Kelly, walking through a Spanish street with her dusty backpack.

Kelly, walking through a Spanish street with her dusty backpack.

Teaching Traveling: Want to learn how to travel the world for very little money through work exchanges? Read this interview with teacher Kelly McKimson-Rhodes!

Kelly, tell us a bit about your background.

Kelly: I’m in my tenth year of teaching high school English in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. I live in downtown Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood. My husband and mother are also educators in Chicago, so I am surrounded by inspiring teachers constantly. Teaching, in some form, has always been my passion, and when I realized I could unite this with my growing interest in world travel, I haven’t looked back! I’ve used teaching and/or volunteering to completely fund my travels for four summers, and many of my other travels have been related to teaching. I’ve taught English in Madrid, worked on an organic garden in the mountains of Eastern Spain, backpacked through Europe, and most recently had the opportunity to teach yoga abroad on the beach in Jamaica.

View from the “Lover’s Lane” path through Italy’s antique fishing villages, Cinque Terre, Italy.

View from the “Lover’s Lane” path through Italy’s antique fishing villages, Cinque Terre, Italy.

TT: Amazing! Tell us more about your travels.

K: Most of my travel experiences have stemmed from teaching English in some way; however, my most recent teaching trip centered on my yoga practice. After years of practicing yoga, I decided to make a commitment to my practice, and I completed a 200 hour teacher training in December 2013. I began teaching a weekly vinyasa yoga class in the community where I teach high school English. I also offered classes to teachers in my building, and I quickly noticed how much I enjoyed spreading my love of yoga, especially amongst those who were new to the experience, those who had trouble financing classes, and those who struggled to fit yoga into their busy schedules. My five dollar Wednesday evening yoga class at the Chicago Ridge Park District remains one of the highlights of my work week.

I began researching ways to teach yoga abroad and came across several companies that offer teaching vacations for fitness professionals. I ended up taking a placement in Jamaica (where we had our wedding two years before!) teaching yoga twice daily to resort guests. Waking up to teach a morning yoga class on the beaches of Montego Bay with eager tourists ready to experience yoga was simply amazing! I enjoyed getting to practice in such a picturesque location while meeting people from all over the world and even helping the Jamaican staff learn a few poses.

Madrid, Spain: Kelly's very first teaching travel experience.  So wonderful, she's been back three times!

Madrid, Spain: Kelly’s very first teaching travel experience. So wonderful, she’s been back three times!

TT: That is so cool. How did you find these work exchanges?

K: Like most of my teaching travel experiences, I found this opportunity through extensive internet research. There are some yoga teaching opportunities abroad at retreats and other resorts that I found through help exchange websites, but many were looking for teachers to commit to longer than I was available. Fit Bodies, Inc., the company I worked with, allows you to choose which resort and which weeks you are available. Their website is user friendly and offers plenty of resort reviews from other instructors. Fitness instructors pay a portion of the travel expenses, but the cost is heavily discounted and includes one guest; some of the resorts allow up to two children included in the price, as well. The cost of our trip ended up being a fraction of what we would’ve paid if I had not been a guest instructor.

Morning yoga practice before class begins at Secrets St. James in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Morning yoga practice before class begins at Secrets St. James in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

TT: Fascinating. Tell us more about these work exchanges and what they pay for.

K: As aforementioned, many of our trips have been funded through work exchanges. We received room and board or a small payment for our services, which helped to offset costs. The rest of our travel funds come from our savings, and I utilize my district’s credit union in order to regularly deduct small amounts from my paycheck and place in our “travel account.” Taking on extra duties at school, like stipend positions, is something we also try to sign up for to fund travel. We have used credit card miles to cash in on some free flights and other discounted travel options. We had free airfare to Colorado this summer because I paid for some of my graduate school classes using a credit card with a good rewards program.

Kelly's destination wedding in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where she and her husband got to share their love of travel with friends and family.

Kelly’s destination wedding in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where she and her husband got to share their love of travel with friends and family.

TT: Brilliant. Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful, interesting, or funny.

K: Asking me to choose one travel moment is like asking me to choose my favorite book: it seems like an impossible task! I have so many fond travel memories that have taught me something about the world or about myself, but a few particular ones come to mind.

Exotic lunch and live music spot in Tangier, Morocco’s Kasbah.

Exotic lunch and live music spot in Tangier, Morocco’s Kasbah.

My destination wedding in Montego Bay, Jamaica was certainly memorable as we got to share our love of travel with seventy of our favorite people! But on a work exchange trip, my husband proposed to me in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, which is the first “landmark” I ever visited when I traveled for the first time, and taking in this beautiful city with my camera and guidebook in hand always left a special place in my heart for Madrid, so I was thrilled to return to Spain.

While this moment was quite memorable, the following day’s rental car driving experience is one for the books. We rented a manual transmission compact car (hey, we were on a budget, right?) to make our drive up into Costa Blanca’s mountains where our volunteer exchange was located. Seemed simple enough, yet either of us considered the fact that we do not know how to drive a manual transmission vehicle. Needless to say, what could’ve been a scenic mountain drive became a humbling and actually pretty frightening experience. Somehow we made it to our destination safely, and I spent the next few weeks focused on tending an organic garden and not thinking about the day we had to take that tiny car back down that huge mountain! Lesson learned: no matter how much travel “homework” you do, embrace the challenges and understand that things will go wrong, but it’s all part of the journey.

TT: How have your travels impacted you as a teacher and as a person?

K: Overall, my travels make me a better teacher. Just last week in my AP Literature class, I was introducing students to Ernest Hemingway and was able to show them my travel photos of bull fights and Pamplona’s San Fermin festival. Besides enriching my lesson plans, I also think modeling an open-minded worldview and demonstrating passion for culture and learning impacts my students positively. Sharing these experiences and continuing to seek out new travel options keeps me interested and enthusiastic about teaching and learning. Travel has helped me relate to students and colleagues, and I’ve noticed it inspires me creatively. As a literature teacher, seeing the world encourages me to appreciate and better understand its people and their art.

Kelly's quaint lodging atop the mountains of Spain’s Costa Blanca.

Kelly’s quaint lodging atop the mountains of Spain’s Costa Blanca.

TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?

K: My best piece of advice is to go for it! My first teaching traveling experience was when I was 23 and had only briefly been outside of the United States. I felt the urge to travel, but I didn’t know where to even begin. I eventually found a program teaching English for the summer at a small school in Madrid. I was going alone, and I was excited but also really scared. It ended up being one of the most meaningful experiences of my life, and it showed me that travel could be part of my career.

Start by doing your research. Look for work exchanges using sites like helpx.net or the Worldwide Organization of Organic Farms (WOOF). If you are a native English speaker, private English lessons are an option and sites like lingobongo.com are a good place to start looking, in addition to more formal TESOL placements through various companies and organizations. If you are also a fitness professional, personal trainer, or even a DJ, try Fitbodiesinc.com for teaching vacations at various Caribbean resorts.

One of the breathtaking yoga studios Kelly had the opportunity to teach in on the beaches of Montego Bay, Jamaica.

One of the breathtaking yoga studios Kelly had the opportunity to teach in on the beaches of Montego Bay, Jamaica.

TT: Thanks so much, Kelly! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?

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Posted by Lillie

Lillie started TeachingTraveling.com in 2010 to share the infinite ways to combine education and world exploration. Lillie has been a Boston teacher since 2003, and chronicles her own travels at AroundTheWorldL.com.

8 Comments

  1. Thank you, Kelly, for sharing your experience!

    Reply

  2. Hi, just interested in what yog course you did to enable you to teach? Thanks Maddy

    Reply

  3. Kelly
    great article !!!
    I taught yoga at the Breathless all inclusive resort in Punta Cana the New Year’s week and it left me literally breathless.
    I am so happy that Fit Bodies took on this great opportunity to connect us to the destinations offering working vacations

    I will be teaching the Xmas weekend at the same resort and looking forward to this great experience
    To the team of Fit Bodies, thank you very much for all you do for us… the yoga and fitness professionals

    Stefie

    Reply

    1. Hi-
      I was just on the Fit Bodies site and attempted to apply as in structor for a basic membership. It says that this level is free yet it asked for my credit card info. That seemed fishy. Do you pay for your membership? How does that work? How often are you traveling to teach?
      Thanks!
      Lisa

      Reply

      1. Great question! I’m curious what the answer is.

        Reply

      2. I just registered on the free level and they did not ask for my credit info 🙂

        Reply

      3. Lisa, you can register for the basic version and I don’t recall having to provide cc information. If you want access to specific dates/resorts, etc. it can be helpful to upgrade your membership. I’ve taken 5 or so vacations with Fitbodies and they are an upstanding company.

        Reply

  4. Love, love, love teaching fitness classes in Jamaica. I started in 2002 with Fit Bodies. Great opportunity! So thankful !

    Reply

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