Reader Story: How Jessica and Her Boyfriend Worked Their Way Around the World

jessica from ways of wanderersOne of things that keeps people from traveling is money. They either don’t have enough, don’t think they can save enough, or fret about coming home with not enough. It’s easy to think “I can’t travel, I don’t have money” but there are a lot of ways to travel without leaving with a small fortune. I worked overseas to fund my travels and keep myself on the road. Last month, we met Arielle who worked on yachts to travel the world, this month we meet Jessica and her boyfriend Brent (no relation to the Jessica in this post) and how they work odd jobs overseas to pay for their travels.

Nomadic Matt: Tell everyone about yourself!
Jessica: I’ve been traveling through Europe and Asia with my boyfriend, Brent, since September 2011. Our original plan was to spend 15 months on the road and then move back to Canada. Within the first few months, however, it became clear to both of us that this trip wasn’t going to be a one-off experience with a set end date. Traveling changed our goals, values and expectations in ways that we never anticipated.

Now, we travel slowly, finding volunteer and work opportunities as we go, and spending several months in each country we visit.

What inspired you two to take your trip?
We had graduated university, started our first “real” jobs, and basically settled into lives as responsible adults. But we realized that we were at a point where we could suddenly lose 10 years in this routine: coasting along, working the same jobs every day, and drinking at the same bars every weekend. Or, we could jump off the traditional track towards promotions, babies and a mortgage, and instead live our lives the way we had always wanted to.

We chose the latter.

jessica and brent from ways of wanderers in thailand
How did you go about planning your trip? Was your original intention to work and volunteer overseas? If so, how did you go about finding opportunities to do so?
We heard about WWOOFing through a friend of Brent’s, and this helped us to discover other work exchange programs, like Workaway and Helpx. We ended up preferring these exchanges over WWOOFing because they offered a more diverse range of places to volunteer, including B&Bs, hostels and homestays. We contacted dozens of hosts and tried to arrange longer-term stays of a month or more. We reasoned that the less often we moved from host to host, the lower our overall costs would be.

So volunteering was always part of our plan, but the countries we visited arose spontaneously. We e-mailed hosts in countries that interested us, and then went wherever we found families that were open to having us live and work with them.

Where did you go on your trip?
So far we’ve been to France, Spain, Wales, England, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Holland, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan. Next, who knows? I’d really like to branch out to South America or even Australia.

jessica from ways of wanderers

How did you save for your trip?
We spent 5 months saving for our trip, and ended up with around $6,000 between the two of us. Through our Workaway and Helpx arrangements, we knew our host families would be providing us with 3 meals a day and a place to sleep. This strategy significantly reduced how much we needed to save before leaving.

During the months we spent saving in Canada, we were able to move and sublet a smaller apartment, which allowed us to save a few hundred dollars in rent each month. I started taking on extra projects through websites like Elance to supplement the income from my full-time job. Through Elance, I was hired on for a 1-year contract editing documents for an osteopathic training school. This job helped with our pre-trip savings, and I was able to carry on with the project when we started traveling. This wasn’t part of the plan initially, but it ended up providing a small income for the first 6 months of our trip. Just before leaving, we also sold all of our furniture on Craigslist because it wasn’t practical to store it for an indefinite period of time anyway

jessica from ways of wanderers

Did you find it hard to scrimp and save?
It was surprisingly easy. It didn’t feel like we were scrimping and saving because most of the changes we made were quite small. Again, we had set a much lower financial target than I think most long-term travelers do, because we always planned to volunteer and work throughout our trip to help manage our costs.

How long did your savings last? Was the what sort of forced you to look for higher paying work?
Our savings lasted for a little under a year in Europe, and then we were left with a choice: Go home or find jobs. Working overseas also appealed to us because it was an opportunity to continue traveling slowly. I feel like a week or two isn’t enough time to fully experience a country.

It’s awesome to have a temporary home base from which you can spend months really diving into a country’s food, culture and language.

What did you do for work?
We taught English in Thailand and now we teach in Japan.

How did you find that job?
A few of my friends had taught in South Korea, and they recommended searching for jobs on Dave’s ESL Cafe. We found dozens of teaching jobs all over the world posted on these job boards every day. Not every job was a gem, of course – we had a few interviews with shifty recruiting agencies and unsettlingly desperate schools. But within a few months, we were both hired to teach 3-12 year-olds in Thailand.
jessica from ways of wanderers
Teaching was kind of a shock at first, since neither of us had even taken a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course, but overall it was a fun experience. We used the same job board to find our current jobs teaching children and adults in Japan. In both cases, our employers helped us acquire work visas and housing, so the whole process was relatively easy once we found companies that we felt good about working for.

How did you manage to stay on budget while traveling?
We try to live like locals when we’re traveling because anything geared towards tourists is almost always going to be overpriced. That means figuring out how locals get around, whether it’s by public bus, scooter or jeepney; as well as skipping restaurants with air-conditioning and English menus, and going for street food instead. The same goes for accommodation – sometimes we stay in hostels, but more often we stay with locals we meet through Couchsurfing or AirBnB.

Even still, budget travel feels like a constant work in progress for me. I’m always looking for ways to do it even more effectively and save even more.

What’s it like traveling as a couple? How do you avoid not killing each other?
There’s no question that it was challenging at first. A lot of people will tell you that traveling together makes or breaks your relationship, and it’s true. It’s hard to prepare for the experience of eating, sleeping, working and doing everything else together all the time. Plans rarely unfold perfectly when you’re on the road, so our ability to work through challenges together is constantly being tested. We try to forgive each other quickly, and not hold on to grudges after an argument. We’ve had to learn to be comfortable saying absolutely anything to each other, and how to ask for space when we need it.

jessica from ways of wanderers

What advice would you have for people trying to do what you did?
If traveling is something you want to do, then there are a million different ways to make it happen. For me, initially, the biggest barrier was money. I think this is the case for a lot of other people too. But once I started researching, I realized that there are limitless ways to travel without spending a lot of money, and even ways to make money while traveling: teaching English, house sitting, au pair work, Couchsurfing, work exchanges, and working holiday visas are just a few ideas. Find which approach works best for you, and then there’s literally nothing to hold you back.

I started Ways of Wanderers to keep track of our experiences and hopefully inspire a few other people in the process.

Like Arielle and countless other people, Jess and Brent learned that there are a lot of ways to travel overseas when you don’t have any money. Instead of letting their lack of money get them down, they found ways to make up for it by reducing their costs and finding work abroad. It may always appear that we need to save a lot before we travel but if we are flexible and willing to work or volunteer for room and board, we can make up our monetary deficit and extend our time on the road.

As they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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. Brie Rogers

    Is it possible to work, live and travel abroad when you have outstanding debt (car payments, student loans) back in the states?

    • Beth

      I’ve got student loans that I haven’t paid on in forever. I just did a consolidation and got approved for forbearance, so I’ve got 3 years to figure it out. Plus, if you talk to your loan company, they will usually help you. Whatever you do, don’t let it go into deferment. But even if that happens, you can still travel.

      • I actually have student loans too – we just factor payments into our budget every month. It’s not ideal, but you definitely shouldn’t let it hold you back.

    • Lauren

      Yes, I have been living and working abroad for the last 4 years. I budget every month to send home (through Western Union) money for my payments (initially car & student loans, now just my student loan)… it is definitely doable.

  2. Couldn’t have put it better myself! Though I came home just about a month ago to get a few things together and get back into real life. But it’s stories like this that make me remember how many options there really are. Thanks!

  3. Marzanne

    I am so inspired… My biggest goal in life at the moment is travelling… And I never thought that it’s possible… Thanks Matt for the blogs, very helpful and realising as many others there are ways to travel without having all the money in the world… This truely is the most exciting way to live!!!

  4. I work my way around to travel too.. and yeah I love stay in farms to learn about sustainable livelihood.. I have a more tighter budget considering that I’m not from a first world coutry.. but hey I survive and still traveling 😉

  5. This is so inspiring! I have 3 children so I am thinking through how that would work. Most likely I would have to wait until they are grown. I suppose then they would maybe go with me! I just think this story is amazing and very informative! Thanks so much for sharing!!

    • Karl

      home school your kids on the road! no excuses…you only live once and your kids will grow up with a more accepting mind!

  6. Sweet! Good job guys. The same happen to me after graduating… I assumed I needed to be like the rest and get a big girl job… Took me two years to save up and get the heck out of that mess! Just like you guys, I saw my future years flying past me while I sat in the same rut. No thanks. Travel on my friends! :)

  7. So true! I’ve been fortunate to travel for 23 months over the course of two separate trips and everyone always asks how I afford it. Many of your same strategies applied – simplify your lives, ditch the Starbucks and find affordable places to travel to.

    Also, as you mentioned, travelling doesn’t have to be that expensive with options like work-aways, home stays, couchsurfing and working holiday visas. The options to travel on a budget are endless! Great tips, enjoy the rest of your travels!

  8. KMunoz

    Just a question for Jessica and Brent: for their teaching jobs, did you have year-long contracts in Thailand or Japan or shorter ones? I taught in S. Korea on a one-year contract, and while I wouldn’t be opposed to teaching again, I’m not sure I could commit to teaching for that long again. Any ideas? Thanks!

    • I’ve mostly seen 1-year contracts too. You could always try private teaching – move to a big city, and then look for your own students – that way you wouldn’t be locked into anything. Obviously, though, that’s a little less secure than knowing you have a steady job.

    • Definitely! Especially doing things like house sitting – in fact, from my experience contacting people looking for house sitters, a lot of them seem to prefer older sitters.

  9. Tracey

    I love hearing about travel of any kind. And I am beginning a new time of travel for at least the next 18 months. But my only question really is: how do people go about managing to get visas to work in some countries? ie. I am from NZ and have a got a work visa for Camp America then o for Canada. But already used UK/Europe visa years ago. So any advice for this avenue would be great, i.e. to live & work for longer in such places…

    • Working holiday visas are a good option if you’re under 30 – I imagine NZ has working holiday agreements with a lot of countries. Or, if you go the teaching route, your company will arrange a visa for you. If you’re just volunteering, then you can just stay in the country on a tourist visa. Or, if you’re living in SE Asia, for example, it’s pretty easy to just cross over the border into another country for a few days, and then come back in on a new tourist visa.

  10. Diana

    It was like reading about our own life, hahaha! At the moment we’re in New Zealand for 3 months after travelling, housesitting and volunteering in Australia for 6 months. In 2011-2012 we did the same: 2 months in Austria and 8 months in Spain. We leave for Sydney the 19th of February and are heading for Asia, haven’t decided yet which country…

    I can’t think of another life anymore! Best decision ever!
    At the moment Tom is getting his kitesurf skills on a level where he can attend a kitesurfinstructor course. I’m doing research on rather do a TEFL course online or in-class and looking for places to teach: or volunteering or in a paid job. So YES, if you really want to, you can travel the world for an unlimited period of time.

  11. JulyBabies

    Great post!! I’m just going to add a short spiel …
    My partner and I departed for an unrestricted ‘Gap Year’ in Feb 2013. We had no idea how long it was going to last or what we were going to do when we got there – but we knew when we have done ‘pre-packaged’ holidays, there is so much more to see and do, so we’d wing it, we knew how to get the information we wanted and pre-packaged holidays can restrict you from the people … people are what make your experiences memorable and personal.
    We only booked our flights to Malaysia the Friday before the Tuesday we wanted to leave. We had no tours booked, but the weekend before we left there was a travel expo where we saved $100’s of dollars on 2 specific tours, which fitted in perfectly with our unknown schedule – Anzac Day Turkey and Mt Everest Base Camp Nepal. So after 3 weeks in Malaysia we headed to Nepal for 5 weeks then Turkey for 2.5 weeks (sprained my ankle on trek down from BaseCamp), so had to cut Turkey short to get help.
    This trip was the best time of our lives and everything about this trip for us was meant to be. We have been together for 9 years, we have taken numerous holidays together and lived together for 8 years but time is getting on according to our family but I wasn’t ready and more arguments about our future were had and we left knowing that this was going to be a test for us. When you see each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 11 months of the year you sort your relationship out – if you really want it!!
    My partner has gone back to work now and I am finding it difficult to not have him here ‘on call’ to maintain that communication and togetherness.
    The time was right for me, I always knew I (with or without my partner) was going on a ‘Gap year’, I am soooo glad that he was there the entire way and enjoyed every bit of it as much as I did. On Christmas Day 2013 I proposed because the time was right for me (he was already waiting patiently for me). Our relationship feels so good now and we really needed this challenge each for personal growth and to be certain we want each other for the rest of our lives, I don’t quite believe in forever, but I am prepared to make it for forever right now.
    I could talk for days how this was the best trip of my life – I’ve been back a month and am ready for more …
    Just close off any doubt – from your own mind, parents, friends, society – Just Go, It’s OK! Life unfolds beautifully and people will be out there to hold your hand or show you the way, if only for a short while. The travel community will show themselves to you too, we are all there for the same reason.
    One of my biggest fears is that I’d do this trip and not travel again, so I feared coming home and it all ending. I have now gotten over myself and my fears. I know travel will be in our life for the rest of our lives because it is something which pulls both our heart strings, we get something out of it, it’s our thing and not everyone else has too have the same thing (which is were they can bring up their doubts/concerns).
    IT’S OK to make your dreams YOUR reality. I am working out how I am going to do this but I know of sooo many options available to me – just working out which one suits me the most for right now. As soon as you let people know the world seems to make it easy for you. I have another story about that but I really should go … Thanks for the article!

    • I’ve never used them, by I’ve heard Teach Away is good. Or, if you figure out which country you want to go to, then you can focus on country-specific programs, like JET for Japan or EPIK for S. Korea.

  12. Such an adorable couple, nice to meet you! This year im plannig my south america trip using workaway, sounds like a great way to learn new skills and travel on a tight budget. Happy trips guys!

  13. I love this!!!! Thank you for your experience! I plan to trek off by myself in the coming months and am a wee bit nervous about doing this alone. You two are a great inspiration!!!!

  14. Olga

    Yep, this is it. I have been talking with my boyfriend about doing something just like this and reading about it being done by someone is perfect. I have family abroad so that will be a great place to start and then find other opportunities as we go along. Pretty sure everyone thinks I am crazy.

  15. Blonde on the road

    Very inspiring, I am planning on leaving for good and start travelling for an undetermined amount of time and your story is a good hint.
    and my life philosophy, probably my first tatoo very soon too, is ‘when there is a will, there is a way’! so thumbs up Jessica&Brent =)

  16. kate

    What do you do for medical coverage when you are out of Canada for more than 6 months. I would think private coverage would be costly.

  17. Harlow

    Absolutely love this interview! It’s wonderful to read and be inspired by other fellow travelers.
    Did you guys end up taking TEFL course? Considering you did not have the TEFL course completed, what would be the one (or many) thing(s) that sealed the deal with you and your employer?

    • We never did a TEFL course. To be honest, with our first job, I think the company would have hired literally anyone with an undergrad degree – they barely even asked us any questions in the interview. Our second job was with a much better company, and I think we got that job because by that point we could show we had experience from our first job. So many schools in Asia are so desperate for teachers that if you want a job overseas, you can definitely get one – TEFL or no TEFL.

  18. Well my first period of extended travel from 08′ – ’10, I was lucky enough to get a good-paying long-term job I could do over the internet – I was an English editor editing academic papers (in computer science mostly) from all the big Korean universities. Worked about 4 hours/day over the internet, was lucky enough to be making $100/day from it (so for only 4 hours work/day, that amounted to $25/hr). And I could work from anywhere needing only an internet connection.

    Second period of extended travel (’12) I got lucky. Believe it or not, I won the New Zealand national lottery (yes, seriously, it can happen) and with my lottery winnings, travelled France and the UK. Highlight of my life so far. It was like voodoo or magic.

    So there you have it, be an English editor and a national lottery winner 😉 Obviously luck is a big factor in my case, but I believe it may be possible to draw ‘luck’ to you based on mental attitude. To some extent, you make your own luck. That is to say, if travel is your goal, and all your mind is bent that way, things fall into place to make it happen. None the less, I cannot entirely rule out the notion that ‘good luck’ is real and can be summoned into reality based on what I have experienced.

  19. Very inspirational to find people still doing it “old school” by finding jobs out on the road, rather than trying to make a living online. Good luck for the future!

  20. audrey

    well done jessica! its a change and a big move to do that. while many others arent able to make such a decision. i guess everyone have their fears and risk appetite.

    travelling with less money can be done if you know to manage your finances and spend on what you know and what you dont know.

  21. Great Article – good to see people not making excuses about travelling and sharing there are ways to do it without spending a lifetime saving. Great tips and ideas!

  22. So smart the way they did this…there really are travel, work, and homestay opportunities just about anywhere in the world. You do NOT need to have thousands and thousands saved in order to travel and see the world. Everyone can work as they go. Choosing lower cost countries is a great way to get started, but as Jessica shows us its possible to visit more expensive countries like Japan and still afford to have a great time.

  23. Great story! I love hearing about people who take this approach to travel, and I think posting about it is an awesome way to get the word out there that you DON’T need to save up $15k before taking off, and that traveling is something pretty much anyone can do.

    Thumbs up :)

  24. Derek

    Jessica, how did you find jobs that let you teach English abroad without having the TEFL certificate? I went to the ESL Cafe website and most require a college degree plus the certificate. I’m really looking into options to get out of my mundane life and start traveling. So I need anything that will help me get abroad and stay abroad. My fiance and I will be traveling together and I’m not sure what he would want to do for work but I would love to teach English or Dance (I studied 5 years for a BFA in dance performance/choreography even though I never quite finished). What do you suggest?

  25. This is really inspiring. Me and my husband are at the stage where we feel our lives are passing us by a little, we have been building up our travelling over the last few years whilst we are studying and will be setting off on a trip with no set end date once we graduate. Post like this make us even more confident this is what we want to do.

  26. BoSanbo

    I’d really love to get some information on what people do for health coverage while traveling. It’s rarely mentioned, but it’s a concern — at least for me! Do you have travelers insurance, or pay through your home area and return for medical care/check-ups, or what?

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