Note: This article is an extension of Tim Patterson’s original piece, 10 travel jobs within your reach, first published on Matador in April, 2009.
Freelance writer / photographer
This may mean travel writer, but it doesn’t have to. Let’s say you were a banker; why not start submitting articles to finance mags and journals? The point is to become location independent, and you don’t have to write about travel to do so.
If you do want to write about travel for a living, checking out MatadorU would be a good start.
These gigs easier to find in some countries than others, and requirements vary from a bachelor’s degree in any field to a master’s in education plus TESL certification. Based on my own personal experience, finding a job in Korea was the easiest and in many ways (when cost of living is taken into account) the best paying. Japan, China, Thailand, and Vietnam are also popular options.
South and Central American countries want ESL teachers, but getting the visa is a bit tougher than it is in Asia. There are plenty of gigs in Europe as well, but in general the requirements are more strict.
Who qualifies to be a travel nurse? According to TravelNursing.com:
|Registered nurses in most specialties
Advance practice nurses
LPNs/LVNs with 6 years of recent experience
Speech language pathologists
Other allied health care specialties
The pay and benefits are great, assignments can be long or short-term, and in many cases, housing is provided.
Because travel agents work as a middleman between travelers and hotels / airlines / tourism bureaus, they must typically have firsthand knowledge of what they’re trying to sell, which means visiting plenty of new places. Future travel agents have several options as far as education; most travel agencies prefer some sort of training, which may come from a vocational or technical school, a community college, or a university.
This is one of those travel jobs for someone who’s figured out that “home” isn’t necessarily where they were born. If you’re in a place far from your home country that you chose because something about the culture, people, music, food, etc. just spoke to you, what better way to earn a living than by sharing that passion with others?
One option for wannabe tour guides is to seek out a tour company in the area and apply for work. While in many cases it may be necessary that you’re fluent in the local language, speaking English can definitely be an advantage, as many of your clients will likely speak it as well. Another option is to work as a freelance guide, particularly if you have a niche or specialty area, such as local cuisine or outdoor activities.
Doesn’t matter how the economy’s doing; the military is always hiring. While there are many reasons why this isn’t the best option for everyone, the positives of being a Navy sailor are that you’ll be taken care of as far as health benefits and insurance, and you’ll absolutely get to see the world.
Know a little something about boats but don’t want to join the Navy. Join a yacht crew instead. Seriously, there are plenty of rich folks out there with boats that need a few good men or women. Sail the world and live the good life while watching them live the high life.
Cruise ship gigs
Okay, so you have no clue how to sail a boat. But unless you’re prone to seasickness, cruise ships offer dozens of on-the-water travel jobs with widely varying educational and experience requirements. A few examples:
Cleaning and maintenance crew
There’s a ton more. I mean, Royal Caribbean is looking for a Cupcake Supervisor. Chances are you’ll be able to find something you’re qualified to do on a ship.
An au pair is essentially a nanny or babysitter that may also do light housework. The positives: Families that can afford this are typically wealthy, meaning you may experience gourmet meals, private chauffeurs, and free vacations to resorts. The negatives: as Shannon David said, “scooping soggy poo out of the bath.”
You can find work as an au pair through an agency in the country you wish to live (check out the International Au Pair Association for help).
Clearly this one requires some advance planning. You’ll need a background in physics, chemistry, and mathematics; at least a master’s degree, possibly a doctorate. But man — talk about field trips. The largest employers of geologists are the oil and gas industries, and you can find yourself hopping from one “exotic” location to the next seeking out more sources for fossil-fuel energy.
What you don’t need: a bachelor’s degree. What you do need: a seriously creative skill or talent. Strumming a guitar isn’t likely to draw a lot of attention, but strumming a guitar while balancing the instrument on your nose, hula hooping, and playing the harmonica can bring in a decent crowd. (Just ask this guy.)
Busking can be surprisingly lucrative depending on what you do – and you can do it in pretty much any area that gets a lot of foot traffic. And no shame in telling friends and family what you’re doing back home; there are weirder jobs.
It doesn’t pay, but if all you need is a roof over your head and food to eat, then this certainly counts as a job. WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is an organization that pairs volunteers with farms all over the world. In exchange for room and board, as well as meals, you’ll work a set number of hours on the farm.
Start with a week on a flower farm in Oregon and move to a month on a cattle ranch in Montana. Spend the entire spring working on a coffee plantation in Hawaii. Live on a chestnut farm in France. The possibilities are vast.
Peace Corps volunteer
Nope, the pay ain’t much. But you do get health insurance, student loan deferrals, and a pretty sweet bonus at the end of your Peace Corps service. The application process takes a lot of work, as it includes essays, references, college transcripts, and financial/medical history info. You’ll also have to go through an interview.
Salaries for air cabin crew members vary enormously based on the airline and experience, but in most cases you can expect to start higher than minimum wage. As a newbie, you’ll have fewer options as far as your schedule, number of flight hours, and the destinations you visit.
The good news: If you’re at least 21, aren’t what might be classified as “extremely” short or tall, and have a clean criminal background, you’re probably good to go. Some airlines may prefer you have some sort of degree, but it’s rarely required.
The training is extensive, but the travel benefits are obvious. While the first thought that typically comes to mind is commercial aircraft pilot positions, the Bureau of Labor Statistics points out that 34% of pilots find work “dusting crops, spreading seed for reforestation, testing aircraft, flying passengers and cargo to areas not served by regular airlines, directing firefighting efforts, tracking criminals, monitoring traffic, and rescuing and evacuating injured persons.”
Most airlines prefer to hire college graduates, and to obtain a license, you need a minimum of 250 hours of flight experience. Other requirements include passing a fairly strict physical exam, having perfect vision (with or without corrective lenses) and strong hearing, and not having physical handicaps that might impair performance.
Importer / exporter
This one can get a little hairy, as (from what I’ve seen) there’s a fine line between legal and illegal in the biz. When I lived in Brazil, airport security kept a careful eye on foreigners coming in with electronics, especially Apple products, which are insanely expensive in the country and which visitors can sell for a cheaper price to locals and still make a killing. In other words, buying something in one country and selling it to a buddy in another country for an inflated price isn’t exactly how it’s supposed to work.
If you want to make a legit job out of this, become an agent. Most manufacturers of domestic goods are interested in foreign distribution; typically, agents take about 10%. This is one of those travel jobs for someone with experience with or interest in marketing.
Host / hostess
Really, truly, honestly — it’s not always a euphemism. It doesn’t have to mean sex or the type of “massage” in which quotations are required. You work in a bar and flirt with the customers. You get them to spend money on drinks. You feed their egos. Maybe you dance with them. And you pocket some pretty decent money.
The negatives are pretty obvious.
Interpreter / translator
There is a difference: An interpreter works with spoken languages, while translators deal with written languages. Depending on your employer, you may be required to have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and it helps if that degree is in linguistics. You can also work as a freelancer. The most important qualification, obviously, is that you are fluent in at least two languages.
Government agencies are one place to start looking for interpretation and translation work. Other options include community organizations and hospitals, as well as any type of event which involves international competitors or attendees.
As Tim says, “If you read The New York Times and don’t smoke pot, you’re probably qualified.” Salaries can be pretty good, as can the benefits – vacation time, subsidized accommodation, duty-free goods, and frequent travel – more specifically, travel to many places the average traveler doesn’t have access to.
Depending on your country’s office of foreign affairs or department of state, a bachelor’s or master’s degree may be required to become a diplomat. You’ll start by simply submitting a resume and cover letter; eventually, you might be tested on subjects like world events and languages. There will also be a security screening that includes physical and mental health exams, as well as extensive background checks.
The big requirement here is that you’re a Christian who wishes to travel for the purpose of evangelizing and providing humanitarian services. Depending on the church or board you seek employment with, a bachelor’s degree may be required. There is pay involved, although you will be constantly working to raise more money for your projects. Both short and long-term mission trips are typically available.
This was offered as a bachelor’s degree option back when I was earning my bachelor’s in music, and if I could rewind time I might consider it more carefully. Ethnomusicology is the study of music and cultures, and those in the field travel extensively to record sounds and music at the source for research. Knowledge and passion for both music history and audio recording is necessary for this job.
Airline ready reserve agent
Pay for this gig is typically minimum wage, but it comes with travel privileges. You’ll assist with ticketing and working with passengers on tasks such as issuing upgrades, resolving complaints, transporting baggage, and preparing paperwork.
Requirements: be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or GED, possess a driver’s license, and (in most cases) have decent typing skills.
Online poker player
A former co-teacher of mine from my ESL days recently moved to Thailand. Via Facebook, I saw he had a pretty sweet little house on the beach with a pool and thought to myself “wow, he must have found a great teaching gig.”
Turns out he’s given up the ESL rat race to play online poker, and he’s banking. Obviously this is an independent gig; the only requirements are that you play well enough to win 51% of the time. While you can potentially earn a ton and travel anywhere you like, keep in mind that this will be a tough one to spin on the resume if you ever decide to get a “real” job.
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Michelle is a musician, writer, and teacher just trying to see the world while doing what she loves for a living. She's taught ESL in Salvador, Brazil and kindergarten in Suwon, Korea, and now she's a full-time freelance writer living in Seattle (just to keep the city alliteration going). She'll try pretty much any food once and believes coffee is its own food group.
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