9 Ways To Earn Money While Backpacking

Travel blogger Bren On the Road gives us all his advice on how to work and travel

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  • 31 August 2017
  • • 9 min read


So you’ve been working in your crappy waitressing job, stuffing away paycheques for your crazy adventure. You’ve been dreaming about this trip since high school. Two years later you’ve finally saved up your travel fund and you step on the plane. It’s happening. Paris first. Incredible. Venice next. Everything you thought it would be. Then Berlin. Inspired. Copenhagen. A new best friend. Stockholm. You’ve fallen in love. Dublin. Hangovers. Amsterdam. Beautiful. Helsinki. Style. Prague. Vienna. Riga. Zagreb. Mykonos. And then...nowhere. You’re out of money. Time to go home. Back to the apron and seven-hour shifts. That’s life, right?

Or is it?

What if you didn’t need to go home to refill the bank? What if you could keep paychecks coming in while you wander? In fact, what if you could start travelling any time, even without any savings, because you could travel and earn at the same time, right from day one?

You wouldn’t need to go home after six months to start over. You could keep travelling for a year, maybe two, maybe five. Maybe even...forever?

Earning while travelling is nothing new. The veteran backpackers have been doing it for years, doing anything from making hostel beds to milking cows to even freelance consulting and building mini online businesses. Today the world is more mobile and global than ever, and if you want to earn a bit of cash during your galavanting adventure, there are countless ways to do it. Today, I’m going to introduce you to some of the more popular ways, and a crash course on how to get started.

Check out Bren's travel blog, Bren On The Road


This has been a go-to travel job for decades and is still in demand all around the world today. Popular (and lucrative) opportunities centre around Europe, East and Central Asia, and parts of the Middle East. Some organisations will require an English teaching certificate (you can usually get one with a 20-hour course and a couple hundred bucks) or a university degree, but there are many places who will take and train any native English speaker. In fact, sometimes actual teaching isn’t even required - I had several friends in China who were getting paid $30-$40 an hour just to sit and talk to a kid for an hour! There are endless opportunities in this area, limited only by your enthusiasm to go out and find them.

Get started by:

Look into getting a TEFL certificate if you want a full-time role, and start perusing the schools in the countries you want to visit/move to.  I-to-i is a popular option . Dave’s ESL cafe  is also a good resource.


Do you know how many staff a decent hostel needs? Reception, cleaning, social media, web maintenance, bookings, managing staff, walking tours, pub crawls, cooking, dishes, bartenders, and laundry. Short answer: They need a lot.

You might also notice when you check into a hostel that all the staff have different accents. Some have that Aussie twang, some might have a Texas southern drawl, others a posh French purse of the lips. That’s right, they’re all travellers.

Particularly if you’re young and energetic, working in a hostel is a backpacker's dream job. You work with people from all around the world, you mingle with guests from all around the world, and, well, you have a job. At the very least you get a free place to stay, and if you land a sweet gig you’ll get a little cash on top as well.

Hostel jobs aren’t always just making beds and wiping windows either. If you have a more valuable skillset - maybe you’re a social media whiz or have an accounting degree - you can often pick up a more involved (and better paying) role as well.

St Christophers Inns have backpacker hostels all over Europe and are always looking to hire budding travellers whether you want to be a bartender, chef or receptionist. See their current vacancies  here .


Freelancing is an option that’s grown in popularity recently, in line with the emergence of remote work and a globalised workforce.  It’s one of the methods I’ve used myself to bring in money on the road , and I’ve had clients everywhere from India to the UK to Canada and many places in between.

Freelancing works best for individual roles that can be done exclusively online and/or over Skype and email. Think of things such as writing, editing, graphic design, social media, consulting, web design, programming and so on. I’ve spent many hours in co-work spaces and coffee shops around the world, meeting people doing all sorts of interesting things from the comfort of their laptops.

Get started by: Looking at sites like  Freelancer  and Upwork. Many blogs and magazines also advertise directly on their sites for writers. Sites like Matador and  Viator  are two examples. Like most unconventional jobs, it depends a lot on your hustle and initiative. Simple internet searches for “job boards” and “freelance jobs” will give you plenty of things to browse through. Everything is there to be Googled - it’s up to you to find it!


Au Pairing was once a boutique job offered by a few upper-class families but has since grown into a whole industry. If you’re unfamiliar, an au pair could be best described as a live-in nanny/babysitter. The job usually requires you to stay with a (usually very wealthy) family and look after the children. You’ll be cooking meals, doing school drop-offs and pick-ups, helping with homework and doing housework. Another big part of an au pair’s role is to speak as much as possible with the kids in English. It started out popular in many southern European countries (Spain, France, Italy), but has since spread all over Europe and the world.

Most au pairs work around 25-30 hours per week, and you also get a weekly allowance. Obviously, accommodation and food are included, and often the use of a car is thrown in too. Not a bad gig for a young, bushy-tailed backpacker.

Get started by:  Au Pair World  is a great place for finding an au pair family.


Tour guides are always in demand. If you think you need some fancy qualification, you don’t. Just a people-pleasing attitude, a grittiness to get you through the long trips, and a big smile.

English-speaking guides are most in demand, but nowadays Chinese and Spanish-speaking guides are also highly sought after. I’ve known a couple of Chinese travellers who’ve picked up guiding jobs on the spot in various places around the world, and a few good friends of mine have gotten full-time roles with big global tour companies without any prior experience.

Pay varies, but often you get to save most of it as many companies cover living costs for guides. Another bonus is the tips - expect some generous ones if you’re loveable!

Get started by: Often you can just apply to the major tour companies directly. They are always looking. For something less intensive, you can look to do things like day tours, walking tours or pub crawls.


Many countries around the world offer working holiday visas. What makes these great is they allow you to come into the country and seek whatever job you want. If you’re still a student or not highly skilled, don’t worry - many travellers pick up jobs like waitressing, bartending and various office monkey jobs without much trouble. Many aspiring nomads spend years working a boring job back home to fund their trips. Why not work a boring job overseas instead? It makes it much more fun, trust me!

Get started: Many countries have working holiday visa programs - Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Japan are popular ones, plus most countries in Europe. Google is your friend.


While backpacking Europe I met a young couple, still in their teens, on the road with guitar in tow. We got chatting and I learned they travelled whenever they got the chance, busking on the street to fund their trips. While sitting in the bar he pulled out the guitar and they did a little number, I remember feeling so happy for them that they were able to do what they loved and travel the world.

I peppered them with questions, and they told me how different countries have different rules, how some countries were more generous than others, how some days they made fifty euros and some days they made nothing. But they loved it all regardless.

Since then I’ve met several busking backpackers (they’re pretty easy to spot, with the guitar on their back) and they all have the same story. It’s also opened my heart to the buskers I see on the street nowadays - if there are coins in my pocket, they always get a few!


Cruise ships need staff. They need bar staff, managerial staff, tour guides, waitresses, trainers for the gym, reception and clerks, musicians for the jazz night, and nannies for the kid’s club. Those staff get paid. You know what else those staff do? Travel to a crapload of different countries!

Most cruise ship jobs are contract-based and offer a monthly salary which includes accommodation and food (that means you get to save pretty much everything). The lifestyle is also interesting, with a lot of guest interaction and a diverse staff on board that you’ll have as workmates.

Get started by: All cruise lines need staff! Just inquire and apply.  All Cruise Jobs  is a specialist site that might be helpful.


I could write an endless list of the ways I’ve seen people making money on the road, from offering surfing lessons, to giving people haircuts in the hostel, to teaching Zumba classes, to personal training, to just baking cookies and selling them on the street!

Like much travel, making some extra cash often just comes down to a little initiative and ingenuity. Using your skills and getting by with what you can - it’s all part of the crazy journey. Try new things, make it work, but most of all, have fun!

Safe travels,


Want to see more from Bren?

Check out Bren's travel blog,  Bren On The Road

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