Tag Archives: free travel

No Reason Not To

When first given the opportunity to live and work overseas I was rather reluctant.  After receiving an offer of a paid three-month visiting position at Imperial College I thought of dozens of reasons why this absurd idea would never work.  (These fears and doubts are described in “My London Epiphany.”) Fortunately, my wife Ruth is far more willing to consider new things and was able to convince me to give it a try.  (I think her exact words were “Dammit, this will be fun. Let’s do it!)  She was right, very right, and for the past 30 years we have lived all over the world happily letting others pick up the tab!

One of the goals of this blog is to play a role for you similar to the one my wife played for me–refuter of those “ready-made” arguments against the adventure of a lifetime; debunker of the beliefs that convinced you that living and working overseas is something only “others” do, not you or your family.  So, for those of you reading my posts but certain that I am not talking to you, please read on:

Argument #1)   Michael, you are a college professor, someone of high intellectual achievement.  I don’t have either the resume or reputation to do what you did.

Response:  “Negative Vibes”, “I Can Do This”

Argument #2)  Michael, I am far too busy at work to think about taking a month or two away from my desk.  No can do.

Response:  “It’s About The Time, Not Just The Dime”, “What The Heck Is A Working Vacation (Part II)”

Argument #3)  What would I ever do with our house while living overseas for a few months?

Response: “Don’t Be Afraid” , “How To Rent Out Your House”

Argument #4)  OK, but even if I do rent out my home, how will I ever find a place to live overseas?

Response:  “It Really Wasn’t All That Difficult”

Argument #5)  I don’t know anyone over there.

Response:  “Making Friends, Meeting Locals.”

Argument #6)  Mike, I am really worried about what to do my wife or one of my kids got sick while we were living overseas.

Response:  “Staying Healthy, Staying Solvent”

Argument #7)   Excuse me, Michael, I have young kids at home. What would you propose I do with them!

Response:  “Do It For the Kids”

Now I am sure you can come up with additional excuses I have not anticipated and not yet written about, especially if your goal is avoiding an exotic, no cost, overseas adventure with your family.  However, since you are reading my blog I can only assume that this is not what you want, and that you, like me, will eventually heed my wife’s sage advice given to me all those many years ago:  “Dammit, it was fun.  Go do it!”

New York, New York

In my last post I wrote that it is a big world, and you might consider some less well-known locations to reduce competition and increase the likelihood of an eye-opening cultural experience. That is what I did when I lived and worked in such exotic locales as Zimbabwe, Mongolia, Mauritius, and Bhutan. However, while I believe in this strategy, and even wrote a book about it, there are times when you unexpectedly hit it big and score an all-expenses paid posting to “tourism central.”

The Main Campus of Columbia University on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City

My wife and I are currently residing in a lovely and extremely affordable two-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan thanks to the largesse of Columbia University (the building owner) where I am a Visiting Professor through this December. In addition to the huge rent subsidy I also receive a generous salary for teaching one course two days a week. This income, when added to monies from the rental of my home in Minneapolis, allows us to live a very comfortable life style in what must be one of the most expensive cities on planet Earth.

Now the point of this post is not to say you should immediately apply for a professorship at Columbia, Harvard, or Princeton! Instead, I want to argue that you may be qualified for overseas positions you mistakenly believe are  beyond your reach; I want to convince you not to lower your sights or your standards because of some misplaced and misjudged “inferiority complex.” When I sent in that application for a Visiting Professorship some of my colleagues laughed at me–and I mean that quite literally. They guffawed at the idea of a rather average scholar at a small Midwestern college (Macalester in St. Paul, MN) thinking he was qualified to apply for, let alone fill, a faculty position at a prestigious Ivy League school. Well, the laugh is on them as I settle into my lovely apartment in one of the most desirable sections of this most fascinating of cities. And, to prove this was not a once-in-a-lifetime “lightning bolt” I have already met another visiting faculty member from an even smaller and less well-known school–Lake Forest College in Illinois. Like me, he was not discouraged by his colleagues dire predictions of embarrassment and utter failure.

So, my advice is not to be deterred by what other people may think or say about your background, abilities, or talent. Aim high and give it a try. If the response is negative then smile, say to yourself that at least you gave it your best shot, and load up for another attempt. When it comes to working vacations remember this credo: You only need to hit the target a single time to end up with a superb, not to mention free, cultural and professional experience.

Question:  What do they call a person who sent out a hundred working vacation applications and got back only a single positive response?
Answer:  An overseas traveler!

A Great Web Site For Working Vacation Planners

There are numerous Web sites to help you locate and plan a working vacation.  I mentioned some in earlier posts–Great Blogs to Check Out and Working Vacations for (Almost) Everyone–with another dozen or so in Chapter 14 of my book.   Now  I want to point out a site that may be the single most important working vacation Web portal of all– Transitions Abroad.  For the last 34 years it has been a pioneering travel resource for anyone thinking of working, living, or studying abroad.

Transitions Abroad is a veritable smörgåsbord of helpful hints regarding overseas work.  Within its pages can be found a wealth of information on paid jobs, internships, and volunteer work; short- and long-term postings; professional, semi-skilled, and unskilled work.  For example, under the link “International Jobs” are tips for finding overseas careers, books and articles on international work, pointers to worldwide job portals sorted by profession, and links to websites to help you manage the complex task of relocating to another culture.  If you click on “International Careers and Jobs by Profession” you will find individual listings for Teaching, Business, Arts, Engineering, Health, Law, Public Policy, and the Environment, to name just a few.

For younger job seekers who may not be as far along in the educational pipeline, Transitions Abroad includes information on study abroad opportunities as well as entry-level jobs ideally suited for college students and/or recent graduates, such as being an au pair, working on a farm, teaching English, or summer jobs in the hospitality industry. For those who wish to combine a traditional vacation with short-term, unpaid work in a developing country there are links to meaningful volunteer postings in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Central America, South America, and Oceania.  And, even after listing all these features, I have probably described (like the proverbial iceberg) about 10% of what is available on this site.

So, if you are interested in planning a working vacation–from one week to one year, paid/unpaid, professional or entry-level, with or without family–you should do the following:  1) learn about the joys, benefits, and potential pitfalls of working vacations from my book On The Other Guy’s Dime: A Professional’s Guide to Traveling Without Paying, and then 2) log on to the Transitions Abroad website to browse the wide range of working vacation opportunities just waiting for you to apply.

Working Vacations For (Almost) Everyone!

One of the popular misconceptions about working vacations is that they are exclusively for academics–only possible during the months of June, July, and August and only to schools and colleges around the world.  At book signings and call-in shows I often get snide comments saying, in effect, “Excuse me, but I don’t teach so I don’t have the opportunity to live and work in exotic locations like you do.”  And no matter how much I try to convince them otherwise, they stubbornly cling to this mistaken notion.  Now, thanks to Mr. David Rowell, creator of the blog Travel Insider and a recent reviewer of my book, I have  additional evidence to show that this view is utterly incorrect.

In his review David referred to the Web site of the International Executive Service Corps, abbreviated IESC, a non-profit organization founded in 1964 with a focus on helping developing nations grow their business and financial infrastructure.  Their “executive service corps” model was inspired by the success of the Peace Corps, and they utilize volunteers as well as paid consultants in fields such as banking, financial services, accounting, technology management, international trade, hotel and tourism management, real estate, capital formation, natural resources, patent law, and government regulations.  Their employees currently serve in 130 countries around the globe.

Paid consulting projects vary in length from one week to several months, exactly the length of working vacations I have been espousing in this blog, and more than enough time for a superb cultural experience.  If selected as a consultant you receive air fare, housing, and a per diem allowance sufficient to cover most or all your travel expenses.  In addition, if the appointment lasts for more than 28 days, IESC includes airfare for a spouse.  Essentially, IESC allows you to travel the globe, contribute to the development of an emerging economy, and have an amazing cultural adventure all (as I have said many times before) on the other guy’s dime.

This site expands the opportunities for working vacations to include industrial, business, and financial professionals in a wide range of specializations.  If I had more time, I would also include a lengthy description of Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian organization that hires professionals in medicine, nursing, pharmacy, sanitation, hospital administration, epidemiology, and public health for short-term postings in 60 countries around the world.

So, please don’t fall back on the tired old argument that a one or two month working vacation is the sole purview of high school and college teachers.  Trust me when I say there is no shortage of opportunities, regardless of your specialization, only a shortage of the motivation needed to search for them and, when found, to enthusiastically go after them.

What the Heck is a Working Vacation? (Act I)

Dear Readers,

It is coming up to the one-year anniversary of my blog, and I am flabbergasted at how much it has grown.  I have reached five figures in page views and am well past a thousand unique visitors, many of them relative newcomers. While enjoying my lighthearted stories of life in England, Israel, Australia, Kenya, Turkey, Zimbabwe, and Japan (especially the monkey waiters), recent arrivals to this site may not be aware of why I am writing this blog and what I hope to accomplish. To that end I think it is a good time to revisit earlier posts explaining the purpose behind my family’s overseas jaunts. (And for those who have been with me since the beginning, a little refresher course now and then isn’t such a bad thing.)

This reprise will come in three acts:  First the what–what is a working vacation and how does it differ from the journeys, wanderings, and roamings described on countless other web sites; second, the who–who is the audience that would benefit from this advice; finally, the why–why you should be motivated to pack up your family and travel to a foreign land to work, live, and grow.

Let’s start with the what.  In this blog (and in my book) I carve out a unique travel niche–a short-term overseas career break that I call a working vacation.  What the heck is a working vacation?

1.  It involves high-level professional work.  Unlike travel blogs for twenty-somethings, I am not talking about being a nanny, au pair, waiter, or the like.  There is nothing wrong with these jobs, and they are an excellent way for recent high school and college graduates to support themselves overseas.  The problem is that many older adults mistakenly think this is the only way to live and work in another country. They are unaware that professionals such as doctors, nurses, teachers, business executives, scientists, artists, engineers, government officials, etc., are all in great demand, and international institutions will gladly pay you to come and work with them. Even though you may be well past your teens or twenties, you have the same opportunity to live and work overseas as a younger cohort.

2.  It only requires a short-term commitment.  Most professionals enjoy what they do and like the city or town where they do it.  While not averse to a short-term temporary assignment they do not want to leave home for years at a time.  Unfortunately, travel blogs for ex-pats focus on how to sell your home, quit your job, kiss friends and neighbors good-bye, and move overseas for an extended period.  But you can enjoy many of the same professional and cultural benefits in a far shorter time, as little as 1-6 months, and when the posting is completed you return to your home, job, and, best of all, your regular paycheck.  No bridge burning required.

3.  You travel on the other guy’s dime. (Hence the blog’s name)   Unlike many other travel blogs, I am not talking about volunteer tourism in which you must pay your own expenses; I am not writing for people who won the lottery, are receiving huge alimony payments, sold their business for millions, or are living off the largesse of parents or ex’es–in effect, I am not competing with Eat, Pray, Love; Under the Tuscan Sun; or A Year in Provence.  Instead, I describe how to you use your professional skills to earn enough money to pay all or most of your travel expenses–flight, housing, living costs.  The goal of a working vacation is to not dive into your own wallet to support a travel habit, but have the other guy dive into his.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it!  Well it is, and my wife and I have done exactly that 15 times in the past three decades.  In the coming days I will address two other questions that are probably on your mind: 1) who are candidates for this type of travel, and 2) why you really should consider it.  Let me know what you think!

Failure Is Not An Option

OK, neither plan A nor plan B worked, and I was batting 0 for 3 in my attempt to live and work on a tropical island paradise. However, it is not yet time to throw in the towel as there is also a plan C.

If all of the original contacts have turned you down, broaden your horizons to include institutions in countries that might provide you and your family with a similar, although not identical, professional, social, and cultural experience. All too often we focus so intently on that one perfect working vacation in that one perfect place that we overlook other regions of the world that could provide an equally enjoyable, not to mention rewarding and no-cost, career break.

For example, if your dream is to work in Singapore, but that carefully crafted e-mail to the National University of Singapore is a bust, consider contacting schools in Malaysia, its next-door neighbor with a closely related culture and history. If you are dying to live and work in France but that did not work out, what about nearby Francophone Belgium as an interesting alternative? Are those letters to schools in Mainland China going nowhere? Consider applying to colleges and universities in Taiwan. What about a working vacation in Iceland or Finland when the Scandinavian nations of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, have all said no?   India a non-starter for you–how about Sri Lanka?   When exploring potential sites for a working vacation it is important to be creative, flexible, and inclusive. The smaller the candidate pool the less likely your chance of success.  When it comes to working vacations, treat the entire world as your sample space.

The Beach at Flic en Flac, Mauritius, One of the Most Beautiful Places in the World

In my case, I decided to consider not just locations in the South Pacific but the Indian Ocean as well. Americans don’t usually think of the Indian Ocean in terms of glorious tropical getaways, but island nations such as the Seychelles and the Maldives could easily hold their own in any tropical beauty contest with their better-known Pacific cousins Tahiti, Fiji, and Hawaii.  I searched the Web for schools in countries rimming the Indian Ocean, and a few years later, after much time and effort, as well as further rejection, success arrived.  Ruth and I spent six glorious months living and working on the island of Mauritius, a spectacularly beautiful coral-rimmed paradise 500 miles east of Madagascar.  I had fulfilled my goal to live in the tropics, and I had done it, as this blog advertises, on the other guy’s dime!

Our Lovely Apartment in Mauritius Overlooking the Ocean. It Was Provided To Us at No Cost.

The moral of this story is that for me, and I hope for you, when it comes to locating a working vacation, delays and rejections may be unavoidable, and success may not come quickly, but total failure should never be an acceptable option

Plan A, then Plan B, then Plan C

As described in my last post, I dreamed of living and working on the island paradise of Palau.  So with a cocky swagger, I sent an email off to the head of IT at Palau Community College (PCC) and waited for his eager response. Like clockwork, a “You have mail” icon appeared within the week, but this time its contents were not at all what I wanted to see:

Dear Dr. Schneider,   Thank you for your letter but we have no need for a visiting teacher at this time. Best of luck.

Terse and direct. It certainly exuded a tone of “don’t bother following this up. We don’t have anything.”   This type of response is familiar to any struggling artist, dancer, or writer who has submitted an unsolicited manuscript, answered a cattle call audition, or pitched a movie script. It is also a response that will become familiar to anyone who uses cold calls to locate a working vacation. Much of the time you will get either a polite rejection or no response at all.

Beachcomber Island in Fiji. This is Why I Wanted to Live and Work in the South Pacific

The trick now is not to give up hope as there is a plan B.  However, before starting down that path first send a polite thank-you note saying you are sorry things did not work out but if anything comes up to please keep you in mind. The majority of time this courtesy leads nowhere, but you never know when, against all odds, someone will dig out your letter from the detritus of their inbox and give you a call.  (This is how I got to Bhutan, but that’s a story for another day.)

OK, what now? What is plan B?  Simple—when searching the Web to locate candidate institutions don’t limit yourself to just a single site. Instead, get the name of every place in the country or region that could benefit from your skills because they 1) use English, 2) have a department in your field, and 3) are in a place where you would enjoy living. Then prioritize this list and contact them in order. In a previous posting entitled A Little Mathematics, Maestro, I showed how dramatically cold calling chances improve when you increase the number of institutions contacted. Never use a “one and done” philosophy–think in terms of “the more the merrier.”

In my case I used the Web to identify two other possibilities:  the College of Micronesia and the University of the South Pacific. Both institutions had IT programs, taught in English, and were in luscious tropical locations that would certainly satisfy my idyllic fantasies. Upon receiving that initial rejection I tried again, first sending e-mail to the College of Micronesia in the Federated States of Micronesia, and then to the University of the South Pacific on the island nation of Fiji.  I wish I could say that plan B worked, but sadly, no dice. I was now zero for three. In fact, these two schools never even sent a formal rejection—not a rare occurrence. If you haven’t received a response in two or three weeks double-check that the names and e-mail addresses are correct and resend your inquiry. If you don’t hear a second time, forget it–they aren’t interested.

But, it’s still not time to give up on that dream.  There is a Plan C.