Have you ever run out of money while travelling and had to find work (as in any work) so that you can keep travelling – or simply just to feed yourself? When I returned to London after travelling around Europe on my first Big Trip Overseas I desperately needed cash (I had around $50 in my pocket) and scraped around for anything that resembled work, but I have also worked while I’ve been travelling for some extra cash (or extra beer money more specifically). It’s amazing – and a bit frightening – the jobs you will do for cash. I have done a whole bunch of jobs that I had no idea what I was doing, from plastering and house building to tree surgery and fence putter uppering (not sure if that is the recognised name of that occupation). Still, it could have been worse. A friend of mine got a job as a nude male model for a sculpture class in Denmark. The class of beautiful Danish women would do things like measure his inside thigh and he said that he would have to imagine his parents being killed in a horrible car accident so that he didn’t get, um, too excited.
Here are my eight worst (or best!) jobs that I’ve managed to bluff my way through:
Wow, was I a bad plasterer. I was in between summer and winter work for the tour company I was working for and I really needed some cash, so when someone at the tour company office asked me if I had any experience repairing and plastering walls I said yes. That wasn’t true, but I figured that I had gone to art school for five years, so it couldn’t be much different to using a palette knife. Plus, I was good at painting. There was no internet back then to look up how to do it, so it ended up looking worse than how it was before I started (imagine letting a five year old do it). Mind you, I was very clever – I managed to hide by dodgy work with a couple of strategically placed posters.
Silver Service Waiter
Grosvenor Hotel, London, UK
I was Princess Diana’s waiter! Okay, I wasn’t HER waiter, but I was a silver service waiter at the Grosvenor Hotel on Park Lane in London – and Princess Diana did go there quite a few times sort of around the time that I was working there. When I got a phone call from a temp agency asking if had waiting experience – and more importantly, ‘waiting’ attire – I said yes to both. Neither was true and I had to borrow some black pants and shoes (that were both way too big) and I fashioned a bow tie out of a one of the girls in the flat’s hair ribbon with a bow in it. Oh, and I had no idea how to do the ‘silver service’ thing with a spoon and fork. On my first night I dropped quite a few potatoes in people’s laps. That was okay, though – most of them were plastered already. For the rest of the night (until 2.00 in the morning) I was responsible for keeping the jugs of non-alcoholic fruit punch topped up. I had about a dozen tables to look after and I didn’t refill a single one. That was because everyone was boozing on like mad. All 1200 of them. Quite a few of the waiters were downing drinks, too. I think I was the only sober person in the whole place.
It sounded like a good deal. Help put up fences for two days at a big music music festival and get free beer at the end of the day – and free tickets to the festival. The first two hours on the first day was such hard work that I almost collapsed – but then someone started handing out beers. This happened on the second day, too. I don’t think much of that fence adhered to the Danish National Fence Standards (you could have pushed parts of it over with your pinkie), but we were incredibly good at drinking beer.
Queensway Tube Station, London, UK
I literally went busking for my supper. I headed down to Queensway tube station with Phul from New Zealand (who I shared a flat with) and we stood in one of the tunnels next to a lift with our guitars. Our plan was to make enough to buy ourselves dinner (and a pint each) at the pub. As a train pulled in (we could hear – or feel the wind – of it’s imminent arrival) we would begin to play the rather obscure Little River Band song ‘I’ll be Home on a Monday’ (we managed some really nice harmonies – plus it was easy to play). It only took us half an hour (and 14 goes at the same song). Mind you, a third of our money came from one of our other flatmates returning from work who felt sorry for us). This is the song (but not us singing)…
I signed up for an employment agency during one barren work spell in London and told them that I would do anything. That included a week working night shift in a warehouse packing boxes and a memorable week helping to move an office. All of the furniture and large items had been moved from this large company to a new office down the road, but there were still a bunch of boxes and files that had to be moved. Our job (me and a guy from Canada) was to load up a trolley and wheel it down a busy London street to the new office – then do it all gain. We could have done the whole thing in a couple of days, but we dragged it out for five days. We did that by having a long nap each day in the old boardroom and using the still connected phones to call home for an hour each day. Oh, and I’m sure we dropped a few (most likely important) files in the street as we trundled down the Strand.
I didn’t really need the work, but while I was sitting at breakfast (with a terrible hangover) at the Salzburg Youth Hostel one of the staff members came in and asked if anyone was interested in a week’s work washing dishes in a kid’s summer camp. I looked across at a guy at another table and he said,’ You wanna do it?’. I shrugged and said, ‘Sure.’ Twenty minutes later Adam (from New York) and I were in a van heading out to the Austrian countryside. Our job was simple – wash dishes at breakfast, lunch and dinner for a bunch of 14 to 16 year olds. Our other job was to run the disco night at the end of the week. Neither of us was very good at either, but we had a blast. On our time off we went hiking, biking and drinking. And Adam had a fun time in the spa with one of the teachers.
Selling phone pin numbers
Los Angeles, USA
Okay, this was well dodgy. It was a dodgy way to make money and I had to go to a real dodgy area of Los Angeles to do it. A fellow from the youth hostel talked talked me into going with him to LA bus station (no, worse, the back of the LA bus station) in the search of ‘shady-looking’ characters. When we found a suitably shady chap we asked him if he sold dodgy phone card ‘numbers’. This was an access number to make calls anywhere in the world. I’m not sure how these guys got the number, but it usually only lasted a day or so before the ‘number’ was cancelled. We eventually got a number then headed back to the hostel and resold the number to 12 people for the same price that we paid – and then split the profits – and called our family back home and told them that we were staying clear of any trouble.
My building skills are almost as good as my plastering skills, so when I got offered a week’s work on a building site I was somewhat worried about how long I would last until they found out that I was about as useless as a plasticine hammer. As it turned out my lack of skills weren’t the biggest problem. My biggest problem was that I didn’t understand a SINGLE word the two supervisors said to me. They both had thick Irish accents and in the end I needed an interpreter. They finally gave up and just got me to do the most menial tasks that didn’t need too much explanation. Not surprisingly they didn’t ask me back the next week. Particularly when I bent about 20 nails in a row – to hammer in ONE nail.
Have you done any interesting (or dodgy) jobs overseas?