If you’ve dreamed about traveling the world without draining your savings account, teaching English abroad is the ideal job for you. While completing a TEFL course can indeed lead you to an entirely new and rewarding career, it also will allow you to see more of this big, beautiful world. As an ESL teacher in Thailand, you’ll earn enough money to cover your living expenses and even some weekend adventures. However, if you have big plans to travel for longer stretches of time during school breaks and between semesters, you may have to think your budget through and put more effort into saving.
Whether you’re hoping to backpack around other Southeast Asian countries before the next school year starts or visit the pristine islands of southern Thailand on an extra-long weekend, try to get the most bang for your baht with these money-saving tips.
1) Save a percentage of your salary
Teaching salaries for foreign teachers in Thailand are quite nice, especially when you consider the general cost of living and traveling there. Although my Thai teaching salary wouldn’t even cover one month of my Boston rent if I converted it to USD, I was able to live comfortably and put away more than 30% of my paycheck every month for end-of-semester backpacking adventures.
Many schools pay in cash (and others pay direct deposit to your Thai bank account), which is actually ideal for creating a separate travel savings fund. As soon as I received my money, I would put a stack of bills in an envelope that would then be hidden and locked away until the next month. From that point, it was my responsibility to use the rest of my month’s earnings wisely and watch my spending, but without worrying about spending my travel money by accident. That included determining how many weekends I could take quick trips to nearby cities, parks and beaches, and which ones I should stay in my hometown and avoid spending.
2) Prioritize cost over comfort and convenience
So what can you do to make sure you don’t blow through your monthly paycheck and find yourself without money to travel at the end of the semester? It’s all about making sacrifices in other areas of life. For one, you will spend much less on food if you eat locally. Springing for Western food should be something of an indulgence rather than a daily occurrence. (Although I love pizza and french toast too much to follow my own advice too closely, here.) There’s nothing wrong with the occasional splurge on a Western restaurant, but when you compare the cost of Thai food to American food, you’ll be much more inclined to skip KFC or Starbucks the next time. For example, a plate of pad Thai from a street cart near my apartment costs 35 baht, or about $1 while a pizza from the mall down the road is over $10.
You can also opt for slower and less comfortable modes of transportation to cut down on costs. It may take 12 hours to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by bus and only an hour by plane, but the price difference might mean a day’s worth of travel in another country. Similarly, when you’re hanging out in Bangkok on the weekends, you should take public transportation as much as possible to cut down on cab costs.
Skimping on comfort and convenience applies to accommodations as well. Private hostel or hotel rooms are awesome, but if you’ll be living out of a backpack for several weeks, those costs can add up. Check out the deals on websites like Booking.com and Hostelworld.com to find establishments that are running sales and stick with dorms as much as possible to stretch your savings.
3) Get a side job
Once you’re TEFL certification is in hand, you can use your skills outside of the physical classroom. It’s easy to find private tutoring jobs in Thailand, both within your school and the surrounding community. In some cases, the parents of your students will approach you about teaching extra lessons after school and/or on weekends. Other times, you can find positions at established tutoring centers.
Extra lessons are the perfect way to make additional cash for traveling because you can earn several hundred baht an hour, depending on how many students you teach at once and their skill level. Every Sunday morning, I worked with a 22-year-old young professional who wanted to improve her conversational English skills to ultimately make herself a more desirable employee. Just two hours of chatting about her life and reviewing relevant vocabulary earned me enough money to cover food and fun for the week, thus allowing me to put even more of my salary in the kitty. Similarly, there are many websites that allow you to tutor ESL students online using your TEFL certification.
So where are you heading during your next school break? Estimate the cost of your dream trips, set financial goals and start squirreling away for your next adventures abroad.
Words by Christine Hayes.