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Work, Study, and Travel: The Combination Allows You to Live as a Local

A Means To An End

Working to Travel Is Worth It

I worked seven different jobs last year. When I wrote my first article for Transitions Abroad, “Work, Study, and Travel Abroad” (November/December 2003 issue), I had just begun job 4, as a waitress and barmaid at an American army base in northern Italy. Jobs 1, 2, and 3 were waiting tables and conducting market research in various towns in Australia. Jobs 5 and 6 were in Ireland; the first as a cleaner in a hostel, and the second promoting events in various Irish cities. Job 7 was as a hotel receptionist in Athens (no, I don't speak any Greek). Seven jobs in one year may sound like a lot of work, but believe it or not this was a vacation the whole time.

If I had watched my finances a bit more closely, I would have worked at certain jobs longer and taken fewer vacations without working. Europe has become more expensive than I remember from previous trips, due in part to the introduction of the euro, which is now stronger than the dollar for the first time. I spent a lot of time in Italy and Greece for many reasons: beautiful country and people, brilliant weather, and inexpensive relative to other Western European countries.

After four months at job 4 in Italy, I had saved up enough to move on. I went to Dublin with the hopes of finding work and using it as a base from which to travel the rest of Ireland. I think I left a resume with every employer in the city that week. Because I was not a citizen of an EU country, when someone was about to hire me they would ask to hire my friend instead. She was Italian and out of the two of us looked to be the better investment. After a frustrating week, my friend and I moved to Cork, the second largest Irish city, on the southwestern coast.

I found work in a hostel in Cork almost immediately. I helped clean the hostel for three hours each morning and was paid in accommodation and breakfasts. I found a second job passing out fliers for a speed-dating event, which helped me save up some actual cash. When the dating event was over in Cork, I hitched a ride with our sales lead up to Galway and back over to Dublin to promote a second event (finding a job where travel is included is a definite bonus). With the money from these two promotions put together, I was able to meet a friend from the U.S. in Athens for her vacation, and we traveled through the Greek islands for two weeks.

Although Greece is one of the more inexpensive countries in Western Europe, I had spent most of my Irish earnings after two weeks of island hopping. Time to find work. I asked the owner at the hostel we were staying at if he had any openings. I was shocked when he told me that there was an opening for a receptionist. For three and a half weeks I checked guests in and out of the hotel, living as an Athenian during the week and vacationing to nearby islands on the weekends. Life was good. Not speaking Greek only presented a few problems, since most of the guests were foreigners to Greece as well. Here I really got the best of both worlds: listening to other travelers and their tales while spending time with my Greek workmates at the places only locals know about.

Getting Around

Buses are slow but less expensive than trains. Depending on your location, they may be the better option. In Australia and New Zealand, the bus networks offer more flexibility and easier access to the coastal towns, while in Ireland the trains are the best way to travel because the roads are in terrible condition. In Greece, we traveled on inexpensive public ferries and hydrofoils between the islands. The Greek ferry system is not dependable. If weather conditions are bad, they do not run. If conditions are good, they generally run one to two hours late. Hydrofoils are usually twice as expensive as the ferries, but they arrive twice as quickly and leave on time.

I met a lot of travelers who worked as crew on yachts and were paid for their services, another option for the budget traveler. Yachting websites include: www.globalcrewnetwork.com and www.yachtcrew.com. One-way flights are quite cheap right now as well, and at times are more economical than trains and busses. Be warned that the return portion is usually a bit higher; this is where airlines try to make some of their money back. The prices you agree to online are before taxes and usually must be purchased 7-14 days in advance. (Europe’s budget airlines include: www.ryanair.com and www.easyjet.com).

Finding Work Quickly

If you know you're only going to be in town for a few weeks, you will want to find a job quickly and work every day for a few hours to save up a little money. Out of all my jobs, the easiest ones to find were those for promotions and surveying. I found these jobs on billboards and by reading the newspapers. A lot of nightclubs will pay you to pass out fliers for a few hours, and there is oftentimes an ad in the classifieds section of the newspaper for travelers. Internet sites also post employment ads (ask a local). I sometimes found hostels willing to employ me in exchange for accommodation, which works out to $15-$20 per night in savings for a few hours of work in the mornings. And even the really boring jobs, or ones you would never do under normal circumstances at home (like approach strangers to fill out health and weight loss surveys—job 3), are easier when you know they’re just a means to travel on.

JENNIFER SWANSON lives and works in Anchorage, AK.