Backpacker enjoying the view

Vagatending 101: A Bartender’s Guide to Travel

We need sometimes to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life, to taste hardship, and to be compelled to work desperately for a moment no matter what.” – George Santayana, “The Philosophy of Travel.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been into adventures. I’ve always found the unknown intriguing, different ways of doing things interesting, and learning new skills entertaining. But unfortunately, modern day society doesn’t encourage us to live adventurous lifestyles…

Risk is considered “ill-advised.”

So when I grew up, went to uni, graduated, and was faced with the idea of getting a boring desk job, I thought to myself, ‘Is this really how I want to live the rest of my life?

HELL NO!

So I went traveling instead and it was one of the best decisions of my life.   

It’s true what they say, ‘once the travel bug bites, you’ll be happily infected for the rest of your life.’ And I’m not the only one who feels this way. Whenever I meet anyone who’s been traveling, they usually say the same thing, ‘Traveling is awesome.

Strangely enough, when I tell these exact same people that I’ve been on the road on-and-off for almost 6 years now, they shake their heads in disbelief. And they ask me, “How on earth have you been traveling for so long? Are you Instafamous? Are you a millionaire??”

I simply say to them, “Nah, I’m a bartender so I can work wherever I like.”

That usually leaves them looking slightly disappointed, but despite their disappointing look and for some other egotistical reason, I always imagine them walking home thinking, ‘I want to go Vagatending too!’

What the Hell is Vagatending?

I first came across the term Vagabonding when I read Rolf Potts fantastic travel book titled Vagabonding.

Basically, Vagabonding goes something like this, you take an extended period of time out from your normal life – six weeks, four months, two years – to travel the world on your own terms. You can travel for as long as you like, however you like, wherever you like, and with whoever you like, as long as you’re doing it your way. 

The idea is that at the end of your adventure, you’ll have developed a new enthusiasm for life and you’ll have become a more well-rounded and worldly individual for it. That’s usually the case anyway.

Vagatending is exactly the same thing, except more specifically, you pick up bartending work as you go in order to fund your travels.

This is exactly how I’ve managed to live & travel overseas for so long. And I’m not the only one. I’ve met loads of vagatenders doing exactly the same thing.

They pack their bags, move their life overseas, do some traveling, settle in a new town, spend all their money, find a bartending job, learn, make money, leave, and then do exactly the same thing all over again.

If you’re a bartender who’s interested in long-term travel, vagatending is the way to go. Not only will you be able to find work overseas everywhere you go, but you’ll become a much better bartender for it. 

Let’s get to it.

Why Traveling & Bartending is Such a Great Combo

Traveling and Bartending goes together like salt & pepper. Travelers end up becoming bartenders and bartenders end up becoming travelers.

Why?

Without a doubt, the main reason why travelers become bartenders is because it’s such a flexible profession. You don’t need to study for years to find a job, you don’t need an endless amount of experience, and employers generally don’t mind hiring staff temporarily.

For travelers, this kind of flexibility is priceless. It means that as soon as they settle down into a new town or city, they can find work and start saving for their next adventure, without having to consider returning home again.

Then thrown in on top that being a bartender is fun, you get to socialize for a living, make great friends, meet the locals, work flexible hours, and make great money. And bartending becomes THE job travelers are looking for.

So for people who want to travel long-term, bartending is an obvious choice. It’s also fairly obvious why bartenders love to travel. I mean, who doesn’t!?

But what might not seem so obvious is how vagatending will make you a better bartender. Especially if you’re in it for the long-haul.

How Vagatending Makes you a Better Bartender

The majority of the time, Vagatending is fun & exciting. You’re going on adventures, you’re meeting new people, and you don’t have the same societal pressures weighing you down as you do back home. But there’s no doubt that it can also be challenging.

Look at it like this, when you go vagatending, you have to move your life overseas, say goodbye to your friends & family for an indefinite time period, find somewhere to live, and then look for a job in a country you’ve never been before, all on your own…

Of course, it’s going to get tough!

But it’s in these challenging situations that we learn and grow the most. And these situations usually give us exactly what we need to progress to the next level. Both in life and in bartending.

So as far as being a bartender goes, vagatending will teach you how to be more flexible, more humble, and less judgemental because you’ll be constantly working with different people in different working environments. You’ll realize that you’re not ‘god’s gift’ to the bartending world and you’ll learn how to work more effectively with others because of it.

You’ll also learn how to serve different customers, use different ingredients, and apply different bartending techniques. 

It’s only natural that you’ll become a more flexible and well-rounded bartender for it. That’s why I believe all bartenders should go vagatending at some point throughout their career. I see it as the bartender’s ‘rite of passage’.

The Life of a Vagatender

Vagatenders work nights, so they have nothing they NEED to do during the day. That means they get to do whatever they want.

So the life of a vagatender looks something like this:

They get to wake up when they want, usually around noon, before chilling out for the day, attending a language class, or catching up with some friends. Sometimes they might go cliff jumping, snowboarding, surfing, or training. Other times, they might prefer to sleep all day, before waking up, having dinner and grabbing a beer!

Their nights are usually spent working behind the bar, honing their craft, laughing with their colleagues, getting to know the locals, learning the local language, and getting a real feel for the culture they’re living in.

Anywhere between 2-12 months later, they’ll pack their bags and move on. With enough money saved for their next adventure, they’ll likely go backpacking, hiking, camping, safariing, or even return home for a short while, before they find a new town/city to settle down and do it all over again.

What a way to live…

It beats being chained behind a desk for the next 50 years anyway!

Vagatending Hiking

Here’s How to Get Started

If the life of a vagatender has got you thinking HELL YEAH, I’ve got great news for you. You can live this kind of lifestyle too!

Anyone can. And you don’t need to be a millionaire, Instafamous, or have a boatload of bartending experience. As long as you’re willing to put in the work, learn how to become a bartender, and take a leap of faith, the life of a vagatender awaits you. 

Here’s what you need to do to get started:

  • Purpose (Why are you doing this?)
  • Working Visas
  • Book Your Flight
  • Get Some Experience
  • Have Fun

Purpose

The first thing you need to do is figure out why you want to go vagatending in the first place.

Everyone’s different when it comes to this and some people prefer not to know why their traveling overseas at all. But I’ve always found that’s it’s best to have some idea of what you want to do before you leave so you can take full advantage of your time abroad because you never know how long it will last.

Here are a few questions you could ask yourself:

  • Are you doing this purely to have fun?
  • Would you rather live next to the beach or in the ski fields?
  • Do you want to learn a language?
  • Are you doing this to become a better bartender? In which case, what countries have a great bartending culture?
  • Are there any countries that you’ve always wanted to travel through?

Whatever your reasons turn out to be, use them to help decide where you end up going. For example, if you realise that you really want to learn Spanish, don’t book a flight to China.

Go to Spain or South America instead!

A little pre-thought up-front goes a long way here.

And remember, it’s ok if your reasons change as you go. In fact, that’s quite normal. Be true to yourself and what you want to do, and have the courage to live life on your own terms.

That’s what vagatending is all about.

Working Visas

Applying for working visas is by far the most annoying part of this whole journey. Unlike other forms of traveling where you only need a tourist visa to get by, working visas are more strict.

Often, you’ll need to satisfy certain requirements in order to obtain the visa (e.g. financial requirements, age requirements, nationality requirements, etc). And sometimes you won’t even be able to work in your chosen destination because the laws are too strict.

So you’re going to have to do some research before you head off to figure out your options. You want to find out what visas are available for that country and whether or not you can apply for one.  

**Note** In general ‘working holiday’ visas are the best option. Student visas are also a viable option.

If you find that the country you want to travel to won’t allow you to work there, you’ve got two options.

Option 1: Pick a different country. This is the option I’d recommend because you’ve got so many different vagatending destinations that you don’t need to restrict yourself to just one.

Option 2: Risk it. In other words, go to your chosen country on a tourist visa and look for work anyway. I don’t recommend you go down this path because first of all, it’s illegal! And second of all, bars and restaurants will underpay you, because it’s illegal!

That being said, I’ve met many vagatenders who took option 2 and got away with it.

The choice is yours.

Book Your Flight

Once you’ve figured out where you want to go, what you want to do, and you’re aware of how the visa situations works, book your flight. Traveling doesn’t become real until you’re flight is locked in. Otherwise, you’ll always be able to find a “good reason” why you can still back out now.

So this step is plain and simple… BOOK YOUR FLIGHT!!!

I remember when I booked my first flight overseas. I was scared shitless! My hands were shaking, my knees were trembling, and I walked around the rest of that day imaging worst case scenarios.

The plane is going to crash. I’m going to sleep in and the flight anyway. I probably don’t have enough money to survive overseas so why am I doing this? OMG, How the F%@# do I get a refund?!’

Looking back on it, it sounds stupid. But now that I’ve spoken with different people who’ve gone through exactly the same thing, I’ve also realised that it’s also normal. It takes balls to book your first flight overseas but I guarantee you it’s worth it.

Get Some Experience

It’s going to be a lot easier to find work overseas if you’ve already got some hospitality experience. Not only will it look good on your resume, but it will also help you to feel more confident when you arrive knowing that you’ve done this type of work before.

So I always recommend up-and-coming vagatenders to get some type of hospitality experience before they go.

That being said, you don’t need experience. It just helps…

When I first went vagatending, I barely had any hospitality experience and I had no bartending experience whatsoever. Yet, I still managed to find a job. Sure, it was hard, it was nerve-wracking, and I had to put in the work, but I got there.

You can certainly do the same.

Just don’t expect to rock up to a cocktail bar and throw around bottles like Tom Cruise in the movie cocktail. It takes time & practice to get to that kind of level. So more than likely, you’ll have to start out in an entry level bartending, barback, or server position, if you’re going to make it work.

Have FUN!

What’s the point of doing any of this if you’re not going to have fun. As soon as you arrive overseas, forget about looking for work, forget about your insecurities, you can worry about those things later.

Instead, let loose, have a beer, make some friends, and HAVE FUN!

This will likely be one of the most memorable experiences of your entire life so you want to make the most of it.

Finally, if you find yourself having second thoughts about this whole vagatending thing, remember this: We regret the things in life that we don’t do, not the things in life that we did and where it didn’t work out.

So get out there and go vagatending!

I promise you won’t regret it ;-).

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Founder of Crafty Bartending, Tom is passionate about the hospitality industry. For the past 5 years, he has traveled around Europe, Asia, & Australia working as a professional bartender & bar manager. He loves consuming cookies, big macs, beer and wine.

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