Traveling solo and teaching abroad can be a life-changing experience.
And the best part? This is a time in human history when it is incredibly easy to travel abroad.
And now that the pandemic is winding down in most places, solo travel is picking up.
Plus, there are work abroad programs all over the world. Depending on your interests, you can take your pick on where you’d like to work and live.
Millions of people continue to safely travel and teach abroad every single year. It’s never without any risks, but life itself is filled with countless risks.
That being said, planning for your trip ahead of time will help ensure that your time spent overseas will be magical and filled with ease.
With the right techniques and practices, you can make traveling and teaching abroad an enjoyable, affordable, and exciting lifestyle.
We’ve organized our tips into 6 categories:
- Solo Travel
Keep in mind that everyone’s experiences will differ!
And most importantly, your destination matters. Traveling in China is very different compared to traveling in the EU, for example.
And teaching online can create starkly different experiences from teaching in person.
1. Pre-Departure Tips for Traveling Solo
Packing light will make every part of your trip easier. Fewer and lighter suitcases mean an easier time at check-in and baggage claim!
This is the best time in your life to be a minimalist.
Look at every object you pack, and ask yourself, does this spark joy for me?
Inexpensive items can be easily bought at your destination.
And consider what your environment will be like! You don’t want to show up in the brutal summer heat of Saigon wondering why you packed two sweaters and no tank-top!
Get to the airport early
This was an important consideration even before Covid.
But now that travelers must deal with check-in, security, and Covid-related delays, it’s even more critical to arrive at the airport early.
For international flights, a good rule of thumb is to be at the airport three hours before takeoff.
Book a direct flight, if possible
It may cost some extra money, but you’ll be thanking yourself after you have spent 12 hours on a plane.
The alternative is a day and a half with little sleep hopping around airports all over the world.
2. Teaching at Your New School
Work with an established school
It’s important to be cautious, as there are scammers out there.
Some organizations may lure you in with amazing promises, only to offer you something completely different when you arrive.
Thankfully, there are many established schools with good reputations. Teach Away can connect you to them, so you know you’ll be working in a safe place.
And remember: English teaching is a high-demand skill.
There are millions of job opportunities all around the world.
Most of them require only a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL.
Write your lesson plans early
It’s never fun writing a lesson plan right before class starts. You’ll be less on top of your game, and your students’ education will suffer as a result.
A good rule of thumb is to have a lesson plan written at least 24 hours before your class starts.
Get to know your students
It may appear difficult at the start, given the language barrier, but your students can provide you with the biggest window into the local culture that you will find.
Ask them about their lives, and see what interests them.
You can also ask them what they think about your home country!
Connecting on a deeper level will create a bond with your students, making class more enjoyable for everyone.
3. Figuring Out Your Housing
Find out what visas or documentation you need
Different countries have different rules.
If you are working with an established school, they should provide you with enough information to find out exactly what you need.
However, if you work online, and are forging your own path, you will need to do this research yourself.
A good place to start is the state department website.
Some countries, like China, are very strict about documents. You will need a work permit to get a visa, a visa to arrive, and only then can you apply for a housing permit.
Other countries, like Georgia, are very lax. In Georgia, you simply need an eligible passport to live and work in the country.
Look for medium to long term housing
Many established schools will provide you with free housing on arrival. But if you work online, or decide not to take the school housing, you will need to find your own place.
Hotels are expensive, and not recommended.
Long-term AirBnB rentals, on the other hand, often offer large discounts for long stays.
Another good tip is to ask locals or fellow teachers where they are looking for housing.
4. Adapting to a New Culture
Learn a few key phrases
In many places, most people speak enough English that you will almost always be able to communicate.
And even if this is not the case, miming and hand gestures can go a long way.
But it also helps to learn a few key phrases. Some useful ones include:
- I want this.
- I don’t understand.
- Hello / Goodbye / Thank you
- Numbers 1 to 10
One of the best resources for basic language learning is simply Google Translate.
Research some good dishes
Every country has its own delicacies.
You wouldn’t want to go all the way to Wuhan and never try the hot-dry noodles! Bonus points are granted if you can say the name of the dish in the local dialect.
Also, if you have food allergies or a special diet, it is very important that you figure out what you can eat ahead of time.
As long as you can identify two or three common dishes that you can eat, that should be enough to start you out.
5. Money Management Tips
Figure out your cost of living
Some places are expensive while others are cheap.
One of the perks of moving to many developing countries is that living expenses are very low.
Even a modest salary, by Western standards, could allow you to have a fair bit of money left over each month.
Memorize the exchange rate
The exchange rate between your new country and your home country may be fixed, or it may vary over time.
Even when it does vary, it probably doesn’t change enough to completely alter your calculations.
You should round the exchange rate to the nearest whole number so you can calculate the “real” cost of purchases.
In China, for example, one dollar is worth seven yuan, so you can mentally divide every purchase by seven to get a feel for how much it “actually” costs.
6. Handling Medical Situations and Emergencies
Bring basic medication
Ibuprofen and loperamide are cheap and easy to get.
And there is a good chance you will quickly need them, no matter how much you wash your hands, your body is probably not used to the bacteria from a distant country.
Most people get some form of traveler’s sickness or food poisoning when they travel for a long time, but it is usually not life-threatening.
Understand your health insurance
If you work for a reputable school, they will typically provide some form of international health insurance for you.
If you work online, there are many travelers’ insurance options available for you, and you can also get insurance in the country you visit.
Be mindful of what countries your international insurance will cover! Often, there will be a disclaimer that states something along the lines of, “international except the United States”.
This will only be an issue if you make a trip to America.
Plus, most places in the world have more affordable healthcare than America.
It’s actually not uncommon for ambulances to be free, as they are simply a public service like firefighting.
Traveling to teach abroad
Traveling and teaching abroad is all about taking the right precautions, and being open to the unknown.
It’s almost impossible not to have an adventure when you go somewhere new.
And with the right mindset, your adventure will be a dream, not a nightmare.
The biggest factor you have to take into consideration is where you will be going.
The most common regions for teaching abroad are Eastern Europe, Latin America, East Asia, and Western Europe.
Each region comes with its own challenges and rewards:
- Eastern Europe: Cheaper than Western Europe, and right next door. However, you might not earn as much as in other countries. There is also some serious geopolitical tension going on there right now.
- Latin America: Just South of North America, so time zones are similar and it is easy to keep in touch with people back home. However, many countries have suffering economies and weak infrastructure.
- East Asia: Culturally very different from Western countries, which could be a plus or a minus depending on your perspective. English teachers are often paid well here, but it may be harder for students to learn English.
- Western Europe: Most expensive to live in, but you will have access to industrialized healthcare and infrastructure.