Today I want to talk about the other side of travel. Not the silly mishaps that make for great travel stories, but the reason I am able to travel in the first place: work.
Travel costs money, and everyone has to work to get that money (unless you’re one of those mythical trust fund babies, which aren’t as prevalent in the travel blogging world as some people might think). Most people work regular full-time jobs and save up for short vacations throughout the year. Some people work for years to save up and then go on those wanderlust-y round-the-world adventures. And some people become location independent so that they can make the world their office.
My method? None of the above.
In 2014, I started working seasonal jobs. I couldn’t afford to quit working and jet off to some tropical island, but I was tired of putting travel off as something I’d do someday. I mean, when is someday anyways? When was I suddenly going to have enough money to live AND travel as much as I wanted to? The answer: possibly never.
Instead of wallowing around in the “poor me” muck, I realized there was a solution. Work AND travel at the same time.
Sure, becoming one of those trendy digital nomads would have been awesome, but that doesn’t happen overnight. And to be honest, I don’t think I’d ever heard of a digital nomad back then.
But what I did know was that people took on seasonal work at cool places all over the U.S. and went to live there for a while. I didn’t have the best resume, but I did have plenty of customer service and hospitality experience—which is honestly more than you need.
Before I go on, what is “Seasonal Work”?
You know all those hospitality and tourism businesses all over the world that see thousands of visitors during peak season, and then almost no one during off season? Well, they need employees to run things. Employees who are totally cool with working for a few months and then being unemployed because they’re no longer needed. Those places hire seasonal employees.
That’s certainly not the most appealing definition of seasonal work, but it’s the reality behind its existence.
Here’s the cool part: there are tens of thousands of short-term jobs available every season at some of the most beautiful places in the world. If you dreamed of visiting a place, there’s probably somewhere nearby where you could work, because other people are visiting too. These jobs can be anything from serving and housekeeping to tour guiding and camp counselor(-ing). There are also administrative and managerial positions available in most places.
As a seasonal employee, you’ll work for a set amount of time (anywhere from 1 month up to 9 months, depending on the season). You’ll often be provided with room & board (sometimes free, sometimes at cost). You’ll work a lot during the busy period, but you’ll be surrounded by fun people and you’ll get to explore this new place you’re in.
That’s the basic rundown.
Back to my story *ahem*
My first seasonal job was working on an organic farm in western Washington. I was more interested in trying out farm work than traveling, but this is where the idea of moving to new places while still earning money became a reality.
After the farm, I went on to work in hostels, hotels, resorts, and lots of other places around the United States and New Zealand.
I had a place to live, I had food to eat, I had new friends, and I had a paycheck! The best part was getting the opportunity to live in really cool places and having time to get to know them. Who would settle for a few days vacationing in Grand Teton National Park when you could spend an entire summer living right outside of it?
That’s the good part of this whole thing.
Now for the other side of travel that I mentioned earlier: working shitty jobs.
I don’t mind hard work. I actually enjoy it if I’m being honest. Being covered in dirt and sweat on the farm became just another part of daily life. Cleaning toilets in hostels was like, yeah whatever. Working 50+ hours a week was exhausting, but so what?
None of my jobs were glamorous by any means. A lot of people would scoff at the idea of being a housekeeper because it’s not a “cool job”. Even the people I worked with complained about it (um, hey, you don’t have to be here).
A lot of people look at the pretty part of my life and think “wow, I’m jealous”. But most of those people wouldn’t be willing to work the same jobs and live the same life in order to get to the pretty part.
I was never too bothered about these uncool seasonal jobs, because the benefits were more than worth it. I saved up tons of money to travel in the off season because I didn’t have to pay rent. And I got to live in pretty places! Which, if you haven’t caught on by now, is a major priority for me.
The life I lived in Washington, the time I spent exploring national parks, all the road trips I went on, and my year in New Zealand were all funded by seasonal work. While you only saw the dreamy pictures on my blog, behind the scenes I was making beds and cleaning bathrooms to make that a reality.
I never tried to hide that, but I realize I haven’t dedicated much space here to the other side of my traveling life—you know, the work part.
I don’ want you guys to come to this blog and think that traveling is unattainable. My goal is to show you that it’s not out of reach for you. You don’t have to quit working and start a travel blog; there are other ways to make it happen. In fact, when I started this blog, the idea of turning it into a job never crossed my mind. I do make a little bit of money from it now, but it’s taken years to even get to this point, and I have a long way to go if I want it to become my full-time job.
This is something that’s been on my mind, because while everyone else out there is telling you to become a digital nomad or a professional travel blogger, I want you to know that it’s not the only option.
If you’d like me to write more about seasonal work, or other work & travel situations, please let me know. I’ve considered writing more about it, but I’m a bit stumped about how to create interesting content on the subject. But if you want it, I will try!
Where are my other seasonal workers out there? Tell me about the jobs you’ve worked to make travel a reality!
Note: I wrote this quite a while ago, but never published it. Upon re-reading it, I think it’s worth sharing because seasonal work was a HUGE part of my travel life pre-2018. While I no longer take on seasonal positions and have instead transitioned into remote work, I stand by what I wrote here. You DON’T have to work online or become an influencer or whatever in order to work and travel.
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