Fresh off the back of another job that I can “chalk up to experience” – and when I say this, actually read: “places head in hands and wonders what she was thinking” – I decided it was time to have a good laugh over all of the different things I have been involved with over the last few years of travelling.
To keep yourself going on the road long-term it is almost inevitable that you will have to work while travelling. Chances are, if you can qualify for a working holiday visa for somewhere like Hong Kong, Canada, Japan, Australia or New Zealand you will intersperse your travels with a bit of work to top up your funds.
I try to keep a broad mind when travelling about the types of jobs I look for. Back home I used to be a personal assistant in local government. Whilst this is not something I’ve done for a few years, the office experience it gave me means that I use this as a fall-back option when looking for temporary work.
But what’s the point of travel if not to broaden your horizons and gain new experiences? Plus, quite frankly, it can be difficult to land temporary office work sometimes, so the more you think out the box and apply to other roles in the tourism and hospitality industries for example, the more success you will have in getting a job.
In my eagerness to get outside the four walls of an office and try new things I have managed to rack up an impressive array of odd-jobs. I want to stress that these jobs are not necessarily odd per-se – they are all totally legit and respectable things to do and I do not want to knock anyone who does these things for a living. The angle I’m approaching this from is that they are all pretty unusual and amusing for me to be attempting them. Note the word “attempt”; these jobs were mostly short-term experiences I had until I came to my senses, placed my head in my hands again and wondered what the hell was I thinking?
Yep, that’s right. You did read the word vacuuming. Thankfully, this job was something that I only had the pleasure to work for one night only. Yep, I did just say I carried out this work at night. Confused? So was I.
I had just arrived in Melbourne, Australia and was desperately scratching around for work. An agency got in touch to say someone needed helped vacuuming Melbourne Exhibition Centre in the middle of the night, the day before a big show. Could I help? No problem, I replied confidently. I’ve got this.
Several hours later, somewhere in the region of 3am, you could find me wandering around a gigantic exhibition centre looking like a Ghostbuster with a hoover strapped to my back and cursing life. Have you ever been in an exhibition centre before? They’re huge! Thank goodness it was only one night as it was probably one of the toughest things I had ever done!
Fresh off the heels of my professional vacuuming debut, I wound up accepting a housekeeping position in Melbourne. I can clean a room and make a bed, I figured. How hard can this be? The answer was: really hard.
I never appreciated how full-on this job could be. The clipboard list of rooms was a daunting mountain I had to climb, as quickly as I could possibly climb it. Time was money here, and the longer you took, the less money you made. The realisation that I was not Mary Poppins was quick to kick in, and I only survived in this job for less than two weeks when I handed my notice in, exhausted, and scuttled away to sit down for a long time.
Anyone who has been to Australia on a Working Holiday Visa will tell you about their farm work experience. To qualify for a second year in Australia backpackers have to complete three months work in a rural location helping a farmer out.
The first night I arrived in rural New South Wales, five hours inland from Sydney, I let the fire go out in my employer’s house as I didn’t have a clue how to keep in stoked. In her house this was the only form of heat. It was winter.
This pathetic city girl had a lot to learn. The next 90 days were filled with new experiences I attempted with gusto, if not with any particular skill or finesse: shearing and drenching (administering medicine through the mouth) sheep, feeding the livestock (whilst getting headbutted by the male sheep who really did not like me), fixing fences, cutting firewood, weeding out sharp burrs from the paddocks, mustering cattle – the list goes on!
I worked on a ski field in New Zealand and it was honestly one of the best things I had ever done. My job involved meeting and greeting guests, making sure they had a great day, showing them the mountains and often accompanying the two children’s mascots out on the slopes.
I could usually find other members of staff to dress up in the kiwi and the kea (a mountain parrot) costumes. Sometimes, however, the buck fell to me to step into the giant bird costume myself and get out there to meet the kids.
So, yes, dear readers, I have indeed been one of those people who jump around in a costume, getting ambushed by rambunctious children, cried at, stared at, laughed at and even mobbed by icy snowballs. I know you are impressed.
Ski Tour Guide
Back up the mountain in New Zealand – Coronet Peak in Queenstown to be precise – part of my job was to lead a group of guests around the mountain on ski tours. Now there was nothing wrong with this job whatsoever, and sometimes I have to pinch myself to remember that it was in fact real and I was paid to ski and show people around this awesome mountain.
There are too many good things about this role to mention, and I loved it. But nothing I do is ever without amusing #epicfail moments, and here I experienced many, from crashing into a snow cannon in low visibility to being hit by an out of control skier who wiped me clean off the side of the piste into a huge ditch of snow.
I can truly say I have done it all now. I have donned a brightly coloured tshirt and stood outside shopping malls to try and convince people to sign up to a charity donation programme. It was entirely commission based. Hats off to the people who manage to boss this and pull in hundreds of dollars in commission – and they really do – but sadly, I seemed to lack that sparkle and flair that convinced people to part with their money.
In this case, I am definitely too British about it, and far too apologetic about interrupting people’s days. It is all mind over matter here and if you are an extroverted person who doesn’t get phased by people saying no to you all day then this is the job for you.
Antique Gun Cleaner
What is the strangest environment I could ever put myself in and seek employment, I wonder? Hmm, that’s right, working for an arms dealer is probably right up there. But, as in most cases, I needed some money and you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth as the saying goes.
So, there I was cleaning and polishing antique guns, swords, cannons and suits of armour. Plus, I spent days counting out shotgun cases, bullet heads and all sorts of other shooting related paraphernalia to be packaged with the company’s branding. The funniest thing about this surreal job? I still would not have a clue how to work a gun.
The Most Unusual Jobs I’ve Had
These anecdotes scratch the surface of all the things I have tried my hand at since I hit the road in 2011. I have waited on tables, made coffee and burgers in a small cafe, worked in a shop and in a remote lodge in the middle of the NZ bush.
I try to keep an open mind, stay grateful for the experience and learn as much as I can from each one. After all, working whilst travelling combines to build the complete picture about your adventures abroad; without work often the travel becomes impossible.
Check out my advice on what to do if you’ve just landed in Australia by clicking here.
What is the oddest job you have ever had whilst travelling? Have you got any funny anecdotes from a head in hands moment at work? Share your stories with me!