When I graduated from film school in 2008 I was desperate for any job that would pay me to hold a camera. In the midst of the Global Financial Crisis and with unemployment at an unprecedented high, I knew I couldn’t be too picky about work. I took a job as a camera operator at a small news firm in Central Florida and latched onto the 9-5 rut. I’d paid a pretty penny for my degree, and after two years of lugging around out-of-date equipment and producing bare-bones, mind-numbing daily news in a town where not much happened, I was dying for change.
When the opportunity arose for me to tag along on a six-week European backpacking trip with a high school friend, I put in my two weeks notice, ordered an absurdly large Osprey backpack, polished off my Canon 7D, and turned in my two-weeks’ notice. As soon as the plane landed in Paris I knew that I’d come down with the travel bug—hard.
Over the next three years, I lived on three different continents, visited 14 countries, taught English, farmed with nuns, and participated in one too many village sheep slaughters. I had plowed my way through an ambitious bucket list and after three years away from friends and family, I knew it was time to come home. I returned back to the United States with one goal in mind (besides stuffing my face with as much of my mom’s cooking as I could): find a job that will allow me to continue to travel. Less than one week into my job search, I was fortunate to land a job as a camera assistant with an up-and-coming production company that specialized in reality television. With state-of-the-art equipment, production running in over a dozen states (including Hawaii!), a liberal budget, and several contracts with major television networks, I felt like I’d just won the lottery.
I spent the next two years living out of suitcase—just like I’d wanted—and learning the hard way that traveling for work is a completely different beast than traveling for fun. Below are five things I wish I’d known before signing up to be a full-time vagabond.
1.Work still comes first.
Yes, you get to see a lot, but you also miss a lot. There were so many local events happening in or near the towns we were filming in, such as fall festivals, concerts, film screenings, and art shows, that I desperately wanted to check out. Unfortunately, when you’re on the clock working major production, there is little time to experience the local culture. Even though I got to visit more than a quarter of the states in the U.S., I always left with the feeling that what I saw and experienced, most of which happened from behind a viewfinder, was just the tip of the iceberg.
2. You’ll gain weight.
One of the biggest perks of traveling for work is the meal compensation; it’s also one of the most damning. When I was traveling abroad on my own, I was scraping by, often living off of bananas, bread, and street food. It wasn’t lavish, but I was in the best shape of my life when I got back to the States—until I started this job. Within the first two months, I put on twenty pounds and didn’t see an end in sight. All meals were covered, and that meant I was able to choose what I actually wanted to eat versus what my budget could afford. I found myself eating more steak, lobster, and always finishing the meal with a rich dessert. The calories were quick to add up and so were the pounds.
Working production can be incredibly grueling. The days are long, the conditions are sometimes brutal (yes, reality television is filmed in rain, sleet, or snow), and the equipment is heavy. That’s not to say there isn’t any downtime, but when there is it usually isn’t enough time to do anything. You always need to be ready to go, so downtime can actually be pretty boring. When you’re in production and you have camera gear just sitting there, thing’s can get a little weird.
4. Home isn’t home.
Forget about a gym membership, becoming a regular at a bar, dating, friends, or getting into any sort of routine. You would think after traveling for 2-3 weeks for work you’d be happy to be home, but that’s not usually the case. You’ll spend your weekends and time off planning or worrying about your next trip. When you finally meet up with your friends, part of the time will be spent commenting on how much weight you’ve gained, or how long your beard has gotten, or how chapped your lips are. The rest of the conversation will be spent getting caught up on everything you might have missed. Forget eating out at your favorite local places—just the thought of going out may make you want to vomit.
5 . You’ll get to go places, see things, and meet people that you would never have otherwise—just like traveling!
Traveling for work is like being on a family vacation…forever. You sleep, eat, sweat, and play with a small crew, and that crew really does become like family. Despite the physical aches and pains of long days, being in a new setting every other week beats the a 9-5 office job any day. And, when production wraps up, you often get to spend a few more days on location as an actual tourist and finally cash in all those hard earned hours.
If you’re hoping to get the chance to explore and take in the sights while working chances are you’re going to be disappointed, but if you’re looking for something that’s not your typical 9-5 job, a chance to make life long friends, push yourself mentally and creatively then maybe becoming a roadie might just be for you.