There’s a curious relationship between cash and independent travel. On the one hand any form of travel is impossible without it while, on the other hand, money is the last thing I want to think about when planning a trip.

In my experience the key to independent travel is the decision to go somewhere. Once that decision is made determination, planning and saving all follow naturally and the money will come together as if by magic.

Many people reject dreams of independent travel because of money. Fears of running out of cash often trump the hope of taking a year off or exploring somewhere like India. After reading 9 Months in Tibet, my friend Manuela said she wanted to travel in the US for 3 months — and then came up with many reasons to not do it. Cash was one of the main negatives but once she decided to go the cash came together pretty quickly — and now she’s somewhere on the road in between Idaho and Seattle.

Most people save up to go travelling and it’s a tough process: if you plan to travel in India for a year and budget for $20 a day that means you need to save up $7,300 – excluding flights – and that sum raises various fears: How will I raise such a vast amount? Where will I stash my cash? What if I run out or get robbed? (“Calling home” seems to be the usual answer to that last point).

Working abroad is a great option for independent travellers as it can give you a base in a foreign location as you replenish your cash reserves. Several longer term options are well known – teaching English and au-pairing for example – but what about short term job opportunities?

There are all sorts of “holiday” jobs abroad, each one of which will give you the confidence to believe that you can get hired wherever you go – and this is essential for the independent traveller. Think of all those tourist resorts on the Mediterranean – all of which surely need young, energetic, English-speaking people like you to pull pints, wait tables  and communicate with prospective tourists.

If you are a citizen of the European Union you have the right to work in any one of the 28 member states. Hassles about work permits are a thing of the past within the EU. Getting a job abroad is easier than ever, unless you have the misfortune of being an American.

In my experience, people who run businesses often complain about how hard it is to hire good people and I know that formal recruitment processes (job ads) often results in hundreds of useless CVs being sent by email. It can be really hard for a busy manager to hire people to work long, unsociable hours and so they usually rely on informal networks – friends of friends. Think how glad a busy manager would be if you just turned up on her doorstep with a copy of your CV.

I used to run a humanitarian aid agency in Edinburgh and we would get approached every day by people wanting to work, as volunteers, on our projects in Bosnia and Romania. “The best way to get a job abroad,” I would tell them, “is to just turn up in the field. I can’t offer you anything here but if you were to show up at one of our projects abroad you’d have more chance. There are plenty of other aid agencies working there, few volunteers appear at their door and, if you did, you’d earn their respect.”

People seem to rely on the internet for getting jobs and my impression is that very few job-seekers actually show up and ask for work. This is what I’ve seen in UK, Bosnia and Romania and I’m convinced that you can get “casual” jobs like bar-work anywhere you want — if you’re determined enough. The key decision is: where do you want to go.

When I travelled to Asia in 1986 and 1987 my approach to money was to work until I had saved up more than $2,000 and then hit the road. When my cash supply ran below $200 I would find a job. The first place I found a job abroad was Vienna where I ended up working as a fresco painter, working on a renovation site on an old palace. I saved up enough money to get to Tibet where I worked, amongst other things, as an English teacher.

My advice to you about getting a job abroad is this: if you want to travel independently this is a great way to learn an essential travel skill – how to get a job – and if you find yourself in a tourist resort (the best place to get hired when abroad) this is what you should do: walk into the hotel, restaurant or place you’d like to work, hand over a summary version of your CV (not more than one page) and say “if you need someone to come in at short notice, at any time, to fill a gap, please give me a call.”

If you ask a business manager if she’s got any job openings right now the inevitable answer will be NO, as it’s unlikely they will be hiring at that particular moment, and if they are they often say “you have to apply online” (with hundreds of others). But if you say “call me if you need me” and leave a short and sweet version of your CV – you give them a chance to see you (first impressions are always important), to think about it and they might even appreciate your initiative for showing up on their doorstep).

If you’d like to share your experience of working abroad — or your fears — please leave a comment below.

Photo Credit: Rupert Wolfe Murray

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Rupert Wolfe Murray

Writer, editor and creative problem solver. I solve problems & help organisations communicate. Currently based in Scotland but available for assignments anywhere in the world.
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