How A Minimum Wage Salary Funded My New Life Abroad
I don’t know how many times I’ve told someone about a trip and they’ve responded with, “I wish I could do that!” Or how many times I’ve shown pictures of a new city I’ve visited or exotic food that I’ve eaten and people say, “Lucky!” or “So jealous!” Of course, these could just be nice comments from observers, not saying anything more than “Congratulations on having fun” in a less formal way.
But I’ve also come across people who really mean it. They really are jealous. They really do wish they could do it, and somehow separate things I’m capable of from things they’re capable of.
This is how I saw things when I was 22: basically, you can start your career, or you can travel. One is “safe” and one is adventurous. One is responsible and the other a way to have fun before you get too old/start working for your retirement/get married/have babies/accumulate so many obligations, material goods, and debt that you’re tied to your life as it is today for as long as you can imagine.
This is how I saw things when I was 22: basically, you can start your career, or you can travel.
You can chase money, or you can live your life. There’s a certain amount that you need to eat and sleep in a bed and live. Whether you live comfortably or safely or just adequately is up to you and your needs. But you don’t need much. You just have to decide what you really want.
Anyway, here’s how I did it, saving on minimum wage — or close to it. I couldn’t find a job after I graduated college. So I worked at a summer camp, just to get out of my home state of Oklahoma for the summer. It was temporary and it was in Idaho and it was at a Lutheran camp (I know nothing about Lutheranism and had only recently learned how to pronounce the word “vicar,” though I still couldn’t tell you what it is). I think I made less than $2,000 that summer and I worked 18-hour days most of the time. None of that money went to my travels.
I came back to Oklahoma with as many prospects as I had left with: none. So I took my aunt up on what was probably just an empty, albeit polite, offer to house me in her basement in Denver while I looked for jobs there. For three months, I worked at Ann Taylor Loft and saved what I could. Then I moved back home.
I continued working at Ann Taylor Loft in Tulsa for $9.50 an hour. I also got a job at a liquor store for $8 an hour. And with those jobs, living with my parents and not paying for housing or food, I was able to save to go to Prague to teach English. The only expenses I had were car insurance and gas, which probably totaled around $250 a month.
I get that I was lucky to live with my parents after college. But at the time it was a real blow to my ego. I still could have saved the money to go, even if I was paying rent. It just would have taken me a lot longer working two part-time jobs and getting paid less than $10 an hour, but I was also living in a city with one of the lowest — if not the lowest — costs of living.
I was scared out of my mind when I thought about leaving with no real plan.
I chose Prague because it was also a cheap city. They had a legitimate school (TEFL Worldwide Prague) where I could get TEFL certified in a month and gain teaching experience, and I felt comfortable with the idea of committing to a few months — one, at least — in the city.
I had no idea what I was doing. I was scared out of my mind when I thought about leaving with no real plan. But I also didn’t want to stay in Tulsa, Oklahoma for the rest of my life and start working for my retirement at 22. So I just went.