Teaching Traveling: Is it really possible to fund extensive travels by teaching abroad or running tours? It is if you do it right, like today’s Teacher-Traveler-Blogger guest, Christopher James Mitchell!
Tell us about your background, Chris.
Chris: Originally, I’m from Toronto, Canada, and I’ve had the travel bug in me pretty much since I can remember. My parents were kind enough to show me a fair bit of the world in my youth, and that sparked an interest that I’ve had my whole life. For me, travel represented a legitimate way that I could quench some of my seemingly limitless supply of curiosity. It still does.
The idea that I could be a teacher began to drift into my mind when I realized that leadership was something I was sincerely interested in. Or, more specifically, when the idea of selflessness and having an impact on the development of those younger than me swept over me.
Before I had thought of teaching as a viable profession, I was a tour guide who took students around Canada on their graduation trips and focused on leadership training, which I loved. I pretty much took every opportunity I could as far as travel, evidenced by the fact that I spent a semester in third year university studying at the University of Oslo in Norway.
Naturally, after that experience I traversed Europe until I was decidedly broke, but unquestionably happy (and that was only the first time I pulled that favorite stunt of mine).
I got a legitimate taste of teaching when I lived with my girlfriend, Briana (who I met tour guiding), in Seoul in 2011-2012. We taught English in South Korea at a small private school for long hours, but it was totally worth it.
We came back to Canada shortly after that and obtained a professional degree in education in Toronto, our hometown. Around that time, I was also working for the organization “Me to We” running trips internationally for them, taking students on school building projects across the globe, all while doing a fair bit of leadership training.
Finally, in 2014, Bri and shipped off to Istanbul, Turkey, where we just left a few months ago. We taught there for what we felt were three incredible years, despite whatever the turbulent headlines might have suggested. It’s one of the great cities on this planet, no doubt.
For now, I’m putting in work on my travel blog, travelingmitch, which I started in Oslo all those years back, and has grown steadily since 2010 (in fact, I wrote on my blog for the Korean government as a “World Korea Blogger” while I was there).
I’ll be heading back to Toronto in August, but for how long remains to be seen! Needless to say, it’ll be lovely to head back there for a while to see family and friends, though teaching jobs aren’t readily available. I have no doubt I’ll find myself in a line of work that reflects my love and passion for travel, writing, leadership, and education though.
In all, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting about 75 countries, and I can’t imagine I’ll stop adding to that list anytime soon. Indeed, I’m currently writing this in the Andalusian countryside near a town called Mijas in Spain!
TT: Love it! Tell us more about your travels.
C: Thankfully, the holiday schedule is fairly generous in Turkey, which I always very much appreciated (I must admit it’s a bit sad to be writing the the past tense already!)
There’s one particular break that we got in late January where we had two weeks off. Istanbul is perfectly positioned to do a trip to just about anywhere considering that, geographically, it’s just about in the center of the planet, and its airports are well connected.
During our break in our first year, we headed off to Australia for two weeks to visit my brother who was living there, and that was fantastic. During our second year’s break, we went to South Africa, and that too was sensational.
However, I think the most memorable trip may just have been the one we took this previous January when we went to Tanzania (though it’s entirely possible that it’s also because it’s the freshest in my mind!) We spent a week on a safari in the Serengeti, at one point even sleeping in a tent in the open with no gates around us (our parents were thrilled!). We then spent the second week on the island of Zanzibar, which was the picture of paradise.
TT: Great tip on teaching abroad in a centrally-located, well-connected spot. Now, how do you find your travel opportunities?
C: Well, I’m not sure that I “find” my travel opportunities anywhere. Since I’m a travel blogger on the side, I have a fairly definite list of places on my bucket-list, then I research before specific holidays to figure out which place or places on my bucket-list would be the most cost-effective to explore. Or, I go completely in the other direction and go to SkyScanner, and put “everywhere” in the destination search term, which shows me where it would be cheapest to go around the world.
That’s how we ended up in Bosnia and Herzegovina this spring — a trip that was well worth taking. And, of course, sometimes it’s the case that Bri really wants to go somewhere, so we head off in that direction. Relationships are a partnership, after all! Thankfully, most of the world interests me.
TT: Well said! How do you find the money to fund your travels?
C: I wish I had a trick to share with everyone, but it’s really just about saving and spending carefully. We allocate a fair bit of money towards travel, but then make sure that while traveling we’re doing our best to keep costs down. Mainly, we do this with accommodation — with finding the right arrangement of hotel deals, hostels, AirBnBs, and house-sitting opportunities that fit into our budget scheme.
TT: Nice. Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
C: That’s a tough one. I suppose I’d have to go with Chefchaouen, Morocco this past April. It’s a beautiful blue town tucked into the mountains, and like nothing I’ve ever seen. We woke up early, before anyone was on the street, and captured some marvelous photos. It was serenity at its finest.
TT: I’ve always wanted to go there! So, how have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and as a person?
C: My travels have impacted me tremendously as a teacher, as I feel as if in each country I gather more perspectives. However, it’s not just about the knowledge, it’s also about the empathy I gain from meeting individuals facing and overcoming their own set of challenges in their nation.
Also, it very much helps that there’s a decent chance that I’ve visited the nation of any one of my students considering the amount of nations I’ve had the privilege of visiting. Most rapport building with students comes from establishing common ground I find, so that’s huge.
As a person, the amount of ways that traveling has changed me is simply immeasurable. I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without all the successes and failures I faced while trying to fill in the blanks on my map.
TT: Yes! So, what advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
C: Hm, in my mind those are two very different questions. I suppose firstly for teachers dreaming of travel — go for it; use your summers and make it happen, because you’ll find that you’ll be able to create worthwhile units out of your photos and experiences, and my students always loved the opportunity to get to “know me” through my travels. I once introduced the book “Bunnicula” with some “frightening” photos I took in Transylvania and they loved the real world connection. Real world connections seem to be the way education is headed anyhow.
For travelers dreaming of teaching, make sure you’re in it for the right reasons. Teaching is far from the easiest profession, and kids can sense when you’re not in it. Passion is contagious, but so is a lack of passion.
However you think about it, travel is going to improve your life, that’s my feeling. It’s never going to feel like the “right time” or that you have enough money, so just go for it. You’ve got your whole life to make money, after all.
TT: Thanks so much, Chris! Readers, what questions or comments do you have for this Teacher-Traveler?
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The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English from Boston who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched TeachingTraveling.com in 2010 to share expert global education resources, and over 1.6 million readers have visited over the past decade. Lillie also runs AroundTheWorld L.com Travel and Life Blog, and DrawingsOf.com for educational cartoons. Do stay in touch via subscribing to her monthly newsletter, and following @WorldLillie on social media!