Frequently asked questions for a long term traveller
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:
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 (EDIT: The two merged and become Upwork). 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.
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 in my early 30's. 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 turn 40, 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 that I talk about in much more detail in this post.