My story: How I’ve been traveling since graduation

Expat Edna 2010 graduation

Next week marks the two-year anniversary of the day I graduated from college.

Holy cow, does time fly.

In that time, I’ve lived in two countries, traveled across three continents, and had too many adventures to count — and (except for one six-week period) I did it all while holding a job abroad, or with another one lined up.

———

First, let me back up a second and explain why I’m writing this.

It seems nearly every travel blogger in the world has some line in their bio that states a version of: I hated my 9-5 so I quit my job and sold my house/car/belongings to travel the world.

And I’m not putting them down, not in the least. I think it’s great whenever anyone gets to travel, regardless of timing or catalyst.

But I wanted to share my story, partly inspired by this post, because so many bloggers give you the why of travel (often using themselves as an example: “Don’t be like me, don’t wait, go now while you’re young and still free!”) but there are few posts on how it’s actually been done.

To reiterate, this is not Why you should travel after graduation (a quick google search will give you endless reasons). Nor is this a guide to becoming a permanent traveler or expat — what worked for me, might not work for someone else.

This is simply my own personal story, to show that it CAN be done.

———

So this part is kind of long. If you don’t care about my story, you can skip to the advice part further down.

The Singapore Chapter

After graduation, I wasted no time. I gave myself two weeks to say goodbyes and organize logistics (legal papers, banking, etc.) then I packed up and said goodbye to America. I’d always known I was going to move and stay overseas after graduation — I also knew that being an expat and working abroad would be the only way to support my travel habit, as I had very little money saved.

My first stop was a five-week trip to Shanghai. This was more personal than professional; I went with my mom and sister and spent most of that time visiting family and friends. I had no intention of staying in Shanghai (I loved the place too much; I knew if I stayed, I would never leave).

However, I did have job offers there, so I kept it as a back-up option: I didn’t have an onward ticket to anywhere, so if I couldn’t find any other alternatives, I would stay in Shanghai. Just for a little while more.

Around the same time, one of my good friends was relocated to Singapore for work. He had a spare room in his company-provided apartment, and said I could move in if I wanted. I took it as one of those things people say just to be nice, not actually to be taken seriously (like when you tell a friend you’ll definitely visit them in their new home in Farawayistan, or saying “Let’s stay in touch!” to someone you know you’ll never see again).

But the offer was serious, and the draw of free rent was too enticing. I booked a one-way ticket to Singapore.

Singapore was not somewhere I ever saw myself visiting, never mind living.

But I did some research and found out that Singapore has a little-known, fairly new Working Holiday Pass program. I applied online and was quickly granted a six-month working visa. Well that was easy enough, I thought.

It took me six weeks to find a job. I didn’t do my research; I had no idea Singapore was such a tough market for entry-level foreigners. The one upside to unemployment was that it gave me a lot of free time; time I used to volunteer at the Singapore Youth Olympic Games — a role that would end up changing my life. But I’ll get to that.

I eventually found a job — on Craigslist, in fact. It wasn’t in the field I studied (politics), but it was in my field of interest (social media). I went for an interview, and though I had little experience, I got the job. For the next nine months, I was the digital strategist for an Asian supermodel reality television show.

The International Sports Chapter

Working for the Olympics has always been a dream of mine — one of those impossible dreams I never thought would come true, like my other childhood dream of being an ambassador.

A friend heard about my move to Singapore, and he put me in touch with his friend who was already there, working at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games. I happened to arrive just days before volunteer training started, and I had all the free time in the world. So thanks to my friend’s connection, I became a volunteer supervisor in the main media center.

Through those Games, I met some wonderful people in the Olympics circuit. I talked to everyone about how working for the Olympics was my dream, and people said my passion shone through the way I worked, even as just a volunteer. I’m not trying to boast; I’m just saying that my passion was obvious — and because of that, a few months later one of those contacts reached out to me out of the blue:

X needs help at the Summer Universiade Games, can you go to Shenzhen in August?
Y needs help at the World Sailing Championships, can you go to Perth in December?

So even though I quit my television show job in June 2011, those two gigs gave me security — and that’s how I was able to spend so much time traveling last year. From June until the end of the year, I traveled worry-free, secure in the knowledge that I had positions waiting for me in August and in December.

The Paris Chapter

But I had no idea what I was going to do after December. I started to get worried: what was I going to do after I was finished in Perth?

I definitely didn’t want to go back to Singapore — like Shanghai, I had started to love the place too much and was worried if I went back, I’d never leave. I thought about moving to Vietnam or staying in Australia on a working holiday visa, but neither idea appealed to me. Nothing against teaching English or waitressing — I’ve done both before — but I wanted to continue finding more career-oriented jobs abroad.

And that’s when luck struck again.

I realized knowing French would make me more valuable to the international sports and media field, so I had posted my resume on a few job websites in Francophone countries (France, Belgium, Switzerland). I was determined to find a job in one of those countries — something that could pay the bills while also allowing me time to take French classes.

In November, as Mike and I were traveling around China, I received an email from an employer in Paris who wanted to hire me immediately as a private English tutor. We only had two weeks to get through all the red tape of French bureaucracy, but it miraculously worked — I got my visa for France only hours before I boarded my flight to Perth.

And that leads me to where I am today; in January I flew from Australia straight to Paris. My job here might not be as career-oriented as marketing and journalism were, but I’m okay with it because working a career-type job was not my main goal of being in France. I came to become immersed in French, so to me, this is still a career move. I’ll be here for at least a year, and I’m currently working on getting to London this summer.

———

The Takeaways

Like I said from the very beginning, this is not a how-to. I know I’ve caught a few lucky breaks. But honestly, I don’t think it’s luck so much as just a result of being abroad. The world has so many surprises, and increasingly more opportunities, that you just won’t find at home — all you need to do to find them is take that first leap of faith, and GO.

So, fresh graduate who wants to move abroad, here are the things I’ve learned:

On the practical side:

Scout out places where cost of living is low. That way, even if you don’t find a job immediately, at least you’re not blowing through money too quickly on just the basic necessities like rent and food. I didn’t do my research; what I spent in six weeks in Singapore could have easily lasted twice as long in Thailand.

Research visas and working holiday passes. Sounds obvious, but nothing kills a good plan like a tripping up on a technicality like overstaying a visa (or not having one at all — see Vietnam). For each country you may be looking at, know how long you can stay on a tourist visa, find out the process for getting a working visa, and check if there is a working holiday program.

Take a TEFL course online while you have free time. If you have a degree in say, business or engineering, you probably have a better chance of finding a job in your field. But for us politics, history, and other liberal arts majors, more often than that our best bet will be teaching English — and most schools prefer to hire teachers with TEFL certification. You can do a course anytime online, but it certainly makes the job hunt easier if you’re already certified. I’ve always kicked myself for not doing one with all that free time I had senior year.

Buy a one-way ticket. If you’re going to move abroad, commit to it. This isn’t just another vacation. (And after booking it, you will most likely freak out. Totally normal.)

Before you leave: Set up online billing and payment for any credit card bills or college payments you have. Call your credit card companies and tell them you’ll be out of the country, so they don’t block your card. And I don’t know how necessary this is, but I gave my mother power of attorney before I left. You can get PoA forms at any office supply store (or even online) and then just go to a notary to have it authorized.

Other tips and advice:

Don’t be afraid to look in unconventional places for jobs. Craigslist ended up working for me, but there’s also library bulletin boards, networking events, or even the old-fashioned newspaper or magazine ads. Not every job opportunity will be on Monster.com.

Give yourself a deadline and a back-up plan. No point beating a dead horse and trying to get a job where there isn’t one. Give yourself a deadline so you don’t waste too much time; if that day comes and you still can’t find something in that city, go to your second choice. Or third. When I moved to Singapore, I gave myself two months to find a job, and my back-up plan was teaching English in Saigon. My back-up back-up was taking a job in Shanghai.

Make yourself useful/Volunteer. Just because you don’t have a job doesn’t mean you should waste your time. Keep yourself active and make yourself useful — it not only looks good on a resume, but also comes handy when an interviewer asks what you’ve been doing for the last x weeks. Saying you spent your free time learning new skills or volunteering comes off a lot better than, “I sat at home and watched reruns of Community.”

It can also lead to something better, be it a paid gig or even just meeting new people. I would have never imagined one volunteer gig at the Youth Olympics would have led me down such an incredible career path.

Step out of your comfort zone. I could have easily accepted those jobs in Shanghai after graduation. I knew I loved the city; I had established friends and a good life there. But how would I have seen the world then? Sure, I would’ve taken holidays here and there, but that wouldn’t have opened my eyes to nearly as much as moving to Singapore did.

Don’t be afraid to say yes to a job or opportunity. Even if you think you won’t like it. I can guarantee it will at the very least be a learning experience; and you never know where it might lead. I didn’t think I’d like Singapore; I didn’t think I’d be able to work in marketing. Both were good opportunities at the time though, so I took them anyway — and they worked out unbelievably well.

Be passionate. Notice I didn’t say follow your passion, because, well that would go against the point I just made above. We’re young and entry-level and most likely won’t have the luxury of being able to get our dream job right away. But you can still find something to be passionate about, either in your work or outside of it. And that passion will shine through, and it will pay off in the future.

Network, network, network. Talk to anyone and everyone — you never know who you’ll meet that might end up changing your life. It might even be someone you already know — if it weren’t for my old college buddy offering me a place to stay in Singapore, I would never have moved there.

Even if you were shy before, you’re in a new country now. No one knows you’re shy. Just start talking.

Be patient and flexible. My move to Singapore seemed like a failure at the beginning. But because I didn’t give up and had a little patience, it turned into an unbelievably incredible journey. I’ve not only been able to travel all over the world, but I’ve gained experience in new fields and started chasing my dream career; not to mention getting to meet some of the best damn people in the world.

Take risks. This sums it all up in a nutshell. Everything you do after graduation, hell everything you do in life, is a risk. So don’t overthink it; just do it. Take a risk, and move to a new country. Take a risk, and apply for a job that might not be in your field. Whether it’s in work, or love, or life, you won’t get anywhere by playing it safe.

Congratulations to the class of 2012, and happy travels.

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Comments

  1. I love this post. This is really great advice.

  2. Love it! Lots of great takeaways here :)

  3. jrmanning1 says:

    Dang, girl – you’ve had some amazing experiences, and you have a gift for writing about them! I love the dream big vs. keep it real aspect of this post. Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom :)

  4. jossiejk says:

    I’m so jealous! You have the post-college life I was planning on (before I met my husband). Maybe when he deploys I’ll look into getting some gigs abroad/outside of Italy. Thanks for posting this!

  5. Jessica says:

    That’s awesome, I’m seriously impressed with how you’ve gotten around the world. I really hope you get to London this summer!

    Your tip about looking in unconventional places for jobs abroad is so true. My Spanish friend got actual job offers at 5 a.m. in a nightclub just by talking about his passions with party friends!

  6. I love hearing about how people navigate the tricky terrain of long-term travel and moving abroad. This was well-timed for me on a personal level, because I’m finishing up a year of travel and planning to move to a new country, whose language I don’t speak, without any job prospects yet. This gave me a little more hope and a little more direction. Thank you Edna!

  7. Yannis says:

    That was one of the most inspiring texts I’ve read lately! In a broad sense, the above text simply justifies our existence (as human beings): We are dynamic; not static. We are made for walking (like Nancy Sinatra’s boots!); not for sitting. We actually live when we dare, when we act and when we create; not when we quail or stagnate or vegetate.

    There are so many truths concentrated in your post, Edna; so much wisdom (“I always learn as I age”, Solon said) and so much hope.

    And that’s the most important part. The message – according to me – is the following: You’re not alone out there. There’s somebody else (usually thousands or millions) that thinks like you. There’s somebody else that has acted the way that you want to act.
    So, yes, you can do it, if you really want to do it!
    So, yes, you MUST try!

    Girls and boys out there, “take risks” and “take that first leap of faith, and GO”, as Edna says!

    Best regards,

    Yannis

    P.S.: A huge “hello” from Greece, the sunny birthplace of the Olympic Games, which is now a candidate for the Gold Medal of Default…!

  8. GQ says:

    LOVE IT! Your story is so inspiring, Edna. From graduation to Sing to Paris.. all of it. I think that’s next on my list, a job abroad. I really want to immerse myself in one place instead of constantly removing. Not that anything is wrong with being on the move. It’s great but I think I’ll think of a “new home” when I return from Asia. ;)

  9. myinnerg says:

    This story was definitely an eye-opener. You mainly hear about travelers who are independent-contractors that work from their laptops while abroad. But actually, finding interesting jobs in the areas you travel too is a new idea to me. Good stuff

  10. I whole heartedly agree with every point you’ve made. I graduated in June 2010 as well, and headed to South Korea to teach english late that summer. After my contract ended I convinced myself that the best thing to do was to go back home, a decision that I wish I could take back. I’m off again this fall, to Madrid this time. I refuse to let my fears and insecurities get in the way ever again, and plan to travel for many more years.

  11. Erica says:

    This post answers so many questions! :)

    I love how dedicated and driven you are. You call it luck, but I’m pretty sure it’s more effort driven than a random shift of the universe.

    I really want to live in London for a bit as well, currently still just dreaming about it. I should get off my ass and do something about it.

  12. mariflies says:

    Thank you for being a voice of reason and inspiration. I had just hit the freak out moment of buying tickets as I read this! I’m so glad I found your blog!

  13. Great post Edna! I’m loving the postgrad advice. If only I had left for life abroad sooner!

  14. Diane says:

    Hi, I just stumbled upon your blog. Love this post. Lots of great advice and it’s hard not to admire your drive and ability to put your mind to something and then just go for it. Enjoy the rest of your time in France!

  15. chinamatt says:

    Working your way around the world is definitely the way to go. Teaching provides a lot of vacation time and enough money for the trips. And it seems like it’s easier to travel around once you’re outside the US (even if the budget airlines are a little unreliable).

  16. gailandbrian says:

    Reblogged this on gailandbrian and commented:
    I am taking the liberty of reblogging this exceptional post from expatedna.com:

  17. Suzy says:

    Great words of wisdom Edna! I think we are very similar in that I just started doing what I wanted to do (travel writing) right after graduation. I think it is so important after college to pursue what you want and not what you think is necessary going to make you a lot of money. If you are passionate about traveling and working, there is no way you can’t make it work and be a success.

  18. Christopher says:

    Great, informative post, Edna! Loved this. I made the leap 17 years ago, so much of this sounds so familiar.

  19. Drew Meyers says:

    Love personal stories like this. In life, I find if you want something bad enough, you’ll figure out a way to make it so. Seems only a matter of time before you’re working full time for the olympics :)

  20. Nicole says:

    I’ve just written a post asking bloggers how they manage to travel the world in terms of being a young student with hardly any money. I was about to comment on one of your posts asking you how, and then I found this post, so thank you. You are inspiring!

  21. Erin Walton says:

    Thanks for sharing such a well-written and practical guide, Edna. People (we all are) sometimes paralysed by the choices available to us – particularly our generation who is lucky enough to have so many options, that sometimes a choice seems almost impossible to make. Good luck with the next chapter, I look forward to seeing where it leads you!

  22. Lisa says:

    Good Advice, thanks!

  23. I really enjoyed this post and relate to it in so many ways. I also left to travel as soon as I graduated and before I did that I could have used a post like this. I think one thing that is hard to help people who haven’t lived or work abroad understand is that there are so many ways to do it! It’s possible if you really want it. I think you’ve definitely proven that. Keep living your dream :)

  24. Alex says:

    This is v inspiring! I could have used something like this to read after graduating to compare, like you said, with the many other admirable – but sometimes unfeasible – “sell your belongings and go” scenarios; maybe I wouldn’t have waited so long to come abroad! I feel the same with my current plan – I’m going to be teaching in Italy, but I also want to use this time to learn Italian (for the good old CV!) Good luck with everything :)

  25. Daniel Tay says:

    This is fantastic! I’m looking to leave Singapore (the reverse of your experience) to travel RIGHT after I graduate, and I really can’t wait to experience the world at large. Thanks for sharing your experience – it certainly gives me confidence and hope for the future!

  26. eemusings says:

    SO refreshing to read this – I’m not part of the ‘hate my job’ brigade; I just want to scratch my travel itch. We plan to come back home after our RTW trip, though you never know where life may take you…

  27. Anja says:

    I just stumbled upon your blog and I love your attitude about working and living abroad. If I had read that a couple of years ago, that might have changed my mind about going abroad for a longer time because all the people I had seen move abroad did it just “for fun”.

  28. Tram says:

    Came upon your blog while researching for good places for chilly crab :). This is really an inspiring article. Being a foreign student studying in Singapore, I understand how hard it is to find job here, and all the legal issues. But being able to travel and actually stay in a different country is great, and it’s really true that opportunities only come to us when we look for them. Your blog has greatly triggered my travel bugs so thank you very much! Good luck on whatever awesome plan you have in the future and be able to travel as much as you can :)

  29. Christian says:

    This is a fantastic read! I’ve finally decided to stay in Chile and I’ve determined the best place for me to live will be Viña del Mar. I don’t have a job lined up right now, but I can live cheaply for the time being like you suggested! Awesome tips that I will check back to.

  30. Christine says:

    I came across your blog and it seems we have some things in common! I also have been traveling ever since I graduated college and I don’t intend to stop anytime soon! While a lot of my friends from travel had worked after graduating and then decided to give traveling a go, after studying abroad I knew I needed to get back out there as soon as possible. I taught English in Korea for a year and I’m on my way to teach in Shanghai next. Happy travels!
    Cheers,
    Christine

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