Sunday, October 02, 2011

How to get paid to travel: advice from a non-expert

Over the last week, I've been getting paid to travel again. I'll admit that the Oshawa-Kingston-Ottawa-Montréal route is a little less exotic than an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean, but there's a reason Canada tops the list of "Countries I've Been To." Travelling throughout my home country and home province (as much as it pains my Albertan heart to type those words) is a privilege--especially when I'm getting paid to do it.

Yesterday we wrapped up the final Go Global Expo in Montréal (success!) and as I type this, I'm sitting on VIA Rail (sooooo much better than the Greyhound), watching the last gasps of summer green rush past and reflecting on all of the conversations I've had with students, professionals and travel enthusiasts in the last six weeks.

In particular, yesterday's "Careers for Globetrotters Networking Cafe" at the Montréal expo (where I was invited to participate as a speaker) is at the front of my mind. Putting aside my extreme embarrassment at my inability to speak French, it was a really good opportunity to reflect on the last year of my life as a freelance writer, destination staffer, non-profit grant writer and traveller.

I'll admit that I felt a little out of place and doubted my own expertise, but the questions posed were familiar ones. I've been asked them in every city and every campus from York University to UOIT.

So for those who weren't able to make it to the Go Global Expos, here are answers to some of the most common questions I've received:

I don't want to pay to volunteer overseas. Can you recommend the name of an organization?

While it may seem counterintuitive paying to volunteer, it's an investment worth making.

The simple truth is that government funding is not enough. For many organizations, the cost of employing staff and running programs is sustained by the fundraising dollars of volunteers. And if an organization is sustainable and worth volunteering with, they operate programs and have staff year-round--not just for the two weeks that you're there.

Volunteering with a non-profit or charitable organization guarantees that a minimum of 88% of your fundraising dollars will go directly towards programming, rather than administrative costs.

How do I pitch a travel article to a magazine?

If a magazine accepts pitches, they'll usually include a set of contributor's guidelines on their website. (See Verge's website for an example.) And if they don't, it's all about who you know and who you network with. [Insert communal groan from students here.]

How can I become a freelance photographer, travel all the time and not go broke? 

You can't. Sorry. (I would love to hear about any exceptions to this rule, which I have no doubt exist.) This is why I'm a freelance writer/grant writer/destination staff. For me, writing is my passion and everything else is how I pay the bills.

How can I get a job in international development?

You can't. Sorry.

Just joking!

But seriously, much like journalism, Canadian universities are churning out way more international development students than there are openings. The simple truth is that if you want a job, you may have to be willing to work for free to get your foot in the door. (I personally don't believe in working for free, but that's a whole other topic.)

Uh, but then how did you get a job in international development? 

I got my job at YCI based on the following factors:
  1. My ability to network, follow-up and keep in close contact with networks.
  2. My willingness to volunteer (I not only volunteered in Vanuatu, I also volunteered in the YCI office and represented them at events while I was still an undergraduate student).
  3. Luck and fortuitous timing. Having an administrative background also didn't hurt. 

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