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By Ashlea Halpern
Some people love travel so much, they make it their job. Pilots and hotel general managers are among the highest-profile occupations within the tourism sector, but there are countless other travel-intensive gigs that don’t fall squarely within the industry (polar scientists, wildlife photographers, touring magicians, and Doctors Without Borders among them). Other ways to merge work with travel include becoming a traveling nurse, volunteering with the Peace Corps, or finding a job as a tour guide, yoga teacher, or scuba instructor. Here, we look at seven of the most common travel jobs—plus the ups, the downs, and resources for pursuing them.
If this is the first job that springs to mind when you picture a career in travel, you’re not alone. But a life in perpetual motion is not as glamorous as it seems; junior flight attendants don’t always make great money and may find it difficult to date, start a family, or spend time with loved ones. Still, their schedules are flexible and the perks of the job—such as unlimited free and deeply discounted flights—outweigh the negatives for some people.
So how do you become a flight attendant? U.S. airlines provide on-the-job training programs that last three to six weeks. To be accepted, you must have at least a high school diploma or GED equivalent, although preference is often given to applicants with a college degree and work experience in hospitality or customer service. Applicants must also meet certain physical requirements for height, weight, vision, and overall health. Background and criminal history checks are de rigueur.
To learn more about flight attendant training programs, check the career sites of major U.S. carriers like Delta, United, JetBlue, and Southwest. For juicier insight into the job, pick up a copy of flight attendant Heather Poole’s 2012 New York Times bestseller, Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet.
Teaching English abroad can be a great way to live the expat life. To land a job at a reputable school or language institute, you usually need a four-year bachelor’s degree in any subject area and an English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching qualification from an accredited program. TEFL or TESOLcertifications are commonly requested by private language schools and government recruitment agencies because they cover 100 hours of coursework and up to 20 hours of real-world practicum.
Once you earn your certificate, you can apply for placement practically anywhere in the world through a specific program or scout job listings on sites like Teach Away, Transitions Abroad, ESL Base, and Dave’s ESL Cafe. There’s a high demand for native English speaking teachers in China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Spain, Mexico, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Germany, and the UAE. Certain ESL and TESOL certifications can also qualify you to teach English as a second language in public schools across the United States.
Social media influencer
Ask anyone who has built up a serious Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook following and they’ll often credit their success to a dash of luck and a lot of hard work. Kiersten “Kiki” Rich, aka The Blonde Abroad, did not amass her 548,000 Instagram followers and 189,546 Facebook fansovernight. “The struggle was definitely real,” Rich says. “I hustled like crazy. I started [by] making contacts and soft-pitching a travel blog I had started. All of my trips in the first year or two were budget or volunteer endeavors.”
Nearly eight years later, Rich runs a multi-platform business with several revenue streams, but the grind is still “every day, all day long,” and it’s not just about taking pretty pictures. In an oversaturated market of aspiring digital nomads, travelers driven to earn money as a blogger or social media star need to invest in professional camera equipment, develop strategic advertising and marketing campaigns, and, first and foremost, find an untapped niche where they can create original content with a unique point of view. (Learn more from Rich about what it’s really like to be a social media celebrity here.)
Cruise ship captain
For the aquaphile who could imagine nothing more satisfying than piloting his or her own ship, consider a job on the high seas. Most deep-water captains start their career in an elite maritime academy pursuing a four-year degree (a bachelor’s or master’s degree in marine science or marine engineering is par for the course). Later, they gather real-world experience by interning on boats, shadowing officers on watch, and slowly climbing the ranks—from third mate, to second officer, to first officer, and eventually to ship captain. But this isn’t the only way to get on the water. Captains of river boats and other inland waterway vessels may learn the ropes as “deckhands” (crew members who perform the day-to-day duties that keep the vessel clean and running) and gather on-the-job training as they go.
To get a marine captain’s license, you must obtain multiple certifications, including a Transportation Worker Identification Credential and a Merchant Mariner Credential and pass a test issued by the U.S. Coast Guard. (Learn more about what ship life is really like from the first U.S. woman to serve as captain of a megaship.)
Foreign service officer
Diplomats in the U.S. Foreign Service don’t get nearly as much TV love as their counterparts in the FBI and CIA, but their jobs are hugely important. An applicant to the Foreign Service must pass a rigorous exam that tests his or her knowledge of a wide variety of subjects, including world history and geography, U.S. government and economics, and American culture. After the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) comes an oral assessment—a mix of interviews and role playing that tests an applicant’s diplomacy skills. (Foreign language proficiency is also a plus.) Medical exams and security clearances are also conducted. After passing the exam, the Foreign Service Officer selection process can take anywhere from six months to two years.
Once accepted into the Service, officers may be placed at any of the 300 or so U.S. embassies or consulates around the world. (Some officers choose to specialize in fields like information technology, engineering, and public diplomacy, which may determine where they are placed.) The constant moving can be difficult for an officer’s spouse and children, but potential benefits of the job include overseas housing and utilities, transportation and security detail, tuition coverage for kids in grades K-12, and foreign language training. To learn more about preparing for the FSOT and what to expect from a career in diplomacy, start with this comprehensive Foreign Service PDF issued by the State Department.
A gig as an au pair can be ideal for someone who wants to find a job abroad without having to commit to one specific, long-term career path. Think of an au pair as a professional babysitter: In the typical arrangement, the hiring family covers the babysitter’s room and board and provides a weekly or monthly stipend. This is in exchange for childcare, English lessons for their brood, and light housekeeping. Most au pairs fall between the ages of 18 and 30, are single, and have no kids of their own. Au Pair World is the most established platform for connecting would-be au pairs to families in need (13,000 and counting), with placement opportunities in 21 host countries, including Finland, Switzerland, and Australia. New Au Pair has a broader database, listing more than 2,000 positions in 150 countries.
The majority of ski instructor positions are seasonal, so the outdoor enthusiasts who work them often pick up other physically demanding jobs (such as a mountain guide or whitewater rafting guide) during the summer months. But some diehard skiers will follow the snow, traveling around the world from lodge to lodge and mountain to mountain to pursue their passion year-round.
You can work as a ski instructor across the United States or abroad in places such as New Zealand, Chile, and France. But the minimum standards for ski instruction certification, determined by the International Ski Instructors Association (ISIA), vary by country. In the United States, a Level I instructor is permitted to teach newbies the basics of alpine or cross-country skiing on well-groomed runs. A Level II instructor works with more experienced skiers, focusing on technique. Only the best skiers can obtain the highest level of certification (Level III), as tested through an exhaustive four-day exam.
Although ski instructors aren’t particularly well-compensated, most don’t do it for the money—free and discounted lift tickets and reporting daily to the slopes is payment enough. To see what kind of ski instructor positions are currently available, comb through country-specific job boards like Cool Works (for the United States) and the New Zealand Snowsports Instructors Alliance. Résumé boosters to help you stand out include first aid training and avalanche safety training.