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How to disappear for a year
Bored with the job? Take 12 months off to become a scuba instructor, ranch wrangler or even a Bollywood extra
Losing the rat race? Addicted to travel? Simply dying for a life change, adventure or even just a few new places to eat?
Whatever the motivation, you’ll proably need cash to fund your year out.
Here’s how to earn it while on the road.
1. Scuba instructor in Malaysia
Few things take you out of the “real world” like a swim 10 or 15 meters below the ocean's surface. If you’re a confident swimmer, training to be an accredited scuba dive instructor isn't as tough as you might think.
The most widely recognized accreditations comes from PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), renowned in the underwater industry.
There are basic qualifications to get to instructor level training: be over 18 and in good physical condition, but the benefit is a working year (or however long you want) spent in tropical waters eyeballing colorful marine life.
Salaries start from around US$500 a month (with room and board). The more remote and stunning the location, the lower the pay.
Jobs can be found in holiday resorts and dive centers but also aquariums, superyachts and cruise liners.
Malaysia's Celebes Sea is home to one of the most diverse bio-marine environments in the world, so why not train there?
A four-week Divemaster course at Scuba Junkie, in Semporna, costs from around US$1,300 with accommodation and board included, and there's a possibility of being offered a job on completion, though you may need a work permit -- Malaysia has stringent laws.
“Being a PADI instructor is not just about having fun in the sun, you’re responsible for guests’ safety and enjoyment and logistics," says owner Ric Owen. "All these new skills will help you in whatever line of life you decide to take in future.”
Alternatively, you can look at the PADI website for job openings.
2. English teacher in Thailand
Teaching English is one of the most popular gigs going among aspiring travelers.
There are scores of organizations offering placement for teachers who hold a TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate.
Expect pay of around US$1,000 a month plus accommodation.
Organizations such as Projects Abroad, however, offer placements around the globe in countries where conversational English is sought and no qualification is required, just the right to work in the host country.
You’ll teach around 18 hours a week in a school, orphanage or human rights center. Accommodation is provided with local host families, as are meals, travel and medical insurance and extensive support by local and British staff, as well as help with visas.
It’s not cheap. You'll contribute from around US$2,300 for a teaching post in Krabi, Thailand, which goes toward paying the host family.
“Teaching abroad is a great way to combine seeing another country and really helping out," says program advisor Craig Ferriman. "In many of the countries where Projects Abroad work the local schools really struggle to get people who speak English to work with them as they can be paid more to work as a tour guide or in a local hotel.”
3. Cruise ship worker in the Caribbean
Fancy a life on the high seas? How about a job on a cruise ship?
Banish thoughts of romance and sunset cocktails though -- as crew you’ll work seven days a week, at all hours. You’ll need a valid passport and be eligible to work in the country in which the ship is registered.
All major cruise lines require hundreds of crew and the range of jobs is limitless -- ships employ clerks, photographers, receptionists, cashiers, engineers, plumbers, bellboys, cabin stewards, wait staff, child care providers, entertainers, medical staff, shop assistants and beauticians.
The minimum length of contract is three to six months. Pay ranges from US$924 per month for buffet stewardess to around US$1,695 per month for social staff, which involves organizing passenger activities. Wages increase for more skilled staff.
How to find the gems? Figure out which ships sail in the waters you’re eager to work in -- take a look at brochures in travel agencies -- and then contact cruise lines directly.
P&O Cruises is one of the biggest, sailing to the Caribbean islands of St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Vincent and destinations around the world, including Norway.
4. Dude ranch wrangler in Colorado, United States
If you’re in possession of good people skills, a sense of humor, are fit, can ride and dream of a life in a Stetson and leather chaps, a spell on a dude ranch might be what you’re looking for.
Wranglers groom and saddle horses, guide guests on trail rides, fix fences, paint, clean toilets, shovel manure and more.
Working hours are long and you’ll be covered from head to toe in dust. Employment tends to be seasonal, running from May to September.
Work permits are required -- most jobs offered are in the United States, Canada or Australia -- and average pay is around US$1,600 per month, with tips on top. Room and board is included.
Competition is fierce.
“As a wrangler, you get to live and work in some of the most beautiful places in the world and participate in all the guest activities," says Colorado-based dude ranch consultant Ted Harvey. "You’ll learn skills that you’ll take with you for the rest of your life.”
For vacancies in the state and beyond, visit: www.jobs.hiddentrails.com, www.coolworks.com, and www.duderanch.org for jobs. Also, most ranches have an employment page on their site, with a downloadable application. Apply now -- many ranches are already hiring for summer.
5. Organic farm worker in Sierra Leone
The opportunity to escape the stress of urban life and get your hands dirty on a farm, garden or smallholding can be irresistible.
The Worldwide Opportunities on Farms (WWOOF) scheme matches volunteers with organic farmers who can offer room and board in exchange for up to six hours a day of practical help.
The only prerequisite is a desire to learn about country living or ecologically friendly lifestyles.
Volunteers can stay from a few days to many months and opportunities are often available at short notice.
“WWOOFing is a wonderful way of learning new skills in food growing and preserving, animal husbandry and many other farm-related activities, getting out in the fresh air, keeping fit, having fun and meeting like-minded people," says Scarlett Penn, who runs the British branch of WWOOF. "But do make sure you have the right to enter the country as a visitor before you travel.”
6. Yacht deckhand in the Mediterranean
Yes, it’s the lowest rung on the nautical crew ladder, but the benefits of being a deckhand are clear: a decent salary (around US$2,500 a month, food and board included), days spent in sparkling waters and travel to glamorous locations.
The cons? Long hours, seasickness, demanding skippers.
You might be polishing and cleaning the vessel, painting, handling maintenance, escorting guests to and from shore, cleaning cabins and helping serve meals.
Although boating skills aren't always necessary, having them (and experience) helps. A good work ethic and willingness to learn are more important.
“Best way to get a job is to get on site -- these jobs are hard fought over, and if one becomes available, the skipper or agency will take someone who is there already," says John Stott of Yachtforce. "The yachting centers are in south of France, Palma Mallorca and Fort Lauderdale. Having a basic safety training certificate (STCW) helps too and shows commitment.”
7. Ski instructor in Austria
Free passes, après-ski nightlife, fondues, doing a sport you love and a beautiful work environment -- the life of a ski instructor sounds pretty cushy.
Instructors are paid only for their teaching time, from around US$20 an hour, though rates vary wildly from country to country.
An International Ski Instructor Association (ISIA) qualification will allow you to work in most countries, though systems differ.
Once you’re qualified, you could be employed by a holiday company or resort-based school.
If you’re a strong skier, enthusiastic, a good communicator and, as Vanessa Forman of the Ski Club of Great Britain puts it, “don’t mind being stuck on the beginner’s slope when it’s an epic powder day and skiing in all weathers, even in the freezing hail,” the next step is enrolling in an instructor’s course at a ski school.
Upon graduation, if you’re lucky you’ll be offered a seasonal paid job.
In Austria, www.ski-instructor-academy.com offers a six-week course, with job is guaranteed once you’ve passed your exam. The usual visa regulations apply.
8. Tour guide in Africa
If you’re well traveled, have a calm, resourceful personality, the ability to cope in a crisis, good geographical knowledge, communication skills and languages, then you could find yourself trekking with a group of tourists over Namibia’s sand dunes, tracking game on Kenya’s Masai or exploring Asia’s iconic sights.
As a tour guide, you’ll organize itineraries, escort groups of tourists, take care of travel, sleeping and eating arrangements, deal with any emergencies that may arise, and in many cases, make new friends. You’ll earn from around US$90 a day but food, accommodation and travel are paid for.
Dragoman, one of the biggest companies in overland travel, arranges group tours to destinations within Africa, Asia and South America.
The company offers potential guides an intensive 10-week training course, plus six months on the road shadowing an experienced guide. They also require guides to be licensed to drive their purpose-built trucks, and can offer a contract.
You’ll need a valid passport and the right to work in the United Kingdom for training purposes. They’re currently recruiting, so visit www.dragoman.com to apply.
9. Bartender in England
If you know your cognac from a caipirinha, are a good listener and prepared to work weekends and late or split shifts, you could find yourself doing a Tom Cruise-like turn from Ibiza to Iceland -- or within England’s thriving Brighton beachfront scene.
Whether it’s at a festival, in a luxury resort, hotel, pub or clubbing hotspot, the possibilities are limitless. You don’t need to be an expert mixologist to land a job, but you will need an outgoing, relaxed personality, an ability to deal with the occasional "nuisance" customer and those who’ve imbibed too much.
The benefits? Flexibility and free time to relax in the daytime.
It’s casual work, so you won’t be expected to have years of experience (unless you’re angling for a career in a five-star hotel or private members club, in which case a certificate from a bartending school will help).
Says Chazz Chugh of caterer.com: “Bartenders in London can earn between US$32,000–38,000 per annum depending on skills and experience. It’s a fantastic career if you’re looking to work in a fun, vibrant and dynamic industry. And with the right skills and experience, there are numerous opportunities to specialize or excel to management.”
There are often listings in free newspapers, but the tried-and-tested method is to simply turn up in drinking holes and ask. Check out the jobs on www.caterer.com.
10. Massage therapist in the Seychelles
Ironing out the knots and relaxing the muscles of the weary -- as a massage therapist you’ll be doing one of the most rewarding jobs around.
You’ll need to decide what sort of massage you aim to specialize in (Indian head massage, sports massage and Swedish are among the more popular) and have a recognized certificate from a governing body.
You’ll need to have a neat, tidy appearance and a soothing touch, along with stamina.
So how to find work? Apply directly to spas, beauty therapy rooms, hotels and resorts. Word-of-mouth works well, too, as does putting up notices in cafés or hostels, if you plan to set yourself up as a mobile therapist.
It’s worth bearing in mind the equipment you’ll need -- oils, towels and possibly a folding table, although, for head, hand and foot massage all you need are a strong pair of hands.
Freelancers can set their own rates and charge from around US$60 an hour. At the Six Senses Spa chain, for example, you could be working as a therapist and earning from US$500-$1,000 a month in Egypt or the sunny Seychelles.
“A therapist’s touch is of vital importance to the quality of treatment," says Bruce Lawrence, spa director at The Six Senses Spa Pan Peninsula. "The role is all-encompassing and there is the opportunity to meet people and become an essential part of their lifestyle choices.”
View job listings at www.spajobworld.com.
11. Whitewater rafting guide in Zambia
If you like your thrills and spills you might consider getting a job as a rafting guide on the Zambezi, Zambia and beyond.
Training is usually offered by the hiring company, but some previous river experience -- perhaps you’re a keen kayaker -- and a First-Aid certificate help.
Trainees need a bright, friendly personality and be over 18 years of age.
On a course, you’ll be learning about swift water rescue training, and how to load and unload those inflatable boats from the top of a bus as well as guiding.
The camaraderie and the feeling that you're being paid to have a good time are key perks.
The downside -- the pay. Guides can earn as little as US$60 a day including some meals. Work is often seasonal so you’ll have to do a little research into when rivers are trickling streams and when they’re in full flow.
Water By Nature runs trips in 12 countries, employs guides with at least five years experience and offers training.
“Raft guiding is an amazing way to see parts of the world only accessible by river," says Water By Nature guide Evie Walker. "You’ll work super hard to get there, but the rewards are more than worth the graft.”
12. Bollywood extra in India
Like the limelight? Opportunities for anyone with a bit of luck and initiative abound in India’s film industry.
You won’t get rich -- pay runs from about US$10 a day -- but a day’s work often leads to more. Casting calls for extras (or “walk-on artistes” as some like to be known) are posted in backpacker hostels or occasionally via online agencies.
In Mumbai, Leopold’s Café -- where the film “Shantaram” was filmed -- is rumored to be frequented by agents in search of new faces of all nationalities.
You could end up playing a soldier, businesswoman or disco diva. Don’t rule out “Lollywood,” the Pakistani film industry, either, based in Lahore, or Hong Kong’s celluloid scene.
Britain has a thriving extra’s industry too -- for jobs in England, where pay is around US$120 a day, try www.rayknight.co.uk.
The work offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of filmmaking.
But beware of long days with early starts in hot costumes and a lot of waiting.
“It’s a fascinating look at Bollywood from the other side of the lens," says Bruce Lawson, who worked as an extra on blockbuster “Hum Aapke Hain Koun.”
"The only downside was that I didn’t get to meet actress Madhuri Dixit.”
First published March 2012, updated December 2012.