2012

n-thing having some money saved up in advance, or at least a reliable line of credit (which you expect to have little trouble paying off later).

You need an escape plan before you do something like this! That way, in the worst case scenario, you can always come home. (You don't wanna end up like this guy, I hope.)

Also, as for travelling in the United States, just having a tent is rough. Sometimes wind or heavy rain will make it difficult or impossible to tent camp, and the only places where you're sure to not be harassed for camping are primitive camping sites that are gonna be a few bucks a night, at least.

Anywhere outside of a state/national park is either privately owned or owned by the state and not zoned for recreation, so you might get asked to leave (politely or not).

So although it's way cheaper to travel with a tent around the U.S., even if you're paying for primitive sites, it helps a hell of a lot to have some extra cash to check into a motel when you need to.

You won't want to spend the night in a one- or two-person tent in tornado weather, as I discovered last year in Oklahoma. :)

For sure check out CouchSurfing for free lodging and new friends, also look at Help Exchange/WWOOF for work/lodging opportunities for travelers, and google local Food Not Bombs meetings if you want to get a free meal and ask about eating locally for free.

Memail me if you'll be coming through Louisville, Kentucky before this July!
posted by edguardo at 7:30 AM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes - if you want to travel, you need money. I took a month-long cross-country trip in the US after graduating, financed by a combination of money I made tutoring and graduation presents from family. You need money first.

If I were you, I'd forget about traveling for the moment, get a job and start socking lots of money away and look into this first. What do you want to do? Nobody's putting a gun to your head and forcing you to backpack across Thailand. And that option will still be available to you a year from now - a year out of college is by no means too old to do a big trip like that.

After looking into it more, then decide if you really want to travel, and, if so, what kind of trip you want to take.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:59 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Travel is a million times less stressful if you have money. Even though They are telling you to do it now now now, it's also entirely possible to travel later, when you've been working at a decent job for a few years and have amassed a travel fund.

I travel cheaply but I'm calm and confident during the trip, because I have instant access through ATMs or online to a fat pile of money that will get me out of just about any trouble I might get into. And I didn't travel much at all when young. Now that I'm old and have a decent income, I've been all over the place.
posted by ceiba at 8:00 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you are going at this kind of backward. You clearly have a keyboard and display of some sort: use them. In a few clicks, you can figure out how much it costs to stay in a hostel for one night in X. You can find entire message boards of people talking about going to X and eating and doing things and how much all those things cost. And quaint as they now are, maybe read a Lonely Planet book or two. Get yourself a Google Spreadsheet or Evernote or notepad and write down the costs. You will come to have an idea of how much money is required to take a trip of A duration to B places.

Then save up that much money, times 1.5 or 2. After that, you go.

This may mean that you take an office job and a pizza delivery job for a year, live with two roommates, drink awful beer, and sit on furniture you got off the sidewalk and will leave back on the sidewalk before you go to the airport on your adventure. It may also mean you have a year to find out that you are insane for South American football or German libraries or California's myriad state/national parks.

Traveling just to travel is not very enriching, you really need some kind of interest in what you're doing (otherwise you're just That Guy, and everybody hates That Guy). Take the time to develop the interest and the funds.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:38 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

You are not Everyone. Do what's right for you--you won't regret it.

After college, I took a internship at a big company on the other side of the country. After that, I took my first job at a different company on the opposite coast. (Midwestern girl here.) I wasn't skinny dipping on foreign tropical beaches or bartering in Thailand, but it was still a hugely challenging and valuable experience that was huge for me, looking back. I got to throw myself into new experiences, take challenges, lose some of my safety net, and as a bonus I got incredible work experience and skills. Now, I'm working for a web company that allows me to travel and I'm schlepping off to Malaysia in a couple weeks. I'm nearly 30 and it's my first time out of the country, but in light of all else I've gotten to experience and accomplish, I'm not at all ashamed of that.

I think sometimes, as a a young hip crowd, we worship at the alter of adventure a little too much. Travel is great, and travel can be the key for some people fresh out of college, but for others it's going to be any number of other adventures taking risks in any number of ways: career, education, family, skills. The important part is to remember that now's the time to take risks in some way and challenge yourself. You need to find out which kind of adventure is going to work best for you, whether it's taking the plunge on a career move or backpacking through asia. You are not everyone else--do what fits you.
posted by ninjakins at 9:43 AM on March 20, 2012

You could try working at a national park for the summer--it's seeing a different part of the world, while earning money. Trying to be a day laborer in any part of the US that has crowds of guys in front of Home Depot isn't going to work for you.

Do you have a friend with a car who'd be up for driving across the US? If you've got nerves of steel and can busk, you might be able to make gas money every day.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:28 PM on March 20, 2012

I keep getting told this is the best chance I have to travel at this point in my life before I get tied down.

Yeah, my Dad said this to me too. Trouble was, he had spent the prior decade telling me to prioritise study over making money, and I had used up most of my savings getting through a brutal final year, so I was stony broke. Advice is often more about the giver than the receiver. I learned to take a step back and consider what was going on in my Dad's life (in this case, regret) rather than taking his advice as a direction - though this particular interaction still makes me gnash my teeth, over a decade later.

So yes, think about whether travel is really what is best for you right now, and don't assume that the door to travel is closed as you get older - it's more complicated when you have a partner and kids, but it sounds like that is a way off in your mind anyway.
posted by Cheese Monster at 6:10 PM on March 20, 2012

Oh my God. What the... do the people who are telling you to travel even KNOW you? Do they know anything about your finances?

You are right to be terrified to travel without enough money for a safety net because it is a TERRIBLE IDEA. Busking is illegal in many areas. Panhandling is also often illegal and is gross and unsafe and hardly a way to experience a new city. (Sure, sure, for confident, experienced travelers who are naturally outgoing, maybe there is a way to do this that would be fun.) But for someone who has no knack for it and no real desire to do it? A hundred times no.

Stay home, work, save money, research; THEN travel. Or heck, go somewhere TO a job where you can make money - they say Alaskan fisheries work pays well. But don't let someone who doesn't have your interests in mind convince you that it's now or never, and that somehow you're doing yourself a disservice by waiting. That is a crock.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:56 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I need to find some sort of passion.

I've spent 6 years in college trying to find one, explored a few things, but while the responsibility to no one but myself, before my loans kick in, I think its time to try traveling.

I'm playing around with the idea of woofing (working on organic farms) as well as couchsurfing. I don't feel like I have a lot of other options, this seems better then I have. I appreciate all the comments, though they do sap my already feeble confidence I can do this for a while, I really don't see any other future for me at this point, this has to happen, I can't go back home.
posted by Nighthawk3729 at 12:07 AM on March 30, 2012

I need to find some sort of passion.... while the responsibility to no one but myself, before my loans kick in... I really don't see any other future for me at this point, this has to happen, I can't go back home.

Yeah, I'm super sorry to say this, but if you don't have the cushion of free family room and board to fall back on, you need to spend the time before your loans kick in finding a job. Unless you turn out to be passionate about farming, WOOFing is not going to help you find your passion. Working a bunch of shit jobs - anything you can get that will support you - until you fall into something you can really get into is generally how you find your direction.

Some people are better suited to travel later. It doesn't sound like you have the temperament, money or just general life situation to make this the right choice now.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:48 PM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was looking for other travelers on this forum that want to travel and build a career at the same time, and came across your post. I was wondering if you decided to go on the trip! I am in the same situation as you, I finished university last year and started traveling. I'm still on the road and I absolutely love it so far! If you are still planning to go, I can give you some tips. I was just wondering about if you actually need them since this thread is already a few months old.

Good luck to you!
posted by lifestyle-experiment at 12:53 AM on September 19, 2012

« Older Proposing this Saturday, need a place to eat in...   |   Please recommend a book like Dr. Seuss Goes To War Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.