The number one question I got when I first started traveling was “How can you afford it?” There was a pervasive misconception that travel = vacation = expensive, and it couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Besides staying at hostels, cooking my own food, and opting for the cheapest form of transportation, there was one trick to making my long term travel sustainable: short term jobs.
Short term jobs are ideal for people on a gap year... they allow you to hunker down long enough to save then continue on your travels.
"Short term" is a relative phrase, so for the purposes of this article we’ll define it as a job that lasts for up to three months. These jobs are ideal for people on a gap year, because they allow you to hunker down for long enough to save up a wad of cash, then continue on your travels.
Running out of money? Get a short term job (and a gap year budget). Curious about what it would be like to live somewhere? Find a casual position that allows you to extend your stay. These usually aren’t the kind of jobs that build a career, but they open up new avenues for life experience. Here's how to make it happen.
Preparing For It
Before you start your short-term job search, there are some things to bear in mind:
1. Lose the Expectations
You may have to do work you wouldn’t otherwise have done, so be open to it. If you’re picky about the type of job you want, you may find yourself unemployed. The type of job becomes less important than its benefits… and I’m not talking about health care.
Will the boss hire you? Will the job pay you enough to do what you want to do next? Does the time frame fit into your schedule? These are the questions to focus on, not "how will this look on my resume?"
2. Resume Prep
Speaking of resumes, have plenty on hand. Keep them in a slim folder that fits in your backpack, so you’re always ready to produce one if needed. I used to keep mine in an internal zipped pocket against the frame of my bag, the flattest space available.
Not all prospective employers will ask to see a resume; in fact, most probably won’t. But it never hurts to be prepared.
3. Get Your visa in Order
Are you legal to work in this country? If not, think very, very hard about whether or not you should be looking for work. Getting caught working without a valid work visa can lead to deportation and fines. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
4. Know Your Skills
Think about your unique skills and how they might apply to short term jobs. Do you speak another language? That might give you an edge. Do you have experience working on a farm? Use it. Do you know how to surf? Use it. Did you wait tables in college? Use it. Are you a skilled rock climber? Use it. Can you type extra fast? Use it!
Most of my short term jobs came from being in the right place at the right time, and being willing to put myself out there.
Knowing your skills can help inform your job search -- for example, someone with a background in legal services would have better luck canvassing law firms for short term administration work than a culinary student. We’ll talk about types of jobs later on, but use what you know to stretch the boundaries and come up with new ideas.
The Job Search
You need a job, and you need it yesterday. Where to start? What to do? Why does everyone else make it sound so easy? Truth: finding temporary work has a lot to do with luck and timing. Most of my short term jobs came from being in the right place at the right time, and being willing to put myself out there.
1. Go Online
Do a google search to find local job boards in your location. When searching, look for jobs that are marked as "temporary" or "casual."
Popular job search sites to get you started include:
Don’t stop there. Look up local newspapers online and check out the classified section. Brush up your LinkedIn profile to make it clear that you’re looking for short term work. Use social media to your advantage by connecting with people on Twitter who are in your city.
Don’t be afraid to tweet at businesses that interest you, or follow them on Facebook. Obviously, this becomes less effective when you’re in a remote area or don’t speak the local language, but don’t let that stop you.
2. Go Offline
Once upon a time, way before the Internet, people had to apply for jobs in person. This can be a great way to get a temporary job, because word of mouth goes a long way -- I speak from personal experience.
When the local carnival came to town in Australia, I went from stall to stall asking about possible work; eventually I was directed to a man who offered me a six-week stint at the Looney Hoops booth. See? Dreams do come true.
Of course, if the carny doesn’t happen to come to town, there are other ways to find work. Hostels are a great place to do this, and many will have a bulletin board with job listings in the lobby.
You may even be able to pick up work at the hostel, or they may know of someone who’s looking for temporary workers.
Don’t forget to talk to your fellow travelers. I had a friend who stepped into my contract position at a university in London; I was leaving, she was arriving, the transition was seamless, and everybody had a win.
3. Recruitment Agencies
Big cities in particular will usually have recruitment agencies, or temp agencies, who need skilled candidates to fill short term positions (like administrative work, creative work, freelancing gigs, etc.).
Register with as many as you can and let them know that you’re looking for work to start ASAP. You can pick up a few one-off days of work subbing in for a full time employee on vacation, or land a contract for a couple of weeks or even months.
Types of Short Term Jobs
What are these mythical short term jobs that we’ve been talking about? The possibilities are endless. Employers need all kinds of odds and ends done, and you could be just the person to do it. Here are some job ideas to get you started:
1. Fruit Picking/Farm Work
Fruit picking has to be a frontrunner for the ultimate casual travel job. You don’t necessarily need experience, but should be physically fit enough to work on your feet, or bent into awkward positions, for hours on end. Australia in particular is a fruit picking hotspot, with hostels along the coast that act as unofficial recruiters, connecting farmers and backpackers.
Then there’s WWOOFING, where you work at a farm in exchange for food and board -- perhaps not the best way to save money for travel, but it can give you an experience you won’t find anywhere else.
2. Seasonal Work
Think ski fields, lifeguarding, and summer camps -- these jobs depend on the season, and can be perfect for those looking for a short term contract. You’ll usually need to commit to a full season, which can stretch a little bit further than three months.
The most important thing to remember about finding short term jobs on your gap year is that flexibility and creativity will take you far.
The great thing about seasonal work is that if you do a good job, your employer might want you back the following year. You could even work according to a cycle, and enjoy short term jobs all year long, chasing the sun or the snow -- whatever you fancy.
3. Carnival Work
The carnival, by nature, is a traveler’s job. Although carnivals have a core staff that goes on the road with the show, there’s usually a little bit of wiggle room for temporary workers. I worked for six weeks in Coffs Harbour, Australia, and used my connections there to land another two-week gig in Sydney. Was it my dream job? No, but it met my needs.
Remember what I said about being in the right place at the right time? I happened to be standing in front of the reception desk at a hostel when the manager got a call from someone looking for a few backpackers needing work.
In three minutes, I’d agreed to help run bungee trampolines at the local shopping center; the trampoline guy spent 2-3 weeks in each location, moving from shopping mall to shopping mall. A perfect fit. So have a look for traveling kiosks or even visiting entertainment like Santa Claus. Those elves have to come from somewhere.
5. Hospitality & Tourism
Sometimes it’s easy to overlook what’s right in front of you, like hospitality work. Bar and restaurants have a famously high turnover, and frequently need staff. The same goes for tourism; you’d think that locals would be best suited for tourism jobs, but it turns out that tourists themselves can do a pretty good job too.
For example, my partner worked as a pub crawl guide in Vienna, taking groups of backpackers for nights on the town. How did he find that job? At a hostel, of course.
6. Hostel Work
Odd jobs at hostels are a popular source of income for backpackers. Can you drive the hostel van? Be the entertainment master, rounding up groups for hostel events? Run the front desk? Clean the dorm rooms or kitchen?
Ask at the desk if there are any jobs going. Often these will be in exchange for free accommodation, but if you’re lucky, there’s cash in it too.
Even if your hostel isn’t looking for staff, they may know of another one who does. Repeat after me: It never hurts to ask.
7. Traffic Control
I’ve known people who did a one day course that gave them the necessary certification to do traffic control. You know, the people who stand up with the STOP/GO sign, controlling the flow of traffic at a construction site. These jobs tend to be associated with road work projects, so some can be conveniently short term.
A caveat -- they can be highly desirable and hard to get. Use a blue collar recruitment firm to help you find a job.
8. Au Pair/Childcare
Working with kids is typically more of a long-term job, and with good reason. Kids get attached, and it can be painful to separate from a family who loves their au pair. However, there may be opportunities for childcare or au pair work that only last for a couple of weeks or months. This is best for those who have established experience working with kids and strong references in the field.
9. Substitute Teaching/Teaching
While teaching in Korea, there were almost always opportunities for short term contracts during school breaks. This is when summer programs are popular, and teachers are in high demand.
Repeat after me: It never hurts to ask if there's work available.
Also consider covering temporary absences or signing on as a substitute teacher, where you get to set your own hours. As with au pair work, this is usually more available to people who have a teaching license and experience.
10. Project-Based Work
This is where a recruitment agency can put you in touch with people who need your skills. Builders, IT gurus, copy-writers, graphic designers, data entry -- all of these specialities can be useful when it comes to contract or project-based work.
These are jobs that have a fixed time frame or a very clear end goal, and temporary workers can be very handy. Don’t forget about the internet! If you’re a writer, graphic designer, or web programmer, you can find clients and projects online that provide you with the location independence you’re after.
11. Work For Yourself
The same specialized skills that can get you project based work can also help you to establish your own type of work. Could you approach a school about running a summer theater program? Offer one-on-one English lessons or tutoring? Weave potholders and sell them at local arts markets? Manage a wine appreciation course? The traditional job search can go out the window when you’re traveling, so look for inspiration everywhere! Just try to keep it legal.
Now, Get Out There, You!
The most important thing to remember about finding short term jobs on your gap year is that flexibility and creativity will take you far. Networking with the people you meet can take you to some amazing places, both in terms of work and travel. Ask questions, be proactive, and think outside the box and you could find yourself having a gap year experience that’s even better than you imagined!