In this brand new series, I am interviewing business owners, bloggers, and digital nomads to get their thoughts on living a life of travel, creating a life less ordinary, and things they’ve learned along the way. Looking to create a life outside the 9-5 and earn money whilst you travel? This series is for you!
This week, blogger Nic of See Nic Wander tells us all about her life-less-ordinary, and how to become an online teacher and housesitter!
Imagine if you could transport your career with you wherever you fancy going in the world for a few months. You would wake up in your dream home in a far flung destination, and be able to continue working, but on a schedule that you set. Free time would be used for exploring a new destination, always something new on the horizon. Well that is what Nic, an online teacher, blogger, and house sitter does! A passionate teacher, she decided to think outside the box when it came to her career, and worked out a way to be able to do it from anywhere in the world, whilst living in stunning homes.
Hi Nic! Did you always know you wanted to be a teacher?
“You know, there was a time when I was unsure of what I wanted to do, but looking back it seems so obvious. I come from a long line of teachers. Growing up, my friends and I played teacher. I did the summer camp counselor thing and the volunteer tutoring thing. After graduating from college, I got a job teaching middle school science in a small rural school. I loved connecting with my students and community. It felt natural. I didn’t always know I wanted to be a teacher, but now that I’m teaching it’s clear that this is my jam.
Travel, however, was always a given for me. I always knew I wanted to travel, and teaching seemed like a very practical way to do that longterm. So I began researching how to get jobs abroad in international schools. My aunt and uncle had taught in South Korea and loved it, so I looked into teaching jobs around Asia.”
How did you manage to combine your career with your love of travel?
“Another teacher in my school heard about my plans to teach abroad and travel. She had been teaching English online on weekends to save money for a house, and one day she showed me the platform she was using. I’ll never forget it. We were sitting together at her laptop and I was debating with myself about whether I should apply for teaching jobs in Taiwan or China or Thailand. And she simply said, “If I were you, I would just teach online and travel everywhere.” And that was it. I was sold.
That summer after the school year ended, I got a job teaching English online. I spent the summer building up regular students figuring out how to teach inside a teensy tiny box on a computer. Coming from a sprawling science classroom filled with every Ikea organizer under the sun, this was a challenge. But it was a really exciting time for me because I had found a way to keep teaching but through a medium that was super flexible and would allow me to travel.
How much can someone expect to make from teaching online?
There are dozens of online English companies out there, so as long as you are a native English speaker, you should be able to find one that fits your qualifications!
In general, most companies look for someone who is a native English speaker, holds a bachelors degree in any subject, and has some experience working with students. (This can be teaching, coaching, mentoring, tutoring, camp counselor, etc). A TEFL and TEFL experience are a bonus but usually not required.
Teaching English online with most companies pays between $17 – $22/hour. Depending on where you are in the world, this is a pretty substantial travel budget! With most companies you choose your own hours so you can earn as much or as little as you need. I find that working around 20 hours/week is plenty to have a healthy income and plenty of time to explore.
If you want to include more detail on this, I have a run down of several different companies and their requirements in my FAQ Teaching English Post. I also have a post about how much you can make with VIPKID with a few examples. You can find that here.
Let’s talk about house sitting! How did you land your first house sit and what advice would you give to anyone thinking of trying it?
Yes! I love talking about house sitting because I’m competitively frugal and a teensy bit obsessed with free travel! With house sitting, you live in someone else’s home and care for their pets while they are away. You get a free place to stay and they get free in-home pet care. I’ve done eight house sits across five countries and everyone has been a great experience!
I use Trusted House Sitters to find sits. There is an annual fee of $120 to be a member, but once you are a member there is no limit to how many house sits you can do.
I landed my first house sit in a small town about two hours outside of London. I looked after two amazing German Shepherds, two rabbits, and two guinea pigs. You might say I had a full house! It was a great time and I loved cuddling up with all my furry friends at the end of the day. From there, I was able to line up house sits pretty much back to back all around Europe. It’s been a bit more difficult in Asia since the majority of house sits are in the US and Europe, but still possible. I recently finished a five-week stay in a lovely apartment in Bangkok with a playful cat.
House sits can be quite competitive, so it’s important to apply as soon as you see a listing you like. All the homeowners I’ve talked to say that they get dozens of applicants within the first few hours of posting a listing. You want to be one of the very first names your host sees in their inbox.
When you apply, send a long, detailed introductory message. If you say something like “Hi, I’m interested in your sit let’s talk more,” you’re going to get overlooked. Send a long message explaining exactly who you are, your experience with pets, and why you want to do the house sit. Ask the host about the pet routines and the house maintenance routines. Find out if you will have access to a car, ask about the internet speeds at the house, everything. Offer to Skype with the homeowner to make sure you have good “in person” chemistry before committing. Then use that Skype call to ask and answer any more questions. Of course, be friendly and honest at all times.
With house sitting, it is also important to be flexible. Sure, we’d all like that stunning flat in the heart of Paris, but those sits get buckets of applicants. So cast a wide net. Apply to house sits in places you might not have considered visiting before. When I’m searching for my next sit, I usually filter listings by date instead of location. When I find one that works with my timeline, I apply. Even if I’m not exactly sure where it is located. This strategy has taken me to places I never would have visited otherwise and I’m so thankful I did!
In a nutshell, be fast to apply, be thorough in your message, and be flexible with where you go.
What has been your favourite house sit so far?
This is so tricky because they have been so different and exciting in their own ways! One that stands out is a house sit I had in Cologne, Germany. I didn’t realize it when I booked it, but it took place during German Carnival! Carnival is like Mardi Gras. It is a huge celebration with parades and festivities for weeks on end. It was such a fantastic festival to experience and I got to stay right in the center of the action. I also had two adorable kitties on that house sit who were so sweet. Overall, it was an awesome experience.
What are the pros and cons of choosing a lifestyle like yours?
Flexibility is one of the biggest pros. With my online job, there aren’t minimum or maximum weekly work hours, so I can take time off whenever I want. I can also work from anywhere in the world, which means I have a lot of flexibility in my schedule. Earlier this year, I was able to go home for a few weeks to attend a friend’s wedding. I didn’t have to ask anyone or get approval, which is so nice. I’m definitely getting spoiled.
Since I’m always on the move, sometimes it can be difficult to make friends and find a social group. I usually stay in each place for around a month and sometimes I find a group of friends right away, but other times I have to lone wolf it. I don’t mind spending time by myself, but I do miss having a regular social network as I did back home. It becomes very normal to meet someone, have a great time being their best friend for like, four days, then never see them again. You get used to it, but that can be difficult.
What has been your biggest mistake or regret in your career?
Travel wise, where do I begin? I walked headfirst into a pole in downtown London and split my eyebrow open because I got distracted by a cute puppy. I forgot to drink water all day in the Thai heat and nearly passed out on the Bangkok Skytrain. I left my debit card in an ATM (no, it didn’t get eaten by the machine, I just straight up left it there and walked away!) I even slept in a 12-bed hostel once. One time the internet went down on my street and I had to run full speed to the nearest McDonalds to teach my classes. I’ve been lucky not to have any major travel crises, but I can assure you that, when they happened, each of these little mishaps felt like the end of the world.
Blog-wise, my biggest mistake was treating my blog like an online journal rather than a business. I didn’t know anything about SEO or marketing or using social media for the first full year of blogging, and it shows in my work. I wish I would have learned about these things sooner because now I’m going back and re-doing lots of old content. Like with anything, it’s easier to do it right the first time.
Teaching, blogging, house sitting, and constantly exploring new places… that is a lot on your plate! Do you have any time management tips?
My biggest tip for managing time between traveling, teaching, and blogging is to travel slower. I usually stay in each place for a month or so because in each place, I know I’m splitting my time between my online students, my blog, and actually going out to do things to blog about. If I stay somewhere for only a few days, I end up cutting corners. Either I don’t teach much and my budget suffers, or I don’t blog much and fall behind, or I don’t leave the house. Going slowly removes the pressure to see everything all at once and allows you time to get a feel for a place.
I also try to make sure I have a dedicated blogging day each week. I order in, stay in my pajamas, and get caught up on all the blogging shenanagins I have going on that week. This has been a real life saver!
In an oversaturated blogging market, what is your advice to standing out and finding your niche?
At the beginning, I wrote a lot of fluffy travel musings and “inspirational pieces” that are, in hindsight, quite mortifying. I’m pretty sure the only people reading my blog were my grandmother and her friends. (But shout out to the world’s most supportive blogging grandmother!!) Turns out, there isn’t a huge market for my random thoughts on Columbia, SC. Nor do people care about my family vacation to Florida, complete with nine grainy photos.
When I started traveling full-time, I wrote about how I was using teaching online and house sitting to travel without worrying about a dwindling bank account. This got some traction. A lot of friends and random internet people reached out to ask for more details and I found myself writing the same emails, packed with tips, again and again and again to different people. That’s when I realized I’d found my niche. I shifted my content away from just “my thoughts on travel” to focus on the practical logistics of house sitting and teaching online.
Everyone in the blogging world has heard the phrase “content is king.” I’ve found that my most popular content – the stuff that drives people to my website – are posts packed with practical, detailed information. People can find “five things to do in Atlanta” a thousand place on the internet. But few people are writing about teaching English online while house sitting. That was something new and different I could offer and amazingly, people were interested in it.
So when you sit down and write your blog, think about what you are doing that is different from everyone else. Maybe you travel with a family, or you’re a vegan street food queen, or you live in a school bus and road trip with nine dogs. Maybe you spent a month volunteering on an alpaca farm or you’re searching for the world’s best chocolate. (PS: if you’re doing the chocolate thing, send me a link to your blog because I’m trying to get in on that!)
If you mention that you’re a traveler at a party, what is the first question people ask you? Your blog should answer that question.
That’s great advice! Now your blog is a viable business, what are the main ways you earn a living from it?
My blog is still growing but I’m able to earn money from it each month through affiliate programs. I use amazon affiliates to make a little bit of money each month but the bulk of my blogging income comes from VIPKID referrals. With VIPKID, I get a bonus for every teacher who signs up using my referral code.
Before I monetized my blog, I would recommend VIPKID to my friends and family and coach them through the application process without any financial incentive. I simply believed in the company and wanted to help others get started. Now, I do the same thing but earn a bit of money from it, which is really exciting.
Blogging can be feast or famine, as we all know. Most months, the majority of my income comes from teaching online. For bloggers who are still getting started and working toward monetization, teaching online a great way to have a stable source of income while you pursue your blogging passions. A bit of a digital safety net, you could say. An adorable, meaningful, and super fun safety net. 🙂
What is your one piece of advice for someone following in your footsteps?
Practical Advice: Get your online teaching job (or any online job if your choice, there are tons out there!) several months before you go abroad. You won’t get your first paycheck until about a month after you start and you’ll need time to build up regular clients. If you want to travel somewhere more expensive like Europe, look into house sitting to save money.
And always, always ask your accommodation, whether its a house sit, hotel, hostel, or Airbnb, to run an internet speed test before you arrive. Be obnoxious about it. WiFi is about to become your new best friend.
Sentimental Advice: I’m a type A personality. I like plans, organization, and knowing what’s happening in advance. I’d like to say this has served me well in life, but honestly I was a bit of a stress ball before traveling. This lifestyle has forced me to let go of that. Living a life of flexibility and freedom is amazing, but an adjustment. You have to have a healthy trust in the universe to go out into the world alone without a plan – only a laptop, a pair of zip off capris, and a few high-performance stink-proof tee-shirts in tow.
You have to be okay with the unknown and trust that a calamity will make a good story one day. And you have to be okay with things going wrong. (Cue the montage of me ugly crying in Starbucks because the internet went down and I missed a class for the first time… Type A problems).
There are a lot of beautiful things about this lifestyle, but it is very different from the traditional grind back home. Be open to that.
What has been your travel highlight so far?
By a total stroke of luck, I was house sitting in Cologne, Germany during Carnival (aka German Mardi Gras). I didn’t know what Carnival was, but I quickly learned that it’s one of the most festive times of the year. There are parades, costumes, floats, beer tents, and parties that last for days at a time. The best part? During the parades, they throw chocolate instead of beads. You read that right. Free chocolate, thrown in your face, for days at a time.
In Cologne, I also had an awesome group of girlfriends to hang out with. That was one of the happiest times in my travels. I had great friends, everyone was in celebration mode, we wore ridiculous costumes for days at a time, and I ate more chocolate than I care to admit. And all this happened competely by chance.
Do you have any clear cut future plans?
In the short term, I’m planning to continue exploring Asia. I’d love to go back to Europe to see the southern countries like Spain and Italy, and I’ve still never been to South America, so I have a lot of traveling left to do! I’d also love to do a solo road trip across America. It has a certain romance to it, plus I owe a ton of friends a visit and this would be a great way to knock it all out in one swoop.
Long term, I plan to continue teaching and writing. I love the techy side of blogging and I’m low-key teaching myself some website design and coding skills, so maybe that will turn into something one day.
But for right now, I’m enjoying this mashup teaching/traveling/writing career that I’ve cobbled together for myself. I’m hoping to continue long into the future!