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Is Teaching ESL a Vacation or a Vocation?

Teaching ESL is often advertised by recruiters as an opportunity to see the world. The industry term is a backpacker or backpacking teacher. Now the question is Is Teaching ESL a vacation or a vocation?

There are teachers who do one, maybe two-year stints in an academy or school, then take another teaching job in a different location.

This is not so much for the high pay or good position, but a way for them to experience different cultures and travel the world.

And why not? Many academies and schools will pay travel expenses either upfront or reimburse the teachers after a year.

That equates to being able to see the world and getting paid to do it. So, this makes teaching ESL an attractive line of work for not just single folks, but even backpacking couples.

After several years of teaching ESL and experiencing different cultures, these teachers have saved up some money and may want to return to school and complete higher-level studies, then as some say, “get a real job.”

Some may use the time to save money to buy a car; others, to take advantage of the opportunity to fulfill a dream of international travel.

The reasons vary, but the practice is the same: see the world while teaching English.

On the other hand, there are ESL teachers out there who’ve been doing it long term. For them, TESOL is a career—more of a vocation than a vacation.

They invest their time, money, and energy into perfecting their skills and upgrading their training as they are able to.

I’m one of those who’s been teaching ESL for many years—16 in fact. And, it’s been a great ride.

Teaching English has opened a lot of doors and opportunities so that I’m able to raise a family on what I earn. And, I’m not alone.

For me, and other ESL teachers out there, TESOL is our livelihood. That’s one of the reasons why we try to protect it: because we’re in it for the long haul.

As a result, we want teachers to be well-trained and know what they’re doing when they step into an ESL classroom.

Otherwise, the industry takes a hit, and it lessens the credibility of the profession.

Whichever direction you lean toward, you know that TESOL is an opportunity for you to see the world, meet new people, and also earn a long-term living.

But, what are the pros and cons here? Our blog today will share a few insights that may help you consider which type of teacher you want to be: a backpacker or a long-hauler, a vacationer, or a vocation-er.



ESL teacher recruiters often target their advertisements toward new graduates.

These are typically younger folks who haven’t quite figured out what they want to do in life.

So, what better way to decide what you want to do, than while making decent money and traveling?

Not only that, but they’re helping people become more active in the world of English. They’re also helping people help themselves, in many cases, out of poverty.

Backpacker Pitfalls

There are, however, drawbacks to being a backpacking teacher without experience or training. For example, the better-paying jobs and higher-level positions require teachers with experience and training.

Skilled teachers who know how to plan lessons and manage classrooms will have a leg up over teachers without proper training or experience.

Many organizations are actually looking for long-term teachers who are serious about what they do. If they notice you’ve changed jobs three times in three years, they’ll likely be a little hesitant to hire you.

You might also want to be aware of organizations that offer internships but with very low pay, or even volunteer positions.

Often, in this setup, you’ll be placed in schools or academies that pay low, have poor conditions, and may even treat you poorly.

These programs may even ask you to pay a fee for their services. There are a lot of stories out there from teachers who’ve hooked up with the wrong program.

So, beware of such offers. Schools or organizations should not be asking you for money to work for them.


Long-haulers as I call them can be classified as generally older (not old) folks who’ve either settled into TESOL as a career or came right out of university ready to work in the field.

And, why not? You can make a pretty good living teaching English.

Some organizations will pay as much as $4,000 USD or more per month for qualified, experienced ESL teachers.

Given the right position, teachers can even bring their families with them wherever they go.

Rather than a “vacation,” long-haulers see what they do as a “vocation.” In that sense, they see what they do as a fulfilling, rewarding career.

Final Words

Today, we’ve shared a little about teaching ESL as a vacation (backpacker), and teaching ESL as a vocation (long-haulers). There’s no harm or shame in either one—both serve their purposes.

But now, you know there are at least two types of teacher mentalities.

So, we can’t fault one or the other, only understand their perspectives, and work together toward helping people achieve their English language learning goals.

The answer lies with each of our readers: Does a paid working vacation that allows you to meet, teach, and help people around the world appeal to you?

You can get a lot of experience travelling.

On the other hand, do you want to get into something that you could probably retire from in the future?

Do you want to enjoy a fulfilling lifelong career? The field of TESOL is a pretty good deal, whether you’re a backpacker or long-hauler.

And remember, OnTESOL can help you either way. We not only offer internationally recognized TESOL training with certificates, but we also provide job placement assistance with organizations that recruit teachers.

Contact us today to discover more about how OnTESOL can help you begin or polish a rewarding job in the ESL industry.

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