Guess what... What if I told you that you could travel to far off lands for months on end without going bankrupt or having to resort to selling one of your vital organs to pay for a plane ticket back home? Believe it or not, you can actually make money (or at least not lose it) while traveling. Click the pictures below to find out how.
I'll preface this by saying I am not yet an expert when it comes to monetizing travel writing. I began it as a hobby just in March of this year (now being the start of November) and have only started getting paid to write within the past month. That said, here is how I started blog and marketed it out for potential writing deals.
Creating the Blog
I had toyed around with the idea of starting a blog for nearly a year, waiting for ideas to hit me in order to get started. Finally, during the long, cold Russian winter, I decided to stop waiting for the perfect idea and created the initial site. I went on Square Space and purchased my site's domain (some people prefer WordPress, but Square Space was easier to use and I'm a bit technologically challenged). I realized It doesn't matter how creative you are or how talented you are at writing. If you never take that step and start something, all your ideas and abilities are wasted. If I didn't take the jump, nothing was going to happen.
I personally liked using Square Space because they walked me through everything and made it very easy (also I got a discount code from listening to Duncan Trussel's podcast). I would recommend at least taking a look at it, but if you find out you like WordPress or something else better, go for that instead. I wouldn't be offended.
Finding an Idea
Once I decided I was going to make a travel blog/website, I searched all over the internet and read through many well established, existing travel blogs. I wanted to see how other people were doing it and hopefully get a better understanding of how to actually get started. I found many that were very detailed and informational, often containing 'Top Ten' lists, and some that showcased amazing photography, but almost uniformly, there was no humor or unique creativity.
Sure, they were very good when it came to providing statistics and photographs of various locations, but the writing content seemed reminiscent of the cereal box ingredients I had read that morning (yes, this was one of the odd ways I tried to study Russian). Not to mention, so many of the blogs were flooded with terrible selfies taken at dreaded places like monuments and artisan western-style cafes. Shuttering in horror, I knew I could never live with myself if I stooped to such self-absorbed mediocrity. That's when the idea came to me: Stories!
I had found my focus, my subcategory to stand out from the thousands of others. My blog would be about bizarre happenings, hilarious misfortunes (usually at the expense of my own physical well-being), and the downright weird and awesome things most of these bloggers neglected. That's when I did the most important thing of all: I bought the domain and actually started the thing.
PREPARE TO ADAPT!
Once I had a few basic ideas of what I wanted to write about, I began creating pages and posts. Initially, I only had a couple stories and information pages about the countries I had been too. For each section, I challenged myself to think of either the fumiest or most creative way I could describe something, and at first I was rather happy with the result. However, it felt as if something was missing. I looked through old photo albums on my computer to see if I had anything to use as a visual aid, but in most circumstances I found nothing. That's when I came to a realization that would change the nature of the blog forever. I would make my own images! First I sketched out a cartoon with pencil and paper, then photographed each individual section which I then colored in using Microsoft Paint.
Not only did this make my blog more interesting and unique, but it also made it infinitely more fun for me. I could now add hyper exaggerated images that could convey a whole new message or bring out an extra laugh that would have been absent from written word. When I started, I had no intention of making cartoons. That idea just came to me in the process, and I couldn't be happier that it did.
And the point I'm trying to make here is this: you don't need to have everything perfect when you start. You will thing of new ideas as you get going that will alter and enhance your project. You will learn what works and what doesn't. The more you work on it (as is the case with me), the more your project will change and adapt in a good way. Be open to new concepts and thoughts. That's where your own ideas and creativity can flourish.
Two things are particularly important here. First, you need to write something that other people would want to read, and second, you have to write something that is enjoyable to you. I mean, if you're creating a blog or website that bores you to death and brings you no joy, then it is absolutely pointless. What I try to focus on is being entertaining. Whether it's a full story or just a sentence or two, I challenge myself to think of the funniest and most creative way I can present something. Therefore, I'll often use ridiculous metaphors, outrageous hyperbole, or cartoon imagery. For example, instead of saying, 'the car was moving slow,' I could say, 'if the car had been in a race with an opiate addicted sloth, it would have handily lost.' It is worth the extra time, both for yourself and the readers.
I am not yet an expert at this, but here is what I have done so far. Once I had a great deal of content, I began visiting ex-pat websites and Facebook groups for some of the countries of which I have written extensively about (like Russia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan). I posted some of (in my opinion) the better articles and stories and said something like "Hey, if you're bored and want to stare at something other than the neck hairs of the guy in the cubicle in front of you, check out this story I just wrote!" And surprisingly enough, people actually liked it. I began getting emails and messages from people who operated travel websites and newspapers asking to showcase some of my articles.
This is where I took more of an active role. Once I had the contact of writing outlets that were interested, I replied asking if I could get paid to write some articles for their publications, and in nearly every circumstance, they said yes (albeit the pay doesn't start off that high). This is even how I got the interview for the television program in Georgia. So, I guess I can sum it up by saying, just get your work out there. Send it to different sites and social media groups. Make yourself known and people will reach out to you. It takes time to build a name for yourself, so when you get a writing offer, absolutely take it.
- Think of your own idea (one that can stand out)
- Purchase the domain and start writing
- Adapt as you think of new ideas
- Put the work into it and write as much as you can
- Make your content known
- Post on social media and every outlet you can
- Don't be modest, tell everyone about it
- When people are interested, offer to write for them
- Be persistent. This will take time to get up off the ground.
Here's a phrase I often here people say when I talk about travel, "I'd like to go somewhere, but I just don't have the money." While this may be true in some cases (for example, if your bank account is under $100, you definitely shouldn't be traveling at the moment), this is often said by people who have significantly more than I do. And when I say this, I'm not being accusatory. Many people have the perception that it'll cost thousands of dollars to go anywhere, and that travelling is just a luxury for the wealthy. And while this can be the case, it doesn't have to be. So, therefore, I decided to write this article to share money-saving tips I've learned along the way in order to break the notion that travelling has to be a huge financial burden. I'll start with some biggest things to focus on if you want to cut costs.
This is one of the most common places where people lose money, but it's one of the easiest things to change. When it comes to big travel, like to another country for example, the best thing you can do is a little research and price comparing either on your own or with a friend (not a travel agent). I say this because it happened to me personally. Just a month ago, my mom was trying to purchase a plane ticket to come and visit me in Russia, but because it had been a long time since she last traveled, she decided to contact a travel agent for help. When she did, the agent said the cheapest ticket she could find was $1300 round trip. Instantly, this didn't seem right to me, seeing as I had flown for significantly less, so I decided to do a quick internet check and found many non-stop, round trip tickets for $700 total.
For this, I can recommend using the flight websites either Kayak or Skyscanner. They usually have the best prices and largest variety of flights. Also, if your schedule is flexible, search on several different days because prices can vary by nearly 30% from one day to another. Usually Mondays-Wednesdays are the cheapest option, but occasionally you can find a bargain or discount on the weekends.
This is pretty specific, but if you are traveling from country to country within Europe, I advise against using trains as much as possible. Since inter-railing is popular and trendy, it is often the most expensive option (and usually the slowest) to get from place to place. In most circumstances a bus will be less than half the price while getting you there just as fast, in not faster (less stops in between). And sometimes, even, flights from discount airlines like Ryanair and Wizz Air can even be the most affordable option. For example, when I flew Romania to Hungary, I found a Wizz Air flight for about $25. Granted the flight was uncomfortable, and cramped, but it still got me from point A to point B in one piece.
But if you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can always hitchhike and you're entire journey will be free. This may be hard in places like North America and Western Europe where there is a bit of a stigma against the activity, but the further east you go, it actually becomes a pretty common practice and everyone is far more relaxed about it. Like Georgia, for example, where even police officers frequently pick up hitchhikers and help them get to their desired destination (I can confirm, I have seen this happen). Just keep in mind that sometimes you may have to wait a long time for someone to stop and often whoever does will only be able to take you part of the way. That being said, it's still the cheapest way to travel (costing a grand total of $0). Be patient, it can be worth it.
So, to break it down:
- Search for travel tickets yourself/beware of agents
- Flights during the week are often cheaper
- Use discount airlines for the best deals
- Buses are cheaper and often get you to your destination just as fast as trains
- Use public transportation whenever possible
- If you do use a taxi, agree on a price before hand to avoid getting ripped off.
- Hitchhiking is a pretty standard practice in certain countries. Your thumb may just get you to your destination for free.
Lodging (No hotels or resorts)
Another major area where people end up spending a lot of unnecessary money is when it comes to booking a place to stay. So I'll start by saying this: hotels are highly overrated. Often times they cost you a hefty sum of money and you remain locked up in a room on your own, adding to the overall feeling of separation. Choose a hostel or a guesthouse instead. Even if you want a room to yourself, hostels often offer private rooms for just a fraction of a hotel price and will almost certainly be in better condition. On top of that, there's a good chance you'll get a free breakfast and meet some interesting people as well.
When it comes to booking the right one, the two things I recommend looking into is the place's location in the town/city you'll be staying, and the overall atmosphere. Read reviews, and read what people both like and dislike about it in order to get a general understanding. This is all pretty much common sense, but the one thing I would definitely add is to look at the place's policies. Do they have 24 hour reception? That could be important, especially if you arrive at an odd hour. What are the noise and alcohol policies? Depending on what you're looking for, this could be important too.
Anyway, if you want to bypass this whole system of paying for a place to stay, you can always use couch surfing, or, depending on the country, just ask locals if they'll let you stay with them. Surprisingly, this actually works in many countries (although not the US or Western Europe), but especially in places that don't get a lot of visitors, locals will often be very excited to host and get to know a foreigner.
I'll be blunt. Tour companies exploit the fact that most people do not know or want to organize something for themselves. It is very likely you'll be staying in an overpriced hotel, traveling by fairly expensive methods of transportation, and will be saddled with fees and expenses that allow the company to continue operating. Try to avoid this all together. I know they may make it seem a whole lot easier by dealing with the organization and bookings for you, but with just a couple of hours of internet research, you can find better options for fractions of the price. So just put in the effort, it'll be worth it, and you'll have significantly more freedom to do as you please during the trip.
Also, some tour companies offer to exchange money for you in advance. NEVER DO THIS! They will rip you off tremendously. Instead, either bring cash and exchange it at any local currency exchange yourself, or just withdraw local money from an ATM (just remember to contact your bank and let them know where you'll be traveling to).
Food and Drink
First, and most obvious, if you want to save money of food and drinks, but from a supermarket and make your own food. And yes, I know that often times when you're traveling, you'll want to treat yourself and go out somewhere, but even just substituting one meal a day by preparing your own meal can save you a substantial sum of money. If you happen to be staying at a hostel too, this can actually be pretty fun as well. For example, one of my favorite nights in Tbilisi was when I helped prepare a dinner with a group of friends at our hostel for everyone to eat together.
The same can be said with drinks too. If you get a drink or two from a liquor store or a supermarket, it'll like be 1/5 what it would cost at a bar. And if you're with other people, it could be a much better atmosphere to hang out and get to know each other than a loud and packed bar.
But let's say you do want to go out somewhere. Here is what I can advise: try to find a relaxed, local place. The food will likely be better, more affordable, and significantly more authentic than touristy places. If you're not sure how to tell, these points may help:
- Anything written/named in English (unless you're in an English speaking country) will be overpriced and low quality.
- Anything written/named in French or Italian (unless you're in France or Italy) will be incredibly, outrageously overpriced.
- If it isn't too flashy but draws a good crowd of people, that's a good sign.
- Check to see if most of the people there are tourists or locals.
- Make sure they don't have different menus for foreigners and locals. If they do, they are absolutely charging foreigners more. (This is pretty common in southeast Asia).
- If you meet/get to know some local people, ask for recommendations. Usually nothing beats the inside word.
Making some Money
Did someone say you have to lose money when you travel? Fool of a Took! It doesn't need to be so. In fact, you can, in many cases either work for a free stay or even bring in a little extra as you move about from place to place. This one is pretty interesting because there are a variety of different ways to make it happen, so you can use your creativity. For example, if you know a musical instrument (and I personally know several people who do this) play it on a street corner for a few hours and you'll probably make enough to cover a night at a hostel/bed an breakfast. It may sound a bit crazy, but it does actually work.
Likewise, if you know how to cook well and happen to be staying at a crowded hostel, ask around if several people want to pitch in for a group dinner so you make something for everyone. For example, during my stay in Dublin, there was one guy who knew how to make a drink just like Bailey's (using some combination of cream, condensed milk whiskey and cocoa powder) and did so for all of us for a fraction of the store price.
However, the most common, and probably easiest, way I've seen people make an income while traveling is by working at hostels and guest houses. For this, you can check websites like Workaway and helpX where many will put up postings asking for work help. Or, if you want to cut out the middleman, just look up all the hostels in the place you happen to be going (using hostelworld, for example), go to their websites, email them directly, and ask if they would be willing to provide accommodations in exchange for work. Often times they'll say no, but if you keep at it, there will definitely be some that absolutely need extra help. You may not necessarily make any direct money from this, but you should get a free stay and free meals at the very least. So...
- Be creative
- Think of skills you know (i.e. music, cooking, photography)
- Freelance writing can be done from just about anywhere
- Many hostels and guest houses are looking for extra help. It could be you!
If you are a native English speaker, you are incredibly lucky in this regard. I admit this using myself as an example because had I not been born into an English speaking family in an English speaking country, I probably would't have had the chance to sustain my current work/travel lifestyle. Here is why:
Outside of North America and Western Europe there is currently a huge demand for English teachers and the requirements to become so are not really that difficult. That is, just as long as you are a native English speaker. In most cases, as it was for me with Russia, all that was needed was a bachelors degree and a TEFL (teach English as a Foreign Language) certification. That's it. And the degree doesn't have to be in English or education either. Mine was in history. In fact, I didn't take a single English or education class throughout my for years in college. It didn't matter when I applied for the jobs.
Likewise, the particular TEFL degree you get does't have to be extensive or prestigious either. In many cases, a 2-3 month online class is all you need, and for those, you shouldn't have to pay more than $500-$1000. If a course charges significantly more, it is usually either a rip off or just not worth it. Most language schools just want to see that you have some certification. It can be any, it doesn't really matter which one. And this is all because schools like to promote native speaking English teachers as their main selling point to prospective students. Many schools have none and students are often willing to pay double for a native lesson.
Why do it?
It's pretty simple why I advocate this. You can gain so much by living and working within another society outside your own. This is the chance to go beneath the facade created by the tourism industry and the 24 hour news cycle and not only see, but become part of the inter-workings of another place. For example, I do not feel like an outsider anymore within Russia. I know and understand how the society works, and I've met so many people and made friends who have now help Moscow feel like my second home. And I know I have grown as a result.
Also, on a more basic level, your not behind a desk, and there is no daily grind of repetition. You get to spend your workday talking and interacting with people from a different background and upbringing. Especially when working with adults, students will often want lessons to be conversation heavy in order to practice their speaking skills. And in such cases, it doesn't even feel like work, it just feels like you're having a chat with a new acquaintance (whose English you have to occasionally correct and explain why). You'll both share thoughts and ideas, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't learn anything from this. Nearly all of my students are eager to give me advice and information about their culture, which has really helped me have a full experience while living here.
Where to Go?
Ok, so let's say you've got a bachelor's degree and a TEFL certification. Which country/ location should you choose? Well, here's the best part. You can pretty much take your pick (except for English majority countries, of courses), so I recommend doing some research and choosing a place you find interesting or have always wanted to visit. Keep in mind though, it is pretty difficult to find work in most Western European countries since English proficiency is already very high (84% in Sweden, for example), so if this is where you want to go, you will probably need at least a Masters degree and professional work experience. That said, the rest of the world is much easier. And in some countries, such as China for example, you do not even need these qualifications or to be a native speaker. As long as you are proficient enough in the language, you'll have job opportunities.
So, I recommend you pick a place you've always been interested in or a country you've always wanted to visit but never had the chance. Maybe a country that you wouldn't normally travel to for tourism or a country that would otherwise require a visa. Teaching English can be your opportunity not just to go there, but to meet people and entrench yourself into the society. I can assure you, based on my own experience, it is something you'll always remember and will absolutely broaden your perspective in ways standard travel never can.
My Russia Experience
I'll use the location I chose as an example here. Out of all the countries in Europe, Russia has, by far, the most job opportunities for English teachers for two main reasons. First, Russia has more people than any of the other countries (roughly 150 million), and English is not very well known, so the demand is very high. And, if you end up working in Moscow or Petersburg, people have money so you'll be able to make a decent living and be pretty comfortably on a teacher's salary.
The one downside is that, if you come from the US, Canada, or an EU country, you'll need a visa prior to entry. In other countries, you can travel there first and then begin the application process if you'd like, but for Russia (and certain other countries like China and India), this is not possible. It was the case for me initially, so I had to do the whole application process online and have my interviews over Skype. Ans after doing so, I can say that if you do it this way, make sure though that your school or company will sponsor your visa, since it can be quite difficult/expensive to get if they don't. But the good thing is that a majority of them will and do so automatically.
That said, the jobs here are pretty easy to get since the demand for English teacher's is so high, but if I could give some advice, try to work for a school that gives you a fair amount of free time. Then you can search for your own students, who often pay more and are willing to meet you at agreed upon times. Initially, I made this mistake with regards to my first teaching job at the language school, English First. They had me work about 8 hours a day/6 days per week, so I didn't really have any time to search for students (or do pretty much anything extra), on my own, but after a year, I left and was able to find a tutoring agency called Tom's House that paid me per class. Therefore I could choose to work as much or as little as I wanted (but the more I worked, the more I'd get paid). This allowed me to schedule more free time and look for students on my own and ultimately make more.
What to Expect
This is largely dependent upon which type of school you end up working for. If you teach a classroom full of kids (at a language school or a regular public/private school), the experience will likely be more similar to a standard classroom. Most schools will provide you a textbook to correspond with the class, which (as much as I hate to admit), can help guide you through the year and structure your lessons. As it was for me, a standard day at EF (English First) consisted of three consecutive classes (usually with 20 minute gaps) lasting 100 minutes each.
If you happen to be working with adults, the format will likely be a little different. Most of your students will probably already have a general understanding of English, and for the most part, will want to practice through conversation above all else. In this case, you will probably not be using a text book, and will instead be expected to assign articles or videos in English to be discussed in class. As the teacher, you'll have to guide the conversation and be prepared to explain any questions and correct any mistakes your student makes. These lessons will often be much less structured than with kids, but usually will require less work from you as a teacher. That said, you still need to be prepared, because if an adult student isn't satisfied with your teaching, they will likely stop lessons with you.
Words of Warning
While most schools are legitimate and offer pretty good employment opportunities, there are a few that are either outrageously misleading in their promises or are just outright scams. Just to repeat, most are not and I don't want to deter anyone away from following this path, but I just want to give a fair warning. Do some research and ask around before you end up agreeing to work for a school. Find out the details of what is required of you, and make sure everything that is promised is written in your contract. I guess this is common sense for pretty much any job, but regardless, just be aware of the school/organization you plan to work for.
Let your students talk a lot. They want to practice their English and it is one of the most effective ways for them to learn. Many teachers make the mistake of lecturing and talking over their students. Don't do that. It'll likely discourage them and may lead to them seeking a different teacher. Also, the more talking your student does, the less of a lesson/lecture you have to plan, thus making it easier for you as well.
- Research the school before you start working. See what they'll help you with and see if you'll get to be in contact with other native English speaking teachers after you arrive. This can help make the transition to living and working abroad easier.
- Decide if you'd rather teach children or adults. The experience will be pretty different depending on who you work with.
- Make sure the school is legitimate and pays on time. Usually they do, but it never hurts to be a little extra careful in this regard.
- Once you get there, find some teacher's network in the community. Usually social media works well here.
- Be open to the experience and enjoy the new culture. Remember, you're not just going abroad to work. Live the full experience as much as you can.
- Don't only hang around with other ex-pats. Befriend locals, and if you can, try to learn the language. You'll have a much better overall experience.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY get a TEFL degree before you start this. Even if it's just a cheap online course, it'll make your whole process a lot easier.