This Is What It's Really Like Getting Paid To Travel
In 2017 I landed myself a pretty sweet gig travelling around Australia for three months… and being paid for it. Poor me, I know.
Believe it or not, I actually really struggled in deciding whether to accept the job or not. Sounds ridiculous, eh?!
You see, I had a stable job in London. I was working as a staff journalist for the BBC, and as any creative will tell you, staff jobs aren’t always the easiest to come across.
On top of that, the travel job was only three months. What was I going to do afterwards? Was packing up my life and moving across the world, away from my friends, my family, and everything I knew, worth it just for three months?
“Sod it!” I thought. “Who gets opportunities like this ever?!” After a lot of turmoil, and quite a few brain dumps with my therapist, I realised what a once-in-a-lifetime experience I was being offered, and I said yes!
I was also genuinely scared that my flatmate might shove my head into my dinner if I told her I had turned it down.
She makes good sushi. For eating, not wearing.
Fast forward a few months, and I’m still in Australia. The job itself was, unsurprisingly, pretty damn awesome.
I got to feed dolphins, watch sunrises from hot air balloons, camp in the outback, swim with turtles, cuddle baby kangaroos, kayak, surf and so much more. Plus I got to do something else I love: make content about the whole thing. But I already sound like a wanker, so I’ll stop there.
With all that said, it would be unfair to paint a purely rosy picture of what it’s really like being paid to travel.
There’s a whole load of stuff that people don’t really tell you about, least of all the pro nomads on Instagram whose accounts make you sick with jealousy.
So balls to that! As amazing as having travelling as your job is, here’s some other stuff you should probably know about it before you consider jacking everything in and becoming a professional wanderlust-er!
You're Often Too Busy To Actually Appreciate Where You Are
Let’s just agree that the fact someone is paying you to get up and watch a sunrise in a country you’ve never been to before is pretty great. It is great. Let’s put that behind us, move past it, and carry on.
In reality, you’re not just there to watch a sunrise. Hell to the no! You’re there to document a sunrise. To sell a sunrise. To photograph and film a sunrise. To share the sunrise, make people jealous of the sunrise, make them want to come and see this sunrise themselves.
And the sunrise is just the start. You might want to go and starfish in your hotel bed straight afterwards…you know, because of that 4:00am start. But, be real; that was never going to happen!
Often when you travel for work, you find that you’re kept so busy that it’s hard to find a moment to just appreciate whatever it is that you’re doing or wherever it is that you are.
You constantly question whether you’ve got the best shots you could have, what the best light to film is, if the content you’ve captured matches the brief you were given from your client.
It might look awesome on Instagram, and it is!
But you really do have to consciously find time to appreciate the awesomeness when you’re actually experiencing it. Otherwise, what’s the point?!
You Basically Have No Control Over What You Do
One of the things I like best about travelling by yourself is that you can be travel-selfish. You can wake up on any given day, ask yourself what it is that you feel like doing, and then go and do it.
You get complete autonomy over the places you go and the things you do. If you choose to get up and watch a sunrise, it’s because you wanted to.
In Santorini, I went to a nudist beach…because I wanted to.
In New York, I sat on the High Line eating doughnuts…because I wanted to.
In Vietnam, I DID watch a sunrise, from a tent on the beach…but because I wanted to.
When you get paid to travel, you sort of lose that control. More often than not there is some kind of itinerary that some (very kind!) person has pulled together for you. And you have to stick to it!
It sounds great on paper, someone planning every minute of your trip for you, organising literally everything and paying for it all. And come on, I know it is pretty great.
But you do miss being in control of your own time. You miss being travel-selfish.
When You're Away The Rest Of Your Life Basically Stops
I don’t mean it just sort of pauses. No no, the rest of your life actually just stops.
Your unread messages are a joke. You haven’t had time to call back your Mum. You still haven’t booked that dentist appointment you’ve been meaning to and you missed your best friend’s birthday last night.
Unlike in other jobs, it’s not like you’re just popping into an office and then clocking off at the end of the day. No way!
In fact, that’s one of the best things about travelling as a job: it’s outside, and varied, and fun!
But what it does mean is that when you do go on a trip, you sort of just end up working the whole time. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all spent with colleagues. Often you stay in places so remote that there’s just no hope of any phone reception. And even when you do get back to your hotel room, you need to sort through all your footage from that day.
Small price to pay though really, isn’t it? You know, in the grand scheme of things.
You Get Really Tired, Physically And Mentally
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about how to avoid burnout, prevent stress, and improve your wellbeing, it’s that life is all about balance. You know, eat the biscuit, just don’t eat the whole packet. Have a drink, just don’t drink every day.
Well, it’s pretty much the same with work: work, but not the whole freaking time!
We need time to switch off, to re-charge, and to do the things that re-energise us. Sleeping, talking to our friends and family, exercise, creativity, whatever! If we don’t have time for those things, we can easily start to feel mentally and physically tired.
When your job means that you’re constantly on the road, it can be tricky to find the time to stay on top of your wellbeing. Plus, you’re often doing some pretty physically demanding things; hiking, trekking, kayaking, driving, whatever.
Yes, it’s very cool travelling as a job. But burning out physically and mentally — less cool. Much less cool.
You Can Feel Super Lonely
If there’s one emotion you feel when you check into room after room after room day in day out when you travel, it’s loneliness.
Another double bed. Another reminder of the fact that you’re on your own. Another night away from your family and friends.
During the travel job that I did, I was lucky that two of us went on each trip together. There was some company, someone to talk to during your eight hour road trips.
But still, each night you’re on your own. And you’re away from your life. And the people that you know.
Travelling might be a totally amazing thing that so many of us long for almost all the time, as we should, because it is very cool. But at the end of the day what really makes a good trip is the people you share it with.
So there you have it. A little insight into the reality of a professional wanderlust-chaser.
Yes it’s a cool job. And yes I will always love to travel. And yes I love getting paid to do it, and hope I get to do it some more!
But it’s not all perfect sunsets and beautiful Instagram photos, just FYI. It’s a job, and like every other job, there are ups and downs.