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Frequently asked questions for a long term traveller

| 40 comments | Category: travel

The post I wrote over the summer about the 29 life lessons learned in 8 years travelling, stirred up a lot of interest (it’s been read by almost a half a million individuals) but it led to a lot of questions. Some I have hinted to in various blog posts, but I’m going to try and cover a small number of the ones that crop up the most, here.

Firstly about the work practicality, and secondly about the psychological aspect of long-term travel.

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask in the comments (and don’t forget to read the comments to see other questions and answers!) and I may write another post about it, or just answer it directly in comments.

Next week I’ll have a post about frequently asked questions in language learning, so be sure to ask that too by sending me an email if you have already searched for it on the site and not found an answer, and if it’s interesting I’ll add it to the next FAQ post!

How do you get work everywhere?

I’m not rich, so I have to pay for all of this somehow! Funding yourself on the road boils down to three major ways as I see it:

1. Apply for a visa formally, especially if you are a special case

When I wanted to work in the states, I applied for the J1 visa as this special case is for students only. The fact that I had another university year coming up was the “guarantee” that I wasn’t going to stay and work illegally, and the visa expired after a few months.

Thanks to this visa I could work standard jobs: my first time as a Mathematics teacher for Johns Hopkins University, and the second time as a yoga store manager (long story, the start of which being that I didn’t have a clue what yoga was).

It’s impossible to give encompassing advice here as it depends on your nationality, the target country, your work experience, your education/skills, etc. etc. So please ask your student’s union, request information from your embassy and ask in forums online where people are in pretty much the same situation as you. Unless you are an Irish student applying specifically to go to America, my advice would not be useful to you.

Another option is that if you are very employable, the company may arrange your visa. This is common in some countries for English teachers, and even the University I worked for told me that they would have arranged the visa for me if I hadn’t arranged it myself.

Teaching English is of course the easiest way for native English speakers to find work, but your chances increase dramatically if you stay away from places with tough competition. When I moved from Paris to Toulouse in France, I found it much easier to find work as an English teacher.

Yet another option is to apply for a volunteer program. They will cover your food and board, but you usually have to cover your flights and you will not save up any money. The advantage here is since you are not getting paid, you do not need a working permit, but the problem is that you need to have saved up money in advance.

There are many solutions to this problem, so try to be inventive and do as much research as you can for your particular case. Here are some links for some inspiration:

How to get an EU work permit

How to live abroad legally without going broke

2. Get paid “under the table”

Go as a tourist and get paid in cash unofficially. While not ideal, since you are breaking the law, it is a very very common way for travellers to cover themselves. I’d only recommend doing this temporarily as you would be counted as an illegal immigrant otherwise and are not protected by law from unfair treatment.

The easiest way for me to do this was to give private English lessons. I would go to people’s homes and get paid in cash. They would be happy since they aren’t paying more fees for a third-party, and I could still charge much more than local minimum wage because of my teaching experience.

But the problem with this is that it is extremely difficult if you aren’t trying hard to speak the local language. Advertising, taking phone calls, finding contacts etc. is something you can’t do in English alone in many places because the whole point is that they are getting in touch with you to learn English.

There are many other interesting options, such as working at a youth hostel, and manual labour etc. depending on how flexible you are in what you would do and what you can do. On the road, you become more flexible.

3. Work location independently

This is what I’m currently doing. Basically I don’t worry about working visas anymore because all of my work is officially taking place back home. Tax numbers, bank accounts etc. are in the country you are normally resident in (have an address in), and you do the work from a distance.

To do this, you have to go through the process in your home country of applying for a VAT number and so on. Once again this depends on where you are.

When you are in various countries, a tourist visa is all you need because you are only bringing money into the country and not taking any (pretty much the definition of tourist).

For several years I did this as a freelance translator and I now earn from this blog. The links explain how I do both. Among the obvious advantage of freedom, this also means that you will earn in your home currency (in my case euro), which can be very advantageous in many countries with a cheaper currency.

To see how you would do this, you have to see if your skill can be done entirely from a distance. The vast majority of work that takes place on a computer (writing, photo/video editing, coding, data entry, research, Skype-based consultation, and thousands of other jobs) does not require you to sit in an office in any particular place thanks to the Internet.

You can propose to your boss that you get paid less if s/he lets you take your work home. After a period of working down the road, take it on the road. But many bosses can take a lot of convincing for this.

As a freelancer you have the problem of constantly having to look for work yourself, but a great trade-off is to work with an outsourcer. As a translator I only pitched my skills to three major companies that looked for the work for me and paid me themselves. They were obviously charging the end-client more money, but I didn’t have to worry about finding more work because of this process. Finding such a company depends on your industry.

Two major outsourcer websites that are more general for computer-based jobs are e-lance and odesk. I haven’t worked for these sites myself, but I do hire on them all the time! I’ve gotten help coding this site, and more famously direct help in travelling via an “assistant”, and paid them via this site.

I have also met people in my travels who travel and earn from these sites, but finding well paid work can be a challenge, as most people do not pay very highly due to cheaper options around the world just as freely available. It is more of a practical solution if you are travelling in a cheap country.

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This is just about 1,000 words on working abroad – there is so much more information you can find if you search hard enough. If no option here could work for you, please use your imagination! I do not find work only because I’m a white EU citizen – while this gives me many advantages, there are many times when I have had to think on my feet to find a solution.

If it’s harder for you, don’t whine about that – harder does NOT mean impossible. It’s harder for everybody when inaction is the approach. Flexibility and accepting that you may have to work for peanuts will ensure that you can do this.

The worst paid job I’ve ever had was €10/day in Rome (an expensive European city). Accommodation was included, but food was not. Despite that, I made this work. Rather than dreaming about finding the best paid job, realise that being frugal will give you way more freedom. That job in Rome was in a youth hostel, and one of my favourite working experiences ever.

Learn to spend less money and you’ll need to earn way less.

How do you feel about not having a stable group of friends and family around?

There are many ways to look at these issues. The following works for me:

  • Be more flexible on who you call a friend. Stop being shy, and talk to new people you meet. In Ireland we have a saying: A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet. I make new friends wherever I go, and am very open to developing that friendship deeper. You CAN make a lifelong connection even in a very short time; the only thing really stopping this most of the time is convincing the other person that it’s possible.
  • Consistency and routines help me to not lose sense of my individuality. I think it would be psychologically unhealthy to have every aspect of your life change all the time. I set up my office similarly no matter where I am, I listen to familiar music, and eat familiar foods when I can. Some people go overboard with this and create a bubble that pretty much exactly emulates their home environment, which is far too extreme. But I do this to a certain extent and the familiar environment to return to helps me venture out more in other parts of my life.
  • Realise that you can be with someone even if you physically can’t touch them. I call my parents once a week and talk to them for almost an hour each time on video Skype. As much as I’d love to hug everyone I talk to online, the fact that I can’t do that does not take away from the meaning of our interactions. For the older generation, perhaps chatting to someone online or even by video call means “nothing”, but to me it counts as a lot and is indeed almost as good as actually being there. Being open to maintaining friendships online means that you do have a stable group of friends and family around.

As you are getting older do you think about settling down, marrying etc.?

I’m 29. To me this is far from old. Even 39 or 49 wouldn’t count, and if you have enough spirit in you, 59 and 99 are not old either. I know people those ages who would put teenagers to shame in their sense of adventure and scope of life enjoyment. While some people may feel that the number of laps you have completed of the solar system has any real significance. I do not. As far as I’m concerned, age dictates nothing. It’s just a number.

When I’m 30, nothing will necessarily change. The only difference is that I am hoping for a big party since it’s a round number, and thus as good as any other excuse to hold a party!

As much fun as it is, I don’t plan to have this nomadic lifestyle forever. Some day (in 2/5/10 years?) I’ll stop and have something close to traditional stability (and perhaps travel only for a month or two out of the year) and the chance to have my own family if I decide to. While I may not be able to do this now in my current travel mode, knowing that this is open to me whenever I choose is very comforting.

Finding love on the road and not feeling lonely are questions I get asked a lot and will come back to in much more detail later.

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Any other questions? Ask and read the comments below! You can also ask specific travel tips in the forum that perhaps I wouldn’t be able to answer but someone else in the community would.

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  • http://www.janafadness.com Jana Fadness

    Great post! I can identify with a lot of the things you have to say here.

    I have another question: Whenever you do make the shift to a more settled lifestyle, do you plan on continuing to earn your living through this website? Do you think you’ll continue learning languages, and if not how do you see yourself spending the majority of your time?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I don’t know. I’ll come to that road when I come to it. I’ve changed jobs and means of earning money so regularly, I find it highly unlikely that I’ll be earning from this website until the day I die ;)

  • http://twitter.com/gracet07 Grace

    Hi Benny! I have two questions: What is the biggest downside for a long term traveller? I know for a lot of people it may be different, but what is yours personally? Also, you do not consider yourself religious, but do you believe in God or a higher power?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I’m an atheist. As I said in the 29 life lessons post: “I personally don’t believe in magic or fairies or astrology or sky
      wizards or large-scale invisible inexplicable forces at work on petty
      daily activities of humans”. Sky wizard was a reference to gods, not a flying Harry Potter. ;)

      There are a few down sides to long-term travel. It’s a good question and I think I’ll devote a whole post to it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/trishia.jacobscarney Trishia Jacobs-Carney

        Benny, I ‘should’ be working:) but I’m still perusing your blog. I envy how wise you have become at such a ‘young’ age. I am 56 and apparently a slow learner!ha! I was one of those who believed if I worked hard, I would get what I ‘deserved’. I kept believing that after being screwed by bosses time and again. Now, I work for myself. Don’t make much, but what I do, I enjoy. I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, was ‘disfellowshipped’ for asking too many questions, checked out other churches, got into “new age” stuff and just in the last couple of years have become an atheist. So, it’s been a long journey. I love how candid and frank you are. If you ever make it back to the states, to the beautiful Northwest, come see me and the hubby. Comfy bed is available for you!

      • Juan Lopez

        Your an inspiration & I want to be like you as did exactly what you did in life.

  • Alex Ristich

    Excellent post – I loved it!
    Thanks for sharing your experiences and bringing greater attention to the traveller lifestyle. Looking forward to your post about love and loneliness, as I think these are often significant hurdles for would-be travellers.

  • Randybvain

    Benny, could you edit your link How to get an EU work permit? It leads somewhere else.
    As a migrant who has found a job in other country, I agree with you. Sometimes I wonder why those poor people laying on the street and begging for money do so, if a Pole not speaking the language whatsoever, having no knowledge of local bureaucracy and culture finds work without trouble. There is however a snag: our Polish qualifications aren’t always regarded in other countries, so we have to apply for a job for unqualified people – this makes local people angry, but this is another story. So, have you ever experienced that you couldn’t work as an engineer (if you had wanted so) because in that country they “don’t know your school”?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Thanks, I’ve fixed that issue ;)
      I’ve never had an issue with anyone not recognising my degree from UCD. I find it strange that someone wouldn’t recognise a Polish university. I’d call them an idiot and list examples of Polish people who have changed the world, and if they don’t know my school I’d teach them how to use a web browser and type in its URL.

  • Jon

    Whenever I read job requirements for English teaching jobs, they say you need to have a B.A/B.S as part of the general requirements given.   Does anyone know if their Is another route to get a TEFL job with out a B.A/B.S ?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      You are only reading them from the most prestigious schools then, needing a B.S. is…. B.S. frankly.

      Here’s my experience: http://www.fluentin3months.com/forum/travel-hacking/working-abroad/#p1787

      Be flexible about where you work and don’t judge requirements by what you see only on the easiest to find advertisements.

  • http://kevinpost.wordpress.com/ Kevin Post

    Here are my random questions:

    1. Would you be creeped out if someone wrote an in-depth wikipedia article about you?

    2. Do you sometimes feel pressured to learn/do certain things for your readers? Do you sometimes long for a vacation from fi3m?

    3. Could you ever see yourself going back to uni? 

    4. Have you ever considered veganism?

    5. I know you like urban areas but could you see yourself living with a semi-nomadic pastoral tribe for three months in order to learn their language/culture (with internet access a few times a week & vegetarian friendly dietary options available).

    6. Have you ever had to put up with someone incredibly annoying for the sake of learning their language?

    7. Has any governmental agency or program (local or national) ever contacted you with incentives to learn their language and live in their country (i.e. free languages classes, free accommodation, etc).

    Alright, final question: 8. If it were all inclusive, would you learn Korean in North Korea? 

    Thanks!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      1. Sure, sounds good! Probably going to happen eventually if the blog keeps growing – might as well do it sooner :)

      2. I live my life the way I like. If I don’t want to learn a language, then I won’t :) I would blog about maintaining a language or something else for the break; as I did a year ago when I moved to Colombia.

      3. Unlikely. I don’t hold university credentials in high regard any more. The knowledge university teaches us can be learned more efficiently as you’ll see from Scott Young’s experiment: http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/2011/09/27/the-mit-challenge/

      4. No. Being lacto-ovo vegetarian is very likely going to be my lifelong diet.

      5. A pastoral tribe with fast Internet and easy vegetarian options sounds extremely unlikely. For 3 months I’d need Internet every day for several hours, not a few times a week. But if those options were available then I’d definitely consider it.

      6. No. As you can probably tell by my writing style I am very frank. I have incredibly little patience for annoying people and will either call them on it or politely leave as soon as I can. Remember, I’m not interested in learning languages but meeting people. That’s the whole point for me. I specifically learn languages with fun or interesting people whenever possible.

      7. No. I’ve contacted a few to offer free publicity for their town/language etc. on my blog and they don’t seem to realise the power of social media and blogging. I wish more would work with me on this.

      8. If what were all inclusive? North Korea doesn’t sound like a fun place to live so even if it wasn’t next to impossible to travel there, I still wouldn’t want to. South Korea will do me fine when the time is right.

      Hope that helps! :)

  • NKellyEmerald

    Very interesting article! And as someone who spent around 2 1/2 to 3 years in a long distance relationship I understand completely just how meaningful something as simple as a conversation on Skype, an email, or even a simple text message. 

    As an aside, I do hope you’ll manage to be home for Seachtain na Gaeilge! :D 

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I may not be home for SnaG this time, since I plan to be 3 months in my first language destination, which would be Jan-Mar.

  • Matthew Morris

    Nice post, I’d be interested to see how you feel after you turn 30. I traveled for a long time like you, and never thought about settling down, but for some reason, once I turned 30 I just had an overwhelming urge to start making moves to settle down more…got sick of living out of a backpack.

    It’s not so bad actually, working etc again….now I get 7 weeks off a year for vacation, and whilst that may see peanuts to someone traveling all the time, it’s not too bad.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I don’t live out of a backpack and you seem to have skipped the huge section where I specifically say that I will NOT have some mid-life crisis at 30 because it’s just a number.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I find that when you are intimate with someone, it becomes way easier to open up and share important thoughts or problems with them.

  • http://twitter.com/Nymphie Lizzie

    I really like that you have routines to keep you grounded. Sometimes I feel bad that whenever I travel long term I cling to daily or weekly routines, but whenever I try to break the small routines I have I just get horribly homesick and lock myself up in my room. Usually I do the same exact things every morning, and then the rest of the day I am so much more open to trying new things :) It makes me feel more secure.

  • http://twitter.com/Nymphie Lizzie

    I really like that you have routines to keep you grounded. Sometimes I feel bad that whenever I travel long term I cling to daily or weekly routines, but whenever I try to break the small routines I have I just get horribly homesick and lock myself up in my room. Usually I do the same exact things every morning, and then the rest of the day I am so much more open to trying new things :) It makes me feel more secure.

  • http://twitter.com/Nymphie Lizzie

    I really like that you have routines to keep you grounded. Sometimes I feel bad that whenever I travel long term I cling to daily or weekly routines, but whenever I try to break the small routines I have I just get horribly homesick and lock myself up in my room. Usually I do the same exact things every morning, and then the rest of the day I am so much more open to trying new things :) It makes me feel more secure.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    As I said, I’m far from old. A pension works very well for a stable lifestyle, but there are issues with it, especially in hard economic times with less generous pensions than promised being handed out.

    I would rather save up the money myself, and so in a few years if I am earning more consistently I’ll start putting aside 10% of all my earnings or something. For the moment I have to cover my next months. Pension is too far away.

  • http://delw.in/ Delwin Campbell

    J’ai une question: qu’est-ce que tu apportes pendant que tu voyages? As-tu un tas de trucs que tu en as besoin?

  • http://delw.in/ Delwin Campbell

    J’ai une question: qu’est-ce que tu apportes pendant que tu voyages? As-tu un tas de trucs que tu en as besoin?

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  • Kayla

    Absolutely loved your blog! One question- have you/do you ever feel unsafe throughout your travels, considering you’re alone and in a foreign place? I love to travel and am inspired by your blog, but I have hesitations as a female in her early 20’s. Any thoughts?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I’ve been in a foreign place since I finished high school and moved to Dublin (which is foreign compared to my small town). So I’m used to it by now.

      But the lonely thing is something I’ll be blogging about soon since I get asked it a lot.

      As a female, I’m not quite the one to give you the right answers, but there are plenty of inspirational single female travellers – one example is legalnomads.com Go read her blog – she’ll inspire you ;)

  • Lonelyglupi

    Useless and unrelated question, but I’m too curious. Do you sometimes get really angry and punch people in the face ?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I do sometimes get angry, but I haven’t ever punched someone in the face. I haven’t gotten in a fight since I was 8. I vent my anger verbally, not physically.

  • Russ West

    heres a crazy one for u. im 43 with a degree in elementry ed. have 7 years teaching experience in esl. was planning on teaching in thailand this dec., and was busted for growing marauana before i left. if i left to teaech abroud, would this hamper my oppertuities greatlly for teaching english in most foriegn countries or is there a site you know of that would help me with this matter. If i lived two hours away in Michigan, this would be perfectlly leagal, but since im in wisconsin could be facing five years in prison; think id rather go teach for eight years which i was planning already. does this sound possible

  • Daivat Pandya

    Benny, I am big fan of your posts.

    I have always loved traveling so much. But I always wonder how manageable it is to travel and not having steady girlfriend at the same time even at the age of 29. I mean, to be in a long relationship is a natural human desire. How do travelers actually manage that?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I’ll write a post on this topic some time over the next months.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I travel with everything I own, which is about the weight limit for airlines. An extended 3 month stay or a few weeks away is the same – I just have one bag and leave behind or sell heavy things like books.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ReelBec Bec Reel

      So you don’t have any possession left with your family?
      How about tracking where you have been and everything you have done is that done through your website or do you write things down? And do you have a camera you take everywhere with you? Photos?

  • lifeofstaci

    Haha! I get asked question 3 a lot too, but it mostly has to do with “when you have kids, will you stop traveling.” My fiance’s and my ultimate goal is to live 6 months abroad and 6 months in the states (preferably somewhere sunny, like Florida). We would have the stability of a permanent home in the states, but the adventure of living abroad too. And this plan is regardless of whether we have kids or get married.

    Personally, I think they call it “Settling” down for a reason. Most people settle on a life they don’t really love, and then perpetuate the idea that it is the normal life that everyone else should have so that they don’t feel so bad about giving up on their dreams. Sad, really.

  • Michelle Ferrian

    Inspirational words of wisdom :) Im in my second year of traveling, and needed to be reminded of some lessons i had learned. I love you’re motto “seven days in a week, and one day is not one of them.”
    Thank you!!

  • Adrian Rehn

    I’m a recent grad, 22, from the USA and I’m finding your website super useful. This economy is a real trainwreck but it’s a damn good excuse to go abroad!

  • Mary

    I’m hoping to do a gap year next year living and working in Britain and Europe. I’ve only ever had one job (stable hand at a petting zoo) and I don’t have a drivers license (and can’t get a full license for 3 years due to my country’s laws). Do you think I can still do this or will I just run out of money and have to go home after a few weeks? I speak some French (but not very well) but I’ll be travelling with a friend who is fluent in French and speaks some Russian.