Recently, there’s been a lot of backlash against travel bloggers who claim, “everyone can travel!!!” Can literally everyone travel? Probably not. Can most people travel if they really want to? Yes. I’ve read the blogs of so many people who have overcome major obstacles to live abroad and travel: overwhelming debt, life-threatening food allergies, and a wheelchair, to name a few.
But let me tell you right now: This is not going to be one of those articles where I tell you to give up your Starbucks habit and sell your car. Not all of us have cars to sell, or the ability to purchase daily grande chai tea lattes. I’m not going to tell you to move in with your parents, curb your shopping addiction or sell your furniture. Why? Because I didn’t have any of those things to give up in the first place!
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This also isn’t going to be one of those articles where I fill you in on my lucrative blogging career. Why? Because I make almost no money blogging. I’m also not going on free press trips to exotic locations.
So, how do I afford to travel so much?
I teach English.
Now I know not all of you can easily teach English abroad. Maybe you’re not a native speaker, so it’s more difficult for you to get a job. It’s also easier to find teaching jobs in Asian countries if you are white. It’s so horribly racist, but it’s very true over here. That said, if your English is good enough to understand my blog, it’s probably decent enough to get you a job in some countries. Not kidding.
Asia is by far the most lucrative place to teach English: South Korea and Vietnam being the top contenders for salary vs. cost of living. You may also want to consider Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand and Cambodia. There are pros and cons for each of these locations, and I’ll be sure to write a post about it later.
When I arrived in China a year and a half ago, I had $50 USD to my name.
I had saved up a bit of money at my internship my senior year of college. However, I blew almost all of it on my month-long trip through Qinghai, Tibet, Nepal and Hong Kong. When an opportunity to visit Tibet comes along, you just don’t say no. Hey, I didn’t say I was responsible!
Regardless of how I spent all my money, I was broke when I started teaching. As a teacher, I made 5,000 yuan ($800) a month with free housing. This is actually very low for most foreign teachers in China. You should expect somewhere around 8-10k yuan depending on your city.
Since I lived in the middle of nowhere, I was the resident English teacher in my area. My school set me up with a side job at the local primary school, where I made 400 yuan ($60) a week teaching two classes. I also tutored my colleagues’ children. The high school I worked for set everything up for me, and let me use the music room.
I charged 50 yuan ($8) per student, which was a great deal for everyone involved. Since there were no middlemen or overhead costs, I was able to charge a very low price, while pocketing all the money. At one point I had 8 students so I was making 400 yuan ($60) an hour!! With these two jobs I made an extra 3,200 yuan ($500) a month.
Altogether I was making $1,300 a month with free housing. Not bad!
Low Cost of Living
The cost of living in China is also very low, especially when it comes to food. The primary school I worked for served me lunch in the canteen for free, while the high school served lunch and dinner in the teacher’s canteen for $1 USD. If I wanted something else, I could walk to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and get noodle soup or stir fry for $1.5 USD. For something a bit fancier, I could go to the Sichuan place and get dinner for $3. Every once and a while I’d splurge at get “Western food”, which would run me about $10 USD.
What about transportation? The bus was less than $.50, and the subway was about $1 USD when it finally opened. Taxis were my biggest expense. If I wanted to take a taxi to where all of my friends lived, I would pay about $10 USD, which is a lot in China.
I Traveled A LOT
While I did budget myself, I also had a lot of fun. I tried to save most of my money, I did have the occasional drinking, eating or shopping splurge.
I also traveled A LOT.
Last year I took so many short trips throughout China. I went to Beijing, Shanghai (more than once), Wuxi, Nanjing, Harbin, Xiamen, Guilin, Yangshuo, Zhangjiajie, and the Yandangshan mountains. I also took trips to Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan!
Despite all this traveling, I still left China with over $3,000 USD in my bank account. Talk about living the life!
A Little Part-Time Teaching
This year I’m a full-time master’s student (and full-time blogger… and I dance 4 days a week), but I also have two teaching side jobs.
Last semester I tutored two crazy 5-year-old boys, and I taught four seven-year-olds at an ESL school. Both of these jobs paid me 200 yuan ($30) an hour, so I was making $60 a week, which is more than enough to cover my day-to-day expenses.
This semester I’m no longer teaching the little boys, but I got a new job teaching business English to three Chinese men at a German company. Apparently the Germans visited and the design team’s English was deemed “unacceptable”. A few weeks ago I auditioned for a modeling gig at this company (modeling sports and garden equipment!!), but apparently they were more interested in my flawless English than my beautiful smile and spankin’ bod.
This company has me come in twice a week and pays me 400 yuan ($60) for 1.5 hours. With this job and the ESL school, I now make 1,000 yuan ($160) a week!!
While $160 a week isn’t making a huge dent in my $20,000 student loan, $640 a month isn’t bad for a full-time student!
Backpacking vs Expating
While it might not be your dream to have a monotonous teaching job at a high school in a Chinese factory town, living abroad as an expat is the ultimate “slow-travel”.
While I love backpacking my way through Asia, something about it feels very superficial to me. I can try and learn a few words of the language, and be friendly with the locals, but there’s no way for me to fully understand and appreciate a culture when I’m only there for a month.
Living, studying and working in China for the last few years has really helped me understand Chinese culture. I’m conversationally fluent in Chinese. I have many deep friendships with Chinese people. I understand Chinese jokes and pop culture. I know all of the different regional cuisines. I’ve traveled literally everywhere there is to go in China… except I’m always finding more off the beaten path places.
While living and working in Asia may not be the same as your dream trip to Paris, I think it’s an incredible experience everyone should try. It will open your mind, test your patience and make you a better, stronger, more well-rounded person. Best of all: You don’t need much money to get started!
Okay, you’ve convinced me. How much money will I need?
Every country has different requirements for English teachers. Some demand a four-year college degree, while others don’t care. Some want native speakers; others just want a foreign face
Japan and South Korea are the strictest countries when it comes to hiring foreigners, followed by China and Taiwan. Southeast Asia is much more lax when it comes to legal requirements, and you can literally just show up and find a job. From my research, Cambodia cares the least about your qualifications. You don’t have to have a college degree or be a native speaker to teach English in Cambodia, however, your salary will be much lower in Cambodia than it would be in countries with higher barriers to entry.
In China, all you’ll need is:
- A four-year college diploma
- A Chinese visa- $136 (plus another $150 in visa service and shipping fees if you don’t live near a consulate)
- A plane ticket to China- $600 (this will be reimbursed once in China, however it may take a few months)
- $50-$100 to get yourself through the first month
- A TEFL certificate $150-FREE (many companies will pay for your TEFL)
If you’re moving to Asia as a teacher, you won’t have to spend years counting every penny. If you can find a cheap plane ticket (which will be reimbursed), and pay for your visa, that’s all the money you’ll need! Even with a minimum wage job, you should be able to save up a few hundred dollars for your visa and flight.
If for some reason you can’t get the money, consider taking out a short-term loan. You can immediately pay the money back within the first two months of working.
This all sounds really great for a young twenty-something college grad, but I’m married with little kids!
What’s your excuse? The kids can come too!
No, I’m not kidding, you can bring your whole family with you to China.
Last year I got a job teaching English with Ameson Year in China. At my orientation there was a family with two small children aged three and five. Ameson had set both parents up with a job teaching at a Chinese kindergarten. Their daughters could both attend the kindergarten for free.
Living abroad is a great experience for little kids. While they may not remember everything, it will be very formative for both of them. They’ll both soak up Mandarin like sponges, which will give them a huge advantage later on in life. Having Chinese classmates will also teach them to accept and appreciate different cultures. They’ll be more compassionate, open-minded, understanding and receptive to change.
Living abroad with your kids for a year, especially in a place as “different” as China, is probably the best thing in the world you can do for them.
I really just want to backpack SE Asia. How can I save up money quickly?
Consider teaching for a year in South Korea or Japan. I know a few bloggers who have embarked on round-the-world trips by saving religiously for a year while teaching. Work in the expensive countries, travel in the cheap ones! I know you don’t really want to teach, but travel isn’t free. Suffer through a teaching job for a year and you can backpack the world for a few months afterwards!
Also, consider working in an area near where you want to travel. If you want to backpack SE Asia, try working there, and travel on your holidays. Then at the end of your contract you won’t have to pay for an expensive flight to travel.
Richelle, I really don’t want to live in Asia.
SHAME ON YOU! WHY ARE YOU READING MY BLOG?!
Kidding… you definitely don’t have to move to Asia to teach English.
South and Central America have a lot of great opportunities for English teachers as well. While the pay isn’t as high as it may be in Asia, if you really want to explore that area of the world, go for it! Anna Everywhere taught English in Argentina and Mexico. She’s from Poland, which just goes to show that you don’t have to be a native speaker to teach English.
Richelle… my English sucks. I can read your blog but I can’t speak it very well.
What language do you speak? Consider finding a place to teach your native language abroad! I know a few people teaching French and Spanish in China. It’s a bit harder to find a job, but there are always opportunities available.
Richelle……… I hate kids
UGH, God. ME TOO!
Just kidding! I love my little monsters. But if you hate kids you can always teach to adults. Like I said before, I teach business English to three men in their late twenties. You can also tutor college students or get a job teaching at a university.
Richelle………………….. I hate teaching.
If you really hate teaching, there are plenty of other jobs abroad. Consider working on a cruise ship, leading tours, getting a working holiday visa, bartending, or working in hostels. You can even become a divemaster through indentured servitude. LITERALLY THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER.
But what about my career?
So many people last year saw my teaching gig as a fun gap year. But it was honestly so much more than that. I learned so many things that I can apply towards my career, it’s incredible.
Here are all the skills I gained:
- I’m conversationally fluent in Chinese
- I understand how the Chinese education system works
- I have incredible public speaking skills
- I can manage and entertain up to fifty people who don’t even want to be there
- I’m a good leader
- I know how to negotiate with my boss
- I understand Chinese work culture
- I know how to communicate effectively with Chinese people
- I can think on my feet
- I can handle immense stress and pressure
- I’m open minded
- I can adapt to new situations
- I’m independent
- I’m passionate
- I “get” China
BOOM! Who wouldn’t want to hire me?
All jokes aside, once you get me talking about China, it becomes obvious how much I know and understand the culture. I’ve even gotten a few not-so-joking job offers from people back home who work with Chinese factories. China is such an enigma, understanding China is one of the most valuable skills you can have in today’s job market.
Living abroad will not hurt your career in any way. It will only help you! People who live abroad are more interesting and well-rounded. They can adapt to new environments, they’re accepting of other people and cultures and are open to new ideas. While not everyone who lives abroad has these qualities, you can definitely play them up in an interview. Just be sure to actually experience the culture while living abroad. If you spent all your time in expat bars, you’re not going to learn much.
So there you have it: How you can afford to travel and live abroad if you have no money.
It all comes down to desire. How important is living abroad and traveling to you? We all have different priorities in life. Some people want a thriving career. Others want a loving family and a nice home. Some people have a passion for the arts, others love hiking and the outdoors. You don’t need to travel abroad to be a well-rounded, interesting, passionate person. I really hate it when frequent travelers judge those that choose to stay home.
My goal through this article is to show you another way. If you’re passionate about going abroad, but just don’t see how it’s possible, I want to show you a way you can live abroad and travel without spending years saving up money.
If you’re still coming up with excuses after reading this, maybe it’s a sign that you don’t really want to travel and live abroad. Or maybe you do want to travel, but only for short periods to specific places on vacation. You know what? That’s okay! But for those of you that do really want to go, there’s always a way to make it happen.
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What’s a TEFL? Do you really need one? Here’s why you should get a TEFL before you teach abroad.
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If you’re at all interested in teaching abroad in China and want to learn more, I highly suggest grabbing my free guide: 10 Steps to Landing a High Paying Job in China (that’s not a scam).
This step by step system is designed to help you land a high paying job you LOVE and rock your first year in China! Trust me, if you want to teach abroad in China, you need this guide ASAP!
I want to know: What are your roadblocks to travel? What’s holding you back? What didn’t I address above? Lay it on me!