On The Road
August 21, 2007 12:33 PM   Subscribe

A friend who's not working right now has decided to travel across the US, in grand Kerouac style. Setting out from NYC, first destination Chicago. He has less than the total amount of money he'll need for this journey and plans to get throw-away jobs here and there as finances warrant. Assuming he sticks to metro areas, what are some good temporary jobs he can reasonably expect to find quickly (e.g. word processing) where he can make a decent wage yet not have to work full time so he can still play tourist, and get hired promptly so as to earn cash in near real time? (Fast food labor is a very last resort)
posted by Fupped Duck to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
What do you define as a "decent wage"?

The most easily obtained temporary jobs are physical labor, which are filled through places that advertise "daily work for daily pay."

Some cities, like Austin, have city-authorized temporary work centers, where you stand around and people looking to hire daily workers drive up in a pickup, size you up, and then you jump into the back of the pickup and go to the job site.

For cushier clerical temporary jobs like word processing, I doubt you'd be able to find a job like that where you are paid cash in real time. People hiring typists and other office staff are used to paying by check, or they expect to be invoiced at the end of a month by a temporary service, so it seems unlikely that you'd find employers like that to pay cash. Furthermore, since each locale would have different industries and economies, it would be difficult to come straight into a town and immediately find work like that, since your friend really wouldn't know where to look.
posted by jayder at 12:49 PM on August 21, 2007

One more thing --- if he's a good worker, his best bet might be to call a landscaping company, construction company, or some other type of business that depends heavily on undocumented workers who expect to be paid cash.
posted by jayder at 12:51 PM on August 21, 2007

If he's dead-set on getting office jobs, he's going to have to be extremely patient, as he'll have to apply, work, wait for HR and Accounting to finish the paperwork, then issue him a check two weeks later. Chances are this won't be conducive to the "On the Road" experience. I understand that food service is pretty low on anybody's list of dream jobs, but an afternoon's worth of asking will get him a job washing dishes with cash on the barrel and possibly even a meal at the end of the day.

When you're on an adventure like the one he's undertaking, $5 in your pocket today is worth a lot more than the promise of $500 two weeks from now.
posted by lekvar at 12:52 PM on August 21, 2007

Work Your Way Around the World is a decent book that covers this topic (only on a international scale -- U.S. included). I interviewed the author here. Excerpt:

What sort of information can people expect to find in Work Your Way Around the World?

I include anything that will help travelers who are willing to offer their labor to extend their stay or to get from A to B. Of course all the usual seasonal jobs are covered, like working in a ski resort or working for farmers at harvest time, or longer jobs abroad like teaching English abroad which is covered in some detail and becoming an au pair and doing volunteer work in developing countries. A classic example of the kind of topic covered is crewing on yachts. Inexperienced sailors might not be able to cross the ocean for free, but the daily cost will be much reduced if they pitch in and share chores. My aim has been to make the information as concrete as possible, to cut the vague generalities and waffle. So that in the sections about crewing, specific yacht basins, chandlery stores, crew list agencies, etc. are named and contact details given. The book is of course strewn with first-hand accounts by travelers who have found these and a thousand other opportunities on their travels.
posted by nitsuj at 12:55 PM on August 21, 2007

Look in the Gigs section of Craigslist - lots of stuff for daily work here in New York and doing a quick Chicago lookup there were a few ads (new today) for labor, events, handing out fliers, etc. - "cash daily". Check Craigslist in the library in each city and stops on the way. One thing seems to be helping people move, or painting.
posted by bunnycup at 1:05 PM on August 21, 2007

There are also a bunch of books focused on the RV Crowd that have tips on how to travel and work. They cover things like working at the hostel/campground/etc where you are staying, and also classics like flyering, etc. The ideal scenario for white-collar work would be to go freelance as a transcriber or note-taker, and then work when you want on the road. I have a friend who does market research and often uses freelancers to listen to focus group tapes and write up what happened.

Maybe invest in a small amount of cleaning supplies? I always see craigstlist postings from people who want help cleaning "right now".

Dishwashing, bartending, and waiting tables pay mostly [or all] cash and can be had wherever one goes and without real references. Meaning you can quit or not show up and you'll get another job.
posted by Mozzie at 2:02 PM on August 21, 2007

Did he bring a nice suit to interview in? If he didnt he's probably not getting a cushy office job. If he wants quick cash he needs to look into dish washer or waiter. I doubt he'll be able to get a day labor job in chicago, there's too much labor and not enough jobs. Not to mention his lack of truck and equipment.

If he has a car he can deliver pizza and get tips.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:05 PM on August 21, 2007

Busking? Making baloon animals on the street? Donating plasma? Odd Jobs for his Couch Surfing host? Bring a laptop and telecommute? Working a good paying extra job the month before he travels the US so he doesn't have to worry about spending half his time looking for poor paying temporary work?
posted by enfa at 2:35 PM on August 21, 2007

Another fellow who I read about doing this worked as a disk washer. He'd move into a location, find a dish washing job (and after the first few, he had a whole resume list of references from previous dish washing jobs), and stay there until he felt time to move on, and travel to the next place.
posted by fings at 2:38 PM on August 21, 2007

fings might be thinking of Dishwasher Pete.

Human guinea pig was a popular choice for a few of my college friends when they were saving up for a big trip.
posted by hydrophonic at 2:42 PM on August 21, 2007

I did basically the same thing in 1992 from NYC to LA,

1. restaurant jobs, they feed you
2. Hostel Jobs, they give you a place to sleep and a pool of fellow travelers to hang out with.
3. bring cell phone, rent PO box that can forward your mail (Mail boxes etc., UPS store). really hard to get an office job without a phone number and an address.
4. use temp agencies, especially those that will pay Friday for work done that week.
5. be friendly.
posted by kanemano at 3:23 PM on August 21, 2007

My experience with temp agencies is that they pay weekly, but there may be a week between end of pay period and the day the check is cut. That might not be a problem if they'd do direct deposit.
posted by Good Brain at 3:23 PM on August 21, 2007

I know you said fast food is a last resort, but my husband did this the year between high school and college. He left his home in Florida and spent an entire year traveling the country, making his way towards California where he went to school. He calls it his Taco Bell Tour of America (because that was the only place he could get job after job with such an odd work background). Typically he'd only stay in one place for about a month — just enough time to earn enough money to move on. He did this in a mobile home, too, so he didn't have to pay for hotels.

I wouldn't personally want to work fast food either, but tell your friend to look into Starbucks (previous, similar question). In addition to the perks linked above, from what I understand they also provide excellent insurance benefits. You know, if you don't mind shillin' for the man.
posted by Brittanie at 4:18 PM on August 21, 2007

What office manager is going to hire someone, even a temp, who has a permanent address in another city, no local references, and is on a road trip without enough cash to make it? Your friend would be better advised to work where he is and make enough to travel without working. Or expect a call from Laramie, Wyoming asking you to send emergency money.

And where will he live while making this fabulous money in just a couple of weeks that will cost him less than he will make at the kind of job he is thinking about? His car? Again, what office manage will hire someone whose home address is "the corner of 5th and Walnut?" or "Motel 3?"
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:41 PM on August 21, 2007

Direct deposit is nice, but a lot of places will claim that they "can't" set it up immediately -- they have to run a few paper checks through the system before going direct.

This is bullshit, as the previous outfit with whom I contracted successfully set up my direct deposit the very first week. I never received a paper check from them, and they said it was no big deal as long as there were no typos. I didn't even have to mail them a cancelled check, I just emailed a picture of my checkbook so they knew I wasn't giving them the wrong numbers.

Some outfits are definitely more flexible than others in this regard.
posted by Myself at 6:50 PM on August 21, 2007

Day labor is his best bet, I think, unless he can bring his means of cash generation with him. Keep in mind that he's probably going to be competing with the foreign illegal labor supply, and that he'd better be willing to take the same wages.

If he can find a job that he can telecommute for, he could probably generate cash that way. Likewise, he could find something to sell on the street--I suggest not going with the obvious newspaper-water-shirts, as he'll be out-competed nearly everywhere by the local sales force.

One of my coworkers is a photographer and finances his trips by taking photographs that he then submits to a stock image site. I don't know the name of the site, but research into that could yield results. Likewise, he could look into becoming a stringer for one of the news wires--drive to where the horrible is, take pictures, write stories. You might adapt these ideas, of course, to his skill set.

He'd be very smart to start working this instant doing something silly at some late shift or something to work up enough cash to buffer his work out there. It would suck for him to have only made $38.50 when he needs $46.22 for the hotel room.

Incidentally, unless he's got a comfortable car, sleeping in it night after night is going to suck donkey nuts. Furthermore, other than roadside rest stops, there're very few places that cops will accept somebody sleeping in their car. If he's going to be taking trains/planes/boats/legs, and doesn't want to sleep on the street, he's looking at at least $30/night in boarding.
posted by Netzapper at 7:08 PM on August 21, 2007

I will reiterate my earlier comment, as highlighted by Brittanie in this thread: Starbucks allows their workers to move from city to city across the country. They need only call ahead to any of the stores in the next city (about a week ahead is good, just ask who needs help at the moment) and your friend is almost sure to find employment where ever a shop exists (which is everywhere). I moved all around Boston as a teen, working for whatever Starbucks called me that morning. They don't care about whatever address your friend has, this person just needs to find a local 'bucks with a friendly manager who will get them all trained up (takes about 2 or 3 weeks for a person with a decent IQ). Then, with direct deposit, your friend is free.
posted by nursegracer at 7:14 PM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Labor Ready: Work Today, Paid Today (1-800-24-LABOR).

My friends did this and ended up holding the "slow" sign at a road construction job.
posted by salvia at 7:47 PM on August 21, 2007

I'm going to second the Labor Ready suggestion.


The best place in Chicago to get a day labor job is at the Shell gas station at Belmont and Milwaukee (near northside). Every morning there are contractors pulling up to find drywall installers, roofers or general labor. Get there early (5:00 am) or so and be prepared for plenty of competition. It's been *the* place for Polish workers to congregate for years. Be aggressive. if a truck pulls up, be one of the first to walk up and ask if they need a worker. You will get a job for the day.

Average pay is 10.00 per hour - cash.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 8:19 PM on August 21, 2007

If he's willing to work nights, or third shift, there's often a ready market for industrial laborers and cleaning personnel who work these shifts. Many of the jobs are boring, and some moderately dangerous, but they pay better than day jobs, and the competition is significantly lower due to the off hours. Examples of such jobs include office and factory cleaners and machine operators.

One plastics plant I worked at for a few years had about 250% turnover on third shift, and paid a 20% shift differential, on all jobs, just to keep enough people going in to keep operating. Some particularly bad jobs, like the regrind machine operators, who put all the chaff and sprue from the injection molding machines through big chopping machines, that generated tremendous heat and noise, paid an additional premium. These were unskilled jobs, that took about an hour of on the job training to learn.
posted by paulsc at 1:30 AM on August 22, 2007

What office manager is going to hire someone, even a temp, who has a permanent address in another city, no local references, and is on a road trip without enough cash to make it?

Some places will run you through the wringer, want to interrogate you about every two-week temp job you've ever held. But these places are few and far between. Most employers just don't care who you are or what your references might say about you; they need a warm body to answer phones and type and they need it NOW. If the warm body is competent and capable of putting on a middle-class professional face, they'll practically dance in the streets.

Your best bet is to hook up with a temp agency that has many branches around the country and go from branch to branch. If you make a good impression in the first city, you can leverage that goodwill into work in other cities.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:30 AM on August 22, 2007

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