The Ultimate Guide to Landing a Seasonal Job (and Using It to Travel the World)

Jul 25, 2012 -
Would you like to live in incredible places, meet new friends and save enough money to travel the world? I thought so. Enter: seasonal jobs. A mystery, or an afterthought, to most—a way of life and passionate love/hate relationship for those working them. Don’t burn out before 30, and quit worrying about money—instead, spend a season or two (or seven) working in a seasonal job. They’re way cooler than real jobs, anyway.

What is a seasonal job?

By loose definition, it’s a job that lasts a set period of time—usually, for the summer or the winter. Though there are many types of seasonal jobs, this post focuses on jobs in tourism, because those are the easiest to get and require little or no qualifications.

Are seasonal jobs for me?

The benefits: living in places where others vacation, a guaranteed crew of like-minded friends, ability to travel in the off-season and constant change. The costs: crappy wages, zero benefits, being far from home and constant change. I love seasonal jobs and have been working them for years. But it’s not all sunshine and unicorns; I don’t remember the last time I was home for Christmas. On the other hand, I’ve also worked in places where people spend thousands of dollars to vacation, and I’ve saved enough money to travel to several new countries a year. The thrill of new friends and not knowing where I’m going “next season” is what makes me happy.

Sounds super! How can I get one of these seasonal job thingys?

Lots of websites help you search for seasonal jobs, (Cool Works, Back Door Jobs, Transitions Abroad, Job Monkey), but the best strategy to think like a tourist. Where would you want to vacation? What would you want to do there? That’s where the jobs are. Now the research part begins, which is half of the fun. These days, it is ultra-easy, thanks to that beautiful addiction we all have called the internet. Say you would want to travel to Wyoming and stay at a ranch. Start Googling ranches in Wyoming. Don’t have anything specific in mind? Think of a region you want to live in, then research things to do in that area. Ideas should start multiplying like rabbits. Almost every company has a website, and many even have an “Employment” tab right on the homepage. If you don’t see it, call or e-mail and ask how you can apply for their positions. Seasonal work is not rocket science, but there are a few keys to being successful, having fun and saving enough money to play in the off-season. (Be it riding camels in the Gobi, sunning for a month at the beach or holing up in your parents’ basement ordering pizza and playing PS3 every day. Lame.) Here are tips on...

How to get a seasonal job

Know your region’s “season” and apply early. Most places start hiring four months before their seasons begin, and some even earlier. In general, the summer season goes from mid-May to early September, and the winter season goes from mid-November to March. (See those few month chunks in between seasons? That’s your camel/beach/PS3 time.) Gamble. For some jobs, such as those in restaurants, there’s no applying ahead of time. Your smiling self has to be there, resume in hand, before a company will even consider you. It sounds scary to move somewhere new without a position, but if you aren’t picky, you will find a job. Which brings me to... Be willing to do anything. Too many people move to certain locations with one job, and one job only, in mind. Remember you are here to live in the place of your dreams and have the experiences of your dreams—not to have the job of your dreams.

Tips for saving money at a seasonal job

Make friends at different companies. The river of reciprocity flows heavily through towns full of seasonal workers. If you take a friend on your horseback riding tour, they might get you a free meal at their restaurant. If you have friends all over town, you’re saving money all over town. Be cheap! Do not fall (too deeply, at least) into the party party party mentality of many seasonal workers. If you do, then pregame, for heaven’s sake! Don’t go out to eat (big group dinners are way more fun, anyway), shop at the local thrift store (the best place to get geared up for the season) and walk or bike to work. You are not going to be rolling in the big bucks working these jobs, and if you want to save money, you’re going to have to be smart about it. Buy health insurance. Wait, this doesn’t make sense. Spend money each month to save money? Yes. You will likely be doing lots of fun, adrenaline-pumping activities, and you do not want to end up crushed under the debt of medical bills for a broken arm or leg.

How to have fun at a seasonal job

Work hard. If your bosses are happy, you’ll be happy. Too often, companies deal with seasonal workers that, to put it simply, suck. They come to work late, hungover or not at all. These workers figure that it’s “just a seasonal job,” so it doesn’t really matter. And because companies are so used to seasonal workers sucking, they reward good employees with raises, bonuses, invites back and, most importantly, glowing references for your next job search. Don’t start planning for your next job too far in advance. It’s really easy to get too into the research and planning of your post-season or next-season adventures. Though it is important to find a job for the next season, it is also important that you enjoy where you are and what you’re doing. Space out your jobs. You’re going to want time in between jobs to decompress, relax, visit family and friends and travel. Don’t go straight from one job to the next, or you’ll quickly get burned out.

And now, for the most important tip:

If you want to up and move somewhere sweet, don’t make excuses. Just do it. Even if you’re buried under mountains of student loans, you can still afford this lifestyle. Move to South Korea to teach English, where you’ll earn paid $1,800/month tax- and rent-free. In one year, you could easily put $12,000 towards loans, while still living in a new country, meeting new people and traveling. See? No excuses. Seasonal jobs rock. Maybe they’ll even help you figure out what you want to do with your life—whether that’s seasonal work forever, or something else. So, what are you waiting for? It’s just about time to start researching a job for the winter season! Have you ever worked a seasonal job? Do you have any tips to add to this list? Susan Shain has been working un-grownup seasonal jobs and traveling the world for the past four years. Follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Junkette or catch up with her via Twitter.