Jobs for backpackers: Don't be a 'begpacker' - get a real job while travelling overseas

It certainly doesn't feel like living the dream when you're standing out there in a Scottish field, picking your millionth strawberry, waiting for the drizzle to start again, hoping that today the temperature will get above 10 degrees. This is probably not why you decided to travel.

At least, it's not why I decided to travel. But there I found myself back in the day, picking fruit for £4 an hour, labouring through strawberry after strawberry (some for the punnets, some for me) in the name of scraping together enough cash to keep the dream alive, to keep on travelling.

This is the sort of thing travellers do all the time: crappy jobs that no one else is too keen on; low-paying, menial labour that will at least allow you to live in another country and then travel to a few more. It's not great, but it's an experience. You get through it. You may even end up enjoying it.

And hey, it's better than begging. After last week's column, about the rise of "begpackers" in certain parts of the world, I thought I'd run through a few examples of the good, honest work that plenty of travellers inevitably fall into to keep their travel dreams alive. They range from the laborious to the annoying, the boozy to the painful. But they all serve a purpose.


In pretty much every country you visit there will be bars, and there will be jobs going for people who can staff those bars. As long as you know how to pour a beer – or can pick it up pretty quickly – you shouldn't have too much trouble finding work as a bartender.

Pros: You get to meet plenty of people, the pay is reasonable, and you spend your working life doing what you'd be doing anyway: hanging out in a bar.

Cons: You might be hanging out in a bar, but you're not drinking or having fun with friends. Plus, the hours of a bartender can be pretty antisocial if all your mates work nine-to-five.

See also: The truth about quitting your job to travel the world

English teacher

Fortunately for native English speakers, your mother tongue is your ticket to worldwide employment. There are jobs for English teachers all over the globe – all you'll need is a TEFL certification (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and a willingness to hit the road.


Pros: The hours (and holidays) for teachers are pretty good, and the pay is on the higher end of the traveller scale. Teaching is also a great way to meet locals.

Cons: Actually having to teach people, particularly, in some cases, people who don't want to be there, can be a nightmare.


Nannies and au pairs are generally hired by well-to-do families to provide care for their kids, help them learn another language, and run errands and do chores. Most of these jobs will include board and sometimes food as well.

Pros: Nannies often get to live in some pretty sweet digs around the world, go on holidays with their host families, eat well, and live a life that many could only dream about. The only thing is …

Cons: It's a job. Maybe you'll wind up looking after little angels who will make every day a delight. But then, maybe you won't.


Cooking is one of those transferable skills that will allow you to land a job anywhere in the world. It's not always glamorous – it's more endless chopping of onions in a cramped kitchen than hosting your own cooking show – but the pay is OK and you can usually pick up free food.

Pros: Cooking will take you anywhere you want to go. It's also something that could become a career.

Cons: Cooks and chefs work unsociable hours, which isn't ideal when you're trying to travel and have fun, and you meet your fair share of weirdos when you work back-of-house.

See also: The real cost of doing the 'London thing'

Tour guide/driver

Though you might not feel like an expert in European history, tour companies, particularly those aimed at the younger, budget end of the market, quite often hire guides who reflect their clientele in age and nationality – so you're a chance. Driving the bus is an option too, though in Europe you'll need an EU passport to make it happen.

Pros: Being a tour guide means you get to see all of the destinations the paying clients see, plus meet a never-ending cast of interesting people. Same goes for the drivers.

Cons: Passenger loses their passport? It's your problem. Passenger gets drunk and passes out in a hedge? Also your problem. Plus drivers have that little responsibility of getting a busload of people from A to B safely.

Farm worker

Strangely enough, there's always work available for those willing to pick fruit for a living, or to plant things, or to scrub or muck out or wash things. Farms the world over are always looking for casual workers, so this could be your ticket to (short-term) financial stability.

Pros: The work doesn't take a whole lot of brain power, plus it's casual, and sometimes cash-in-hand.

Cons: Farm work is hard. Picking fruit is hard. Caring for livestock is hard. And the pay is woeful.

Hostel staff

Plenty of hostels offer jobs for those prepared to staff the front desk, or clean the rooms, or run the bar. Sometimes the pay is simply your board for the night; however, if you're hanging around for more than a few weeks you'll probably make some money out of it too.

Pros: You get to hang out with fun, like-minded souls when you work at a hostel, as well as meet travellers from around the world when they drop in to stay.

Cons: Cleaning rooms isn't a lot of fun, and working just for board won't properly arrest the decline of your bank balance.

See also: 10 great alternative cities to do 'the London thing' in

Travel writer

Those 10-page emails you insist on sending to friends and family back home with all of your travel tales could actually earn you money. Though it doesn't happen for everyone, there are bloggers and other writers who have managed to turn their passion into a way to fund their travelling careers.

Pros: Travel writers often get to do all of the things other travellers do, only they get paid for it. The job is also location-independent, meaning you never have to go home.

Cons: Earning enough money to make a living out of travel writing or blogging or vlogging or anything else in this sphere is a very difficult thing.

A real job that you actually care about

Not every traveller stoops to performing menial work they hate. Some people do proper, career-oriented jobs overseas, sometimes in the corporate world, other times working in development for NGOs, or even doing internet-based jobs like day-trading or playing poker to fund their travelling lifestyle.

Pros: Doing a job you truly care about is always going to be more fulfilling than, say, fruit-picking, and the pay will invariably be better too.

Cons: You're working a real job, which means you don't have nearly as much time for travel and enjoyment as, say, the guy running the front desk at the local hostel. There's also the added stress that comes with taking your job seriously.

What jobs have you done overseas to keep the dream alive?



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