Istanbul Turkey
The Blue Mosque of Istanbul, Turkey. 

How to Make a Living While Travelling

From call-centre collection agent to bike-tour operator, our Istanbul correspondent has found a way to make a living anywhere he's lived. Here's how. 

Story and Photos by Dario De Santis

When I was 22, I went to Dublin with three friends of mine. We had three missions: find a job, improve our English and have fun. We left our resumes at a couple of recruitment agencies, and, soon after, found jobs as collection agents for an international bank. The key to finding that job was being in the right place at the right time and seizing the opportunity. At that time, Ireland was a Mecca for job seekers from all around Europe. Also, being in a group played a decisive role as we could split the tasks, share the costs and support each other psychologically—something that shouldn’t be underestimated when you are in a foreign country.

Although none of us had ever worked in a call centre, nor were we dying to do so, we didn’t consider even for a second turning down that offer. Flexibility and adaptability are of the utmost importance when looking for work abroad. The more you are willing to adapt to different work conditions, the higher your chances of finding a job become. Presuming that you’ll immediately land your dream job overseas will only leave you disappointed.

Since Ireland, I’ve worked countless jobs around the world, and some of my friends envy me for it. Most of the time, what holds them back is the fear of not being able to find a job to make ends meet. Certainly nobody can ensure you will find one. You’ll have to take a chance.

"Once I got a job as a bartender in a Greek restaurant in Freiburg, south Germany, without speaking a word of German. The manager was convinced by the fact that I could speak Greek and that being Italian I could make great cappuccinos and coffee—which was not true, by the way."

One guarantee to avoid that stress is to put aside enough money to support yourself for a while before leaving for your new country. The last thing you want is to feel the pressure of ending up sleeping on the street if you don’t find a job.

I also recommend gathering as much information as possible before leaving. Research key information regarding how to find accommodation, where to find jobs (websites, employment agencies, etc.) and the bureaucratic system of visas and work permits works. To find this kind of info, ask people who are familiar with the country: if you don’t know anyone personally, know that there are expat Facebook groups for almost every city in the world. If you can, find someone to host you as soon as you arrive; again, social websites like Couchsurfing can help you with that.

It helps to have a plan set before you arrive. When I moved to Ireland, our plan was to grab whatever job we found, but you can be pickier if you like.

Istanbul Trams
Tram cars in Istanbul, Turkey.

Speaking one or more foreign languages opens up a broad range of opportunities. I taught English along with my girlfriend, Angeliki, in the Chinese province of Sichuan for six months. Although the salary was quite low by European standards and we had no idea of what was awaiting us, we didn’t hesitate to accept. Our goal was making a life experience in an exotic place, not making money.

I can personally testify that in a big, international metropolis, people interested in learning these languages are numerous and easy to find. In Istanbul, where Angeliki and I currently live, we offer private classes in Italian, English, Greek, German and Latin.

If you have trouble finding work in the city itself, you can also try online. Online tutoring is the new frontier: besides languages, there are a lot of things that you can teach online. A website or Facebook page can help you build a portfolio of students. I started teaching Italian online a year ago and already have several loyal students. The best part of it is that I can do my lessons anywhere—all I need is a reliable internet connection.

"It’s not as hard as you think—all you need is a little initiative, and you can reinvent yourself abroad." 

Knowing foreign languages can also help you find several other jobs: in hotels, travel agencies, restaurants, bars and so on. Once I got a job as a bartender in a Greek restaurant in Freiburg, south Germany, without speaking a word of German. The manager was convinced by the fact that I could speak Greek and that being Italian I could make great cappuccinos and coffee—which was not true, by the way.

When I first moved to Istanbul, I didn’t know a single word of Turkish and I didn’t know anybody except Angeliki. The first job I found was working as a receptionist in a hostel, the kind of job always popular among backpackers. Don’t expect to earn big money! Usually they offer you a bed, food and a little per diem cash.

My work at the hostel didn’t last long because I found another job as an assistant tour guide. I found this job by posting an ad on Istanbul’s Craigslist website. In the beginning, I was working in the office. Then we started offering bike tours, which were completely new in Istanbul. In no time we couldn’t keep up with the requests. The tour guide was too busy to do all the tours himself, so I stepped up and told him, “You know what? I can do it.” So I started guiding tour groups on a regular basis in addition to my office work. Even now that I have a full time job as a language teacher, I occasionally give tourists bike and walking tours of the city. I also have my own website and social network accounts where I offer my services as travel consultant.

I haven’t even touched on the countless other opportunities for working in a foreign country: farming, performing, modelling, cruise-ship bartending, freelance writing or web design. It’s not as hard as you think—all you need is a little initiative, and you can reinvent yourself abroad. 


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