The World’s Coolest Travel Jobs—and How to Get Them

Beyond backpacking, bartending, and busking, these are some of the most popular professions for the exploration-obsessed.

A person wearing backpack overlooking bay with numerous green islands

Landing a job abroad is a great way to combine work and adventure.

Photo by Yongkiet Jitwattanatam/Shutterstock

Some people love travel so much, they make it their full-time job. Pilots and hotel general managers are among the highest-profile occupations within the tourism sector, but there are countless other travel-intensive gigs that don’t fall squarely within the industry, including such dream jobs as polar scientists, wildlife photographers, and Doctors Without Borders. Other ways to merge work with travel include becoming a traveling nurse or finding a job as a tour guide, yoga teacher, or scuba instructor. Here, we look at eight common travel jobs—plus the ups, the downs, and resources for pursuing them.

1. Flight attendant

If this is the first job that springs to mind when you picture a career in travel, you’re not alone. But a life in perpetual motion is not as glamorous as it seems; junior flight attendants don’t always make great money and may find it difficult to date, start a family, or spend time with loved ones. Still, their schedules are flexible and the perks of the job—such as unlimited free or deeply discounted flights—outweigh the negatives for some people.

So how do you become a flight attendant? U.S. airlines provide on-the-job training programs that last three to six weeks. To be accepted, you must have at least a high school diploma or GED equivalent, although preference is often given to applicants with a college degree and work experience in hospitality or customer service. Applicants must also meet certain physical requirements for height, weight, vision, and overall health. Background and criminal history checks are de rigueur.

To learn more about flight attendant training programs and how they play into the travel industry, check the career sites of major U.S. carriers like Delta, United, JetBlue, and Alaska Airlines.

2. English teacher

Teaching English abroad can be a great way to live the expat life. To land a job at a reputable school or language institute, you usually need a four-year bachelor’s degree in any subject area and an English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching qualification from an accredited program. A TEFL, TESOL, or Cambridge-backed CELTA certification is commonly requested by private language schools and government recruitment agencies because they cover 100 hours of coursework and up to 20 hours of real-world practicum.

Once you earn your certificate, you can apply for placement practically anywhere in the world through a specific program or scout job listings on sites like Go Overseas, Teach Away, Transitions Abroad, ESL Base, and Dave’s ESL Cafe. There’s a high demand for native English-speaking teachers in China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Spain, Mexico, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Germany, and the UAE. Certain ESL and TESOL certifications can also qualify you to teach English as a second language in public schools across the United States and online.

Outstretched left arm holding phone to photograph tropical coastline

Social media influencers make money while traveling the world.

Photo by Sergey Causelove/Shutterstock

3. Social media influencer

Ask anyone who has built up a serious Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook following and they’ll often credit their success to a dash of luck and a lot of hard work. Kiersten “Kiki” Rich, aka the Blonde Abroad, did not amass her 515,000 Instagram followers and 220,000 Facebook fans overnight. “The struggle was definitely real,” Rich says. “I hustled like crazy. I started [by] making contacts and soft-pitching a travel blog I had started. All of my trips in the first year or two were budget or volunteer endeavors.”

Nearly 13 years later, Rich runs a multi-platform business with several revenue streams, but the grind is still “every day, all day long,” and it’s not just about being a good travel photographer, understanding the elements of graphic design, or having Instagram or TikTok know-how. In an oversaturated market of aspiring digital nomads, people driven to earn money as a travel blogger or social media star need to invest in professional camera equipment, develop strategic advertising and marketing campaigns, and, first and foremost, find an untapped niche where they can create original content from their travel experiences with a unique point of view. (Learn more from Rich about what it’s really like to be a social media celebrity.)

Another great perk to online content creation is that you can often do a bit of part-time remote work alongside your adventures to all parts of the world. Think of it a side hustle: There are plenty of job opportunities, even in the travel space, open to candidates in neighboring (and far-flung) time zones. Consider looking into virtual assistant, freelance writing, or travel agent roles—the type of remote job where an internet connection will get you a long way and you never have to show up for in-person meetings.

Steering wheel on ship console, with black chair and white-topped naval hat at left

Most deep-water captains start their career in an elite maritime academy.

Photo by Grigory Galantnyy/Shutterstock

4. Cruise ship captain

For the aquaphile who could imagine nothing more satisfying than piloting his or her own ship, consider a job on the high seas. Most deep-water captains start their career in an elite maritime academy pursuing a four-year degree (a bachelor’s or master’s degree in marine science or marine engineering is par for the course). Later, they gather real-world experience by interning on boats, shadowing officers on watch, and slowly climbing the ranks—from third mate, to second officer, to first officer, and eventually to ship captain. But this isn’t the only way to get on the water. Captains of river boats and other inland waterway vessels may learn the ropes as “deckhands” (crew members and cruise ship workers who perform the day-to-day duties that keep the vessel clean and running) and gather on-the-job training as they go.

To get a marine captain’s license, you must obtain multiple certifications, including a Transportation Worker Identification Credential and a Merchant Mariner Credential, and pass a test issued by the U.S. Coast Guard. (Learn more about what ship life is really like from the first U.S. woman to serve as captain of a megaship.)

5. Foreign Service officer

Diplomats and other officials working in the U.S. Foreign Service don’t get nearly as much TV love as their counterparts in the FBI and CIA, but their jobs are hugely important. An applicant to the Foreign Service must pass a rigorous exam that tests his or her knowledge of a wide variety of subjects, including world history and geography, U.S. government and economics, and American culture. After the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) comes an oral assessment—a mix of interviews and role playing that tests an applicant’s diplomacy skills. (Foreign language proficiency is also a plus.) Medical exams and security clearances are also conducted. After passing the exam, the Foreign Service officer selection process can take anywhere from six months to two years.

Once accepted into the Service, officers may be placed at any of the 300 or so U.S. embassies or consulates around the world. (Some officers choose to specialize in fields like information technology, engineering, or public diplomacy, which may determine where they are placed.) The constant moving can be difficult for an officer’s spouse and children, but potential benefits of the job include overseas housing and utilities, transportation and security detail, tuition coverage for kids in grades K–12, and foreign language training.

To learn more about preparing for the FSOT and what to expect from a career in diplomacy, start with this comprehensive Foreign Service PDF issued by the State Department.

6. Au pair

A gig as an au pair can be ideal for someone who wants to give in to some wanderlust and find a job abroad without having to commit to one specific, long-term career path. Think of an au pair as a professional babysitter, often hopping to different countries: In the typical arrangement, the hiring family covers the babysitter’s room and board (free accommodation, kind of) and provides a weekly or monthly stipend. This is in exchange for childcare, English lessons for their brood, and light housekeeping. Most au pairs fall between the ages of 18 and 30, are single, and have no kids of their own.

Au Pair World is the most established platform for connecting would-be au pairs to families in need (13,000 and counting), with placement opportunities in 21 foreign countries, including Finland, Switzerland, and Australia. New Au Pair has a broader database, listing more than 2,000 positions in 150 countries.

Ski instructor dressed in red, doing snowplow next to child in green holding onto instructor's ski pole on flat snow

Ski instructors can work at mountain resorts in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Chile, France, Japan, and beyond.

Photo by Microgen/Shutterstock

7. Ski instructor

The majority of ski instructor positions are seasonal, so the outdoor enthusiasts who work them often pick up another physically demanding job (such as a mountain guide or whitewater rafting guide) during the summer months. But some diehard skiers will follow the snow, traveling around the world from lodge to lodge and mountain to mountain to pursue their passion year-round.

You can work as a ski instructor across the United States or abroad in places such as New Zealand, Chile, and France. But the minimum standards for ski instruction certification, determined by the International Ski Instructors Association (ISIA), vary by country.

In the United States, a Level I instructor (considered entry-level) is permitted to teach newbies the basics of alpine or cross-country skiing on well-groomed runs. A Level II instructor works with more experienced skiers, focusing on technique. Only the best skiers can obtain the highest level of certification (Level III), as tested through an exhaustive four-day exam.

When it comes to travel careers, ski instructors aren’t particularly well-compensated, but most don’t do it for the money—free and discounted lift tickets and reporting daily to the slopes is payment enough.

To see what kind of ski instructor positions are currently available at resorts around the world, comb through country-specific job boards like Cool Works (for the United States) and the New Zealand Snowsports Instructors Alliance. Résumé boosters to help you stand out include first aid training and avalanche safety training.

8. Scuba diving instructor

Similar to being a ski instructor, teaching others how to scuba dive is one of the best travel jobs—if not the most fun—you can find. You can really make your own travel opportunities, as there are plenty of places around the world to scuba dive. To start, you need to be a diver for at least six months, according to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). From here, there are six courses every instructor needs to complete: Open Water Diver, Advanced Open Water Diver, Rescue Diver, Emergency First Response (EFR), Divemaster, and Instructor Development Course (IDC). In addition, those looking to complete the IDC also need to meet a few prerequisites: hold a PADI Divemaster certification (or qualifying certification), have at least 60 logged dives, hold a current CPR and First Aid certification, and have an in-date medical approval to scuba dive. To receive an instructor credential, you do need 100 dives under your belt.

After all of the classes are completed, divers will be able to take the PADI Instructor Exam. If you’re hoping to make a quick career transition, some locations offer intensive courses over the span of a few days, but there’s also an option to spread out the courses over a number of weekends. And once you’ve been at it awhile, you might even consider launching your own scuba diving school.

This article originally appeared online in February 2019; it was most recently updated on January 23, 2024, to include current information.

Ashlea Halpern is a contributing editor at T: The New York Times Style Magazine and cofounder of Minnevangelist, a site dedicated to all things Minnesota. Her work has appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appétit, New York Magazine, Time, Esquire, Dwell, the Wall Street Journal, and Midwest Living. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @ashleahalpern.
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