Simon Calder: the man who pays his way

Money makes the world go around

Sunday 19 March 2017 06:50

"Look what happened to JK Rowling, who began writing Harry Potter while teaching English in Portugal." So writes Susan Griffith in the new edition of Work Your Way Around the World. The first edition of the working traveller's bible appeared 20 years ago. History does not record if Ms Rowling found her job thanks to Ms Griffith's book, but this week a newspaper survey suggested that Harry Potter's creator is now richer than the Queen.

The average working traveller is content to earn just enough to see more of the world. Next month, another consignment of gap-year travellers will pack for a trip that views the world not in terms of dramatic scenery and awesome artefacts, but from how easy it is to get a decent job.

From her chamber of working-traveller secrets, the author (Ms Griffith, not Ms Rowling) has cultivated a network of informants ranging from a Cambridge-educated lawyer who worked at a day nursery in Sydney, an economist from Quebec who spent a month as a volunteer in a deprived area of rural India and an engineer-turned-sailor who worked in Antigua on a yacht owned by a former member of Pink Floyd.

"Almost without exception," says Ms Griffith, her correspondents urge others to take a chance with "the unexpected friendliness and generosity of foreign residents and fellow travellers". Such is the addictive quality of travel that many of them "regret their initial decision to buy an air ticket with a fixed return date".

FIRST, THOUGH, you need to build up some capital to get abroad. Without a cache of cash, reaching your first destination for free can be tricky in these days "when a stranger is considered a terrorist until proven innocent". But RJ Hill managed to hitch a ride with a spoof destination board reading "Moon". Eventually a vicar stopped.

You could fund future travels by appearing in police identity parades in Britain, though it apparently helps to be "male and fairly scruffy".

For a bigger lump-sum, make yourself available for medical experiments. Here I declare an interest; I have made modest contributions to the book, notably by reporting how to fund a trip to Spain by becoming a guinea pig testing a new heart drug. The idea is that you take the prototype drug and in return give back something of yourself. But instead of the pound of flesh that some travel businesses demand, I merely had to provide about a pint's worth of blood samples. The £150 fee funded a trip to Spain.

* Next, what to pack? Your luggage may look different from the average holidaymaker's. Ms Griffith suggests it may include "a guitar for busking, a suit for getting work as an English teacher and a pair of fingerless gloves for cold-weather fruit-picking". One reader suggests taking 500 packets of cigarette papers to Goa, where Rizlas are worth much more than their weight in rupees.

* Once abroad, finding a job may be merely a matter of heading down the pub, "especially the sort of pub where well-off locals and expats hang out", recommends a contributor to the book, Till Bruckner. "I absolutely loathe exactly that kind of establishment, but you might well hit the jackpot in there."

The book provides essential job-finding vocabulary, such as the Greek for "What is the wage?", and the Italian for "Will it be taxed?". An opportunistic approach helps. Brian Williams was in a queue at a post office in southern France when he overheard fragments of a conversation that included the words "boulot" (odd-job) and "cerises" (cherries). He offered his cherry-picking expertise, and was given directions to the orchard. These turned out to be misleading, but when thoroughly lost he asked someone the way and they promptly offered him a job instead.

Not all jobs are equal. Leading an overland trip, for example, involves mechanical expertise (for mending the truck), negotiation skills (for black-market dealings) and reserves of diplomacy for handling tricky border crossings and "the trip whinger, usually the one with a calculator". If you are busking, recommends Mary Hall, go to Norway – "I made £15 in 15 minutes." Though she confesses, "It helped that my audience were pretty drunk".

A production line job is not always such fun, though to compensate free samples are sometimes on offer: "Get a job with Carlsberg in Copenhagen or Rowntree's in York rather than Fisons or Dulux," recommends Ms Griffith.

* Budding entrepreneurs may prefer to set up in business. In travel, there are plenty of margins on which to make money: buy a carnet of 10 tickets for the Paris Métro or the London Tube, and sell them individually for a small discount on the normal fare. Or take advantage of the tax differential between Gibraltar and Spain, and trade in cigarettes in bulk. The author of Work Your Way Around the World identifies a gap in the market: a trouser-rental service outside churches such as St Peter's in Rome, where scantily clad visitors are turned away.

* The book ends with a chapter called "In Extremis", for those in dire financial straits. If you are stuck for a place to stay in America, look no further than the nearest police station and tell the officers you feel persecuted. "According to US law, all people (including non-citizens) have the right to demand protective custody."

In Europe, a better solution may be to sneak into the local garden centre. One of the book's contributors asserts that "Garden huts in large garden centres, which are often left open, provide a good night's shelter."

For a free meal, Ms Griffith advises that you tell a restaurateur that you can correct the English on their menu translation, though she concedes this will deprive future travellers of the delights of "miscellaneous pork bowel".

You could even try to out-scam the scammers. "All over the world there are pool halls, pubs or arcades where sharks try to induce mugs to play pool or darts for money." To beat them at their own game, find a suitable venue and quietly play by yourself, trying not to look too competent. The con-artist will spot you as a possible target and invite you to play. The rest, says Ms Griffith, is easy: "Con-men, like the rest of us, are greedy; they don't want $1 off you, they want the lot. They aim to do this by letting you think you are a match for them. So they will always lose the first game, and probably the second. Take the money and leave – but make sure you know where the exit is."

* The ultimate practitioners of working around the world are royalty. Among his many other duties, Prince Charles is chairman of the trustees of the Royal Collection, the priceless accumulation of art contained in Britain's palaces. On Wednesday, the Prince did his bit for tourism by inviting leading lights of the travel industry and even the odd journalist to tour Windsor Castle's artistic highlights. The castle was open to the public as usual, and the heir stopped to chat to some of the paying punters. One American asked if he might be photographed with Prince Charles, who agreed. So the US visitor thrust his camera at none other than Nicholas Witchell, the BBC's royal correspondent, whose handiwork is now the talk of Tulsa.

* My record on predictions within these pages is about as successful as Garry Richardson's racing tips on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. But one may be about to come true: on 1 March, I suggested that an essential ingredient for spending 48 Hours in Swansea should be to watch the city's football team in what could be their last Nationwide League season. Indeed, I suggested that anyone who was in Swansea on 3 May should see the final home match, against Hull City, in case it was the Swans' final League appearance. And so it came to pass that this afternoon, Swansea City need to beat the boys from the Humber at Vetch Field to guarantee their continued League status. "Buy a programme," I suggested. "It may be worth a fortune in years to come." That could fund a trip around the world.

The new 11th edition of 'Work Your Way Around the World' by Susan Griffith is published by Vacation Work (01865 241978,, price £12.95

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