Work, Study and Travel Abroad to Live
Closer to the Locals
The Amalfi Coast in Italy.
Last year I left my job as an
assistant account executive at a large advertising agency
in Seattle to travel. While it was a difficult decision
to leave my friends and a budding career behind, it's
one that I have yet to regret. I have studied Spanish
in Barcelona, hopped trains through five Western European
countries, waited tables in Sydney and Byron Bay, Australia,
driven up Australia's east coast, joined a bus tour and
circled both islands of New Zealand, and I am now catering
for military events in Vicenza, Italy (near Venice).
The people I've met along the way, the cultural differences
I've encountered, have not all been positive (I was robbed
in London, I was fired from a job, and I am continuously
badgered about American politics and foreign policy);
yet this past year of travel has brought me in contact
with people, places, and cultures that I wouldn't have
known otherwise. Working and studying abroad has provided
me a chance to live as a local and experience the places
I visit as an insider.
Study Spanish at a language school
in Spain for one month, backpack through Europe for one
and a half months, work in Australia for six months, and
hopefully squeeze in a trip to New Zealand before returning
to Italy to stay with friends. I had saved enough at my
job to get through three months of backpacking in Europe,
but once I arrived in Australia it was imperative to find
The first foreign city in which I lived
was Barcelona. If I could go back, I would have taken a
job there, but as I had never lived abroad before and didn't
have a working visa, I opted to study Spanish at a language
school instead. I enrolled at the American British College
(ABC), in the 4-week program, which consisted of 1.5 hours
of grammar each weekday morning, and 1.5 hours of conversation
in the afternoon. Classes were taught full-immersion style—all
in Spanish. This method makes it possible for students from
any country to attend the same class.
Gaudi architecture and street scene
in Barcelona, a city of art.
ABC provided several housing options,
which proved to be much more expensive then finding accommodations
through the newspaper or elsewhere. I ended up moving in
with schoolmates after three weeks; they were paying 300
euros per month, which seemed to be standard for a 2-bedroom,
1-bathroom flat. Other housing options include single apartments
The good thing about studying a foreign
language immersion style is that each class contains people
from all over the world. Unfortunately, language study doesn't
bring you into contact with many locals. The majority of
my friends were from other countries of Europe. Similar
language study programs exist all over the world; the best
way to find out about them is over the Internet.
Because I set aside two months to travel
in Europe but didn't have a clear picture of where I wanted
to go, I purchased a Eurail pass while I was in the U.S.
The pass I selected allowed me eight days of train travel
in five European countries in a 2-month period. Many Eurail
pass options, with varying countries, travel days, and prices,
exist. I don't know that I saved much money on the pass
versus purchasing point-to-point tickets, but the price
I paid for a 2-month pass was equivalent to a 1-way regular
train fare from Brussels (where I arrived from the U.S.)
to Barcelona. Not all trains are free with the Eurail pass,
and many require a reservation. Still, when reservations
are not required the beauty of having a Eurail pass is jumping
onto the train without waiting in long lines at the station.
As the beginning of November neared and the weather grew
considerably colder, I boarded a plane to Australia from
After a grueling 24-hour flight, I
arrived in Sydney. By signing up with BUNAC (see
boxout), an exchange program that provides assistance to
Americans and Canadians hoping to work in Australia, I had
secured a working holiday visa before departing the U.S.
For Americans the visa is only valid for four months, with
an option to switch over to a tourist visa, valid for an
additional three months once the original visa has expired.
(The working holiday visa is valid for one year for Canadian
citizens.) BUNAC had booked me two free nights at a hostel
accommodation upon arrival in Sydney.
I found work at a large restaurant
in Darling Harbor (downtown Sydney) and a shared room in
an apartment during my first week. I found my apartment
on a notice board in an Internet cafe (café notice
boards have tons of great stuff—jobs wanted, cars
for sale, accommodations, etc.) and shared a room with an
Australian woman, from Darwin, who became one of my closest
friends. With four people in a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment,
we each paid $AU 100 per week plus utilities.
A friend of ours owned a yacht, and
we were able to work on our suntans while sailing Sydney
harbor. Sydney proved to be a difficult place to find "under
the table" work, even in hospitality jobs, and I was
very glad that I had secured a visa so easily through BUNAC.
Darling harbour in Sydney, Australia.
Because the Australian dollar is much
weaker than the American dollar and Australia is still relatively
expensive, I didn't put much money in the bank. However,
I didn't spend a lot on accommodations either. With my wages
for two months, I was able to purchase inexpensive plane
tickets to other Australian cities for weekend trips as
well as take a 4-week road trip through tropical Queensland
as “designated hitchhiker” in a car full of
Brits. Australia doesn't have a great rail system, and buses
are the preferred way to travel if you don't have a car.
Many backpackers buy a used car, travel, and then sell the
car when finished.
Just when it looked like I wouldn't
be able to earn enough money to visit New Zealand, I happened
to enter and win a contest. The prize was an international-destination
plane voucher, which I used to fly to New Zealand. New Zealand
is one of the most breathtaking places I have seen. The
terrain's lush greenery is a mix of tropical and majestic,
and it's the only place in the world with a 15 to one sheep-to-person
ratio. I flew into Wellington and bought a partially used
Kiwi Experience Ticket off of a hostel notice board.
Kiwi Experience is an alternative travel
network that provides "hop on, hop off" tour packages
through the North and/or South islands with various activities
(i.e. sky diving, river rafting, bungee jumping) for an
additional cost. The packages can be customized to fit any
budget. By purchasing a partially used ticket, I saved over
$NZ 600 and was able to travel both islands in an air-conditioned
tour bus for three weeks, spending the equivalent of $250.
There are a number of similar bus companies in New Zealand.
The Kiwi Bus operates an Australian tour as well, known
as the Oz Experience.
From Auckland, I flew back to Sydney
and on to Europe. After spending a few days in London, I
bought a 1-way ticket to Italy. My plane to Seattle leaves
in two months, but I don't know if I'm ready to go back.
I have found a job here on a U.S. army base, and I am working
until I can afford to travel again. Some Italian friends
plan to move to Ireland with me next month. The travel and
work adventure continues.
Ways to Work Abroad
There are many ways to work abroad,
even if you don't have a working visa. If you are under
the age of 27, you may be able to work abroad as an au pair
(live-in nanny). If you are a native speaker of English,
you can teach English as a foreign language. Spain, Italy,
and Greece are the European countries that are in most need
of English teachers. The demand for English teachers is
even higher is South and Central America, Eastern Europe,
and Asia. With a TEFOL certificate (Teaching English as
a Foreign Language) you are a prime candidate for most positions,
but some employers may hire you with merely a 4-year university
degree or previous teaching or tutoring experience. If you
plan to apply for a working visa, do so before you leave.
Italian immigration tells me that I must return to the U.S.
to apply for a visa and then come back. If you are not eligible
for even a tourist visa and want to stay for an extended
time, see if you can take university classes at your destination
and acquire a student status. Check with the embassy of
your destination country prior to departure. Visa requirements
Tips for Long-Term Travel
Purchase travel insurance before you
leave. When you are in a hostel, no matter how secure you
think it is, keep all valuables in the safe, which is usually
at reception or available for a few dollars. Bring more
money than you think you will need; everyone I have met
traveling has run out of money half way through his or her
For More Info
See our following website
sections on language immersion, jobs,
abroad programs, as well as courses on teaching
English as a second language for more ideas on how you can travel and study abroad..
an agency I used that allows for working holidays
in Australia and New Zealand for 18 – 35 year olds,
among other programs.
The following are websites
for rail passes mentioned in this article:
These hostel network
websites allow you to check bed or room availability,
make reservations, and confirm prices:
International is the granddaddy site for budget
travelers worldwide and is well designed, well
run, and very useful. The news section keeps you
well updated on new and renovated hostels.
Editor's note: For
a more exhaustive lists of hostel portals gathered
by Transitions Abroad, please click for more Hostels
in Europe and Worldwide as well as related
selections from the Best
Budget Travel Websites.