These days when I talk to young people about their future career, it sounds different than the answers my generation gave. I mean, there are certainly still those that want to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. But these days, there is an increasing amount of “I don’t know.” “I want to have a job I can travel with.” Or “I don’t want to decide until I’m older.” I see this as an intelligent shift. Even the kids these days that are in school tend to be going for degrees that will help them change the world. Complex environmental science degrees, anthropology, and the like. It’s impressive really, that a whole generation is changing their mindset about what’s important in life.
And although I certainly can’t offer you an environmental science degree here, I can help those of you who aren’t looking to go to college just yet. If you are looking to travel the world for a year or two or want to be able to leave and never look back, you’re likely to need a job along the way. Today we’ll go over five of the most common and versatile travel jobs out there.
The possibilities are limitless
Working on a computer is extremely versatile, but not ideal for everyone. Now, I don’t want this article to make the options sound limited or to discount what else is out there. Jobs as simple as tree planting and fruit picking can pay an excellent wage if you’re good at them. Nannying and doing family or house work fits well with some people’s personality and resume. You’d be surprised how many places in the world you can live for free in a family’s home and earn a wage.
Furthermore, I won’t be covering any online careers in this article. I’ve written another article about that already, and you can check that out here. The amount of work that is available online is virtually endless. The best part about it all is that you get paid in US$ as opposed to local currency.
Plus, some people don’t like working on a computer. Others would just rather have a profession that will ground them in a place for a while, or they like working with others. Personally, I’ve developed a lifestyle where I work one or two of these jobs at any given time, and I also work online. That way I can pay my way as I go and save money from online work. Living this lifestyle allows you to have a diversity of experience that is nearly unparalleled. So, don’t limit yourself to the options on this list. Instead, treat them as a starting point. If you feel lost and want to travel, get a job at a restaurant. Get a TEFL certification. Just get started on gaining experience to be useful in one of these fields where you can find employment all over the world. In a year or two, the hard work will pay off big.
The question you need to ask yourself when deciding if a career path will allow you to travel is this: Am I serving a need that is universal around the world? There is almost no profession on the planet more universal than serving alcohol. Bartending isn’t just a job you can find anywhere, but it’s a job that people will pay you for anywhere.
Now, the pay isn’t always great and the hours can be long. But there’s hardly any better way to immerse yourself in the depths of a culture. Working bar, you’ll meet all types of people. Locals and travelers alike will tell you their stories. You’ll learn about the secrets of the city in a way that no one else can.
If you’re a social person, a hard worker, and can hold your liquor well, then bartending might be perfect for you. It can lead to a real party of a lifestyle. You can make incredible friends and meet bizarre people. Best of all, you can visit some of the biggest and most beautiful countries in the world if you really know your stuff. Even if you barely know the first thing about bartending, it’s not terribly hard to get a job bartending on the tourist trail in places like Central America or Southeast Asia. Anywhere where there is an abundance of tourists, there will be an abundance of entry-level bartending jobs. Just go ask for a job and work hard if you get one.
If staying up all night drinking with the wild ones isn’t your cup of tea, hotel work might be. I really should say hostel work, because that is mostly what is available for short stays all over the world. After all, travelers just like you need a place to stay.
Hostel work is very diverse and among the best ways to get to know a place. It will often involve bits of restaurant work, some bartending, some booking over the phone and email, and generally helping guests enjoy their stay. Sometimes you’ll get sweet perks like discounted or free tours. No matter what, you’ll get the inside scoop on the surrounding area and the goings-on.
One of the limits to hostel work is that it’s hard to find off the beaten path. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. There are always small startups in far-out places. But you’ll have a lot more luck in a place like Thailand than in a place like Mozambique. This is a great way to travel certain parts of the world, but it won’t quite take you everywhere.
Hostel work can be great for all sorts of people too. Whether you love talking to people, are super detail oriented, or like having a diversity of tasks at work, hostel work will offer a bit of something for everyone. Not only that, but each hostel will be different. Some will be paradises you’ll never want to leave. Others will leave plenty to be desired. You’ll get good at telling the two apart in advance after a few tries.
Cooking is perfect for the artist, the craftsman, and the outcast. It requires backbreaking, nearly masochistic hard work to be truly great at it. But there’s a strange sense of reward and accomplishment that you don’t get in many other professions. Providing people all around the world with their most basic nourishment is an incredible feeling. You bring smiles, you bring conversation, you bring a bridge between people where they will sit down and share.
One of the best things about cooking on the road is how much you can learn. If you are already working a line or are slaving your way through a culinary program, the road might be the next place for you to hone your skills. It will expose you to new techniques, ingredients, palettes, and personalities. Speaking from experience, you’ll discover challenges you never knew existed and develop a resilience you never imagined possible. Beyond that, you’ll become a master of substitutions and improvisation.
Cooking, even more so than bartending, can earn you a living anywhere in the world if you have the work ethic and the skills to make it. It’s not easy, but it’s not as hard as you might think. Working in kitchens anywhere is hard work, but it’s not necessarily complicated.
I’ve worked in fine dining, breakfast, and plenty of things in between. However, I think the most fun type of cooking I’ve done is pizza. Not only is pizza fun to make, but it’s also easy and universal. I can go anywhere in the world now and get a job at the local artisan pizza joint.
If you’re looking to get into cooking, expect to wash dishes for at least a few months, if not a year. But if you work hard, the chefs will see you, and they’ll move you up. If you’re in the right spot you’ll do well; most of them started in the dish pit just like you. Personally, I started as a janitor, spent my time in the dish pit, but I worked hard and moved my way up through the ranks.
Teaching is a broad field, and it’s best for those who want to make a difference. If you’re a humanitarian, a giver, or a natural caretaker, then teaching is right for you. The upside to teaching internationally is that you will make a difference. Whether you’re tutoring a single child or teaching a class of forty, you’ll change lives. Furthermore, your job won’t involve staying up until four in the morning drinking with alcoholics and late-nighters. Teaching can offer a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle.
The downside? Teaching isn’t paid well in the US, and it’s not paid well just about everywhere else you’ll go in the world. In most places, you’ll be paid in local currency. Even though it can be back-breakingly difficult and requires a lot of giving from your soul, the money on its own won’t be worth the cost. However, you’ll get other things out of your time as a teacher, and you’ll become a better person through it. At least, you will if you’re teaching with your ears open and your heart turned on.
The exception to this rule in most cases, is teaching English, oddly enough. It’s just my opinion, but I think that teaching English is far less skilled work than teaching in a foreign language or teaching core subjects. However, teaching English is highly valued in many parts of the world. And in many cases, you’ll be paid in US$. What’s better, you usually don’t even need to speak the local language. That means you can travel all over the world with just this one skill. That’s a big deal when the conversion is thirty to one. If you’re interested in teaching English, then getting a TEFL or TESOL certification should be at the top of your list.
Last on our list today is a skill that many people overlook. Carpentry, however, is universal the world over and every establishment from schools, to bars and restaurants, hotels, hospitals, homes, and more require skilled carpenters. Nearly every hostel I have ever worked at has employed traveling carpenters. Not only that, but they’ve earned more than the volunteer bar staff. However, carpentry usually means putting in full work days of hard work that wears on your body. It’s not easy, but it sure is rewarding to build a lodge, or make all the tables in a school, or to repair homes after a natural disaster.
That’s one of the best things about carpentry, you get to make a lasting difference, and you can choose where you make it. You can work for businesses, for charity, or for anything in between. Carpentry is a skill that will nearly always be in demand all over the world. The downside is that it’s not just something you can pick up and learn on your own easily.
In order to get started in carpentry, you either need to land a good contracting job or apprenticeship where you can learn from your bosses and coworkers, or you need to learn from a parent, mentor, or school. No matter how you slice it, it’s not a skill you’ll pick up in a day. It takes years and years to achieve competence, and mastery can take a lifetime. This profession is great for those who love working with their hands or have bigger goals in mind. However, if you’re just looking for an easy job to travel on or a quick buck, carpentry is not for you.
Travel work requires commitment
No matter if you choose one of these career paths, or another you can take abroad, there’s one thing that’s true of all of them. It’s going to take a lot of commitment to make the transition from working in your hometown to working on the road. It’s difficult, it’s scary, and it comes with zero guarantees.
Applying for a new job at a better restaurant in the same town where you’re working, and living is pretty easy. You take in a resume, you hope they call you back, then you interview and start work. Or you don’t. Either way, you’re stable, you still have your old job, and there’s very little risk involved. However, if you’re going to move away to another country and look for a kitchen job, good luck finding one until your feet are on the ground. That means you’re going to be walking around an unknown city applying to jobs in a new place without a stable living situation or a source of income. That’s scary and can be a dealbreaker for some.
But that’s the leap of faith that this lifestyle requires to get started. That’s why so many people remain stuck at home, working the same old jobs, doing the same old things. Most people aren’t cut out for that initial leap of faith, or they’re too scared to find out if they are.
If you’re looking for a little extra help making that jump, here’s an article that will help. It’s about how to start travel volunteering. That way, you can go to a new place with a job lined up that will at least provide you with cheap food and a place to sleep. From there you can look for whatever type of work you need. That article will also lay out a way to score a job in several of these professions before you start traveling. That can be a huge help if you’ve never done this before.
Whatever happens, if traveling is your dream, believe in it. If your first try doesn’t go how you were hoping, keep trying. Work hard, develop your skills and always keep your eyes on the horizon. A life on the road isn’t easy at first, and that’s why so many people don’t have it. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be freer than you could have ever imagined.
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