How To Fund Your Travels With Creativity

Derek Thailand, Travel Tips & Advice, Work & Travel 146 Comments

How To Fund Your Travels

“I want to travel right now, but I don’t have any money saved. I think I’ll have to wait a couple of years before I can leave.”

The above situation is one that many people email me about, people who know that they are afflicted with the travel bug, but who feel the need to put that desire to explore this groovy world in the closet for now due to the balance (or lack of) in their bank account.

At first, I was going to write a lengthy introduction detailing my thoughts on a lack of money being a completely invalid excuse for not following one’s desire to travel. But then I realized that I could sum it all up in one sentence. Here it is:

When someone says they are unable to travel because of insufficient funds, they are actually stating, “I am unable to travel because I am not yet aware of all the opportunities out there that will allow me to accomplish my goals.

Of course, if you are $29,000 in debt, the situation becomes a little more difficult. However, the point is that you don’t have to wait until you have $29,000 in your bank account either.

And while there are literally dozens of options that will allow you to fund your travels and explore the world while earning money, I am going to focus on one option here. It’s an option that doesn’t require much planning at all, doesn’t require any experience and can be put into action almost immediately. In fact, if you’re reading this post on Saturday, you could be earning money in a foreign land by Monday. Actually, let’s say Tuesday just to give you an extra day to get over the jet lag.


It’s all about teaching English.


Let me re-phrase. What I am actually referring to is “Creative English Teaching”.

This form of teaching English overseas does not require a degree, nor a teaching certificate. It doesn’t require previous teaching experience either. Heck, you don’t even need teaching materials or even a classroom. All you need is YOU, a sprinkle of creativity and a desire to interact with people of a different culture.

When a good friend of mine and I decided to rest our tired legs during a trip to Southeast Asia a few years back, we were looking for two things. First, we wanted to find a location where we would enjoy living for at least six months and secondly, we wanted to find a way to earn some money.

For us, the decision was quite easy as we chose what had been one of our favorite stops during our two months of traveling – Chiang Mai, a mid-sized city in northern Thailand.


On our second day after arriving back in Chiang Mai we set out in search of work, thinking that our best bet would involve teaching English. The first thing we did was decide not to visit the dozens of established language schools scattered around the city, as we assumed they wouldn’t be interested in hiring two backpackers without any credentials to teach English to their students. Instead, we simply went over to the DK Book Store and bought twenty pieces of white paper and a black marker.

After creating twenty hand-written signs that read “Want to learn English from two Native English Speakers? First class free. Call us today!”, we took a taxi to the 25,000-student Chiang Mai University and posted the signs all over the dormitories and student union center.

And then we waited.

Amazingly, at 10am the following morning, the phone rang in our apartment and after a very brief conversation, we had our first student. After two more days, we ended up with over 20 students signed up for our classes, something that was, truthfully, quite unexpected and which forced us to get creative rather quickly.

We didn’t exactly have a classroom at our disposal, so we decided to hold our classes outside in the grassy common areas of the university. And upon realizing that we didn’t have any books or study materials, we decided to focus our classes strictly on conversational practice. Without any clue whatsoever about how to teach, we just winged it and acted as if we had been doing it for years. Luckily, the students proved so overly-eager to learn that they showed up to every class with a long list of questions to ask. By the time we finished answering them, the two-hour sessions were over and we didn’t have to rely on the ridiculous lesson plans that we had haphazardly put together.

Before we knew it, we were holding several classes per week with more and more students signing up almost every day. And that was that. We had organized and launched a successful English teaching operation in a matter of a few days.


Did we earn a fortune? Of course not. We actually charged our students a mere 100 Baht (approximately $3 USD per hour), but we earned enough income to live a comfortable life in beautiful Chiang Mai, one that included a decent apartment with mountain views and rarely having to watch what we spent. Had I been more motivated, I could have scheduled three classes per day, five days per week, and earned enough to accumulate a decent amount of savings as well.

For those that might think teaching English is not the kind of work you’d be interested in, let me point out that what I just described above could hardly be considered work! Spending a few hours a day sitting in a park, interacting with and creating friendships with the kindest, most respectful students imaginable, taking field trips to waterfalls, caves and Buddhist temples and learning about life in Thailand in a setting far from any tourist path, was more along the lines of a deep and rewarding cultural interaction than a dull work experience.

As a result, it’s a perfect way to jump-start your travels, live overseas, meet new friends, learn a new language, eat endless plates of pad thai (this yummy noodle dish can also help you start traveling sooner than you think is possible) AND earn as much money as you are motivated to earn.

And, and, and…Thailand is not the only place where you can fund your travels like this. If you’re dreaming of travel right this very moment but think you don’t have the money to do so, consider this: As long as you speak a decent amount of English, you could move to Vietnam, Czech Republic, Mexico, Bulgaria, Bolivia or Jordan (or dozens of others) tomorrow, and in most cases, with a little creativity, set up your own creative English teaching operation by the end of your first week.

Have you experimented with teaching English overseas or thought about doing so?

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Comments 146

  1. Rishi Dabrai

    It was great to learn about how you managed to teach the students English. I was thinking of travelling to Cambodia and Laos. Wanted to check with you if you I think I would be able to teach English there( being a native English speaker myself), without having a teaching job before I get there?

    Further, also wanted to check if u think I could use my tennis skills to help people with tennis in these places.

    Thanks in advance

    1. Post

      Hey Rishi – Everything is possible. You don’t need to have a job before you go and can look around once you get there for sure. And as for your tennis skills…if you right the right audience for it, and market yourself properly, why not?

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  4. Isaac Hanson

    Hey Earl,
    I was recently offered a job teaching English in Thailand at a place called Open Book Teachers. I can’t find anything on the internet about them besides their own website. Have you by chance ever heard of this place or know if they are legit/know if this could possibly be some kind of a scam? (they didn’t ask for any money, credit card number,etc)

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Isaac – I haven’t heard of them but there are plenty of small organizations that might not have an online presence. But I would probably go there and check them out in person before signing anything or paying anything to them if they ask.

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  6. Jeffrey Aubin

    Hi Earl !

    Do you think a lot of people would be interested to learn French ? It is my native language and I believe it would be a better option for me !

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Jeffrey – Absolutely. I’ve met people teaching all kinds of languages as they travel. It’s not as if you need 500 students to make it work and there are always a few people everywhere interested in learning a variety of languages for whatever reason!

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  9. Joseph

    Earl, How do you avoid getting in trouble with countries in regards to a work permit? From other government sources I’ve read about certain countries, any type of work is prohibited, even volunteer work, and those guilty could serve jail time. Every time I look at the actual laws, they always seem to me more prohibitive of becoming a longterm backpacker than money. Each country has so many rules for visitors!

      1. Wandering Earl

        Hey Gunner – We spoke only English and the people I taught were university students who already knew a good amount of English from their studies.

  10. mike

    Earl this sounds like a really, and I mean really great idea for anyone who speaks the certain language they are teaching. Also I would do this myself yet I have a thick accent even though I am a native English speaker. My concern is how would I go about teaching English with my thick accent?

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Mike – I think you won’t find it to be too much of a challenge as you’ll have to speak quite slowly when teaching and it probably won’t take too much effort to make sure that your students understand. It’s hard to say overall of course but I imagine you’d figure it out!

  11. Matt

    Hey Earl!
    I just wanted to respond and say “Thank you” for sharing this excellent post! I’ll be jetting off to Europe for a few months and I was considering this idea for extending my travels. I was just wondering: what would the time commitment be for this? Would it be best to find an apartment beforehand and stay for a few months? Or could I just teach for a few weeks, crash in a hostel, get the cash and move on?

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Matt – Chances are that if you get students to sign up, they will want more than just a couple of weeks. They will usually be looking for a longer-term tutor so you would want to commit to a few months at least I’d say. Otherwise it’s not really worth their time or money to sign up for classes that won’t last too long.

  12. tim cordial

    HI… I have noticed a lot of teaching jobs overseas, for the past two years it seems like i cant make it by ten minutes without catching my mind wandering about all of the great opportunities overseas… I did have a question about being able to possibly teach. I am 28 years old.. I’ve completed 56 college units, two classes shy from getting a AA degree. I have spend 6 years in the U.S. army and have had a chance to travel to some pretty cool places……. i/e Germany, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, mexico, Kuwait, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan. I’m wanting to venture off the beaten path now…. before it was always about taking a vacation to one or two places at a time before coming back home to the states. My biggest question and worry is being able to obtain work visas as to travel for a continuous amount of time. I dont have any set time frame, i figured i would just know when and if i ever wanted to return to the states or settle abroad. Could i get by finding work here and there without proper work visas or is it something i should definitely have dedicated time set aside to obtain these permits/visas; another worry is if i do have to worry about obtaining work visas it seems that it could become expensive and time consuming, i wouldnt want to find myself out of money and waiting for paperwork to be processed . I am healthy, and have construction experience/heavy equipment operator/roofing as well as landscaping and then experience with odd jobs including warehousing and last but not least my military experiencing. I’m only going to be able to start with about a 5,000 usd budget. I’m going to sell my car, worth a minimum 2,500 to purchase my first one way flight. Could you please recommend a good starting point? A country where i could for lack of a better phrase “get my feet wet”. Thank you …. -tim

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Tim – The thing is, you generally can’t get a work visa for a particular country unless you are hired for a particular job first. Countries don’t hand out work visas to travelers who just want to try and find work when they arrive. So if you look online, get hired for a position in a different country, that company or organization will help you obtain the necessary work permit so that you can legally work there.

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  14. Marijke

    I really like this idea! I’m not a native English speaker, but I speak it almost as well as I speak Dutch (yes, I’m from the Netherlands). Can I still do this teaching thing? (since no one is interested in learning Dutch haha ^.^)

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Marijke – I know non-native English speakers who have managed to successfully teach English with this method, so it is definitely possible.

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  16. john

    i like how you ask people questions at the end of each article it helps them get more out of the article i think sorta like some school books do

  17. Nick

    Would you say the less developed and more impoverished the country is, the easier it is to get away with this? Also how would you transfer it into savings if it’s basically illegal money? Have you any information about doing this in Brazil or other countries in Latin America?

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Nick – Generally speaking, I’d say yes, but at the same time, I know people doing this in Spain, Italy, Argentina and more, so it is possible in many parts of the world. As for the money, chances are you won’t make a fortune so the money you’d earn would go towards your living/travel expenses. This is not a method to earning a ton of money so I doubt you’ll be left with an amount worth sending to your savings.

  18. Vagabond Tim

    Hey Earl,

    I was happy to see someone actually put what I considered to be a crazy idea into practice. I was even more thrilled to discover that it worked 🙂

    I do have one question though, what if any advice do you have for navigating the ‘work visa’ problem, do you simply not tell the local governments about this and run around on tourist visas?
    Another related question is do you generally move on after 90 days or so from each location or is there some other way to remain longer without complications from extending ones visa?

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Tim – In relation to the teaching that I did in Thailand, I did not get a work visa. I just stayed on a tourist visa, kept quite low-key and got away with it. Some countries it’s easier to do than in others though as some are quite strict.

      As for the 90 days, every country is different. Some countries allow you to stay for more than 90 days, others for less. Some countries allow you to easily get a visa extension, other countries allow you to cross into a neighboring country for a day, then return and get a new 90 day visa. The rules are different everywhere so it really does depend on where you’re headed.

  19. Craig

    Can you get around in all the countries you’ve mentioned on your blog without speaking much of their language? Did you have a LOT of trouble? Thanks!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Craig – I’ve never had trouble with language, mainly because English is widely spoken these days, I try to learn at least the basics of the local language and when that doesn’t work, hand gestures and body language work just fine!

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  21. Shannon

    Are there any specific reliable places/companies you recommend to contact in order to teach? I’ve always wanted to teach abroad, but unsure of the proper contacts/sources.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Shannon – The thing is, I would go directly to schools and language institutes and not use a global placement company. And there are thousands of such schools all over the world….just have a look at and you’ll see just how many there are. The key is to contact the schools, talk to current teachers in order to find out exactly what the teaching environment is like, and to find out as much information about a school as you can before signing any contract. You just don’t want to accept a job, fly half way around the world and find out it was not what you had expected at all.

  22. michael donato

    hey Earl, me and my fiance are about to do a long travel trip (we both quit our high paying corporate jobs to adopt a new way of life, we thought it would be best now due to our young age of 25) and i have a question as i am very interested in teaching enlish. What kind of lesson plans did you use? Draw a picture of an item and say it in english? By the way i love the website, ill try to donate soon to help keep you going on your wonderful journey.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Michael – I didn’t use any lesson plans actually. I simply asked the students what they wanted to learn and since this was just conversational english classes, they would just bring up different scenarios that they wanted to know how to talk about properly.

  23. Sebastian

    Do you have any information or idea about teaching in European countries such as Italy? I was researching working under the table as you did and apparently there’s a lot of risk involved with the possibility of penalties such as being “fined, imprisoned and/or a banned from re-entering italy (or any other Schengen country) “. I’d love to this in Italy but as I’m sure you’d imagine, I’d rather not be imprisoned in a foreign country.

    – Thanks!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Sebastian – There are always risks no matter where you do it but the main thing is obviously to keep it all low-key. I do know people who have taught informally in Spain, Portugal, France and Italy without any problems but they relied on word-of-mouth and didn’t go around advertising their services too openly. And then they simply taught/tutored in their apartment or at other people’s homes.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Sarah – You don’t need to know the local language because you will almost always be teaching students who already have a grasp of English. And most language schools don’t allow students or teachers to speak the local language while in the school. Everything has to be in English because this helps the students learn much more quickly.

  24. Hunter

    How would you go about teaching students who speak a different language if the only language you know is English? Would you have to learn their language first so you can sort of translate and relay the information?

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Hunter – Not at all. Usually, when you teach a foreign language, you are teaching students who already know the basics of that language. So you don’t need to know the local language in order to teach.

  25. Daniel

    Wow, very nice idea.. but.. what about a non native english speaker like me? hahaha,
    I speak english, but it’s no expert and my accent in terrible 😀
    my native language is spanish and there is not so much people interested in learning it

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Daniel – You can definitely do the same thing with your own language. What do you mean there is not so much people interested in learning it? What is that based on?

      here are people in every country who want to learn Spanish, and French, German, Italian…any language for the most part! You don’t need 100 people, you just need a few people to sign up and there are definitely a few people in just about every major city and town who wants to learn Spanish.

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  27. Allie

    One of my aunt’s friends taught English in South Korea on a theater degree and she got paid loads more than you. She also had to adhere to a classroom setting though and had a contract that meant she couldn’t actually go anywhere for a year. She loved Seoul and is one of the people gladly willing to hook me up with jobs and lodgings.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Allie – Yes, working in a country such as South Korea or Japan, and working for a language school as well, does typically pay more. But the restrictions are not for everyone and it’s much more work involved!

  28. Michael Scott

    Hello I would really like to get to talk to you. I know so many people want to I am sure. If you can email me and we will skype.I am a fellow traveller to.

    If you do not have time that is cool too.

    Best regards,


  29. Kimmy @ AfterGlobe

    I love this idea! I also love not having to spend the $$$ all the sites I go to on-line say that I need to pay to become certified. I will for sure be borrowing this idea from you while traveling.

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