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. David

    When you where teaching English to those college students, did you know how to speak Thai or did the students know some English?

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey David – Nope. You don’t need to know the local language because students already know some English usually and if you work at a language school, they will require the students and teachers to speak English at all times so that the students learn faster. The local language is not needed to teach.

  2. Jocelyn Iris

    I’m interested in travelling but I want to travel to English speaking countries & getting a job & paying living expenses is much harder. It’s only easy to find a job that pays enough to live on with no qualifications in Canada or England, for example. Is there a different way to travel these places without savings or working full-time?

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Jocelyn – Given that there are really only a handful of English speaking countries, it is more difficult to find work there. However, you could always try a working holiday visa for Australia or New Zealand. Such visas allow you to work in any job and you can stay in each country for up to a year.

  3. Emmanuel

    Hi Earl !!!
    Thanks a loooot for this post, it really inspired me so much that i read every single comment and answer following it. I’m struggling to finish my studies in English, but i can’t wait to go out there and explore the planet!! so imagine my surprise and happiness when i read that an authority in travelling like you claimed that teaching English is an easy way to make a living!
    My idea is to travel to the Titicaca lake and then carry on to Macchu Picchu, in Peru (i’m in northern Argentina so these destinations are relatively near).
    As I’m writing and telling you about my plans, a cousin phoned and encorouged me to do the travel together by motorbike! I don’t have money to afford the bike or the travel, and I know nothing about bike maintenance, but nothing happens by random, doesn’t it? Everything has a reason, so finding your blog in the right moment with the right words, meeting new people on facebook interested in the same topics than me, and even receiving a call with a perfect timing to talk about travelling in the very moment I’m writing about travelling are kind of confirmations from God telling me that I’m in the right direction.
    Titicaca and Macchu Picchu are only the beginning. I also want to visit other continents and definitely want to live the experience of working for a cruise line. I still don’t have a clear vision about how to raise money for the motorbike and the journey, but I know what I want and that’s a start. You injected me hope, enthusiasm and faith through your words. That’s much more than what I expected to have today. Thank you!

  4. Adam Finan

    Hi Earl,
    I am a long time reader, first time poster. I love your blog website. From the beach hut in Goa to teaching in Thailand, I say well done you are living the dream of most and an inspiration.

    I currently moved to New Zealand after 3 years working in Australia in a way to serious job for a 26 year old free spirit who has been bitten by the travel bug.

    I am from Ireland and have been travelling about 5 years now.

    I have hole heartily based my next move to Mexico based on your reviews and look forward to moving there to work on my Squidoo pages, eBooks and blog.

    I left Ireland with -$16,000 in my bank account, a flight to Australia and a job packing plants into pots in the baking heat for 10 hours a day.

    3 years later I am debt free, living in Queenstown, New Zealand and have been to Thailand, Ireland & Indonesia on holidays since I left in 2009.

    I am grateful for the time and effort it must have taken for you to become as established in the travel world and if I was in Turkey, I would definatly be going on your ‘I Love Turkey Tour’..

    Anyway, just giving you my two cents on why money is not an excuse not to travel. I done it, and I know lads who landed in Australia with $50, slept on my couch for a few months and are now set up and loving life.

    On the note of teaching english, big respect to what you done!
    I have looked into doing a TEFL and even started an online one, but to be honest, I find it quite useless doing TEFL online courses. I need interaction. Your enthusiasm and energy is what made it work for you and self belief also. You don’t need to be in an International school to make it. A bit of common sense, some research and native english skills should do the trick.

    All the best with your travels

    Adam Finan

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Adam – Thank you for sharing your tale and it’s such a good example of how this life is possible. And as you know, I absolutely agree about money not really being a major obstacle. As long as you can get to your first destination, the possibilities are endless!

  5. Adrian

    Hey Earl,
    thanks for your article and the way which you are going through.

    I would like to get more details about level which you should represent to teach English other nationalities. To give you more information:
    I am going to go to Peru in October to give volunteer. In the free time I think to give language lessons, but I am not native-speaker. Also I am not perfect-conversation-mate. Do you think is that possible to teach younger children, any basic skills and that can provide me enough money to survive?

    Thank you for your response in advance.
    Good luck,

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Adrian – You’ll probably have a better chance teaching university students who already know some English and just want someone they can converse with and ask some questions to. That would be a good option I would think.

  6. kathy

    I taught English, very creatively usually driving my principle up the wall by not following the rules (but the parents loved me and I had the best students so she couldn’t argue with my techniques), in Seoul Korea from 2001 to 2004. I always wanted to do something like this but never thought I would get the chance, then after graduating Uni and without any job options I applied, had an interview and 2wks later was in Seoul. I went for 11mths and 3yrs later my mum asked if I was going to consider using the natural resources degree I had earned. I loved living in Seoul and loved teaching, but after 3+ yrs it was time for more adventures. And now I always have a back up to fall on.

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  8. steve

    Hey Earl, a very inspiring story. I’d love to give it (or another creative idea) a try. Were you not afraid of getting in trouble (deported / fined / jailed) for not having a work permit or teaching license?

    What do you mean by “keep it low-key” in your comment above? Isn’t posting flyers all around a school somewhat high visibility by design?

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Steve – I wasn’t afraid as my operation was quite simple and nothing that brought attention to myself. And posting flyers around a university is quite low-key as I just meant that you don’t want to tell everyone you meet that you are teaching classes or working illegally. If you don’t talk about it, nobody suspects anything and nobody bothers you about it. In general it is those who start telling others about what they’re up to that eventually get caught.

  9. Micah

    Genius post! I’m actually headed for Bangkok this coming Monday, the 12th. I’m 19 year young and living with my parents, however, after dropping out of college last year, and quitting my job, my parents are not like any decision I make. They told me that if I left for Thailand and I wanted a home to stay, I would have to pay rent, phone, and car, and also go back to school and work for someone. That might be there “American” life, but it’s not for me. Thus, I must find a way to make money on the run.

    I bought a passport and have around $1,500 to work with. I’m only taking a backpack, so this is very new for me. My question is, being that I’m 19, do you think I could take this opportunity to use in Thailand? If I could somehow find an accommodation and start a travel blog as yourself, THAT WOULD BE MY DREAM COME TRUE! I’m a little nervous/scared, for living with my family in the states is all I’ve ever known. However, if one can do it, anyone can do it (: Thanks for the inspiration! Any response would be greatly appreciated


    1. Earl

      Hey Micah – Thank you for the comment and you’re right, if one can make it happen, anyone can make it happen. Will it be a challenge? Yes. But again, it is possible so stay focused and don’t give up on your goal. You should be able to use the method above to teach in Thailand and as for creating a blog, as long as you are willing to work hard, a blog is always an option. It takes months, if not years, to create a blog that earns even a little bit of money but everyone has to start somewhere and if you do reach your goals eventually, the difficult journey will have proven to be well worth it!

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    1. Earl

      Hey Laura – Technically it’s not allowed on a tourist visa although it is quite common in many countries. And as long as you keep it quite low-key then the chances of any problems are very slim.

  11. Daniela

    So glad I found this page on my search, and I appreciate you posting a few blogs about female travelers going solo around the world.
    I’m currently feeling my life is about to hit a turning point and I’m working on being fluent on my 3rd language. My call to travel has gotten stronger, so … maybe it’s time!

  12. Will

    People without the experience just do not realise how easy it is to survive on very little. In Thailand I got a job promoting for a restaurant on Koh Phi Phi island. It was only about 300 bhat a day but it meant I could pay off my accommodation and he even chucked free meals in out of kindness. This meant I could stay on the island for a month during high season and only spend about £60/$93. Similarly in New Zealand I used my work visa to extend my stay up north in the bay of islands by working a week or two on the production line of an oyster factory! It easily paid of accommodation and food and put some extra in my back pocket along the way.

    1. Earl

      Hey Will – That is an excellent example of how to make traveling even more possible. You just have to think outside the box, make some connections and find creative ways to earn some money. Seems like you managed to do quite well as I don’t know many people who would turn down a month on a Thai island for $93!

  13. Neville Solomon

    Don’t you have to know THEIR language first in order to be able to teach them yours? So you can translate what they’re saying?

    1. Earl

      Hey Neville – You don’t have to know the local language at all because you will almost always be teaching students who already speak some English. And usually the rules of the school require students to only speak English so that they will learn faster. If this were not the case there certainly wouldn’t be so many foreigners teaching English around the world 🙂

  14. Ian Robinson

    I’ll be taking advantage of this one day. This would make a fantastic blog post too. If you had video taped the whole process and taken pictures. That would be a killer show to watch….

    1. Earl

      Hey Ian – Perhaps I can use the photos/video documentation for other helpful travel/income ideas I plan to write about in the future.

  15. Amit Sonawane

    Hi Earl,

    This is some great insight. I am planning to leave for Chile in August and teach English to survive. If you have any experience in the region or know any tips then I’d appreciate it. Looking forward to hanging out here more often 🙂


    1. Earl

      Hey Amit – That seems like quite a good adventure ahead of you! I’ve been to Chile once before but it was a long time ago so I don’t think I have many current tips to share. I did love my visit there though.

      And I shall look forward to communicating with you some more here on the blog. I’ll be curious to see how your South America experience turns out! I’m confident it will be amazing of course 🙂

  16. Katrina

    Hi Earl!!
    I was just wondering… Do you ever miss your roots? Do you stay in contact with original friends before you left… Or family… How do you form real attatchments to people when you cannot stay long… Do you ever feel lonely or is your communication with the every-changing world around you enough…
    Thankyou! Your website is inspirational

    1. Earl

      Hey Katrina – I actually do stay in touch with a lot of people from home, both family and friends. I generally return to the US twice per year for a few weeks in order to visit everyone and then my family and friends tend to visit me somewhere in the world once or twice per year as well. This, combined with Skype calls and email, allows me to stay quite close to everyone.

      And I don’t feel lonely while traveling either, mainly because there are so many people to meet everywhere I go. And these days, I usually know a few people in most of the destinations I visit so I am rarely far away from friends!

  17. Rica

    Hi Earl! In your opinion, what are the chances of a non-native speaker teaching English in SEA? I’m a Filipino and I want to explore the option of teaching English without a certificate in Vietnam someday. Inspiring post, as always 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Rica – It really depends, although it is harder to find a teaching job for those who are not native speakers. I certainly know of people who have landed such jobs but it can be tough to convince a school to hire you. I would check out a website such as, which lists hundreds of job openings for teachers. You could contact some of the listings and see what they have to say…and hopefully you will get some positive news!

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  19. david

    I have a few questions. I’m currently in China (Qingdao) teaching English. It’s been about five months and I’m bored. I want to move around. How much money (rmb) did you collectively start with to get your housing taken care of and food until you got your independent work off the ground? Did you have another job to subsidize your living costs? How did you get your visa situation worked out? Did you just head out with some savings and try to make money afterwards? If you had a job to begin with when (if you did) did you abandon your “job”?

    1. Earl

      Hey David – I actually just began my travels with $1500 in my bank account and no plan to travel for so long. Once I decided I wanted to travel indefinitely, I started teaching English in Thailand, earning just enough to pay rent in a good apartment and enjoy myself over there until I figured out a new plan. My next step involved working on board cruise ships as a Tour Manager, something I did on and off over a period of 8 years. And once I decided to leave ships behind for good, I began working on my online projects and businesses.

      I did not have a job to begin with as, after graduation, I worked as a substitute teacher for a few months and then began traveling. And in terms of visas, when I taught in Thailand, I was simply there on a tourist visa that I renewed every 30 days by crossing into Myanmar for lunch and then crossing back into Thailand 🙂

  20. Kat

    P.s… Its amazing how you have picked up languages along the way, I would LOVE to speak another language besides english but have always thought it would be wayyy to difficult for me personally

  21. Kat

    Wow! Firstly I would just like to say that what you are doing here is so self-less and inspirational! So thankyou for all of your help 🙂 you seem like a really decent open-minded experienced person and its so refreshing to see you using your knowledge to empower others!
    I am 20 years old and have a-levels behind me, but have decided to travel next year rather than go to university which I can do at any point in my life…
    At the moment Im working full-time trying to save some money, with all other expenses aside Ive worked out that I will probally have about 1 & 1/2 to 2 thousand saved up by the time Im ready to up and leave. I have the right mind set to do this, its a dream waiting to happen! Amongst other things I have much strength and creativity which you have highlighted the importance of. I also have hope and faith, there is so much I want to acheive including a novel which will take years but gotta start somehwhere?! I think teaching english is an amazing idea. Everything you have written has related to me. I understand that travel is not all about money but using the resources around you to the maximum, grabbing every opportunity with both hands and appreciating whatever positivity comes your way.
    I beleive I can do this… But Earl there are a couple of things which make the beginning of this journey very un-clear for me…A bit blurry…
    Where the hell do I start! The problem with me is that my weaknesses are geography/history/numbers & figures etc… I meen geography is my worsttt subject a couple of years back I thought liverpool was a country lol! How would I know where to head off to first or the expense of living in different places, I dont understand exchange rates, its all alien to me 🙁 The world awaits me, its calling my name…It fascinates me but I am clueless!
    I have ordered a book from amazon called “The travel book” by lonely planet publications…Im hoping it gives me a better insight as to where I want to go, what would benifit me personally and give me some info about other countries/cultures. I just need a sense of direction as I truely dont know where to start…theres so many places I would love to explore, from the top of my head japan!…I have a friend who went to austrailia to travel last year, he wanted me to leave everything behind and go too but I needed to finish college and save, Im sure he wouldnt mind me visiting which could be a good starting point but ultimately I would prefer doing this alone. Any advise you could offer would be much appreciated, thanks again
    – Kat

    1. Earl

      Hey Kat – Thank you so much for the comment and consider yourself steps ahead if you already know that you want to do some traveling and are ready to make that happen. The key to getting started is to simply look at all the factors involved. If you are going to have $1,500 to start off with, then Australia and Japan should probably be taken off the list as both of those countries are very expensive. So I would try and choose another destination that still appeals to you but that is much cheaper to travel around as this will remove much of the pressure of having to watch every dollar you spend and worrying about whether or not you can afford your next meal. And considering that you’re young and you have plenty of time to travel, don’t worry about trying to get to the perfect destination on your first trip. Just get out there and start traveling, anywhere!

      And exchange rates and all that stuff shouldn’t be a worry at all. Once you get out there in the world and you are forced to deal with all of those things, you’ll pick it up quite quickly and soon enough it will all become natural. Hopefully the travel book you ordered will help but in the end, the best way to learn is to just communicate with other travelers and to get out there and start traveling yourself!

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  23. Liana

    Hi! I’ve always wanted to travel and i really thought I’d have to have a lot of money to do it. I thought comfortable travel would be completely out of reach for me, but your story has really inspired me. One question I have for you though: How many languages do you know?
    As of now i only know English and Italian. How did you teach English to people who didn’t speak the languages you speak?

    1. Earl

      Hey Liana – At this point, I can speak Spanish decently but that’s about it apart from the basics of several languages. Basically, when you teach English, your students will generally already have a basic understanding of English and you will be required to teach your classes only in English (as this helps the students learn much more quickly). As a result, knowledge of the local language is not necessary. Trust me, there are thousands upon thousands of people teaching English around the world and the overwhelming majority of them are not fluent in the local language at all!

      1. Vivienne

        Hmmm… that does make sense. English is quite a universal language. I went to Tanzania, East Africa last year on a humanitarian school trip and we taught English to elementary school children as well as basic computer training. They knew very basic English, but I could tell that most of the things I said just went right over their head. Even slowing down my words only helped so much. My question is, did you ever work with younger students who did not understand as much? How did you get past situations where they simply did not understand what you were trying to teach them? Personally, if two Native Russians were offering to teach their language on the cheap in MY country, I’d for sure sign up but I still have no idea how to speak Russian. Would you have to advertise to your students that you are not proficient in their language?

        1. Wandering Earl

          Hey Vivienne – I never worked with younger kids for that very reason. Instead, I always chose to work with university aged students who already had a decent grasp of English language skills. And in these cases, the students don’t expect you to speak their language…they just want to practice English and you don’t need to know any of the local language at all. It’s the same concept that many language schools use as well – students, no matter their English level, as well as teachers, are required to speak only in English at all times while in the language school. It helps the students learn much more quickly!

  24. Kristen

    Earl, this has actually really inspired me.. Thanks for sharing! I am DESPERATE to travel, but remain here at my desk job solely for the sake of my savings account. I know this is no way to live, and it will end soon. But reading this encourages me not to hold back, that it’s not impossible to make ends meet with a little ingenuity. Now there is no excuse.

    1. Earl

      Hey Kristen – I know it can be a challenge to get started but it’s one of those things where if you can somehow figure out a way to make it happen, chances are you won’t regret that decision. So even if it takes a little more time to get in a position where you can travel, just think about how happy you’ll be when you board that first flight!

    1. Earl

      Hey Roy – It only makes sense that long-term travelers figure out some of the same ways to survive while on the road! I would have loved to teach English in the Czech Republic for a while…another one of my favorite countries.

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  27. hildergarn

    Hi Earl. I just stumbled your blog via google. It’s great the creativity you applied to earn some bucks. Since you’re an experienced traveler, i want to ask you if it’s possible to do the same with teaching spanish, since that’s my main language.


    1. Earl

      Hey Hildergarn – There are opportunities to teach Spanish as well, although there are of course much fewer opportunities than teaching English. I was actually doing a little research for my upcoming trip to Istanbul today and found a person willing to exchange the extra bedroom in their apartment for a few hours of Spanish lessons each day. Free rent in Istanbul for teaching Spanish sounds like a good deal to me! You might have to look a little harder but there are always people interested in learning Spanish as well in different parts of the world…

      1. hildergarn

        Thanks Earl. And for teaching english, does it matter being a pro? Obviously is more easy to teach english for a native speaker, but since english is my second language and i’m not a pro speaker, i don’t know if students don’t give a damn about it.


        1. Earl

          Hey Hildergarn – It basically depends on whether or not students could learn something about English from you. You don’t need to be an expert (I barely remember most of the grammar rules myself) but you would need a good enough understanding of English so that your students benefit from the lessons and want to return for more!

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    1. Earl

      Hey G – I appreciate you following the site! With a little creative English teaching you could turn your 3-year trip into a 5-year adventure!!

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  32. John Bardos -JetSetCitizen

    Teaching English was also the way that I moved to Japan. Teaching is a great way to explore the world and you don’t even need to be a ‘teacher’ to get started.

    I also recommend the direct teaching approach. I started my own school in Japan and can attest to how much better it is than working for others. It doesn’t really take much capital or credentials if you are outgoing and likable.

    Japan is probably the best country to teach income wise but you will need a university degree to get a work visa. If you have enough of your own private students AND you pay taxes, you can self-sponsor.

    University students are definitely the target market to aim for in every country.
    .-= John Bardos -JetSetCitizen´s last blog ..The Ultimate Guide to Volunteering Abroad =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey John – Thanks for sharing your thoughts as you’re definitely an authority on the subject of teaching English! And I agree fully that targeting university students (which my friend and I decided to target quite randomly) is the way to go, as their existing base of English, respectfulness and the fact that many of their families have extra money to spend for classes, makes them a great potential market.

      That’s also interesting that you can self-sponsor in Japan – I’ve never heard of anyone being able to do that anywhere else.

  33. Sam

    Wow, Earl, thanks for the inspiration!

    I got qualified to teach English as a foreign language last year when I realised it’d be a good way of seeing the world and now enjoy it a lot, especially when students are really keen.

    I really like this idea of yours, especially taking the students out of a classroom setting and in to the ‘real world’ like the zoo and the cinema and use language in a way that we do everyday.

    @Adam: it’s surprising to us that many people still ask how you can afford to do a RTW trip because we know you don’t have to be loaded to do it. If they’re asking that, it’s because they don’t know that; they haven’t been let in on the secret!

    @Erin: I know it can be daunting to be asked by a student why something is or isn’t right, especially with regards to grammar, but just rely on your instincts as a native speaker of English. You might not be able to explain the rule and its exceptions to them, but you can tell them how an incorrect sentences ‘feels’ and what impression or image it gives you, which might even be more meaningful (and memorable) for them.

    1. Earl

      Hey Sam! Thanks so much for your comment and for offering some solid advice as well.

      In the beginning it was difficult for us to organize regularly scheduled classes because we wanted to explore Chiang Mai and its surroundings…so that’s how the idea of ‘field trips’ evolved, as a way to explore and teach at the same time! And of course, the students preferred those days too. Considering that it really didn’t take any extra effort to organize, we tried to do it as much as possible.

      Where are you teaching at the moment?

      1. Sam

        Right now, I’m on a little break from teaching, but I have been teaching kids in Austria. I’m going back in a couple of weeks, and in the future, I’d like to go to Spain, Taiwan, Japan, maybe Thailand or anywhere else it might take me. My blog at, has some (and will have more) solid advice about teaching since it’s all about teaching English an travelling. And yes, that’s with two ‘l’s because I’m British!
        .-= Sam´s last blog ..Image of the week: Saint Basil’s cathedral =-.

  34. Erin

    Fantastic post – it really makes the idea of teaching English accesible. We just met someone in Brazil who was teaching private English lessons and making much more than she would have in a language school. Private conversation classes sound easier too.

    To be honest I do feel a bit nervous about doing it without a qualification though. I wouldn´t want to let my students down by being a rubbish teacher, or not be able to answer a question.
    .-= Erin´s last blog ..Photo of the Week: Akha Village =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Erin – Private lessons are definitely the way to go! I was quite nervous as well, but offering only conversational practice made things a lot easier. Since we were teaching university students, most of them already had a general understanding of English already or were actually taking college classes in English at the same time. So we acted as the ‘extra practice’ and in the end, all they wanted to do was learn how to converse normally, and that only required us to teach some basic grammar rules and concentrate instead on slang and pronunciation.

      We also offered our students their first class for free, not only for the students, but so that we could determine if we were up to the challenge ourselves!

  35. Jass

    Hey Earl,
    Thanks for the article!
    What were your lesson plans like, eventually? How creative were they? How were you catering to different levels of ability?

    1. Earl

      Hey Jass – Thanks for visiting!

      We basically were a little unorganized for the first couple of weeks of classes but eventually we began grouping our students into classes based upon their abilities. And when needed, we turned to the extensive resources found at for lesson plans, language games and other teaching tools.

      However, we did try our best to stay away from the usual learning environment and ended up taking our students on frequent field trips to places all over the region in place of using a traditional classroom format. This of course was well received by our students, especially the class we held at the Chiang Mai zoo! Sometimes we also took the group to the cinema and held a class afterward where the students would explain and ask questions about the film as a way to practice their English. This was another big hit as you might imagine.

      We also had a steady stream of students interested in one-on-one conversational tutoring which just involved finding a quiet place to sit and chat about any subjects that came to mind and didn’t require any lesson plans at all.

      So in the end, we found a way to avoid the need for traditional class structure for the most part.

      If you’re thinking of doing something similar yourself, feel free to send me an email with any other questions you might have. I’d love to help out as much as I can.

  36. Maria Staal

    Great story! A very inventive way to make some cash. I travelled around Australia and New Zealand doing odd jobs like decorating and gardening for board and lodgings. It was great fun, and although I didn’t earn anything, I didn’t spent much either.
    .-= Maria Staal´s last blog ..Putting Radbod on the Map =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Maria! That’s an excellent point you made. Apart from earning money, there are also dozens of ways to exchange some work for free accommodation, meals, etc and thus drastically reducing one’s travel expenses. Although, I think you’re the first person I’ve heard of that did some decorating while on the road. I love it, that’s a far more creative idea than my English teaching!

  37. Raam Dev

    Wow, this is fantastic, Earl! I’ve seen so many “teach English by earning a certificate and getting hired by a school” posts that his is extremely refreshing. Especially since I’m way more likely to try it!

    As you know, I’m exploring and living in India right now and teaching English like you described as a backup plan is perfect — in fact, that is now my backup plan should I fail to make income online (which is what I’m working on now).

    A couple of questions:

    1) Would you have to worry about school officials or the town/government harassing you for putting up posters?
    2) Would you have to worry about town/government harassing you for making money without any official “permit” to do so?
    .-= Raam Dev´s last blog ..How I Discovered That I Was Discriminating =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Raam – I’m glad to hear you’re thinking about it as well. I actually taught English the same way for a couple of months up in McLeod Ganj, India, the village that is home to the Dalai Lama and a large Tibetan community. So that’s another option…

      To answer your questions…

      I think that such an operation is small enough and insignificant enough that school/town officials aren’t really too concerned. Actually, by the end of our stay in Chiang Mai, a professor allowed us to use his classroom and not once throughout my entire time there did anyone approach or even ask us any questions about what we were doing.

      As for earning money, I never ran into any problems with this at all either. Of course, we didn’t go around declaring that we were teaching and earning money without any permits to everyone we met! Again, I think that it was such a small operation that officials (especially in third world countries) have a lot more to worry about than trying to uncover an English teaching operation that is just earning enough money to survive.

      However, I’m sure in some other countries, you many rouse some suspicion, so I would definitely check with others who might have lived where ever it is you may plan to teach English before setting something up.

      Keep on enjoying those jeep rides in India!

    1. Earl

      Thanks Jonny. I’m a big fan of Chiang Mai and have found it a great place to live. I wish I could go again right now for the upcoming Thai New Year’s Festival in a week!

  38. Adam

    Great story! The first thing out of people’s mouths when I tell them I’m about to take a RTW trip is always something along the lines of “how can you afford it.” It surprises me every time!

    And I love your idea for teaching English creatively. Definitely going to try that out. Thanks for sharing!
    .-= Adam´s last blog ..Johnny Cupcakes and Marketing =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Adam – That’s the thing, a little creativity can stretch your dollars more than most people would ever believe. After all, it’s worked for me for 10 years and counting now! And I know what you mean about others not understanding how you’ll afford your trip. A RTW adventure sounds like something that would require tens of thousands of dollars, when in fact that is far from reality.

      I look forward to following your own upcoming adventures!

    1. Earl

      Hey Mike – That’s a tough question to answer as it depends on what one is looking for. Apartments near the beach but away from the town center are as low as $400 per month, $250 per month a few blocks away from the ocean. But if you want to live in the center of Playa del Carmen, for example, you can expect to pay $1000 or more per month for an apartment. Apart from that, life is quite inexpensive and simple, and a very comfortable life could probably be had if one earned around $1000 per month.

  39. Nate

    I just love the creativity here! It’s all about using the limited resources you have and coming up with a way to do something. It’s ‘looking outside of the box.’ I don’t really care for that term all that much….but that’s definitely what you did here. Most people (heck, I would probably fall under this category) would have thought..’oh, I don’t have any experience,’ or ‘the language schools aren’t hiring, so I’m out of luck.’…and then just leave it at that. You did a wonderful job of coming up with an alternative…go directly to the students and market yourself. Cool story!
    .-= Nate´s last blog ..You Have Only This Moment To Live =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Nate – The same way of thinking can be used for thousands of situations we face in our non-traveling lives as well. I really think that a little creativity can turn many of our everyday challenges or problems into new and positive opportunities instead. And once you start thinking with creativity, it becomes addictive.

    1. Earl

      Hey Alan – It’s incredible all of the opportunities that are really out there, that make traveling much easier (and cheaper) than people think. I’m sure a lot more people would buy those plane tickets they’ve been hesitating to buy if they only knew!

  40. Brian Wadman

    Wow, I think I have goosebumps. Those were good days. Thanks for capturing them so well. The kindest, most respectful and eager students doesn’t even begin to describe them.

    You forgot to mention playing basketball while watching the sunset, drinking milk and eating toast with hundreds of Thai students as a nightime recreational activity, devouring the ex-pat bookstores, and riding on motorscooters as the prime method of transport. An unforgettable experience.

    1. Earl

      Hey Brian – Thanks for adding those to the list my friend. This could easily turn into a 10,000 word post if we listed every wonderful aspect about those days in Chiang Mai. Allow me to quickly add right now, Mr. Smiley’s restaurant, trivia nights, Songkran festival, holding classes in Dunkin Donuts and border runs to Myanmar…

      And it was those students, every single one of them, who were the true highlight of that experience!

  41. Carlo

    Ingenious! It’s always best to cut out the middle man if you can; plus you can be your own boss.

    I’m so drawn to the idea of cutting the cord and being a perpetual traveler for while.. but it’s hard to give up the security of a good paying job, especially one that let’s me travel at least monthly to other countries for work….

    1. Earl

      Hey Carlo – Thanks for commenting! It sure is a tough decision whether or not to travel on a more permanent basis, especially when your ‘real job’ already allows you to travel. At least you know that if you do decide to break free completely, it doesn’t take long to start earning some money without having to worry about returning to the job you left and life you left behind.

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