I think one question I get asked more than anything is what I do for money. In other words, how have I been gallivanting around the globe, to tropical surf destinations, without showing any evidence whatsoever of conventional work. And so I decided to write this blog post to openly reveal how I have seemingly been duping the man all of these years. You’ll soon find out that the answer is surprisingly straightforward, and no act of fiscal sorcery.
I used to hold a job as a department director at a major university. In the several years that I worked there, I didn’t have much of a life, and therefore didn’t spend that much money. When I finally decided that my lifestyle was not only stagnating, but would eventually drive me bat shit crazy, it became evident that it was time to leave the job and drastically rearrange my life. I moved back in with my parents, and saved my money for a period of six months. I also sold a bunch of stuff I no longer needed on eBay and craigslist, which surprisingly yielded a few thousand dollars. This basically allowed me to travel to Bali, and do a little more than sit on my ass, sip lattes, reflect on life, and surf for the year that followed. When I eventually moved to Costa Rica, I settled into the small town of Nosara, which was an enclave of ex-pat surfers and yogis. Many people owned their own businesses , from consulting firms, to boutique hotels, to real estate development companies. Since I surfed daily, I eventually got to meet the majority of the town’s population while sitting in the lineup. When people found out that I had been a technology professional for the past 20 years, and had built countless websites including having a hand in Intel’s online B2B sales application, they asked me to build their websites as well. This opened the doors to doing freelance web design as a regular source of income. After CR, I moved back to Los Angeles. In LA, I tried my hand at turning my house into an Airbnb. It worked out well, but not quite as well as I had hoped, so I decided to sell the house. The idea was to have the income from the sale as a cushion as I explore opportunities in travel blogging, digital content creation, and social media marketing.
But since I realize that everyone’s life circumstances are different, I decided to document eight ways to travel the globe long term while earning an income. These are methods I discovered from personal experience and from other long term travelers in the past two years. Contrary to popular belief, you do NOT need a lot of money to travel. All it really takes is a little bit of initiative. In fact, I met a girl who makes about $6000/year (yes six thousand with only 3 zeros, and yes “per year” not “per month”), well below the poverty line in all developed nations, who travels the globe full time and has amazing adventures.
1) Save your money and get your ass out of Dodge:
This is basically the method that I used. Get yourself a travel rewards credit card, preferably one without any foreign transaction fees (such as Chase Sapphire), and start placing all of your expenses on it. While you’re at it, also open a separate checking account that has no foreign withdrawal fees (such as Charles Schwab). This way you’ll be able to withdraw cash, and pay for stuff while traveling, without getting dinged by a fee at every transaction. You’ll also rack up rewards that you can use when you’re ready to purchase your airline ticket.
Reduce your expenses as much as possible and find methods of additional income for a period of several months (a google search will yield you tons of ideas on how to do so). Move back in with your parents if this is an option. Airbnb that spare room. Sell your old stuff on eBay or craigslist. And save, save, save. Figure out how long you would like to be traveling for, and put together a budget of your estimated monthly living expenses abroad. Save accordingly, and be sure to include sufficient cushion for unexpected expenses. The last thing you want to be is that crusty backpacker who runs out of money and is now stuck in Nicaragua. While you’re traveling, keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to earn a little bit of extra cash. A local bar might be hiring, you may be able to teach a surf lesson, build a website for someone, babysit, housesit, provide English lessons, etc. While you’re away, don’t forget to AirBnB your house or apartment if you’re able to. Some people are able to earn enough to have it serve as a primary source of income. I met a girl who AirBnBs her Venice Beach apartment and is now travelling indefinitely in South and Central America. Keep in mind that it’s often much cheaper to live abroad than in major metropolitan areas in the west such as Los Angeles, New York, or London. I used to think it was expensive to travel, but in reality it is much more expensive for me to stay at home in Los Angeles.
2) Find a WorkAway volunteer opportunity that will pay for your lodging and meals:
I was a volunteer surf instructor for a one week period in Tamarindo Costa Rica. In exchange for lodging and 2 meals a day I taught surf lessons to the guests. While at the surf camp I met another volunteer who only works 3 weeks per year in her home country of France, earns a few thousand dollars (yes this is the six thousand dollars/year girl), then does WorkAway volunteer opportunities the rest of the year. She had several super interesting experiences such as working at a cattle ranch in Mongolia. Because most of her expenses are covered by the WorkAway, her few thousand of spending money lasts her an entire year. If you combine this method of travelling, with the purchase of an airline ticket using rewards earned on a credit card, you can truly travel the world on a zero budget.
Keep in mind though, WorkAway opportunities are not for those that need to travel in luxury. Accommodations are typically quite simple.
WorkAway opportunities can be found on websites such as WorkAway. Be sure to thoroughly research each opportunity, read the reviews, talk to past volunteers, call the host, etc, to make sure it’s right for you.
3) Freelance and free yourself from the grind:
Part of my time abroad was spent freelancing. This allowed me to stay in my chosen destination for as long as I wanted with the security that I would have enough money to live on. While travelling I met many “digital nomads” that travel full time and work from their laptops. I met a couple, one a programmer, the other a web designer, who spends a portion of each year in different parts of the world – a few months in Bali, a few months in Europe, another few months in Colombia, etc. Many of their conversations are spent brainstorming where to go next. I met another friend, a web developer, who spends an indefinite amount of time each year at tropical surf destinations. Popular jobs for digital nomads include computer programming, web design/development, graphic design, video editing, social media marketing, and blogging. To sharpen your technical skills or learn a new skill, use a service like Lynda, which provides online training on practically every high-demand technical or creative skill you can think of such as programming, graphic design, photography, video editing, etc. They provide learning paths such as “Become a Graphic Designer”, “Become a Web Developer”, etc., that can help you build a new marketable skill from the ground up. If you are more of the creative type, consider a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud which gives you access to the entire suite of Adobe creative applications for a reasonable monthly fee (and for even cheaper if you’re a student). Once you have the skills and the tools ready to go, see if you can find work from the local businesses, or an online resource like Upwork that posts opportunities for freelancers.
4) Take your skill on the road:
If working in front of a computer is not really your jam, see if you can take your skill on the road, or develop such a skill. I travelled with my brother for several months in Indonesia, Costa Rica, and Panama. He’s a tattoo artist and in each of those places he found work as a guest artist at a local tattoo shop. I’ve also seen hairdressers, photographers, teachers, welders, yoga instructors, healing energy workers, and interior designers doing the same thing. In small expat communities, many of the services you come to rely on in the big city are not available. So if someone comes to the community with that skill, he becomes the go-to guy. For instance in Nosara Costa Rica there was the go-to hair stylist, go-to tattoo artist, go-to welder, etc. In fact, I met a guy who spends a few months each year there photographing surfer tourists and selling the pictures to them – everyone loves a professional surf photo of themselves ripping in Costa Rica. I also met a friend who taught Environmental Sciences at the local school. The point is, if you have a skill, it’s probably in demand in other parts of the world where you want to visit.
5) Teach English:
Another tried and true way to live abroad and earn a living is to teach English. Most programs will require some sort of certification such as the TEFL for hiring consideration. The good news is, there are many programs to get your TEFL certification in awesome travel destinations such as Santa Teresa Costa Rica. You can also get certification online through services such as Premiertefl. If you’re looking to go fully remote, I recently came across a company called VIPKID.
Basically, they have built a portal to allow qualified native English speakers to teach English to kids in China via videoconferencing. The pay rate is about $19/hour and work is performed fully online. I haven’t tried it myself, but from reading the reviews it seems pretty legit, and as far as I know they don’t require a TEFL. $19/hour is plenty to live on in many parts of Southeast Asia.
6) Work on a cruise ship:
I had a singer friend who got a job performing in musicals on a cruise ship for a period of 8 months or so. She travelled the South Pacific and visited pristine tropical islands only seen on postcards. Her pictures got me so jealous, they forced me to take a hard look at my life and wonder why I was settling for less than I desired. Eventually that fire of introspective discontent led me to quit my job and move to Bali.
I’ve never personally worked on a cruise ship, but a simple google search yielded tons of information on positions for practically every skill level.
7) Teach Diving:
While living in Bali I met lots of expats who had been living on the tiny tropical party island of Gili Trawangan for years teaching diving. Their daily routine was basically teach diving all day in the beautiful, clear, tropical waters, then have beers in the afternoon/evenings with the guests and tourists – not a bad life. Dive master certifications can be earned in many beautiful travel destinations such as Bali, Hawaii, Australia, Southern California, etc.
8) Become a flight attendant or pilot
I have one pilot friend and a couple of flight attendant friends who have been to more places than most, and they often go there for free – it’s one of the great perks of their job! There are certain restrictions, such as flying on a standby list, etc, that they have to be mindful of. Nonetheless, they have ample opportunity to see the world and earn a regular paycheck.
The list above only begins to scratch the surface of available income opportunities that allow for a life of long term travel. If you can think of additional ones that you or people you know have successfully put into practice, please comment below! An additional important tip: surround yourself with people who live location independent lives. Before I quit my job I used to wonder if it was even possible to live life like this. Now however, I live in a community of hundreds of people living location independent lives. Not only is it inspiring, it also gives you the tools and knowledge to make it possible.