Working Holiday vs Non Working Holiday: Which Is Right for You?

There are different styles of travel, and different people (and the same people at different points in their lives) will be suited to each one. I have dabbled in a few travel ‘techniques’ over the years, so for anyone wanting to see the world but unsure about how they want to go about it, for those of you contemplating a working holiday vs non working holiday, here are the pros and cons of being a foreign resident as opposed to a ‘see it all fast’ tourist, and some tips on how to avoid common pit-falls.

My Life as a Traveller

At the age of eighteen I left my parent’s home in England and moved across The Pond to Canada. From that moment on I was determined never to become stuck in my hometown and was intent on leading an ‘interesting’ life. Thereon in, I moved every three to six months or so, trying out new countries, new cities, new jobs; throwing myself into ‘real life’ everywhere I went. I favoured this way of travelling because of the feeling of reality it brought to each destination – I wanted to feel like a functioning part of my surroundings, rather than just a fleeting and faceless source of cash and custom.

Despite a never-ending thirst for experiences and movement however, it became slowly apparently that, rather than satiating my appetite, my long-term ‘residencies’ were actually making me complacent AND itchy footed: as a ‘local’ I would often turn my nose up, or procrastinate on visiting, the nearby ‘tourist attractions’, thereby missing out on many of the awesome things I had originally arrived to experience.

Realising that this semi-nomadic state had been leaving my travelling desires unsatisfied, I got thinking about WHY I travelled. Although I longed to see the world, it seemed that what I was really searching for was somewhere new to put down roots, and that my non-committal efforts thus far had provided neither the sense of engagement that could tie me to a place, nor the thrill of spontaneous adventure that I dreamt about when I planned each new journey.

Turquoise lake and mountain view, Whistler BC.
Hunting for adventure in the mountains

And so the experiment began: as a snowboarder and general mountain addict it was only natural to choose Whistler, BC, Canada as my new ‘permanent’ home. It turns out that it was the right place at the right time and in the four years since I ‘settled down’, I have never once regretted the decision to stay.

Of course, that isn’t to say that my wanderlust has faded – far from it – I still long to travel as much as I ever did, and so, once a year I become a *whispers* tourist.

For three or four weeks every year I set out, usually alone, on a mission to someplace far, far away. I plan excursions, I enjoy guided tours, I stay in hostels and hotels and I eat out for (nearly) every meal. I still get to see the world and it turns out that the key to enjoying it more was getting over my fear of being seen as an outsider and, instead, reveling in and enjoying the feeling of ‘newness’ everywhere I visit.

Working Holiday vs Non Working Holiday: The Pros and Cons

There is a huge amount of value and fun to be had as both a backpacker and as a ‘temporary local’, it really all depends on what you’re hoping to get out of your trip, your budget, and your time-frame. So, how do you decide between a working holiday vs non working holiday? Read on to discover the pros and cons of each style of travel.

What’s to Love About a ‘Working Holiday’?

1. It’s the Most Cost-Effective Way to Travel

When you stay for longer you always get more bang for your buck. Lots of hostels offer long-term rates on dorm beds. If you check out the local papers and notice boards you might even be able to rent your own pad; renting month by month is ALWAYS cheaper than nightly or weekly holiday rentals.

Long-term stays also provide more opportunities to find work, and it goes without saying that a continuing income will always make travel feel more affordable!

2. You Have a More Authentic Experience

Not only will you have more time at your disposal to find the best places, you’re likely to be able to get the inside scoop and local recommendations through the people you work with and other long-term residents – providing the opportunity for more authentic experiences. It’s a mind-set too: you’re likely to be more discerning when you think of yourself as local, and those around you are more likely to be invested in both your friendship and your custom if they know you’ll be sticking around for a while!

3. Working Somewhere Gives You an Immediate New Social Circle

This is especially important for solo travellers, but applies to people travelling as a couple or a group as well… at least if you don’t plan on living in each other’s pockets for months on end and eventually strangling each other.

Leaving behind friends and family and starting with a clean slate may seem exciting but will quickly lose its novelty after your third night all alone. Hanging out at the bar in the hopes of attracting a new BFF will usually get you more than you’re looking for (or maybe you are!); the workplace is generally a better bet for platonic good fun.

 Top Tip: Another thing to consider when finding new friends is high on the agenda: your living arrangements. Hostels are a great way to meet new faces when you first arrive in town, as is finding a room in a shared house… although the latter can be risky if you’re tied into a lease and it turns out your new roomies aren’t quite your cup of tea…

On the Down-Side…

1. Getting Sucked into the ‘I Have Loads of Time, I’ll Do It Next Week’ Trap

This one sounds stupid, but it’s a very real phenomenon. Here’s how it works: when you know you have months on end to see the sights, it’s all too easy to put things off ‘until next week’, ESPECIALLY if ‘settling in’ is prioritized over exploring. Before you know it three months has sailed by and although you are well acquainted with the local bar staff, the cool stuff you came to see has somehow been overlooked.

Vietnamese lady teaching a tourist how to make rice noodles. Cat Ba, Vietnam
Booking guided tours is a great way to meet new people and try new things- like making rice noodle!

Top Tip: The key to avoiding this one is to arrive with a plan – make sure you organise to do SOMETHING within two weeks of arrival, even if you are still job searching and house hunting. When you move somewhere to live there will ALWAYS be some sort of boring old life admin (see below) that you think needs to be taken care of before you go out and play – always remember WHY you’re wherever you are and – unless it’s life or death – make sure you take every opportunity to set ‘real life’ aside.

2. Not Enough Play Time

This one is pretty easy to understand: having an income while you ‘travel’ is great, but if you find yourself in a full time shift pattern it can be difficult to make the most of your new surroundings around working a 40 hour week. The length of your stay and the amount you’re able to save up before you leave are big factors here. It also really depends what you’re looking for too – maybe you WANT to be cultivating a normal working life as part-and-parcel of your experience.

Top Tip: It is possible to have it all, you just need to plan your time well. Here are a few ways around the ‘not enough time’ trap:

  • Save before you go and then work just part-time or casual shifts for a bit of supplementary income
  • Get a full-time job for the first few months and then take a delicious extended holiday to play the tourist
  • Just cram it all in – book in excursions every weekend and see the local sights in the evenings after work (or before work if you’re a night shift-er)              
  • … just make sure you factor in some time for sleeping!
Jungle and sunset view from a swinging hammock. Costa Rica
With so much going on, don’t forget to schedule some ‘me time’

3. The Presence of ‘Life-Admin’

Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you are living abroad you have escaped reality. Yes, you’re surroundings may be exotic and the scenery spectacular, but – as mentioned above – when you move somewhere as a ‘resident’ the boring stuff doesn’t just get left behind – it follows you, and it breeds. The most common of these will be a new bank account – 9/10 times you will need a local bank account to get paid. This can be more or less of a frustration depending on your fluency in the local language. Ditto setting up a cell phone, paying the electric and filing your taxes. I cannot even begin to explain the drama of trying to carry out these mundane little tasks when your vocabulary is limited to tourist conversations, so if your parlance is limited, at least try to hook up with a fluent friend, or a local with excellent English to act as your translator. Even better? Study hard and learn a language before you travel.

If a ‘fresh start’ is what you’re after; if you want to try living at a different pace or try a new lifestyle, then a working holiday could be for you. Moving your whole life to somewhere new is a great way to learn about yourself and challenge your self-sufficiency. It’s also a fantastic way to see new places if you’re someone who always thinks ‘I don’t have enough money to travel’- all you need is your airfare!

With the above in mind, if your reason for travelling isn’t so much to ‘change’ your reality, but to escape from it altogether,  then it may be that a bit of casual tourism is what you need.

Why You’ll Love Being a Tourist on a Non Working Holiday

1. The Holiday Mindset

You’re likely to see much more and have more spontaneous fun when you know your time in each location is finite, and you never have to worry about ‘work in the morning’. Seeing yourself as a temporary element in any situation can change your reactions – nothing seems as stressful and you are more likely to take a chance on ‘once in a lifetime’ activities – crazy adventures and fantastic stories magically flow in your direction. Finances play a large role here too – if you have been saving for a while in order to splurge on this one big trip, it stands to reason that you’ll be more willing to splash out on great excursions and fancy meals than you would be under ‘normal’ budgeting circumstances.

3 hikers entering a dark tunnel.
Get out there and explore!

2. With No Ties, You Can See More

Without the rigidity of a work schedule or the commitment to a monthly rental you’re free to flit around to your hearts content, so if you’re set on seeing as much of a particular country as you possibly can, the freedom of being able to ‘up and go’ at any given moment is going to be important. That going to work is going to eat into to play time is obvious, but you’ll also avoid the often unexpected phenomenon of the working holiday ‘rut’: Time and time again I have witnessed travellers on a two year work permit arrive with the VERY BEST intentions of seeing the whole of Canada, suddenly wake up one morning to discover they have spent a full 18 months in Whistler BC…oopsie. It’s really quite incredible how quickly time can pass you by when you’re just going about ‘normal’ life.

3. The Exhilaration of ‘Seeing It All’ in a Short Space of Time

This is the stuff that dreams – and memories – are made of. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of multi-activity days, and of looking back on a week of travel and seeing how much you have managed to accomplish in such a short space of time purely because you have wanted it and made it happen.

With so much going on, and so many life-changing moments occurring in a small time-frame, I highly recommend keeping a journal when you travel. Funny conversations with strangers, an amusing exchange witnessed in the street, the strange and interesting caterpillar that appeared on the breakfast table – these are the smaller moments that can get lost in a larger narrative of a whirlwind vacation but that are crucial to the experience. I have always found the madcap adventures all the more satisfying for the stealing quiet moments to reflect on my adventures… not to mention the fun of reading back on forgotten incidents long after the return home.

Busy bus station with an old school bus being loaded with luggage.
Embrace the craziness of life on the road

But Even Vacation Can Have Its Pit-Falls…

1. It Can Get Pricey. Fast.

Even staying in the cheapest, grimiest hostels you can find, paying nightly for your bed adds up. This is especially true if you’re going to be hitting up particularly tourist-geared areas or big cities where even cheaper hostels are able to charge a ramped-up fee.

Depending on where in the world you are, food can also take up a huge portion of your budget. It’s true that many hostels will have a kitchen area, but here’s where the ‘holiday mindset’ can turn on you – it’s VERY easy just to throw financial sensibility to the wind and choose to eat out every night when you’re on a shorter trip, after all, you ARE on vacation!

Top Tip: Going all-out, blowing your budget and having to return home early can be avoided pretty easily with basic budgeting and a little will power:

  1. Work out how much spending money you have.
  2. Research costs and subtract ‘big’ costs: transport (both to and from your destination and ‘within country’), ‘must-do’ activities, and insurance to name a few.
  3. Divide the remaining amount by the number of days you plan on travelling to get a rough guide of your daily spending allowance.
  4. To help you stay on track, take out a weekly or bi-weekly amount of cash and put your ‘daily limit’ in your wallet each day, leaving the rest in a safe box or locker at your hotel or hostel.

2. Falling Into Over-Priced Tourist-Traps for Convenience’s Sake        

It is often said that one can have a lot of time, or a lot of money… but never both; a statement that rings particularly true when it comes to travelling. This problem is usually exacerbated by an over-packed itinerary or trying to cover too large an area in too short a time-frame, something of which I for one am terribly guilty!

This was particularly apparent on my trip to Vietnam last fall, where I attempted to travel the full length of the country in 3 little weeks and on an equally little budget. The cheapest way to travel by far was by bus, but this is also the most time consuming, with many ‘hops’ between major cities taking 24 hours, not to mention the time to then get away from the main transport routes to more remote locations. I had to make the choice between completely blowing my budget on time-saving flights, or sacrificing upsettingly large chunks of my planned itinerary due to the time lost to bus rides. In the end I found a compromise – cutting out the more obscure locations in favour of towns and adventures within an easy distance of Vietnam’s rather excellent train line. I still had a fantastic trip of course, but my shortage of time meant that I saw much, much more of the ‘well-oiled’ tourist side of the country at the expense of what would likely have been more genuine and immersive local experiences had I ventured further off the beaten track.

Inside of a sleeper bus in Vietnam.
Taking the sleeper bus will save you money…but they sure do take time!

3. The Curiously Repetitive Nature of Conversations with Your Fellow Travellers

Meeting new people, being inspired by their tales and making some amazing new friends is all par for the course, but for all but the VERY extroverted, the repetitive nature of ‘backpacker talk’ can get tiresome. Having a good chin-wag and picking the brains of your fellow travellers feels like great times for the first few nights, but if you’re moving from place to place rapidly and are facing a continual onslaught of new faces, the cycle of backpacker ‘stock questions’ can begin to get pretty grating. Even worse than this is the paranoia that begins to take root when you realise that, in the majority of situations, you yourself are the instigator of the ‘how long have you been travelling? Where are you from originally? Where will you go next?’ cycle of small-talk.

Top Tip: Keep a few unexpected, and non-travel related questions up your sleeve – ask about their dreams for the future, childhood pets, what sports they’re into – anything really that builds a conversation outside of a description both of your current itineraries! If all else fails, getting out and about is a great fail-safe: grouping together for day-trips and activities creates new-memories and builds bonds that can last a lifetime. Most hostels and local tour companies will be full of suggestions and options for joining larger groups for a variety of adventures.

3 people on a small boat sailing through a mangrove stand.
Round-up a group at the hostel to make new friends AND explore at the same time

Working Holiday vs Non Working Holiday: Which Should You Choose?

Travelling is always going to be a very personal and unique experience, especially if you’re going solo. When weighing up the pros and cons listed above, take into consideration that they are based on my personal experience and that the things I may consider ‘good’ or ‘bad’ points may seem negligible, or even totally the opposite to you!

What’s important is not to get too hung-up about your working holiday vs non working holiday preference, or to be too taken in by the idea pushed by many in the online travel community that a permanent nomadic state of being is the only ‘real’ or credible way to see the world. Being a ‘wanderer’ is tremendous fun for many but can also be stressful. It’s really all down to your personality and how much (and for how long!) you want to push outside of your comfort zone. Ultimately, all travel is worthwhile and can teach you a lot about yourself.

The most important thing is to listen to your dreams, for if your heart harbours even have an inkling of longing to see the world, then you MUST do it or forever wonder, “what if?”

 

Need more help in making the decision of working holiday vs non working holiday? Our post on the best Canada working holiday blog and travel sites could have the answers you’re looking for.

 

Kate
Entwistle

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