Travel

The Total Guide to Teaching English and Traveling

Travelling the world and working from anywhere.

Seem to good to be true?
It’s most definitely not.

Whether you need to upskill, learn something new, or start a side hustle with the help of online platforms, the options are endless.
One such example?

While I travelled non-stop in 2019 and early 2020, I worked as a digital consultant and taught English online on the side.

A decade of working in digital marketing prepped me to work 1:1 with small businesses as a consultant, but I taught myself how to teach English online. While teaching English online will be the topic of this post, there are dozens of other ways to work remotely while travelling– from becoming an online tutor, to working as a virtual assistant, to submitting photos to stock agencies, to fulfilling services on freelance websites, like Upwork and Fiverr- endless opportunities.

Why Teach English Online?

I decided to teach English online primarily because I believe in diversified income.

I knew any number of consultant scenarios were likely-
-It could take me a while to build a steady stream of clients and ongoing projects.
-I may want to say no to a project but feel under financial pressure to say yes instead.
-I could experience a lag between projects longer than what would be idea.
-I may want to work less in some destinations, but still earn a bit of money.

From what I read, teaching English online seemed like a relatively easy way to earn on the side, supplementing my main source of income. With no minimum commitments to teaching weekly, and the ability to set my own hours, VIPKid, also a market leader, seemed like a great place to start my online teaching journey.

I taught English as a second job while travelling, but there are loads of people who teach ‘full time’ while living abroad or traveling. If you work enough hours per week, it’s definitely possible to earn upwards of $2,500-3,200 monthly. I’ve even heard of full time online ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers taking home over $4,000 monthly.

One of the best parts of VIPKid for me?

It gave me the freedom to turn down projects I wasn’t excited about, or walk away from clients I didn’t think were serious enough, because consulting wasn’t my only source of income. I’ve even recommended VIPKid to friends who don’t travel full time for the above reason- that it can offer financial freedom with a flexible schedule, and a job that’s done at home.

Why VIPKid?

There are dozens of companies that offer opportunities for people to teach ESL online. Each of these companies has a different set of hiring requirements- some require a teaching degree, others (like VIPKid) only require a Bachelor’s degree.

Some require their teachers to be of American or Canadian descent (because many of their customers – primarily Asian families and their students want to learn ‘American’ English), while others are more open and accept teachers from Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

I gravitated toward VIPKid because I knew others who taught on the platform.
With over 65,000 teachers and 500,000 students, VIPKid is one of the largest ESL platforms. VIPKid’s students range in age from 4 to older teenagers- I usually teach students aged 5-12.

As with other platforms, the lessons are done for you- really, all you have to do is show up, teach, and submit feedback if it’s required.

Some teachers work for multiple companies to help bolster bookings and ensure they don’t lose income if something happens with a particular platform. I entertained the idea of applying to GoGoKid, but ultimately decided against it since teaching was a side hustle for me, and I didn’t want to have to manage two schedules.

10 Things to Know to Start Your Journey As an Online English Teacher

There is an application process 

With VIPKid, it can take up to several weeks- it took me nearly four weeks to complete because I started the process while travelling through several countries and took my time completing it.

When I applied to VIPKid, the process started with me uploading a demo lesson (a few minutes in length) and personal credentials (passport copy, Bachelor’s degree). Once I passed the initial screening, I had a live class (10 minutes) with another teacher. I passed this level on the first attempt, but if I hadn’t, I would have had the opportunity to practice again.

Although it may not seem like too many steps in applying, I also spent time researching lesson techniques, teaching tips and figuring out which props to acquire while travelling. The sheer wealth of information available for VIPKid is another one of the reasons I chose them over other companies- there are so many blog posts and YouTube videos/channels with tons of tips on getting started, including a slew of teachers who are happy to serve as mentors in return for using their affiliate code.

You set your own schedule, but work on APAC hours

Like many online ESL platforms, the majority of VIPKid’s clientele reside in Asia- notably, China, with smaller subsets in Malaysia, Korea and Singapore.

This means high demand times are on China time. Peak booking time periods are every week day evening- 6-8 pm China Standard Time, and 9 am – 8 pm China Standard Time on weekends.

Peak periods can fluctuate seasonally, such as in summer when there’s more demand on weekdays. This doesn’t mean you can’t book classes outside of the aforementioned hours, but there is less demand then, and as such, less likely. When travelling and living in Asia, I usually worked a few weeknights, sometimes starting at 5 pm and working through peak hours (until 8 pm). And on weekends, I usually worked in the morning, took afternoons off, and then worked again at night for a few hours if I didn’t have other plans. The weeknight and weekend schedule, combined with the flexibility of setting my own hours as a consultant worked well for me.

The VIPKid teaching community is strong

Yet another reason I chose to teach with VIPKid was their online community. There are tons of Facebook groups for everything from working as an ESL teacher while travelling- VIPKid Teachers Who Travel and Digital Nomad Teachers and Tutors– to ones with more specific lesson information, like props and teaching techniques.

Traveling on your own can be isolating, especially if you stay in your own apartment over a hostel because you need private space to teach. The online communities made it easy to connect with people like me all over the world, and even inspired a few meet-ups in Bali and Vietnam.

It takes a while to get started

Once you’re through the interview rounds, you’ll create a profile and open your schedule to teach. At this stage, it can take a while to get bookings. I’ve heard the way parents choose teachers is a bit like browsing Amazon- so, if you’re new and have no reviews, you likely won’t surface near the top of their options.

I’d read that taking the free workshops VIPKid offers can help bolster your standing, and although this is unconfirmed, I did find a lot of the workshops helpful.

One of the workshops advised on crafting your profile to appear to both parents and kids. After this particular workshop, I edited my video with iMovie, adding transitions and background music, and changed my photos to ones of me on the Brooklyn Bridge (because New York is so recognisable), and at Disney (because I suspected that’d appeal to kids). I also changed my profile photo and re-wrote my bio based on the tips in the workshop. Sure enough, all of the actions helped with bookings.

In another workshops, they advised opening more slots than you’d like to teach (at first), and keeping the short notice (classes can be booked within an hour of taking them) option on. Because I was working as a consultant, I had to freedom to do both of those things, and I definitely think it helped me gain traction in the beginning.

Even so, it took about four months before I was booking both the amount of classes I wanted to teach regularly, and on the ideal schedule to teach them.

Be patient.
Take the time when you may be opening classes but not yet seeing bookings to learn how to improve. Bookings will come.

On this note, also understand that demand can be unpredictable, even once you’re an ‘established’ teacher. Students often take weeks off for Chinese New Year, and may book less during busy times at school. On the flip side, summer can mean a surge in bookings. And, of course some things, like COVID-19 can have an effect on bookings no one could have predicted- I was still teaching at the height of the pandemic in China in January and February and took advantage of the surge in booking requests with children being home from school.

Get every certification available

At first, you won’t be eligible for much. But, as you teach more and garner good feedback, other levels and certifications will open up. Apply for as many as you can- many of them are similar in nature and don’t take long to complete. The more you’re certified for though, the more options there are to consider booking you.

Get in the habit of checking routinely for new certifications- VIPKid is known to open levels and course certifications routinely.

You do not need a lot of props to get good reviews

In YouTube videos and blog posts, you’ll see teachers with loads of props- dozens of them.

When I started teaching more, I was living in Indonesia and had the space to have an array of printed props, as well as a few physical things- like a puppet, ball and small ice cream cone. Leaving Indo and traveling again, I streamlined my prop selection- now, I’m down to only two small pouches.

Those pouches hold laminated props, rewards for when I can’t use virtual ones because of spotty Internet (flowers, balls, candy/treats, candles & cake), as well as a few things I use in lower level lessons and trials over and over- Dino, Meg/Mike, big eyes for ‘look’ and a giant ear for ‘listen’. I also keep ABC flashcards (which have images on them that I sometimes use as cues in teaching), and flashcards for fruit and vegetables. Buying my props in Asia means I have some native fruit/veg flashcards, like durian, mangosteen, dragon fruit and lychee, which the kids love seeing.

Aside from the above, the only other things I travel with for teaching are a pair of headphones, tiny clapping hands (a reward for earning five stars), and orange felt to tack up as a background.

Point being: You do not need a lot of physical items to make classes fun and engaging.

For the most part, I use virtual rewards- a game (Decision Roulette) on my phone and the face filters within the VIPKid app.

Face filter wise, not every student enjoys them, but some really like seeing mini animals, food or things appear next to them, and it offers me an opportunity to extend by teaching them more vocabulary, or asking questions (‘what color is the cat?’), which parents love.

Some teachers use Google Slides or ManyCam, which I never looked in to – mostly, because I taught on the side and didn’t invest a ton of time into it. However, if you’re teaching more and looking to streamline what you carry with you, either would be good tools for creating a fun, immersive classroom.

If I were starting my online teaching journey again, I would sort the application process and gather props before hitting the road.

If you, like me, decide to get started while travelling, you’ll be happy to know there are teaching stores in major cities, like Bangkok, Taipei, Seoul, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hanoi, where you can buy props. And, don’t feel like you need to figure everything out at once- I printed some props in Taiwan, and had them laminated at a Kinko’s business centre in Korea. Essentially, I adapted my props (and teaching style) as I went without issue.

More important, in my opinion, than props is your energy and attitude. In my classes, I try to be energetic and laugh a lot- which goes further in keeping my students engaged than showing physical props would.

In fact, the only four star review I have of several hundred happened while teaching a class in Delhi because my internet connection was too glitchy. Even in the review, the parent noted they’d given 4/5 stars because of internet issues, not my teaching style or classroom.

Get the right equipment 

To start, you’ll need a laptop or iPad.

On top of that, I’ve found headphones (sound cancelling ones are best; although, mine are cheap ones from an electronics shop in Hanoi and work just fine), a clip-on ring light, an internet extender, foldable laptop riser, bluetooth keyboard, mouse, and back-up battery are important to an enjoyable teaching experience for me.

Arguably, the laptop riser, keyboard and mouse aren’t truly essential, but picking them up and using them greatly improved my experience – especially teaching back to back classes.

You never know what’ll happen- from power outages, to weak internet, to less than ideal lighting, so it’s best to be prepared.

One source for back-up Internet is recommended, but two are best

Wherever you are, the internet will glitch. If you’re in Asia, Central America, South America or Australia, it’s likely it’ll even go out- for moments or longer.

I travel with a TEP hotspot, which charges $9 USD per day of use. I only turn it on in an emergency, but it’s saved me class cancellations several times (fyi, too many class cancellations can lead to a cancelled contract). If I were starting again, I’d probably look at Google Fi as a back-up Internet option, as it charges per GB of use.

I also have an unlocked iPhone and always pick up a SIM with a decent data plan. If my internet goes out, I turn on my phone hotspot first since it’s usually much cheaper than me using my TEP device. But, sometimes, my cell service isn’t great, and in those instances- TEP hotspot to the rescue.

Plan accommodation based on internet strength and spots to teach

If I’m teaching, the first things I look at in Airbnb/rental descriptions are windows (for natural light) and furniture- is there a desk? If not, are there dressers, tables, chairs or stools that I can use or stack to create a place to sit or stand and teach?

Once I’ve identified a few good options, I message the host before booking. In that message, I explain that I work online and require strong internet. I let them know that I’d like to book, but first need them to confirm internet speed. Running a speed test is simple, and can be done through a site like Speedtest.net. I ask the host to send a screenshot, so I can verify ping, upload and download speeds.

Of course, a speed test is taken at a single point in time, and thus, not wholly indicative of what kind of internet strength you’ll have during your stay- which is why back-up internet and an internet extender are important, but a test can be a good indicator of if the internet is even ‘workable’.

Ideally, you want the ping to be below 60ms (the lower, the better). Download wise, I don’t teach on less than 5-6 mbs, but at least 10 is ideal. And, for upload, I won’t teach on less than 2 mbs, although, again, the higher the better. If you can hardline internet, you’ll likely be able to teach off lower speeds with fewer glitches.

Know that it’s okay to travel at your own pace 

Some VIPKid teachers travel constantly, others pick a place and stay for months.

I did a bit of both- living in Indonesia for three months, and traveling around other places at much faster pace. Usually, if I planned on working while travelling, I tried to spend at least a week (often longer) in a place so I had time to work, and also sightsee and enjoy the location.

Nomad List is perfect for assessing places that may be good for long term stay, by price, weather, and average internet strength.

If I’m planning to stay somewhere for a few weeks or months, I also look for coworking communities- a sure sign there’s an expat population. Also great, the existence of numerous digital nomad Facebook communities (the more, the better in any given location), plus blog posts on the topic of remote work.

Much like this post, there are plenty of resources to help you figure out how to get started earning online and working remotely. Whether you teach English or put another skill to the test, there are more options than ever to live a flexible lifestyle on the road.

Have you ever thought about teaching English online or working remotely? 

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