If you’re a long-term traveler, I’m willing to bet that one of your recurring fantasies involves some variation of the following scenario:
You wake up one day after years of penny-pinching to the amazing news that your travels will now be fully funded by (a) a surprise inheritance; (b) a wealthy significant other; (c) a coveted book contract; or (d) an agent or magazine editor who has read your travel blogs and thinks you’re the best thing since Paul Theroux.
But unless you happen to be incredibly lucky—like this travel writer who picked up the phone last week and heard, “Hi, this is so and so from Conde Nast”—you’re going to need to find another way to fund your travels.
Now, I’m not advocating that you head back to the corporate cubicle unless that’s what your heart truly calls you to do. What I am saying is that you can get paid to travel… you just need to be creative about it. Let’s say you’re not the teach-English-abroad type. You’re not diplomat material, and you’ve got no desire to sign up for military service. You’ve still got options! Here are a few ways you can get paid to travel:
Tour guide: As the world tourism industry continues to boom, tour companies and other hospitality industry businesses are always on the search for guides with winning personalities, solid local knowledge, and creative itinerary ideas. There are lots of options here. Hone up on history and become a local licensed guide in your own city. If city and state laws permit you to offer tours as an independent operator, develop a specialized tour. In New York City, for instance, there are hundreds of tours for any interest, including walking food tours, ghost tours, immigrant tours, and famous filming location tours. You can also create experience-based tours.
While living in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, my husband and I proposed offering Caribbean cooking classes to tourists arriving on cruise ships. We contacted a company that offered shore excursions, proposed our idea, and enjoyed entertaining people from all over the world—all from the comfort of our own home. The tour company was thrilled because they had a product that distinguished them from their competitors, who offered the same old, boring city walking tour.
If you want to get out of your home environs, though, check out becoming a tour guide for an educational tourism company. Many of these companies, such as EF Smithsonian, do not require you to be licensed, though they will require training (often at their own expense). As you build up your experience and accumulate positive customer reviews, you’ll be in a competitive position to be sent to more exotic locations. I worked for EF Smithsonian for a couple of years and offered tours not only in my home base of New York City, but also in Puerto Rico and Washington DC. Competition at some of these companies can be fierce, but turnover is also pretty high, so new openings become available frequently.
Travel blogger: It’s every blogger’s dream to get paid for writing online, but the success stories are few and far between. Bloggers who do get paid to write may not make enough to begin saving for retirement, but for travelers who are exceptionally frugal, some of these gigs—especially if you patch a few of them together—may be able to pay your travel bills. PlanetEye pays local destination experts $250 USD per month in exchange for three 250-word blogs per week. As of this writing, PlanetEye is seeking a Beijing expert.
Keeping your current job: What? Isn’t the idea to get a job that gets you on the road? Yes, precisely. Examine your current position and determine whether you honestly think you could perform the same duties at the same level from a remote location. If the answer is “yes,” schedule a meeting with your boss and propose long-term telecommuting. Develop a list of reasons why the deal is attractive for the company (here are two: they’ll save on office overhead and they’ll have someone in the field who can collect valuable market information all over the world). Map out for the boss exactly how the idea could work: with Internet phone service, you can have your own local phone number; with online phone conferencing services, you won’t have to miss out on important office conversations. If he or she is resistant, propose a trial period of three months. If it doesn’t work out, back to the cube. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Master Teacher: Make a list of all of your skills. Are you a great cook? Do you play an instrument well, teach yoga, or navigate Class V whitewater rapids like a pro? Do you know how to set up a business, design websites, or provide technical consulting? How can you turn your skills and interests into marketable goods that will be snatched up in another country? What country could use your skills and has the money to pay for them? How can you generate a buzz about your services that will have invitations rolling in from Costa Rica to China? Answer these questions and you’ll be able to accumulate a tidy travel budget.
You don’t have to confine your travel dreams to your two weeks of vacation or wait until retirement to get on the road. Try out one of these suggestions and see how free you’ll feel working while traveling.
Julie Schwietert Collazo is the editor of Matador Pulse as well as a regular contributor to the Matador Community. She runs her own website, Collazo Projects, which she updates daily. She calls Mexico City and New York home but will be soon be running a hostel in Colombia.