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Great Teaching Abroad Advice for Thailand and Beyond

John at Maya Bay in Thailand's heavenly islands.
John at Maya Bay in Thailand’s heavenly islands.

Teaching Traveling: Welcome to John Peden who will give us fabulous advice on how to see the world economically by teaching!

John, tell us a bit about your background.

John: My name is John Peden. I studied mechanical engineering at the University of Sheffield and graduated in 2009. During my time at university I was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and became determined to own my own businesses instead of working for someone else.

I launched a number of unsuccessful ventures but with each new attempt, I’d setup a website. My web-building skills improved dramatically and by the time graduation rolled around, I found myself in a position where I could charge for web development and marketing.

John and Michelle: World-travel through teaching!
John and Michelle: World-travel through teaching!

At the same time, my girlfriend (who had graduated the year before) and I began to talk about travelling around the World, aiming to leave a few months after my graduation. We were both really keen to spend the best part of a year away from home, see amazing countries and do life-changing things but after crunching the numbers it became pretty obvious that we wouldn’t be able to afford it.

I was earning a little bit of money as a web developer, but nothing close to a full-time wage and had been working during my last year but hadn’t really saved as I’d been so busy with uni work. We had to get creative!

TT: So how did you make travel a reality??

J: Since we couldn’t afford to bum around the World for even a few months, Michelle and I agreed that TEFL teaching would provide a nice alternative. We’d be living somewhere exotic and hopefully would have access to cool backpacker sights and activities when we had some free time.

We completed our TEFL course in our home town (Manchester) and decided that Thailand was the right place for us. We booked our tickets and packed our suitcases, ready for the adventure ahead.

After a few days of moving across Thailand chasing prospective jobs, we finally settled down in a town called Phang Nga, about 2 hours North of Phuket. I took up part-time TEFL teaching to supplement my web development and we worked happily in our little Thai town for almost 6 months.

Our contracts ended and the schools closed for their end-of-year vacation. This lasted for 2 months and allowed us to easily and cheaply visit Vietnam, Northern Thailand and Laos. All highly popular with travellers and highly-recommended to readers!

At the wild Full Moon Party in Thailand!
At the wild Full Moon Party in Thailand!

At the end of our tour, we began looking for work again. More cross-country moves were in store but we finally settled on Koh Samui where we received two job-offers each. Our luck was incredible, Koh Samui proved to be absolutely perfect and we ended up staying in Thailand for almost a year longer than we originally intended!

TT: Amazing! How did you find these opportunities?

J: As a whole, our experience of travel and teaching was quite carefully researched and planned. There is lots of information about Thailand and teaching there online but I couldn’t believe how much of it was simply wrong. To anyone interested in teaching out there do be careful of what you read online and don’t limit yourself too much before you arrive in the country and see the state of affairs for yourself.

At the famous Big Buddha statue.
At the famous Big Buddha statue.

When we weren’t teaching we managed to visit South Vietnam, Laos, Northeast and Northwest Thailand as well as Bali, Indonesia. The places we visited are all well-travelled already and any Lonely Planet guidebook will give you a recommended route and suggest the amount of time you should spend completing it.

TT: How did you find the money to fund this travel?

J: TEFL teaching provided us with a great way to support ourselves when we weren’t travelling. However, there are still setup costs when you arrive in a new area and you will be amazed by how quickly you go through money.

We really settled down in Koh Samui and although we still holidayed in Indonesia for example, we were able to save money much more easily. Our wage had increased a little, we had fewer outgoings and we understood how to live and enjoy Thailand more cheaply by this point.

TT: Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.

J: During the floods on Koh Samui earlier this year, we spent a full 5 days with no electricity and as our water ran off a pump, this meant that we had no running water either. Although this time was boring, it was great when I finally realised that I could exist on very little.

I’d get up early, get something to eat, workout underneath our house, shower in the rain running off our roof. This taught me something about thinking around your problems as oppose to complaining about things (like floods) that you simply cannot change.

TT: How have your travels impacted you in your current career?

The crazy floods in Koh Samui, Thailand!
The crazy floods in Koh Samui, Thailand!

J: During my time in Thailand my web development waned a little as I lost interest after a string of bad clients who didn’t pay. In the past year, things have really taken off again though as I got my head down and increase the quality and value of what I can offer. In terms of working away from home for almost 2 years, I’ve realised that I have been living my dream.

I don’t necessarily want to spend the rest of my life in Thailand, but I do want to spend the rest of my life being flexible, earning my money online and from home as oppose to being confined to a cubicle and working for the man!

TT: Awesome! How have your travels impacted you as a person?

J: Personally, I’ve taken the time to figure out what I want from life. I don’t really feel bound to a sentiment that I should be doing something like settling down, getting a mortgage and a ‘real job’.

People are always talking about coming back to the ‘real world’ but the ‘real world’ for me is earning good money online, not working myself to death and being able to leverage my income by living cheaply in a country like Thailand. The real world is whatever you want to make it ladies and gentlemen.

TT: Love it! What advice do you have for other educators who are dreaming of travel or travelers who are dreaming of teaching?

Making friends in Railay Beach, Thailand!
Making friends in Railay Beach, Thailand!

J: A little bit of research goes a long way but don’t make the mistake I used to make and become a slave to the information. Someone else’s opinion of a place is not a reason to visit or avoid if if you really do or don’t want to go there. Make up your own mind!

TT: Thanks so much for this highly helpful interview! 


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