In order to make full-time or long-term travel financially sustainable, you need a way to earn money as you travel.
There are a ton of ways to do this (more each day, it seems), and each one offers its own pros and cons. It can be hard to know how to get started down this road, which is why many people feel overwhelmed when they research how to make money while traveling.
In this guide, I’ll take you deep into a few different ways to make money on the road; the first three chapters are focused on freelance writing (and different ways to earn money from writing). The remainder of this guide explores other creative ways to make money while traveling.
Ideally this guide will inspire you to pick a method or two that resonate for you, so you can launch your own financially sustainable travel plan!
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: How to Make Money on the Road as a Freelance Writer
When I began my illustrious career as a freelance writer and blogger (in 2006), I had no idea where to begin. The internet was my school, along with a few websites I found early on that had informative articles and newsletters. But on the whole, I felt like I was a pioneer in an emerging industry (which meant, I learned most things the hard way)!
To make it easier for you than it was for me, here is a comprehensive introduction to help you become a freelance writer and support your travels.
Blogging vs Freelance Writing
Let’s take a moment to differentiate between blogging vs freelance writing. In some cases, there’s no difference. In other cases, the way you structure your business will put you in one camp or the other.
Earning Money Blogging
As a blogger, you probably have your own blog, and monetize it in a variety of ways. In so doing, as a blogger you’re not only a writer, but also an editor, publisher, designer, marketer, and entrepreneur. You might also be paid to write for other blogs.
If you want to learn the ropes of blogging from the ground up (and beyond), check out this post.
Earning Money Freelance Writing
If you’re a freelance writer, you write for a variety of publications, and often different mediums (ie: print and online; this can include blogging).
Blogging is Writing
Let’s get something right, before a hierarchical debate begins: blogging is writing. Blogging is simply a medium for writing, and one that commands its own style and voice. Writers who say there’s a difference between blogging and writing tend to harp on the quality of online writing (blogging) – which admittedly is often substandard to print publications. But not all of it is. Different mediums use different styles of writing, and the budding freelance writer needs to compensate for this.
Once you remove the “is blogging considered writing” debate, it’s no longer a matter of blogging vs. freelance writing; it’s a matter of making them work together. You can be a freelance blogger or a freelance writer or a blogger (for your own blog) or a writer (of your own book). Chances are, you’re a bit of everything.
Your freelance writing is also a great cross-promotion for your blog/website, and vice versa.
If your site is well-trafficked and you have a strong social media presence, editors will favour you for your ability to promote the article to your followings and feature a link to the article on your site. (These are actual points of negotiation with online publishers and sponsors).
Likewise, articles you write for online publications often feature valuable links to your site, allowing you to tap into new and wider audiences.
Where to Find Freelance Writing Gigs
I was recently asked about this by a reader; I believe they were hoping for a website that lists places to get published. Although such lists exist, it’s not quite that simple.
You need to develop a portfolio of writing samples and bylines (articles that you’ve written for other publications). It’s relatively easy to get published online (in comparison to print); the money may not initially be grand, but at least you’ll get something under your belt to pitch bigger publishers with.
This is how I started – but it was also at a time when getting paid (well) for online writing was almost unheard of.
In order to find freelance writing gigs themselves, I’ll assume you know what you want to write about (ie: genre and topic ranges that you can write with expertise on).
From there, find the publication(s) you want to write for, look for their writers guidelines, and present a well-composed pitch that reflects your writing style, the fact that you’ve read the guidelines and the publication, and are pitching something complementary to their repertoire. You’ve only got a few sentences to wow an editor; a well-written pitch should take about as long to compose as the article you’re hoping to get hired to write.
I found most of my initial freelance gigs by surfing around and hand-picking publications I wanted to pitch to. Remember: hand-picking doesn’t mean being ultra-choosy – it’s a numbers game. Ernest Hemingway plastered his bedroom with rejection slips before he ever got published. Chances of being published are higher since Hemmingway’s days, but the principle still applies; cast the net wide and expect rejections.
For the ins and outs of travel writing, pitching, and getting gigs, check out How to Become a Travel Writer.
Regular Columns vs One-Off Articles
Regular writing gigs are always the way to go if you can get them. You spend less time researching and pitching to editors, and more time getting published (and paid).
Don’t be afraid to try and convert one-off articles into regular gigs; as your first article is being published, pitch another idea to the editor. If you work together well, the editor would rather hire writers they know and can set expectations for.
Three factors influence what you can charge: industry trends, medium, and experience.
Industry Trends: Going-rates are always changing; especially online rates, which have risen dramatically over the last few years. Concurrently, the print industry hasn’t done as well, and in many cases has reduced pay and slashed staff.
Medium: Despite recent trends, print as a medium generally pays more than internet; however this gap appears to be narrowing.
Experience: As you establish credibility in your niche, you can charge rates accordingly. Editors will pay more money for articles from experienced writers.
In approximate terms, a lucrative gig in print pays $1/word, and a lucrative blogging gig pays about half that. (These are very general ranges, based on my experience and research; compensation schemes and structures vary dramatically. If anybody has something different to contribute, please respond in the comments).
The above are rates to shoot for, rather than to expect. When you’re getting started, go for gigs that you feel will give you value – if not monetary, then a valuable credit to your portfolio and exposure to new readers.
A note about writing for free: This is a touchy subject among writers. All writers want bylines and exposure, especially when getting started. Some publishers know this, and are willing to exploit it. Unfortunately, if too many writers are willing to write for free, as an industry, we are telling editors that our work doesn’t have enough value to pay for. Inherently, writing for free dilutes rates paid to writers across the board. So please, even though a publication may promise exposure and perhaps backlinks too, consider how it affects the industry as a whole.
To cap off this chapter, remember that developing a freelance writing/blogging career takes time; don’t get into it for the fame and fortune!
Chapter 2: 10 Rules for Earning Income as a Freelance Writer
If you’re seriously interested in getting into freelance writing, I recommend the e-guide Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing to give you ideas and inspiration. It can drastically cut down the learning curve to becoming a freelance writer.
Here are 10 rules for earning an income as a freelance writer, inspired by this guide.
Rule #1: If You Know it, You Can (Get Paid to) Write It
Freelance writing isn’t quite this simple, but it’s not far off. If you have an area of expertise, chances are there’s somebody out there who wants to read about it, and somebody else yet who will pay you to write about it.
You can use your valuable knowledge to make a little extra money on the side, or make a full-time career of it. But remember – it’s a job, and one that’s not always so easy to land.
Rule #2: Freelancing is a Mindset
…and that mindset is not for the weak of stomach. It can be a “feast or famine” environment – one in which you are either inundated with too much work, or wondering what just happened to all the work. The Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing does a good job of balancing practical advice with the confidence-boosting “you can do it” cheerleading that’s required to get your career off the ground.
Rule #3: There’s a Niche With Your Name on It
I’m a big fan of “the niche”, having combined my former-life expertise as a financial planner with my full-time travel lifestyle. Whamo: The art of financially sustainable travel. Outside the world of my niche-like website, I write about finance for travel publications, and travel for finance publications. Thus, I’ve found footing in two industries that find my stuff unique and useful.
Travel writing is just one niche within the freelance writing genre; maybe you want to travel full-time, but your expertise is in widgets. Don’t write about travel then (there are too many aspiring travel writers out there to compete with); instead, write about widgets! Widgets are a means to your lifestyle, which can include travel if you wish.
Likewise, blogging is just one modality of freelance writing. You don’t have to be just a blogger, or a print journalist, or a copywriter – you can be a little of all three, and more!
Rule #4: Pitches Are Paramount
The world is not going to beat a path to your door to hire you as a freelance writer. (Not initially, at least). Thus, you must learn the art of pitching, which the Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing covers nicely. In addition to pitches, you might consider writing Letters of Introduction, which introduce your expertise to trade magazines and certain publications in a more informal and open-ended manner than conventional pitches.
Rule #5: The Art of Networking, Online and Otherwise
Given my ever-absent travel lifestyle, I never gave much thought to in-person networking with editors and people who might hire me. But the Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing makes no bones about the effectiveness of in-person networking, which makes sense. In this digital world, we’re all relegated to interacting with words, not people. Thus meeting a real live person stands to leave a deeper impression than the person behind yet-another-email.
In addition to in-person networking, the guide also focuses on some great Twitter tips to get and grow your freelance writing business, and explores why LinkedIn is the most useful yet underused social media platform for writers. (I can attest to this; one of my highest-paying print gigs came out of the blue through LinkedIn).
Rule #6: Get Regular
Instead of spending your time pitching to editor after editor, wouldn’t it be nice to have a regular column that you write? The Unconventional Guide gives you some tips to convert one-off articles into regular work. (I can also attest to this – in spades).
Rule #7: There’s No Such Thing as Traditional Any More
We are in changing times. The print industry isn’t going away by any stretch, but it is changing, especially with the advent of online media becoming more viable (and profitable). The Unconventional Guide explores both “traditional” and non-traditional publications, and ways of finding work in both.
Rule #8: Rates are a Moving Target
Your rates will change as your freelance writing career evolves. Although you might see fit to accept a free or low-paying gig in the beginning to develop your portfolio, years on you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) dream of it. The Unconventional Guide gives you questions to ask yourself as you set your rates, provides samples of rates by publication (from blog posts to newspaper articles to sales letters, press releases, and more), and gives you some tips for raising your rates when the time is right.
Rule #9: Get a Blog
A blog can showcase your expertise, your writing style, and your published work. With this blog, editors will start to come to you for your voice and expertise – for which you can start to charge higher-than-market rates. (This has happened to me; I don’t generally send out pitches any more).
Rule #10: All Freelance Writers Are Hacks
….or at least we all feel like we’re hacks. Who would want to read my drivel about xyz? (Well, you’re reading this article, so I guess that answers that).
The Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing shows you how to get established as a bona fide writer (despite the fact that you feel like a hack), and gives you techniques to reframe rejections so you don’t commit suicide.
I love this quote from the guide on page 44:
Some feel inadequate because they don’t have a journalism degree, some feel inadequate because they’ve never been published by a national magazine, some feel inadequate because they’ve never published a book, some feel inadequate because their book never made the New York Times bestseller list, and some feel inadequate because their book only stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for six weeks.
The Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing
This book is part of Chris Guillebeau’s giant collection of Unconventional Guides. It was written by Amber Adrian, a freelance writer of over 10 years who has worked on both sides of the editing desk.
She integrates input and quotes from successful freelance writers throughout the guide, including useful mini case studies that explore various writers’ successes by showing who they write for, how they got the job, what’s great about it, and what’s challenging.
If you’re interested in exploring freelance writing as a career, I recommend this book as a primer to get you on the right track.
Price: Basic “pen-for-hire” version is $39, and the full “editor in chief” package (including additional writer’s resources, budgets, worksheets, sample pitches, and interview with 10 successful freelance writers) costs $58.
Chapter 3: The Skinny on Earning Money as a Travel Writer
Do you want to travel around the world, enjoying complimentary luxury and pampering at every turn, seeing and doing adventurous things in exotic places? And then commit your awesome experiences to paper and make wads of money doing it?
Yeah, me too.
Don’t get me wrong – I call myself a travel writer, and indeed I make money writing. But I write about more than just travel; I incorporate my personal finance expertise and lifestyle design experience to work in a niche that is less populated and therefore easier to get noticed in. (If you look at my Writing & Publicity page, you’ll see lots of financial publications in there).
If you want to sustain your travels with travel writing, far be it for me to stop you. But be sure to view it as a business, market yourself accordingly, and give yourself time to start generating (decent) income before you rely on it to keep your travels going.
Here ares some informative resources about the realities of becoming a travel writer with tips and resources to help you:
How to Become a Travel Writer (this is an awesome comprehensive travel writing course that I recommend if you’re serious about becoming a travel writer)
Thinking more about being a travel photographer than writer? Here’s another course from the same people about that: How to Become a Kick-Ass Photographer (including how to make money at it)
And here’s another resource to learn to become a travel writer: Travel Writing 2.0: Earning Money From Your Travels in the New Media Landscape
Chapter 4: How to Earn Money With Extra Luggage Space
Got some extra space in your luggage? With peer to peer shipping you can earn some extra money to support yourself while traveling. While it’s an interesting idea, it’s not perfect. Read on.
What is Peer to Peer Shipping?
Have you ever tried to order something from Amazon but they won’t ship the item to the country where you are? Or are you stymied by the prices and unreliability of international shipping? Maybe you love a specific product from a place you once visited and you want more but they don’t ship. You might be in the market for a private shipper through peer to peer shipping sites and forums.
Travelers: As a private shipper, it’s your job to pick up the item that somebody wants but can’t get and to deliver it to them (sometimes buying it on behalf of the owner; other times just picking up an item that is paid for).
Commonly Shipped Items
Items that can’t be shipped internationally are prime candidates for peer to peer shipping; for example, small electronics, spare parts, clothing, vitamins, phones, cameras, and food items.
But you can get as creative as you want with peer-to-peer shipping: you could be hired to escort somebody’s pet – or even grandmother – on a flight. It’s all about supply and demand.
Problems With Peer to Peer Shipping
I started writing this chapter after being contacted by a representative from a company called ShipItSocial and becoming intrigued by the idea. Shortly thereafter I was (serendipitously) contacted by another peer-to-peer shipping startup called SpaceHitch.
Since then, ShipItSocial has gone under, and SpaceHitch still hasn’t launched. I would presume this has to do with a few factors – problems with peer-to-peer shipping – that include:
- Questionable legal practices, especially in the realm of customs and import taxes/regulations.
- Difficulty in managing expectations; I read an article about a traveler who tried peer to peer shipping, and the buyers either changed their minds at the last minute or reneged on the deal after the fact, leaving the traveler out of pocket (and effort) for the goods.
- Relatively low compensation rates for the traveler, ultimately not making it worth the effort.
How to Solve These Problems, and Things to Look For
Buyer Unreliability: Some peer to peer shipping sites get around this problem by using an escrow service. Before you (the traveler) purchase the item to be delivered, the buyer submits the money required (plus your fee) into an account that is held in escrow by the peer to peer shipping company until you deliver it and both parties sign off that the transaction was completed. This protects both the buyer and the traveler.
Low Compensation: Some of the peer to peer shipping sites I’ve researched extol the benefits of peer to peer shipping as a cross-cultural exchange. So although you might not earn a ton of money with this transaction, you do make a local contact and help out a fellow global citizen. Also, don’t be afraid to set a delivery price and terms that suit your preferences.
Questionable Legal Practices: Research the peer to peer shipping site you are using to determine the legality of the service in question. (Some sites also pre-screen the items buyers are requesting to ensure legality). Also, don’t carry anything you aren’t comfortable with or aren’t able to travel legally with.
Peer to Peer Shipping Sites
Here are some peer to peer shipping sites that are specifically designed for travelers:
Chapter 5: Earning Income Abroad by Teaching English
Teaching English as a second language is a great way to earn income abroad. You can do this with private schools (for people of all ages), public schools, international schools, and even special interest groups or associations.
A number of my colleagues have sustained themselves (and traveled, and saved money) by teaching English abroad; I’m led to believe it’s a cultural experience unto itself.
Shy of a week-long informal volunteer experience in Spain, I haven’t tried my hand at teaching English abroad. I watched a television show prior to my travels that showed how hard people were working teaching English while trying to enjoy travel and life abroad, and it turned me off. I had already traded in one rat race; I wasn’t eager for another one.
But it Pays
But Teaching English abroad pays – and often it pays well. It’s a great way to try your hand at living abroad (which is a cultural travel experience unto itself), allows you to use the area as a base for weekend and holiday trips, and often, you can accumulate savings to travel after your teaching contract is up (or between contracts).
Don’t believe me? Check out these Financial Case Studies of travelers teaching English abroad in various ways and forms:
And here are some fellow long-term/full-time travelers who have taught English abroad, and they’ve written in precise detail about what the “daily grind” of teaching English is like:
Teaching English: Job Details
The details of the gig and daily requirements vary from country to country and school to school. It’s important to get the details straight ahead of time so that you know what you’re signing up for.
The pay is usually in line with the average cost of living in that country. Some jobs even include accommodation and a flight home.
Even something as simple as working hours can vary drastically. Make sure it’s something you can deal with on a day-to-day basis, because you may be traveling the world, but you’re also working a job.
One final detail: many (if not most) English Teaching jobs require you to have a University degree. The irony is that it doesn’t matter what the degree is in; just that you have one. So if you don’t have a degree, it’s not impossible to teach English abroad, but your options will be more limited.
Tips to Get Started as a TEFL Teacher
There are many places you can arm yourself with the skills to teach English abroad, as well as to find gigs. Certifications include TESL, TESOL, TEFL, and CELTA. You can take classes either online or in person, and some organizations help with your job search and job placement upon completion of your certification.
The best way to get started is to get your certification to teach. While it’s not a requirement in every country or for every school, a certification will give you a competitive advantage and you’ll probably get a better salary and access to better gigs.
You can often do online certification programs, in-person, or a mix of the two. According to my colleagues, getting your English teaching certificate in-person will better prepare you to actually teach in a formal classroom.
Many experienced TEFL teachers suggest not signing a contract before you see the school and speak to your potential employers. This is because of the wide variety of jobs and schools in the industry; if you don’t have a clear picture of the job and the school, you never know when you’re signing a six-month contract of miserable work as opposed to a six-month contract of energizing and exciting work.
Better to fly over with a safety net of cash and see the school first, just in case it’s a dud. Then you can stay for a bit and look for a new gig. If you’re well-qualified and put in the effort, you’ll likely land a job in a couple of weeks.
If you want to have the flexibility to teach English outside of the classroom and online from wherever you are, check out my friend John’s course: How to Teach English Online. He’ll arm you with everything you need to get started right away (and….you don’t need a University degree either)!
Chapter 6: How to Make Money on the Road with a Working Holiday Visa
Working Holiday visas are usually up to a year in duration, and are for people aged 18-30 (with a few countries issuing working holiday visas up to the age of 35). They allow you to apply for jobs within the country you are visiting, which in turn can help you financially sustain your travels.
For many young travelers, a working holiday visa is the easiest way to get a chance to travel, earn money while traveling, and experience a new culture that can be quite illuminating.
The work available depends on what skills you bring to the table, as well as what infrastructure is available in the country you are visiting. In most cases countries offering working holiday visas are well developed, and their biggest need (and impetus for offering working holiday visas) is in hospitality, tourism, and seasonal industries.
But that doesn’t mean you are relegated to waiting tables or picking fruit; with a working holiday visa you can work anywhere you want; you just have to land the job.
Where You Can Get a Working Holiday Visa
Working holiday visa arrangements are generally reciprocal between certain countries. Unfortunately U.S. citizens get very few opportunities (as the U.S. extends very few similar opportunities to other countries), but New Zealand and Australia are popular working holiday destinations for Americans. Click here for details of where you can go and the various requirements.
Citizens of Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and many European countries have more opportunities to visit multiple countries, each on a one-year working holiday basis. (And yes – you can enjoy these visas in as many countries as you want to apply to, subject to age and other qualifications).
Canadians: For a fully up-to-date list of countries offering working holiday visas to Canadians along with the application requirements, check out the government site for Canadians abroad, and click on the country you’re interested in to learn what the basic requirements are and find links to the corresponding immigration websites.
General Requirements in Applying For Working Holiday Visas
While these requirements are specific to Canadians, you’ll find that they are similar across the board, regardless of nationality.
- You have to be in Canada when you apply for your visa. (This means you’ll either have to return to Canada in between, or apply for multiple visas in advance if you want to travel on a working holiday visa in many countries).
- You have to demonstrate that you have a certain amount of funds in your bank account (or equivalent type of savings account). The amount of funds varies from $1,500-$5,000. (This is required to prove that you can cover your expenses while you look for a job or if you find yourself between jobs).
- There’s often some kind of fee to apply for the visa, which can range from free to a few hundred dollars.
- You need to either have a return ticket, or prove that you have the funds to buy your onward ticket.
- You need to show proof of travel insurance, since in most cases, you won’t be covered under the host country’s healthcare plan. (See also: The Complete and Easy Guide to Insurance for Travelers)
- Increasing numbers of countries require biometrics, which involves fingerprints and a photo, as well as a small fee to go with it.
- In some cases, you’ll need to show various forms of documentation such as medical certificates or proof of employment history.
Services to Make It Easier (for Canadians)
Applying for working holiday visas can be a bit complicated and intimidating. And that’s only the beginning; then, you need to find work in the host country and get settled in with all the practicalities.
Good news: there are services to make it easier for you. Here are some examples of those services, these ones specific for Canadians:
SWAP Working Holidays will help you with issues such as: obtaining your visa, helping you find a job, opening an overseas bank account, applying for your tax number, filing taxes (because you have to file taxes in your host country as well as Canada when working on a working holiday visa), finding accommodation, and they provide you with other on-the-ground support in your host country.
If you’re interested in getting a working holiday visa for Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Costa Rica or France, GO International will give you the info you need to apply for your visa, and then give you assistance once you arrive in your host country including getting a bank account, applying for tax numbers and filing taxes, finding a job, and more.
Anywork Anywhere (free)
Anywork Anywhere shows you where you can get jobs, leads you to the right government site for working holiday visa requirements, and there’s a handy job search function as well so you can browse job opportunities and choose your next working holiday destination based on what work is available.
For citizens of other countries, you can check out your home country’s official website for citizens abroad, or do a simple internet search for “working holiday visas for Australians” (as an example).
Chapter 7: How to Make Money While Traveling Overseas with Online Tutoring
While travel writing is often the first thing people think of when they consider making money while traveling, it’s a somewhat saturated market, and frankly, not everybody can (or should) write.
Instead, you could take a look at online tutoring. Using online tools like file sharing, interactive whiteboard applications, chat, and instant messaging, you can correspond with your student(s) about pretty much anything.
No really – anything! If somebody wants to learn it, it can be taught online. From helping students with their studies, to tutoring languages, to even teaching musical instruments – if you have an area of expertise that people want to learn more about, you can teach it online.
You can become a tutor for an existing online tutoring firm, or you can start your own business. This depends on what you want to teach, the market for it, and your entrepreneurial desires.
Online Tutoring Companies
- Countries of operation: U.S. & Canada
- Topics: English, Math, Science, Finance, Accounting, Nursing, Business Law, Computer Science, Literature, Management, Social Studies, and MUCH more
- Required Credentials: University or Professional degree
- Pay depends on subject, averaging $9-13/hour
Find more info at Tutor.com.
- Countries of operation: U.S. & UK
- Topics: A huge variety of 300+ topics!
- Required Credentials: University degree from an accredited university and teaching experience/demonstrated mastery in your subject
- Pay is $18/hour
Find more info at Tutor Me.
- Countries of operation: U.S. and Canada, teaching in English to Chinese students in elementary and secondary school
- Topics: English as a second language
- Required Credentials: Bachelor’s degree or currently enrolled in university program, English teaching certificate preferred
- Pay: $16-20/hour
Find more at QKids.
- Countries of operation: U.S., teaching groups of K-12 students online, while they are in school (not after hours)
- Topics: Math, ELA, Reading, Science, Social Studies, Foreign Language, Robotics, Coding
- Required Credentials: Bachelor’s degree, or working towards one
- Pay: $15/hour
Find more at Elevate K-12.
- Countries of operation: U.S. and Canada
- Topics: English, Math, Chemistry, Physics, Computer Science, and MUCH more
- Required Credentials: Bachelor or professional degree / certification in relative subject
- Pay: $7-15/hour
Find more at TutorEye.
These are just a few online tutoring companies out there! Check out this search listing on Glassdoor.
And if Teaching English Online appeals to you, you can learn all about it here.
Chapter 8: How This Couple Lands Jobs Along the Way While Traveling
If you’re over the age of 30 (and thus not eligible for working holiday visas – as described in Chapter 6), and if you’re not interested in managing an online business while you travel, you might wonder how to make your full-time travel adventures financially sustainable.
Never fear! Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
I was chatting with Deborah Benbrook, who has been traveling full-time with her husband since early 2011, after taking almost two years to sell everything they owned. When they left the UK, they knew they had to stretch their money and would need to work, but they didn’t know where or when that would happen.
They’ve done an amazing job of finding work along the way as they’ve traveled. In this interview with Deborah, I discover just how they do it – right down to the nitty gritty of visas and how they get paid.
Running a Hostel in Chile
Nora: Let’s start with your first gig running a hostel in Chile. What happened?
Deborah: We had no idea where we were going once we landed in Santiago. A few people suggested Pucon – dubbed the Queenstown of Chile – white water rafting, climbing an active volcano etc. So we headed there.
We booked a hostel called El Refugio. We arrived after a night bus and we sat and had a cup of tea with the Dutch couple who were running the hostel on behalf of the owner. They’d been there for a year, but had received some sad news from home and were heading back the following week.
We didn’t have a flight out of South America for 11 months, so we were obviously in no rush to go anywhere. By the end of the first day there, we’d agreed to run the hostel from the following week.
Nora: Had you run hostels before?
Deborah: We had no prior experience and our Spanish was almost nonexistent! We survived six weeks and received great reviews on Trip Advisor, Hostelworld and Hostelbookers. Then we set off travelling again.
Nora: Lucky Break! Where did you go after that?
Deborah: We traveled south to Patagonia, then up through Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru, when we got an email from Peter (the guy who owned El Refugio) – he was opening a new hostel and wanted us to return to Pucon and run it for him. We returned to Pucon, but the deal fell through as he couldn’t secure the premises he wanted.
But when we arrived back in Pucon, we were offered seven different jobs! After some negotiations, we took one of the offers and stayed five months.
Nora: What about logistics like visas?
Deborah: In Chile, we had a 90-day tourist visa which we received on arrival. We met so many people who worked with a tourist visa, and no one seemed to worry about it.
We thought we had a 3-month visa for Chile and cut it fine when we did a border run into Argentina. The Chilean visa was in fact for exactly 90 days, and we’d been there for 92 days. We were terrified once we realized whilst stood at the border, watching the guard count the days on a giant calendar.
They wouldn’t allow us to leave Chile, so we had to hitch a lift back to Pucon. The following week we had to travel to Temuco and face immigration.
Thankfully we had a friend who knew someone in the office, so we got away with a written warning. We left via the same border and were told if we tried to re-enter Chile at the same border, they would only ever give us ten days. So we traveled south through Argentina and re-entered at a different border without a hitch and walked away with another 90-day visa.
Nora: How did you get paid?
Deborah: Our first job in Chile, we got free accommodation (which wasn’t great), money for food (which wasn’t a lot) and commission on any excursions we sold (which we did very well at). We didn’t spend much for the six weeks and we walked away with a bit of money.
When we returned to Pucon and secured a job in another hostel, we negotiated hard and got paid a lot more money.
Working on a Farm in New Zealand
Nora: You found a neat strategy to hack your way into getting a working visa in New Zealand even though you were too old to qualify for a working holiday visa. How did you do it?
Deborah: A friend helped us find an orchard that was willing to give us a letter saying that they would employ us and then we applied for a waiver to our tourist visa which allowed us to work in the nut and fruit picking industry legally.
It was worded quite ambiguously – you could work for each company for six weeks for the length of your visa. We worked for the same company for six months…but on different contracts; we also extended our visa and stayed in New Zealand for nine months in the end.
Managing Tourist Apartments in Thailand
Nora: Okay, back to your blossoming hostel management career. What did you do when you first landed in Thailand?
Deborah: It’s weird how things fall into place. We arrived in Asia in November and my brother said he was coming to Thailand for two weeks. We met him on Koh Phangan.
When we arrived we just got chatting to the girl who ran the resort (on behalf of her ageing parents) we were staying at and it came out that we’d run hostels in the past. Next thing she was offering us work over the Christmas and New Year period.
It was slave labour to be honest, but we didn’t really spend anything over the expensive holiday period and it lead to more work.
Nora: How did it lead to more work?
Deborah: During that time, we met an English guy who was building five-star apartments up the hill. Within minutes of meeting us, he’d offered us a job and here we are! We are planning on staying until November, maybe longer…why not?
Nora: What’s the visa situation?
Deborah: We went to Singapore to get work permits – all paid for by our employer as he wants us to be official.
Thailand is very strict about what a foreigner can and cannot do. We are only allowed to do certain jobs. If a Thai can do it, then we shouldn’t be…such as cleaning the pool, serving food etc.
Nora: How are you paid?
Deborah: We are being paid into our UK bank account and we also negotiated money for food, so we are managing to save money.
Tips on the Lifestyle
Nora: You mentioned to me that you’re learning new skills all the time – most recently it was how to maintain a swimming pool and keep free of biting bugs! What has been the hardest thing to wrap your head around while working on the road?
Deborah: I would say learning a new language whilst learning a new job has been the hardest thing.
Before we left the UK, we’d attended Spanish classes and some of what we’d learnt stuck, but being in a classroom is very different to speaking to the chap who we hired to take guests to the hot springs (who only spoke Chilean Spanish). It was a steep learning curve.
Nora: Do you earn any other money to sustain your travels?
Deborah: I am a travel and landscape photographer and I supply images to lots of stock libraries. The sales from these images have helped us whilst travelling. My brother built me a new site which is more oriented to making me money, with referral links.
Nora: What would you recommend to help other travelers find work along the way as you have done?
Deborah: We would say be yourself and just chat to people – honestly this is how we’ve managed to secure almost all of our work. Be open to any suggestions that come your way…you can always leave if it doesn’t work out.
In New Zealand, we were initially told that we couldn’t work without a working holiday visa as we were too old and neither of us had a skill that was listed on the skills shortage list. We didn’t take no for an answer, and dug deeper and made more phone calls. That’s when we found out about the waiver that we could apply for.
Nora: Thank you, Deborah, for this great interview. I’m really impressed with your resume from the road, and your courage to simultaneously tackle language, culture, and a new profession – and make a spectacular go of traveling full-time in a financially sustainable way. You are an inspiration!
Find out more about Deborah and her travel adventures at DeborahBenbrook.
I also interviewed Deborah at greater length about her uncanny ability to land jobs along the way in my book: Working on the Road: The Unconventional Guide to Full-Time Freedom. If this method of making money while traveling appeals to you, it’s worth checking out!
Chapter 9: How to Travel and Earn by Working on Boats
While I reference volunteering in trade for free accommodation on boats in other articles (as I’ve done throughout the Caribbean), the nautical life offers all kinds of opportunities to earn a living while working on boats.
From charter boats, to mega-yachts, to full-sized cruise ships, there is something for everybody. All you need are some decent sea legs.
Working on Charter Boats
Owning a boat isn’t cheap. There are a lot of seafarers out there who sold everything they owned on land to buy a sailboat and “live the dream”.
Unfortunately for some, the dream ended up being a bit more costly than they had anticipated. For others, the cost of owning and operating a boat was known, and buying a boat included a business plan. In both cases, the solution is to bring on paying charter guests.
If you end up working on one of these small charter boats, you will assist the captain and cater to the guests, which could include preparing and operating the boat, cleaning, cooking, and other tasks. In most cases, the scope of service (and meals) can range from informal home-style, to luxurious affairs.
I spent a week assisting a captain on a 35-foot sailboat cater to a couple who joined the boat for a week-long charter. I helped to prepare the guest cabin, plan a menu, shop for food, cook meals, and keep the boat clean during the week as we sailed around the BVIs. When I wasn’t working (at a relaxed pace), I was snorkelling and exploring a different island each day with the guests.
It was a very informal gig, and the captain (who I’d met via word of mouth) was extremely cooperative. In return for my efforts, I had my own cabin, free passage from St. Martin, and earned a cash payment of a few hundred dollars, which was more than fair given that the work was quite easy and the mood very casual.
But not all charter boat gigs (or captains) are as easy-going as mine was; it’s always a good idea to clarify exactly what the captain expects of you before you get in “over your head” so to speak.
Where to Find Charter Boat Gigs
The nautical world is small, and once you find your way on to one boat, you’ll likely find other gigs through word of mouth. But here are some online resources to get you going:
Working on Mega-Yachts
Working on mega-yachts is usually a much more formal (and work-heavy) affair. While I don’t have any experience with it, I have known a few people who have made full-time careers out of working on luxury yachts.
Unless you’re being hired for a specific and technical job (like a captain or engineer), your work will likely be easy but onerous, keeping the boat pristine and catering to the guests’ every needs. It’s comparable to working in a hotel; your role being to make the guests happy, keep everything running smoothly, and otherwise blend into the background.
From what I’ve heard, the hours are long, and you’re basically “owned” by the boat. Sometimes you need to try a few different gigs to find the right fit, as the tight living quarters with other crew members can make being on the wrong boat a total slog.
But once you find the right boat for you, the money can be good, and the lifestyle very rewarding.
Where to Find Mega-Yacht Gigs
Finding jobs on mega-yachts is as simple as doing an online search, where you’ll find lots of options, like the following:
Even better than an online search, is to show up in places where mega-yachts tend to dock, ask around at the marinas, and check local bulletin board listings.
Getting Jobs on Cruise Ships
Similar to mega-yachts, working on cruise ships can involve long hours and restricted living quarters (for example sharing a very small windowless cabin).
But all your expenses are paid, so the money you earn can go to savings. I have known many lifestyle travelers who work a contract on a cruise ship, and travel around between contracts (usually a few months). The cruise line even pays for flights to and from the ship!
An advantage of cruise ships over mega-yachts is the sheer variety of jobs available. Cruise ships are basically floating cities, and you can find a job doing just about anything.
Where to Find Cruise Ship Jobs
My friend Wandering Earl worked for many years on cruise ships; he says that finding cruise ship jobs requires finesse. Depending on the job you are looking for, there are hiring agencies that charge fees, but for the most part it’s unnecessary.
Every cruise line has a different application process for each department, and often for each nationality of employee as well.
If you want to know how to find jobs on cruise ships, I highly recommend you read Wandering Earl’s step-by-step detailed guide on how to land jobs on over 18 major cruise lines:
So there you have it. Seven different ways to make money while traveling.
Have you tried one of these methods? Are you making money on the road in a way that’s not listed here? Let me know in the comments below!
Do you want some more inspiration? Like, maybe, 100 MORE ways to earn money abroad? Then check out this absolutely EPIC guide made by a colleague of mine. A total labour of love: Best Travel Jobs: 107 Killer Ways to Make Money Traveling