Top 5 Ways To Live Abroad For Free / by Chris Duffy

Published on the National Geographic Glimpse website on May 24, 2010

You’ve dreamed about an adventure abroad. You're ready to uproot yourself from home and venture into the wide, wide world. But what are you going to do? How are you going to support yourself? 

A simple Google search will probably get you thinking your options are limited to teaching English, getting a fellowship, or working for a multinational company. Not so. With a little extra initiative, a healthy dose of creativity, and a willingness to knock on some doors, you can follow in the footsteps of these five intrepid globetrotters:

Owen Miller, Brewer

Living in: Woesten, Belgium
Working at: De Struise Brewery

My favorite part of the job: Every beer geek's favorite answer would, of course, be the beer. I’m also really enjoying getting to know people halfway across the globe who share at least one common interest: namely, beer.

Toughest part of the job: With such easy access to (really tasty) beer, it's not hard for brewers to drink too much, and this is one thing I'm going to strictly regulate in myself.

What I do: A typical day is never typical! Urbain (the brewer) changes his plans by the hour, and brewing is not a daily activity. When we brew though, the water is heated at 5 a.m., grains are added shortly after, filtering begins around 7:30, boiling starts around 11, a gut-busting hot lunch is served at noon-thirty, and the unfermented beer is put in the tanks around 3. The couch is a welcome end to the day!

How I scored my job: I dove deep into beer and brewing on my own, and it paid off when I thought of contacting these foreign brewers for an apprenticeship. Never underestimate the power of just asking. I found out about Struise before even tasting their beer because they were rated as the world's best brewery in 2008. Through another beery website, I heard about two Americans doing a similar apprenticeship with Struise, so all it took was a kind email and a phone call to Belgium to line this trip up.

Ali Jamalzadeh, Bookstore Clerk

Lived in: Santorini, Greece
Worked at: Atlantis Books

What I did: In exchange for my boarding and food stipend, I helped run the store with a few others who come and go between travels. My days consisted of shelving books, eating delicious Greek food, talking to travelers, and in my free time, exploring the island. The bookstore itself is incredible, built like some 10-year-old's tree-fort fantasy. Case in point: I slept in a loft bed hidden behind a pair of hinged bookshelves.

What I did not expect: Santorini has a charming (and yes at times annoying) prevalence of cats and dogs. Many are without proper owners, yet not exactly what we would call strays. Rather, ownership is shared by the community, and the animals are free to come and go as they please, having plenty of food and water set out for them by any number of shop keepers and families around town. Thus, not only was I routinely molested by the bookstore cat and kitten, but sometimes felt obliged to feed the strays who stopped by from time to time.

How to get my job: This bookstore is owned by friends of friends, so I had a connection, but doing some research beforehand and putting out some friendly phone calls and emails could land you a similar gig.

Jonathan Amerikaner, Arabian Horse Breeder

Lived in: Hakfar Hayarok (The Green Village), Ramat Hasharon, Israel
Program: Because We Care, MASA Israel Journey

My favorite part of the job: I really loved the physical nature of work. From just after 6 a.m. until sunset, I shoveled horse manure to clean the stables, handled horses to provide them with exercise, and groomed horses to keep them healthy and attractive to buyers. This was a stark contrast to the two years previous to my life abroad when I worked for 8- to 12 hours a day in a dark, windowless room behind a computer. Within five months I lost nearly 40 pounds, and gained noticeable muscles.

Most challenging part of the job: Arabian horses are a bit feisty. They are mostly bred to be shown in competitions, and all that attention apparently has gone to their heads. These horses can be hot-tempered, difficult to ride, and generally mean-spirited.

How to get my job:
Many farms are private and commercial businesses and don't see the value in bringing on untrained volunteers. I would recommend trying to get some training at home before heading abroad. There are many riding therapy programs in the United States that provide horse-riding lessons to the mentally and physically disabled. They are always looking to train volunteers to look after the animals, take care of the stables, and work with the riders.

Nicole Bukoskey, Cruise Ship Dancer

Worked for: Holland America Line
Traveled to: South America, Antarctica, Australia, South Pacific Islands, New Zealand, Alaska, Panama Canal, Mexico

What I do: A typical day depends on the length of the cruise. The shorter the cruise, the more you work. For seven-day cruises, the cast works about five days a week. But one of our cruises was 67 days long, and during that time we worked about five days total. But, we were paid for every day we were onboard! In addition to performing the shows, the cast is required to teach some line dance classes to passengers and hold a backstage tour and Q & A. 

My favorite part of the job: Free travel! I never had to worry about packing or planning or traveling—I could just wake up and be in a new country.

My least favorite part: Being disconnected from friends and family. There are Internet and phone cards available on the ship, but they are a bit pricey.

How to get my job: If you’re a dancer, you should definitely audition! A long-term performing contract is hard to come by on land, and the cruise ship hours are incredible. Do your research online: Some companies make performers do other odd jobs around the ship and some don't. I recommend the ones that let their performers strictly focus on the shows. Most cruise lines hire their own talent companies—I found out about the audition online at Stiletto Entertainment, which hires exclusively for Holland America. Once hired, entertainers are required to move to Los Angeles (airfare and apartment provided) for six weeks to rehearse. During this time, the singers and dancers rehearse six days a week learning all the shows that will be performed at sea. Then the entire cast travels to the ship and starts their eight-month contract at sea.

And if you can’t dance: There are loads of jobs in all areas on cruise ships—they’re always looking for bartenders, servers, DJ's, dance hosts, event staff, child care providers, art auctioneers, photographers, spa and fitness workers, shop workers, casino dealers, and much more.

Peter Tran, Tattoo Artist

Given tattoos in: United States, China, the Phillipines, Italy

What it takes to become a globetrotting tattoo artist:You need to develop some kind of network of friends or acquaintances who can spread the word for you. Or, be good enough that your reputation precedes you. Great tattoo artists have long been traveling the globe and working at different studios through word of mouth and connections. We are a small community.

My favorite part of the job: I just love taking my tattoo and photo equipment on the road and not knowing where it will take me, what doors it will open for me, or who I will meet.

How I learned tattoo art: I tried it one day with a friend’s equipment and was hooked. Before my first tattoo, I practiced on melons, fruits and rubber iPod skin covers. Becoming a full-fledged tattoo artist changes your lifestyle and the way you think about "work." Tattooing was a safeguarded secret for a long, long time but now with new information and technology it’s a lot easier to gain firsthand knowledge and get professional tools.

What's the craziest tattoo you've been asked to do? I once tattooed a blind person. He wanted a scorpion tattoo because his favorite rock band is the SCORPIONS. I made it over an existing scar he had on his arm from an accident.