It seems that people who haven’t traveled much always have this idea in their heads that traveling is expensive. If you do it like a backpacker and you’re smart about it, it’s really not. There are also a MILLION ways that you can travel for free, or at least get free accommodation.
I’m a big proponent of working and living abroad. I studied in Italy, I taught in Thailand, and one thing I can say is that living in a foreign country is a COMPLETELY different experience from just traveling there. The expat world and backpacking world could not be more different. As an expat you learn a lot more about the country, you get to see things you never would otherwise, and it provides a good home base for visiting other neighboring countries. As much as I love backpacking, living out of a 14 kilo bag and sleeping in dorms gets exhausting after a while.
Ways you can work abroad:
- Workaway.com – this is a website where people post volunteering opportunities where you work in exchange for accommodation, and sometimes meals/yoga classes/other things as well. The subscription costs $30 for a year. Most of the opportunities I’ve seen are either agriculture, language tutoring, or hostel work-based. Con – many of the opportunities are long-term. I was offered a position working at an elephant rescue center in Chiang Mai as a tour guide, but I would’ve had to give up an entire 3 weeks of travel.
- Trustedhousesitter.com – there are many similar websites to this, this is just the one that I’m familiar with. If you pay the $30 yearly subscription fee, you can house-sit other peoples’ houses for free, in exchange for staying there. You also could try house-sitting via Craigslist, but it’s no as guaranteed.
- Showing up at a hostel – a LOT of hostels offer work in exchange for free accommodation, and sometimes compensation. The downside – you often have to spend a little time at the hostel first before you get the job; it’s hard to find guaranteed jobs online beforehand. And sometimes you have to commit to a large amount of time, usually around a month. But it’s an easy way to meet people. For example I know Slumber Party hostel in Krabi hires all the time, but you have to commit for at least 3 months. I also saw many hostels in Pai that advertised work for accommodation.
- Teaching – obvious and self-explanatory. You can get TEFL or CELTA certified on your own and find your own job, or you can go through a program like I did. You also can find agencies in cities like Bangkok that will help you find a job for a small cut. Program pros – they take care of your visa and all the confusing paperwork for you, program cons- they’re expensive.
- Working as a flight attendant – even if you just do it for a year, some programs offer free housing in addition to a salary, and you get to see the world.
- VIPKid and other online tutoring websites – it really pays to be a native English speaker in 2017, as English is quickly becoming the number 1 language worldwide, and people will pay money to try and pick up a good accent. So if you are a native English-speaker, there are many websites(most of my friends use VIPKid) where you can sign up to tutor virtually using a Skype-like program. This pays very well; my friends earn around $19/hour. And you can pick your own schedule; good for traveling.
- Upwork.com – and other freelancing websites. These are websites that let you freelance write, graphic design, etc.; all from the comfort of your own laptop.
- Au pairing – I’ve never really looked into doing this because I’d make a terrible housekeeper, but this is a popular option in France/Spain.
- Teaching diving – this is a popular option in Thailand on popular diving islands like Ko Tao, where people show up to get PADI certified one week and are teaching the next. They generally don’t pay well, if they pay at all, but hey, you get to live on an island for at least accommodation usually.
- Working as a tour guide – there are companies in Europe, specifically Florence where I studied, that do organized tours aimed at students. I actually applied, interviewed, and was accepted to work for Bus2Alps, but teaching seemed like a more stable source of income, and I had never been to Thailand. My only complaint about these student tour guide groups is that they’re heavily based on compensation, and most tour guides are required to go out to bars several nights a week to party with prospects to try and sell tours. I know, I partied with many a tour guide during my time in Florence. Partying in the week and leading travel groups Thurdsay night-Sunday can be exhausting. Some companies that do the same thing: FlorenceForFun, SmartTrips, and Euroadventures.
I gave teaching abroad in Thailand a go, and had a wonderful experience. That’s never guaranteed of course, a lot of the time people’s experience depends on their placement, boss, etc. I know several people who couldn’t handle teaching in the same program I was in that bailed.
I gave my second working-abroad attempt a go in the beginning of March. I paid $30 for a 1-year subscription on Workaway.com, and started messaging hostels in the Thai islands and Pai, a hippie town 2 hours from Chiang Mai, as those are both places I’ve wanted to visit in Thailand but hadn’t had a chance to yet.
Right before I left Myanmar and was planning on heading to the south of Thailand, I received an e-mail inviting me to work at a backpacker hostel in Pai. I went to Mochit station, hopped on an overnight bus to Chaing Mai (you have to go to Chiang Mai first to get to Pai), and off I went.
When applying, I only applied to hostels that seemed social, as I was going to be solo traveling extensively for the first time ever and I wanted to meet people. I got lucky, the hostel I worked at was very social and a little bit of a party hostel, but it was still pretty small and had a nice family-vibe to it.
Overall, I had a great experience during my 1 week working at this hostel. I worked the front desk, helping check in customers etc., helped out at the bar a couple nights, and spent 1 unfortunate day doing housekeeping. I saw unfortunate because it was unfortunate for the hostel owner; I’m not very good at cleaning and she wasn’t very shy about letting me know it. I’ve never had someone rip my cleaning skills so hard in front of my peers. With my stay came free water, a free bed, drinks at wholesale price(which saved me a lot of baht), and 1 free meal a day.
The owner of the hostel wasn’t the friendliest person, my bed was literally a bamboo cot, and I’m pretty sure one of the nightstands in the staff dorm had termites in it, but I met a lot of awesome people that week and saved a bit of money. Overall I’d recommend trying workaway. If you have the guts, however, I’d say showing up somewhere you want to be and trying to find a hostel hiring may be better. Saving money on a bed doesn’t save you too much in Southeast Asia, but in other places like Europe it really does. I plan on giving workaway another go in September while I’m apartment hunting in Madrid to save on staying at a hostel, so we’ll see how it goes.