What types of jobs or careers would let me live in the US but travel internationally every couple of months?
July 27, 2012 8:39 AM   Subscribe

What types of jobs or careers would let me live in the US but travel internationally every couple of months?

After living abroad for a couple of years, I've moved back to my hometown in the US. I had an incredible experience abroad but I was ready to return home, and it has been nice to be back and feeling a little more settled. Now that I've been back for many months, I miss traveling and I've developed a desire to get involved in work that would make a positive impact on the world. But I don't think I really want to move to another country for years at a time again.

I have started looking for jobs that would allow me to maintain a home base here while doing occasional/frequent travel abroad for weeks or months at a time, but I feel sort of blind as to what my options could be. Most of what I've found so far are for people who are specialized in areas like finance or IT. I'm not in those fields, and anyway I would rather do something that is more about helping people or solving problems to help disadvantaged populations have a better chance at leading a satisfying life.

I live in the midwest, speak Spanish, used to live in South America, am currently freelancing in web & graphic design and I'm considering taking up freelance translation. Although I think I'd like to get out from behind the computer and do more work directly with people, and get experience that could help me grow into a meaningful career that motivates me beyond the need to make money to support myself.

Do you have any ideas for jobs that would allow me to be based in my midwest city AND interact with the international community? My brain is about maxed out with this right now, so your ideas and suggestions would be so welcome!
posted by inatizzy to Work & Money (21 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
flight attendant
posted by txmon at 8:42 AM on July 27, 2012

Flight Attendent springs to mind.

Global Account Manager is another title, but one usually takes decades to work up to something like that.

Consulting work might be one way of gaining entre into the type of environment.

Be aware, many, many, many people want that kind of job and that kind of travel. Your language ability is great.

What is your field and experience?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:42 AM on July 27, 2012

Go to work for an NGO, maybe? There's a (slightly skewed) look at this sort of work in The Sex Lives of Cannibals. The author's wife does this sort of work and accepts an assignment on a remote island of the South Pacific. The author invisions paradise; hilarity ensues instead.

Mission work might also be what you're looking for.
posted by jquinby at 8:43 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the great suggestions so far.

Ruthless: my experience is rather varied - web design, graphic design, online community management, administrative roles, and a little bit of volunteer community organizing. I have supervisory experience and have helped manage big projects involving contractors, like building out new office and storage spaces. I did a lot of volunteering in college and am getting back to it now. (Honestly, I'm a bit embarrassed to have let that slide for so long; I guess I had to go through my quarter-life crisis to realize that. Live and learn. It's a big priority now.)

I'm a people person, good at listening and connecting with new people. I've lived in many cities, which definitely helped me with that! I have a lot of experience in independent, self-driven roles that required a lot of self-motivation, self-management and creative problem solving - both in my jobs and in helping groups related to my interests outside of work. If I can get behind a cause, I will run with it.

I'm definitely willing to work up to this type of job and I don't think my past job titles will be related to the work I end up doing. I don't want to be stuck behind a computer the rest of my life - I'd much rather get out and interact with people and collaborate and help others. So if it means working up through an organization or gaining needed experience some other way, I'm definitely open to that and more than willing to do the work.

::phew:: long answer to your question. Thanks for reading that and for any other advice you can give. :)
posted by inatizzy at 9:05 AM on July 27, 2012

I know some doctors/nurses who spend 9 months working here and 3 months traveling for things like Doctors without Borders.

There are journalism/writing jobs that would support this.

International companies with strong US presence, I have a friend who works for an international adoption law firm and he spends several months a year abroad. Bonus, it's to interesting places like Poland and Czech .
posted by dadici at 9:05 AM on July 27, 2012

Best answer: Ha, I think you're me! This is literally the way I want to spend my life, too.

The only way I've worked it out to something that even resembles what you (we) want in life is to define "work" differently.

I "work" for a giant ad agency as a copywriter, and my home base is in New York. But I also work for non-profits. I feel like my corporate work is bankrolling my other work.

The value of going corporate for me ("Suck it, monkeys. I'm goin' corporate!"), is the pay and vacation time.

Not because I actually go on real vacations much; I like to spend that vacation time going to volunteer to use my skills in writing*, communications, and Spanish translation for non-profits. In October, I'm headed to Nicaragua for two weeks to to work with a medical non-profit to do some quick-n-dirty communications work for clean water.

If I didn't have my corporate job, I wouldn't be able to afford to do this. My decent salary affords me to live like a real adult in New York, spend weeks away working with non-profits on the "sly," and buy plane tickets to developing countries.

In addition, the more time you spend at your company, the higher you get, and the more they send you places because they need you there. I've already been to France this year, and might have to go to London in a few weeks. That's not directly "working with people who need it," but hey—at least it's still travel.

*Don't judge said skills by this comment! :)
posted by functionequalsform at 9:15 AM on July 27, 2012 [9 favorites]

A friend of mine works in software development - something that's used in defence. He travels internationally once a month or so to meet clients overseas.

PEople also move fluidly within global advertising agencies.
posted by mippy at 9:15 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have some friends who work in international development fields (public health, economic development, etc.) who do this, but those jobs are indeed pretty rare. Typically, you need to have significant experience working abroad and/or an advanced degree (preferably both).
posted by lunasol at 9:17 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I work in the film industry as a freelancer. A typical job is from 5 months to a year, after which I'm a free agent. I don't punctuate every finished gig with travel, but it's definitely a possibility. I've taken a number of long trips over the years, anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months. I'd travel more and for longer periods of time if I made more money, but if you plan it out right, it can definitely work out.

That said, there are some pretty whopping downsides to it, and you have to live in either New York or Los Angeles for it to even be an option.
posted by Sara C. at 9:28 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My sister does this... sorta. She has her masters in law and she works for NGOs, doing policy development and social development on a global scale. She's worked all over the planet, and even when she is in one spot she does a lot of travelling to and from different locations all over the world to run conferences. She also does side consultant work and those projects often take her from wherever her home base is to someplace else for weeks/months.

Very busy life, very exciting, but be aware that life has major life costs. Because you are rarely around for extended periods it is near impossible to have a relationship or develop social connections like that. It would take someone pretty special to be okay with dating someone who is gone for months on end. She has loads of friends, but they are all over the world and sees them very rarely. Part of the problem is that she is moving around so much, and the other part is that the people she meets are usually people doing similar jobs with similar amounts of travelling and bouncing around.
posted by gwenlister at 9:32 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My boyfriend teaches standardized tests and does academic tutoring. It is a fully scalable job (meaning he can work as much or as little as he likes) and there are many opportunities for remote working via Skype and other online platforms. He spends 8 weeks (or more) abroad during the summer, and during the year he is free to come and go as he pleases. If it is within your power to ace a standardized test, then that is a route that might appeal to you.
posted by jph at 9:58 AM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

Flight attendant work would not be a path to international travel.

It would be a path to low pay and short-term flights between intermittently interesting provincial cities.

International flights are usually reserved for people who have lots of seniority.
posted by jason's_planet at 10:11 AM on July 27, 2012

Freelance writing if you're lucky and strike the right connections.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 10:47 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: An academic job affords this a few months each year. If you're game you can get a masters and teach in secondary school or a community college, if you can get the work. I'm on the tenure track at a smallish liberal arts school and it's the perfect balance between salary and free time. As long as you're not in a research-heavy department, and can make enough in 9 months to pay all your bills, it's a great gig.

As for helping people, you directly help students all the time. If it's bigger picture stuff you want, with your background you can study something like Urban Studies. Good luck! It's awesome that you're aiming yourself toward what makes you happy.
posted by monkeymadness at 10:48 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

As mentioned before, international development or some other kind of foreign assistance arena sounds like it would be good for you, but unless you're based somewhere like Washington, DC, it's going to be hard to find a lot of opportunities (and even then, it's likely to be highly competitive).
posted by ccalgreen at 10:52 AM on July 27, 2012

If you have the aptitude, working in fundraising for major academic or research institutions can be up to 50% travel or more, depending on where the alumni/donor base is. Consider checking out higheredjobs.
posted by juniperesque at 10:53 AM on July 27, 2012

My friend used to work for a sportswear company doing materials sourcing and testing. She would fly to India, China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam a few times a year. (not sure if that's up your alley, but I though I'd throw it out there.)
posted by vespabelle at 11:01 AM on July 27, 2012

Best answer: I have a friend who works for Chemonics which does international development and she seems to travel internationally pretty frequently while being stationed in DC the vast majority of the time.
posted by forkisbetter at 11:10 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not sure if it helps as the education/training requirements can get pretty high, but I've a bunch of friends who are chemical engineers and they spend a more-than-decent amount of time on the road traveling to different sites.

On the slightly-less specialized side, other friends working in a variety of technical-but-not-engineering fields for oilfield service companies (Schlumberger, NOV, Halliburton, etc) do a good bit of traveling to places like eastern Russia, various middle-eastern locales, and sub-Saharan Africa.
posted by Seeba at 1:09 PM on July 27, 2012

I'm a people person, good at listening and connecting with new people.

Be a trainer at a company that has overseas call centers. The couple that I know travel in country monthly and overseas 1-2 times a year. Whatever job you get, don't complain about the travel part of it to coworkers who don't get to travel; it's tacky!
posted by soelo at 1:56 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a pharmaceutical/biotech/medical device manufacturing consultant. I go where the work is. Right now, I'm in North Carolina, but I found out this morning that my next contract will probably be in either China or Austria (if my partner reads this before I talk to her: Hi honey! I might be going to China!).

A couple of things about work travel:
-You need to have skills that are profitable enough to companies to pay for both your salary and your expenses, otherwise they would just hire someone local.

-Living on the road has its fun and interesting parts, but I prefer more local gigs because I miss my partner terribly and we are many time zones apart. I couldn't do this kind of work if I had children because I am never home and there's only so much that Skype can do.

Good luck!
posted by kamikazegopher at 9:09 PM on July 27, 2012

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