You Call This Work?


You Call This Work?

Take a break in your routine with a short-term gig in an exotic locale.

Ahhh, the daydream. One minute you're doodling in a staff meeting, and the next you're ducking out to tend bar in a London pub, pilot a hot-air balloon in Switzerland or guide a rafting expedition down the Colorado River.

Unlike most daydreams, though, these fantasies have legs. You can land a short-term job in a dream location, from Yellowstone National Park to the Great Barrier Reef. Older baby-boomers are scoring cool jobs in great spots as a segue into retirement, says Bill Berg, of Cool Works, a job-listing Web site that specializes in employment at national parks. And workers who want to take a mini sabbatical or mid-career break can pick up extra cash while they travel.

Two years ago, Melissa Newby spent a season pumping gas in Yellowstone National Park before starting a full-time job as an engineer. In May, Newby ditched her desk job for the one in the spectacular setting. "I wanted to come back to Yellowstone while I was still young," she says. Rehired at the service station, she'll stay until the park's season ends in October. Then, she says, "I'll see where life leads me."

Head far east

If you're looking for a higher-level job, consider going east to teach English in China, Japan, Korea or Taiwan. All of those countries have an "insatiable demand for native speakers of English," says Susan Griffith, author of Gap Years for Grown Ups (Globe Pequot Press, $20). Teaching jobs vary widely; to get an overview and feedback from participants, go to For example, the JET Programme offers one-year contracts worth 3.6 million yen (about $31,000), enough to pay rent and other living expenses.


You usually don't have to speak the native language or even have teaching experience. But you'll feel more prepared if you become certified in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) or English as a Second Language (ESL). Explore options at (for other Web connections, see the box below).

Use your network -- your current employer, an alumni group or friends overseas -- to help you connect with a company abroad. Determined job seekers have found short-term gigs in law firms, financial institutions and the news media, says Larissa Zepko, of Bunac (British Universities North America Club), an exchange agency that helps young adults secure short-term work visas for Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland and New Zealand.

Hey, dude

Jobs abound at dude ranches, ski resorts, lakeside inns, mountain lodges and national parks, and include everything from waiting tables and mucking out stalls to leading wilderness treks and whitewater-rafting trips.

In selling yourself, remember that service jobs demand energy and enthusiasm as much as experience, says Michael Landes, author of The Back Door Guide to Short-Term Job Adventures (Ten Speed Press, $22). If possible, schedule an in-person interview and let your personality shine. For outdoor leadership jobs, you'll need certification in CPR, first aid and other safety skills and may be required to attend a training session.

JOBS: Where to Start

The possibilities are endless, but you can focus your search at the following sites, some of which apply to several categories.


Suited to boomers ("Older and Bolder" link)

Teaching English


Not inclined to sling silverware or lead mountain hikes? Be a caretaker. Employers welcome older people who know their way around a toolbox or a garden shed.

Whatever your qualifications, you'll leapfrog over other applicants if you can stay the entire season. Says Berg, "Employers can't send everyone home in the middle of August," when many students head back to school. Apply at least three months ahead of the next session or season. If you miss the window, try again in mid June, when homesick (or party-weary) employees start peeling off. Turnover throughout the season is not unusual.

Compare perks

Before rushing off to a remote outpost, head for the Internet to compare, say, Yellowstone with Denali. "See what kinds of packages they're offering for room and board, pay and perks," says Berg. Some job sites include forums where workers can dish on employers. The freewheeling discussions "sometimes make us squirm," says Berg, "but they're a good way to scope these places out."

As for pay, expect to make at least minimum wage, plus tips and maybe a season-end bonus. Employees in jobs that require expertise, such as trail guides, wilderness counselors and naturalists, earn $9 to $14 an hour, or about $360 to $560 a week. Typical benefits include free or subsidized room and board and access to the facilities; some employers provide health insurance.


Although nobody gets rich doing seasonal work, you should be able to break even or maybe come out ahead, assuming you avoid the inevitable temptations. Newby, who makes $8 an hour as assistant manager at the service station, says she'll end up with a small profit at the end of the season -- "if I don't spend it on camping supplies."

Overseas opportunities

Avi Melniker considered herself perfectly happy as a talent agent in Los Angeles until a friend raised the idea of moving to Sydney, Australia. "When she said Sydney, something inside me just went off. Sydney? I'd move to Sydney!" Within a month, Melniker was on her way to the other side of the world, where she found short-term work at a speakers bureau. She returned several times and eventually settled in Australia, working as an events manager.

Before you cross the border, you have to jump through one big hoop: getting a work permit. (If you're already in the country -- say, as a tourist or a student -- you usually must leave and reenter with the proper visa.) That means either finding an employer who will arrange for a work visa on your behalf, or applying for the visa through an exchange agency and, if necessary, finding a job once you arrive.

Melniker organized her work-stay through Bunac. For $600 or less, Bunac pulls together the paperwork and posts jobs and accommodations. You can usually score a so-called casual job within a week or so. Pubs and hotels often provide housing for their employees. Short-term workers at other jobs share flats or crash at hostels (

You could work as a tour leader for a travel company, such as Adventures Cross-Country or Global Works. Such companies help you get a work permit and provide room, board, travel expenses, a salary and training. Better yet, says Landes, "they get you to just about every corner of the world." As with seasonal jobs stateside, you won't save much by working overseas, but that's not the point, says Griffith. "People work abroad for experience and enjoyment, not for money."