Would Working Abroad Enhance my Travel Experience or Slow me Down?

Ask Rolf: Vagabonding traveler Rolf Potts answers your questions about travel

01.09.08 | 12:12 PM ET

Rolf Potts

Dear Rolf,

Would finding work in the midst of a long-term trip enable me to see my destination thoroughly or just slow me down?

—Aaron, England

Dear Aaron,

Finding work as you travel will definitely slow you down—and that’s exactly how you can see a place thoroughly.

A short-term job is in fact a great way to “mix it up” on a long-term journey, and have the kinds of experiences you’d never have as a here-today-gone-tomorrow tourist. Stopping to work from time to time can also earn you a little extra money for your travel-fund—or at least ensure that you’ll be breaking even for a spell.

Interestingly, one of the best benefits on-the-road work has to offer a long-term traveler is the opportunity to be frustrated. For example, I was occasionally frustrated when I worked a short stint as a bar tout in Jerusalem several years ago—but the experience allowed me to see the city (and the tourists who visit) in a whole new way.  And no tourist visit to Korea could have compared to the two years I spent teaching English in Busan. I wasn’t always happy working long hours in that unfamiliar and competitive society, but my work experience taught me things about the culture I might never have learned otherwise.

So, should your long-term travel experience last six months or more, definitely plan on stopping to work (and experience a single location deeply) at some point. Overseas work opportunities range from farm labor to hospitality work to teaching, and can be found as you go or planned in advance. Regardless of whether you plan specifics in advance, it’s a good idea to research the work opportunities out there. 

Transitions Abroad maintains a fantastic listing of work-related resources, and Susan Griffith’s book Work Your Way Around the World is another useful resource. Elsewhere, Backdoorjobs.com and Frontier Club are worth a look.

Overseas volunteering, which I wrote about in an earlier column, is another activity that can enrich a long-term journey.

Has Rolf has already answered your question? See the Ask Rolf archive. If not, send your questions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Tags: Work Abroad

Columnist Rolf Potts is the author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, and Marco Polo Didn't Go There: Stories and Revelations From One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer. His stories have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, the New York Times Magazine and Conde Nast Traveler, as well as in “The Best American Travel Writing.”


10 Comments for Would Working Abroad Enhance my Travel Experience or Slow me Down?

John M. Edwards 01.18.08 | 8:38 PM ET

Hey, Rolf! As a traveler writer, I often find myself pegged down in soul-sapping, sometimes stultifying conversations like this: “So what do you do?” someone leers. I respond, “You know, like, travel around and stuff.” Which basically sounds like a cop out to hide the fact that to the casual observer I may seem gainfully unemployed. This is unavoidable when your friends back home are shooting up the corporate ladder, while you chalk up years of worthless travel abroad, slightly resembling a homeless chap, mostly sleeping off egregious hangovers on the beaches of budget backpacker resorts. Next time someone dares to ask me what I was “doing” being gone so long on gonzo getaways, I think I’ll come up with something a bit more clever. Maybe, “Uh, I was just building up my pecs. . . .”

dik benson 01.24.08 | 10:43 PM ET

Aloha
Well I stumbled on your article .
I went to shenzhen and on to gulianin the south west odf China.
I met two women On the internet. They ask me to stay with them, very Interesting and eye opening. We could not speak eathier ones language. one had a hand held computer, called BESTA. It was great , went past sentences, they cost 250.00 to 450.00 Cheap investment if you are going to stay any lenght of time and are getting out of the citys.
I was treated like a special person , but in A family way lost cousin. we did some traveling, but they were interested in that American degre called MRS. which was ok. But getting an american fiance visa is a long prosses,since 911.
the people are kind and amicable. thier was never any harshness or did I ever feel fear.The other one had a computer and we would writeout the day in the morning and follow the plan and she would add more side tours. All was Verry cheap. At the time it was 8 to 10 to 1, depending.Of course they did the barganing. I was like a kid in a candy store Clothes ,watches Purses for my family
All to gether I spent 1500. and did not do cheap. But only a few Hotel rooms.
If you are looking for a good women , a great place for americans to go. they are very moral clean and kind. They want to cook and Klean for you. Luanguage is a problem but Its a bridge that can be crost.
i am going back this summer and go to Imersion schol for a month,About 200. a week. If one wanted they could teach english, they are so eager to learn.
If any one has questions they could writeor goto Sites like eruo asia dating or just google Asian dateing.
. I have not been to Thialand but have friends who have brought them back , also Phippinos. lots of heart ackes, But old men bring back young women, the are very focused and know what they want and are willing to endure 2 years for the green card.
I should mention that I chose women close to my own age, well pretty close. 50ish. I am 65. But look like my 50s
It was a great experiance and sujest it to any one.
Dik Benson Maui hawaii

Andrew Tommorw 02.07.08 | 1:34 PM ET

I’ve been living in Costa Rica for a while now and at the end I must say it has been an incredible experience, the first time I came down here used the guys from My Costa Rica to find Costa Rica hotels and they never dissapointed me, check it out they are great.

since then it has been crazy, I would recommend you to come down here and work for a sportsbook, they pay a lot and you only need to know english, travel to costa rica the experience is awesome

Orion 02.07.08 | 4:43 PM ET

Each to their own, if you are able to get a travel assignment as part of your journey then all the better.

Often the young traveler goes to a city like London and takes menial work to supplement their travel and they get caught in the cycle of working to survive.

Accommodation is expensive and the price of drinks even more, prepare well before embarking on the Road NOT Less Traveled

Would love to hear from travel writers who want a few dollars thrown into the tankard for their writing

web hosting 02.18.08 | 3:41 AM ET

Often the young traveler goes to a city like London and takes menial work to supplement their travel and they get caught in the cycle of working to survive.

Jonathan 02.22.08 | 4:25 PM ET

Aaron, great question! An excellent and thorough answer also by ROFL imo. Having lived in Brussels for a few months while working in aviation I found the experience was much more detailed and in depth compared to backpacking for a bit. Certain aspects of the culture will reveal themselves the longer you stay apart of that community. Overall it can be rewarding.

Yakubu Awal 02.23.08 | 5:52 AM ET

Dear sir,
    I’m so impressed when i came accross of this site and i found it very interesting.
    Well,i want to be a volunteer but don’t have a Visa on my passport and i want to ask if you could give me invitation to enable me travell to your country or any country else where.
    Hopping to hearing from you soonest and stay blessed and great regards to you.
    Yakubu Awal…

Ruth 03.03.08 | 9:21 PM ET

I thought I would chime in on the question whether you can have a meaningful travel experience when you don’t know the language of the country you are visiting.

It may depend on who you are, whether you don’t mind making a fool of yourself and are adventuresome enough.
Several years ago, I had an opportunity to travel for 7 months in Morocco and Europe. I visited 12 countries in that time and had no way to prepare enough for all those countries. But it’s the way I like to travel and I love the challenge of communicating w/people in other cultures and also figure out how to get around w/o knowing the language.
There are many ways to communicate if the other person is willing and has the patience to do so as well. There are hand signals, body language, just speaking in your own language slowly and in simple sentences, showing pictueres, etc. etc. You will find that most people esp. in bigger cities have some knowledge of English and are anxious to practice it.

In Morocco, I was invited into people’s homes; afternoons, the neighborhood women would gather in someone’s home and just sit around, drink tea and talk and I thoroughly enjoyed just being part of it and listening to them,even if I did not understand much. Another time, an older gentleman was sitting on the other end of a bench where I sat to admire the church across from me in Portugal. We started communicating, talking in our own language with hand gestures, etc. We did this for about 20 minutes - he showed me photos of his art work and I showed him pictures of my family - neither of us could speak the other person’s language but it was one of my most memorable experiences while traveling. So, go for it!

Andrew Cunningham 10.20.08 | 4:44 PM ET

To be honest, I’ve been in Costa Rica a couple of times and I marvel myself every time with the beauty of the country, still as Dik Benson says,it is an incredible experience and you should not miss it. the hotels in costa rica are incredible!

Of course that this would enhance the travel experience, there are a lot of organizations in Costa Rica that can help you

WebsiteTemplates 11.17.08 | 5:10 PM ET

There are many ways to communicate if the other person is willing and has the patience to do so as well. There are hand signals, body language, just speaking in your own language slowly and in simple sentences, showing pictueres, etc. etc

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.