How To Fund Your Travels With Creativity

“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 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 make this happen. 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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123 Responses to How To Fund Your Travels With Creativity

  1. Pingback: From Dreamer To Traveler

  2. Marijke says:

    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 ^.^)

    • Wandering Earl says:

      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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  4. john says:

    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

  5. Nick says:

    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?

    • Wandering Earl says:

      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.

  6. 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?

    • Wandering Earl says:

      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.

  7. Craig says:

    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!

    • Wandering Earl says:

      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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  9. Shannon says:

    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.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      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 eslcafe.com 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.

  10. 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.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      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.

  11. Sebastian says:

    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!

    • Wandering Earl says:

      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.

  12. sarah says:

    How did you teach without knowing their language? Or did you?
    Or did you point/draw/ and just figure it out together?

    • Wandering Earl says:

      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.

  13. Hunter says:

    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?

    • Wandering Earl says:

      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.

  14. Daniel says:

    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 :D
    my native language is spanish and there is not so much people interested in learning it

    • Wandering Earl says:

      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.

  15. Pingback: Wandering Earl: Kidnappings, Enrepreneurship, the Taliban and 14 Years on the Road | Love Affair Travel

  16. Allie says:

    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.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      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!

  17. Michael Scott says:

    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,


  18. 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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