How Emily Taught English to Fund Her RTW Adventure

emily and an elephant in ThailandThere are a lot of ways to fund your travels – we’ve met readers who’ve taken odd jobs, worked on yachts, volunteered, saved for their trip, and more. What I love about reader success stories is that they highlight the diversity of ways to make travel a reality – it doesn’t always have to be “have a good job, make lots of money, save, travel.” All you really need is the will. Plus the stories are great motivation! Today, we’re talking to Emily, a 25-year-old Canadian who moved to South Korea with her boyfriend to teach English. South Korea pays English teachers really well and she used her earnings to fund her world travels.

Nomadic Matt: Tell everyone about yourself!
Emily: After I finished university in 2012, I moved to South Korea with my boyfriend to teach English. Although my educational background wasn’t in teaching and I don’t want to be a teacher my entire life, I knew I wanted to travel and teaching jobs pay well. On August 31st, 2012, I left my hometown of Toronto, Canada and, after finishing teaching in South Korea in September 2013, I traveled through Asia, came home for a bit, and then left to travel again for four months. I recently finished my trip and am heading back to South Korea to work and save again.

What inspired you to do this?
I’m a huge believer in living life to the fullest and doing what makes you happy. I’d always known I wanted to teach English overseas so I could travel more (it pays well), and after moving abroad and realizing how easy it was to save while working, I decided to travel long-term after my contract was up. For me, it was never a big decision; it just kind of happened. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a great support network that has encouraged me to pursue my travel dreams, and like-minded friends who have the same desire to travel as me (and with me!).

How did you save for your initial trip?
I lived with my parents to keep my costs low and saved at least 20% of my paycheck (I worked at a non-profit for financial literacy) but it wasn’t until I actually got to South Korea and began working full-time that I realized how far my money would actually take me. While living in Korea I was able to save over 70% of my paycheck! (Matt says: South Korea is cheap and teaching jobs there pay well!)

Although I didn’t make a lot of money by North American standards, because the cost of living in Korea was so low, and I was mindful of my spending, I was able to save close to $14,000 by the end of my contract.

emily on a camel

What advice about saving money do you have for others?
Research, research, research. One of the biggest mistakes I made was not looking into the activities I wanted to do in certain countries ahead of time, and determining how much things were going to cost. Whereas activities and excursions in South East Asia probably won’t break your bank, skydiving in New Zealand, and sailing in the Whitsundays in Australia, will. It’s important to think ahead and get a rough idea of how much things are going to cost. I’m not saying you need to plan out your whole itinerary to a T, but knowing approximately how much the big activities will cost makes a huge difference. For example, one of the biggest mistakes was not pricing out the cost of car rentals in New Zealand. My friend and I were set on getting a camper van, but we never actually researched how much it was going to cost to fill up the tank – the $100 a day for gas was definitely a rude awakening! We also didn’t think through the campsite fees to park our vehicle, which were usually $20 per night. I ended up over budget by $1500!

Had I taken the time to crunch the numbers earlier, I would’ve done things differently, such as planning my trip around car relocation postings on TransferCar, a car relocation service (you drive for free). Although this would have required a lot more preplanning, it would’ve saved me hundreds of dollars.

Planning is definitely important. You need to know what you are getting in to. How did you manage to stay close to being on budget?
I found the one thing that helped me stay on track was keeping a running tally of how much I spend every day. I mark down everything – hostels, food, and drinks, even $2 souvenir purchases. I then plug everything into a spreadsheet in Excel that I’ve set up with different spending columns, such as “food,” “accommodation,” and “entertainment.” (If you don’t have access to a computer you could easily do this in a notebook.) Visually looking at the numbers is a great way to see exactly where your money is going, and also helps identify where you can cut costs.

Also, sign up for a travel rewards card! I’m all about getting the biggest bang for my buck, and tribute my rewards credit card and my airline miles reward card for helping me travel so extensively (miles equal free flights).

emily teaching in South Korea

What made you decide to teach in Korea?
For years I’d known I wanted to teach English overseas, the primary reason being to travel. Originally I wanted to teach in China to improve my Mandarin skills and immerse myself more in my Chinese heritage, but after doing some research, I realized teaching in South Korea not only paid better, but also came with a bunch of other perks that no other country offered (i.e. housing, round-trip airfare, pension, bonus pay, health insurance, and good vacation time). The final push was when my boyfriend realized he needed better teaching experience to get into his graduate teaching program. South Korea seemed like the best option for both of us because I could save money for travelling, and he could get the teaching experience he needed.

What was your experience like? Was it hard to find a job?
Teaching in South Korea was hands down the best decision I’ve ever made. Although I don’t want to be a teacher, the soft skills I gained at my local middle school were unlike anything I ever would’ve gotten sitting in a lecture hall or working in a traditional corporate environment. I had to teach 30-40+ students every day, and was constantly looking for new creative ways to keep them engaged despite the language barrier. Korean society is very, very different from Canada, so overcoming the cultural differences was a life lesson in itself. I also made lifelong friends, got to travel around Korea extensively, and now have a life experience on my resume that sets me apart from the competition.

In terms of finding a job, it actually wasn’t that difficult. I went through a North American recruiter company called Teach Away that specializes in placing people in overseas teaching jobs. After filling out a detailed application and making it through the pre-screening process, my recruiter helped me find my job – and at no cost to me (the entire process was free). I ended up working for a public Korean school in Incheon, South Korea, but many people also work for “hagwons” (private academies). It just depends on your preference, your previous teaching experience, and where you’d like to be geographically placed.

Matt’s note: If you’d like to teach English around the world, here’s a great resource for you.

emily in new zealand

What advice would you have for others trying to do what you did?
If you’re trying to find a teaching job overseas, my biggest tip would be to take your time and do thorough research. I’ve heard horror stories of people applying to the first company they find, and not taking the time to do a bit of background checking and comparing different recruiters. Dedicating a few hours to finding a good recruiter or company, figuring out what country you want to teach in, and what type of teaching you want to do takes time, but is worth the effort.

What was the hardest part about travel?
The lack of privacy has been a big point of contention for me. Four months is the longest I’ve ever travelled, and not having my own personal space was something I really struggled with. Sometimes I wasn’t in the mood to make small talk, make dinner in a crowded hostel kitchen, or listen to people snore all night. What’s saved me was occasionally switching up the accommodation (or room style) and not staying in a dorm. I was really lucky, and throughout my recent travels was able to stay with friends at least once a month. I was also fortunate enough to have a travel buddy for 95% of my trip, so occasionally splurging on a private room was affordable.

I recommend taking occasional “lazy days” and dedicating an entire day to just relaxing in a café or park, or even at your hostel. Don’t feel guilty about taking time off from travelling. Travelling is a full-time job, and can get exhausting. Yes, it’s definitely a great job, but there’s no denying it can be draining. Recently I was visiting a friend in Scotland, and one day all we did was watch TV and relax – I was in heaven. Downtime is essential; don’t let yourself feel guilty for wanting to take a day off, especially if you aren’t in the mood to do sightseeing.

emily and her boyfriend in China

What was it like traveling with your boyfriend? Did you have any “I’m going to kill you” moments?
No matter who you’re travelling with, there will always be moments where you need some space. Lucky for me though, the only fights my boyfriend and I ever had revolved around food and dining out with friends. I myself am a non-red meat eater, so finding a restaurant that satisfied all palates –especially in Korea, where they eat primarily beef – was often an issue. Although we’ve tried to learn from our past arguments, blow-ups still happened from time to time. We did our best to be respectful of each other’s dietary wants, but when you’re hungry, sometimes a little argument is inevitable. Lucky for us, we were very good at letting things go, and didn’t ever let it ruin our experience. Other than that though, travelling with my boyfriend was amazing. By far one of the biggest highlights of all my travels was when I took my boyfriend throughout China. Although most of the destinations weren’t new for me, it was so special to show him my Chinese roots and watch him fall in love with the country.

emily at angkor wat

Any parting advice?
Although I’m all for saving money and budgeting while traveling, I think it’s really important to strike a balance between enjoying your trip and actually doing things, versus penny pinching. Obviously this varies depending on the length of your trip and your budget, but at the end of the day, you don’t hop on a plane to eat PB and J every meal and sit in a dorm room. Trying new food, sightseeing, and going out with your new friends are essential components of the backpacking experience, and something not to be missed out on.

Become the Next Success Story

One of my favorite parts about this job is hearing people’s travel stories. They inspire me, but more importantly, they also inspire you. I travel a certain way but there are many ways to fund your trips and travel the world and I hope these stories show you that there is more than one way to travel and that is within your grasp to reach your travel goals. Here are more examples of people who found work overseas to fund their trips:

We all come from different places, but we all have one thing in common:

We all want to travel more.

Make today the day you take one step closer to traveling – whether it is buying a guidebook, booking a hostel, creating an itinerary, or going all the way and buying a plane ticket.

Remember, tomorrow may never come so don’t wait.

  1. What an interesting story!
    I’m teaching English in Japan, so I’m always interested to hear about other people who’re teaching English in Asia. 😀

    I’m not a world traveller, but I use every single second and cent to travel to each and every corner in Japan. I suppose once I’m satisfied, I’ll explore other parts of Asia and the world as well. I really need to see the Great Wall some day. :)

    • Elizabeth Nicholas

      What program did you go through to teach English in Japan? I am really interested in doing that in the future! I am studying Japanese in school now and trying to figure out the best way to teach over there.

      • NomadicMatt

        I’m not sure what she did but the Japanese government runs a program called JET that you could look into.

    • Hi Kees.
      Actually I’m a non-native speaker of English and I’m working as an English teacher in Japan.
      I came to Japan over 6 years ago on a working holiday visa (I’m German) and after a year was over, I was able to obtain a proper work visa. But it wasn’t easy.

  2. I am fluent in English but was not born in an English speaking country. Which countries would gladly accept non-native teachers?

  3. Galo Chan

    That’s really great that Emily was able to find work in S. Korea as a Canadian of Chinese descent. There’s an abundance of experiences amongst native English speakers who are Asian that end up encountering roadblocks in the TESL industry once they start applying to schools in Asia due the fact that there’s a general preference for white applicants. I myself encountered this years ago and became disillusioned at the slim prospects of being hired, confirmed by my own TESL instructors, their experiences and observations, and the research I’ve done over the years of this phenomenon.

    It would be interesting to hear Emily’s take on this matter because the discrimination is so entrenched in the industry. She’s living the path I had for myself in my late 20s. Good for her! :-)

    • theVeldtTrekker

      I love it! Being able to make cash and travel is a major perk of teaching in SK! Loving this place!

    • theVeldtTrekker

      And as for people of Asian descent not being chosen to teach English. I have one friend from Australia, one from South Africa and three from the US that are all English teachers for my education department (totalling around 20) so that’s like 25% of us teaching in my district are of Asian descent….sooo…yeah, they totally accept them here!

      In fact the last two that arrived are both of Asian descent… :) there is yet hope

    • Brennan

      That sucks that you had trouble, Galo. I’m half Japanese and didn’t have any trouble (at least that I am aware of) come up. The two recruiters that I worked with mentioned that I may have some trouble because Japan has a long, violent history with Korea. But so far, no troubles.

    • theVeldTrekker

      Oh, spoke to some friends and it turns out that the haegwons discriminate a lot more because they are a private institution, where as the edu dept of Korea is a lot less prejudice (if at all)

  4. Interesting story. We applied to teach in South Korea but ended up teaching in Taiwan – which was awesome. By the end, we had saved a similar amount of money (a little less because housing etc is not included when teaching English in Taiwan) and are also spending our savings on full-time travel.

  5. Teaching English is a great way to do it. I considered going to South Korea but ended up going to China because of the good TESOL course I found.

  6. Fantastic. I’ve met quite a few teachers here on my trip. One dude I met from Australia was going to be in Shanghai teaching for a couple months. He said last year was his 8th year! Wow. Dont know if I would have the patience, but congrats to you. Looks like a blast.

  7. Hi all, I was just wondering re: teaching overseas. My girlfriend is desperate to live/work overseas, however we’re both over 30 so a work visa is out of the question. You reckon we could still get into teaching or is there another way we could fulfil her dream?
    Appreciate any advice.

  8. Maritza

    What’s the best program /most affordable program for TEFL training ? There are those that train you and then place you in an institution immediately after.

  9. Robert

    Great inspiring story! Its a random question but maybe u saw i SK or in general in asia tend to learn basics of photography? Im not so good wiht english but i know i could teach photography. Cheers!

  10. Ryan

    This all looks great, maybe I’d learn a bit more from the actual TEFL course but I’m still a bit confused. I’m a native English speaker but the only foreign language experience I have is a few years of Spanish. How does one teach a foreign language without having a comprehensive understanding of what their students are saying? Or do these programs place us in upper level English courses?

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