Four words…who’s life is this? I am sitting in London, just booked a flight to Bali, and finally finished putting together digital photo albums from the past 9 months of travel. I left the United States in November of 2016 where I had amazing people in my life, a diverse community, and a career which I built from the ground up.
My career took me to places all over the world. Photographing weddings in Mexico, working with a non-profit group in Africa, and solo travel around Europe. This was a dream job; something that I worked hard on daily; shed tears over monthly, and built up consistently every single year. As thankful as I was to have such a life, something was missing. I needed to figure out what that something was, and quick. So, I booked a flight.
In April 2016 I took a solo trip to Europe: Ireland, England, and Prague. I did this trip with no expectations, very little planning, and dedicated to not working. I drove south from Dublin, down to Glendalough, over to Cashel in the wind and rain. Scared to death half of the time, driving on roads made for horse and cart in a car where the steering wheel is on the opposite side and so is the gear shift, all while driving on a side of the road you were taught is the wrong way, is one of the most terrifying yet thrilling experiences you will ever have. With that said, this was the sort of challenge I was looking for on this journey. I needed a shock to my system or a better word would be to reboot my life.
Three weeks later I arrived home and fell back into my routine and instantly began to think of my next trip. While at my night photography job with no more work to do I decided to research living and traveling abroad; trying to take in as much information as possible but unfortunately there just was not that much information about it. Yeah… you could do it if you had a ton of money, dual citizenship, or worked for a foreign company. For the average person this seemed like an impossible fleeting goal. I have always been hard-headed, give me a challenge and I will do my best to find a solution. To figure out that solution to this problem, I asked myself some questions.
What was I looking for? How do I afford to live in another place? Thoughts and questions were spinning, swirling through my head as I googled random words: travel, working abroad, living abroad, work and travel, how to live abroad. Then it happened, the correct combination of random words and wha-la, Teaching English As Foreign Language. Teaching English abroad had NEVER occurred to me; this was never even a blip on the radar of life. Who does this and how do they make it work?
An entire new world opened up to me; this way of life was scary and seemed crazy. People actually learn how to teach English abroad and there is a massive job market. I felt like I stumbled upon a secret that was only being revealed to me; could it be this easy to work and live abroad? Weeks went by. I called companies about certification, there are thousands of companies that offer different levels of certifications with price ranges from $300 to $2,000; there was a lot to sort through but I was excited to see this opportunity unfold.
I wanted to make sure I got certified through a reputable and legitimate company because with ever industry there are people out there trying to just make a quick buck and the certification isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. The TEFL industry is not immune to scams by fraudulent people. There were some companies I looked into where people never received their certificate after course completion and even companies closing without notifying the student in the middle of the course, and the student never received a refund.
Before making a large purchase with a potential of changing my entire life; I wanted to make sure I had ALL of the information I needed to make an educated decision. My due diligence paid off! After many conversations with many companies I came to i-to-i. com. They answered every question I had and was happy to do so, the company is a leader in the industry, and the customer service after certification was next to none. My choice was made. Within hours I was on my way to getting my 120 hour TEFL certification. With so many options in certifications from 100% online to actually going to a facility abroad and having 3 months of intensive classes, I decided to go with the online experience.
During this time, I was still working full time; taking the class online made sense for my life. This class should take the average person around 12 weeks to complete, it only took me 6 weeks. At the end you will have a final exam and you will have to submit a completed lesson plan. The lesson plan is a pass or a fail and if you do not pass the first time, you will have a second chance at passing. So it is done; class complete; exam passed with flying colors, and lesson plan completed and passed. Not knowing how long it would take to find a job, I began my search immediately. i-to-i offers job assistance after program completion. Most programs offer this and if they do not look at getting certified by another company. With their database I was able to upload a resume and start my job hunt.
Within 48 hours of uploading my resume and contacted a few organizations directly, I had four interviews lined up over the next few days. The interviews were like any other interview but via Skype. Sometimes the interview was directly with the school or facility looking to hire but others it was with a head hunter; people who represent schools, organizations, or agencies to find quality employees. I interviewed with places in Thailand, Malaysia, Bali, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
With each interview I was offered a position. Like I said before, the market for English teachers is massive and ever-growing. After weighing the pros and cons for each place I decided on Thailand. It wasn’t a hard decision for me. Thailand had been on my bucket-list for a long time. Another factor was the sheer size and visiting places such as Bangkok and Phuket appealed to me; also you can get anywhere from Thailand. To the east are beautiful islands; the south holds Australia and New Zealand, Europe can be reached with ease and to the North is China and Japan.
My mind was made up so it was time to prepare. With the help of my agent I was able to secure a visa and the documents need to live and work in Thailand. Unfortunately, this is where the help from my agency ended. This part of the story could be it’s own novel. For now, I will say, ask a lot of questions and make sure you feel comfortable with your agency before signing on the dotted line.
It’s now 2 days after Thanksgiving and my parents are taking me to the airport. Now, I am not a nervous or emotional person; I can hold my emotions together pretty well. As we drove to the airport I thought I was going to have to ask them to pull over so I could vomit on the side of the interstate. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. A short 24 hours later I was landing in the land of Buddha, gold temples, ancient rainforest, breathtaking landscape, and humidity.
I am so glad I was born and raised in a place where humidity is it’s own weather pattern because Thailand is hot, humid, and very sunny. When I arrived, it was winter and the temperature was a comfortable 90 degrees with 40 percent humidity.
My agent picks me up from the airport, oh… so he helped with two things but he was late. Once he arrives we headed to town to take care of paperwork and to do a bit of shopping. The following day I start my life as a teacher in a foreign land in an area where white skin is revered like a God. When moving across the world you will encounter growing pains, cultural shock, and miscommunication. Even though I wouldn’t change my time in Thailand for anything, I wouldn’t go back there to teach. I was not there to educate the youth of Thailand so they might have a future in a world where English is quickly becoming a mandatory skill. I was there to be a human marketing tool as a white American female.
I learned very quickly I was there to increase enrollment and to be a face only to show the parents and community that this school could afford to pay an American to work at their facility. At first I was sad, depressed, and couldn’t believe I changed my entire life for this; moving to a place where no one seemed to care about education.
Two weeks into my “teaching” I had a long weekend break. I had to get out of my small town so I took the weekend and headed to Bangkok. With thoughts of leaving Thailand wheezing through my head I had a chance encounter in a random coffee shop in Bangkok. There, I met two lovely girls from the US. Both had been teaching in Chiang Mai and had gone through the same experiences as me. They talked me down from the thoughts of giving up and gave me tips on how to handle teaching in Thailand. Without their help, I don’t know what I would have done. Who knows, I probably wouldn’t be writing this right now. With an open mind and refreshed body I left Bangkok to face the many challenges that awaited me.
I decided to just deal with the situation the best I could. I took the knowledge I learned from my TEFL certification and life; I played games, had conversations, and did my very best to connect with the students on a personal level. School management tried to bully me into doing things out of my contract and I refused, stood my ground. This did not go over very well but I was within my rights. I was left to my own devises for 4 months. Contracts for teaching are usually 6 to 12 months. I lucked out as I came in the middle of the school year; I would be done in May.
Surprisingly May comes quickly and it is time for me to figure out the next step. Knowing it was time to leave Thailand, my job search was all over the place, but just as before the job opportunities came pouring in. This time the jobs were coming from all over China. With to many opportunities in front of me I began to panic and settled on a position in a university in China. As the time got closer there was a feeling of dread. The contract was for 1 year and the winters were going to be harsh. At this point I took a step back to reevaluate why I was doing this.
I thought about my previous self from 4 months prior. What I wanted was to travel and see the world, to run away from winter, and to experience as much as possible. Taking the position in China wouldn’t let me see as much as I wanted and the cold winters may have killed me. With professionalism and apologizes, I contacted the school and told them I couldn’t come to China. They completely understood and said if I ever changed my mind for me to contact them in the future.
What was I going to do now? Well, what’s the saying…when one door closes another one opens. That very day I found a position teaching online which would allow me to travel and work anywhere in the world, as long as I have an internet connection.
I found a position teaching English online to students in China. If you are TEFL certified, or have a degree in teaching with experience, you are eligible to work with 51Talk. 51talk is growing at an exponential rate and they are hiring new teachers at a quick pace. Because the company is growing so quickly there are ups and downs with being an independent contractor for them but I will not dwell on those facts in this story.
Teaching online has given me the magical experience of living in some of the most beautiful and amazing places on this planet. The first stop was Rome where I lived in a flat near Appia Antica. I was able to walk the ancient roads laid down 2, 000 years ago; I was close enough to hop on the 118 bus that would take me to the center of Rome. Three weeks later I was on a plane to Croatia; a place I have dreamed of going for so long. While there I had a sea-view apartment minutes from the village center. Croatia was one of the most stunning places I have experienced; nature infused into the stunning limestone villages that wer created hundreds even thousands of years ago.
I hated to leave Croatia, there is so much to see and do but I had a date in Germany. Way back while in Thailand ,a friend of mine got wind of me coming to Europe. Her job takes her away for months and finding a pet sitter is difficult. She asked me to come to Germany to watch after her two cats for two months. This was a touching gesture of trust and friendship. So,booked my flight to Germany. Germany is beautiful! If you are looking for outdoor adventure, wine tasting, or just a lazy vacation, go there. Cruise on the Rhein, head to the Rheingau region and taste the wine of which the Roman’s planted the grapes, or enjoy a weekend festival because there is one almost every weekend.
What I learned while in Germany: German wine is AMAZING, Germany can put on a weekend festival that will make you want to move there for ever, and the food is to die for. Exploring, living, and playing abroad while traveling long-term is a skill that has to be mastered, or you will be on the next plane home, or calling home for help. I was in a position where I needed to think of something to help sustain this lifestyle.
Sustaining long-term travel is not a walk in the park. It takes time, energy and a creative mind to figure out how to live a cheap as possible. While in Germany I found Groupon. Well not really finding it but re-finding it. Groupon is in many places around the world and on here you can get discounted tour tickets, meals, and attractions. So far I have saved around $300 by using Groupon, it’s a great way to do fun things on your own without it breaking the bank. Other than finding things to do you must have accommodations.
Renting apartments is expensive especially in larger cities such as Rome and London. Figuring out how to live on the cheap was probably the hardest challenge. Sites such as Airbnb are great but don’t always give you the deals you need or want. I had to start thinking outside the box to figure out how to live.
My google search began again: live for free, cheap accommodations, living abroad. The internet gods gave me…. pet-sitting around the world! I think this is genius idea and right up my alley; I quickly signed up. There is an annual fee that is paid at once and a background check is done for a small fee. Honestly, this site has paid for its self already. I have been living for FREE for 4 months in Europe. If I would had to pay my accommodations the price tag would have been around $1,000 per month, I saved $4,000. CRAZY, RIGHT?!?!
Have I found the perfect trifecta of traveling the world on the cheap? Maybe. Just maybe. There are so many factors when it comes to having a sustainable life abroad. Finding the perfect combination for you is key. I utilized my skills and got a job, my love of pets provides free accommodations, and my love of travel fuels me to keep going until what I am doing doesn’t make sense for who I am any longer. When will I return home? I have no idea….the tropics are calling and I must go. There is so much to see and do in this world and the thought of returning home to a 9-5 job and a boss makes me really sad. The journey will end one day but that day is not today or tomorrow. Until then I will keep traveling the world, while making a living online, and living for free.