Musing of a Barfly by Tom Blake –
Most people assume that living a life where you get to travel full time is reserved for the rich & famous, definitely not for ordinary people like you and me.
There’s a good reason for this. Traveling can be expensive. Especially, if you’re the kind of person who actually enjoys doing stuff, like having the occasional drink, taking a tour, or going kayaking.
6 years ago, I used to think the same thing. I thought that you had to be rich to sustain any form of long-term travel. But, I’ve since realised that that’s simply not true and I’ve lived a life in contradiction to those thoughts.
There’s another way, and it doesn’t involve restricting your travels to the 2-4 weeks in holidays a year.
What the Hell am I Talking About?
Well, I’m a bartender and I love it. I love being involved in an industry where I get paid to socialise, make great money, and actually have fun at work. I love having my days free to do whatever I want. And I love spending my nights at work, sinking the occasional beer when things start to get a little hectic!
But most of all, I love the fact that my profession gives me the freedom to live & travel wherever/whenever I want.
I’ve lived in the French alps, Nice, Melbourne, & London. I’ve backpacked throughout Europe, I’ve partied in Ibiza, I’ve trained in Thailand, I’ve surfed in Bali, and much more, all because I’m a traveling bartender.
Sounds pretty awesome, right?
Well, if I can do it, so can you. Anyone can live this kind of lifestyle…
But it doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly doesn’t happen by jumping into a career you’re not sure about. You have to spend some time getting experience in the hospitality industry and honing your craft.
But once you’ve done that, the world becomes your oyster.
Here’s what happened to me…
What is a Traveling Bartender?
Back in 2011, my life wasn’t very interesting. I’d just graduated from university and I had no idea what I wanted to do… So I thought, why not go traveling and get a job as a bartender overseas?
I’d always wanted to be a bartender. I mean, who wouldn’t? From the outside looking in, it looks great. You shake cocktails, dance when the music’s pumping, and chat up the attractive waitresses whenever you get the chance!
So that’s exactly what I did. I saved up for a few months and jumped on a plane heading towards the South of France.
Before we continue, now is a good time to explain what a traveling bartender is. Because if you like to travel (or if you want to travel), this is one of the best ways you can do it without being a millionaire.
Basically, it’s a bartender who travels from place to place bartending to support themselves as they go. Getting a job overseas as a bartender is perfect because hospitality is a lot more flexible than other industries. And it’s also a lot easier to meet like-minded people when you work behind the bar.
Sometimes these traveling bartenders will spend over a year living in the one place. And other times, they’ll spend less than 2 months. It really depends on where they are, what they’re doing, and whether or not they’re having a good time.
In my eyes, these bartenders were (and still are) living the dream. They learn amazing skills, they socialise for a living, they meet extraordinary people, and they’re lives are full of adventure!
I didn’t know it yet, but when I jumped on that flight towards the South of France, I was about to join their ranks.
Moving to the South of France
When I moved to the South of France, I didn’t have much experience in the hospitality industry. All I had done was work at a quiet golf club bar as a server. And to be honest, it was a pretty easy job and I didn’t learn very much.
But it did give me a delusional sense of confidence that led me to believe that I could competently work behind any bar. So when I was given a job interview at one of the busiest bars in the town, called ‘Wayne’s Bar,’ I wasn’t surprised!
I’m sure that confidence helped me enormously during the hiring process… And looking back on it, I’m no longer ignorant enough to believe that I had ANY hospitality skills whatsoever.
I was lucky to land that job.
Wayne’s Bar was an English/backpackers/student bar situated in the heart of the ‘old town’ in Nice. There was a live band every night, everyone was encouraged to dance on the tables, the bands chugged beers mid-set, and the staff were expected to party with them!
It was awesome. Especially to an innocent single 22 year old ;-).
Don’t get me wrong though, it was hard work. Most decent bartending jobs are. We worked long hours, it was always packed, we dealt with rowdy customers, I was mopping up vomit nightly, and when you’re constantly surrounded by alcohol, things can get intense (read: mental breakdowns are a common occurrence…).
But I loved it and I ended up working there for an entire year.
During that time, I was able to go skiing in the alps, I went to Paris, Amsterdam, & the UK, and because I was getting paid so well, I managed to save up enough money to backpack around Europe for 2 months.
Wayne’s Bar is the reason why I fell in love with the life of a traveling bartender.
Bartending in the French Alps
One of the best parts about being a bartender is the people you meet. You get to meet people from all over the world who have done extraordinary things. And they always love talking about what they’ve done.
That means you’re always getting great ideas of where you should go next.
When I was working in Nice, I met a few guys who had worked ski seasons as bartenders in the French alps. And they would go on and on about how great they were. Drinking, socialising, partying, skiing, and bartending… It sounded great!
So I thought, ‘Why don’t I do that? I love skiing, I love bartending, I love France, and I love a drink!’
So I started looking for work and I managed to land a job in Val D’Isere at one of the most popular nightclubs in the French alps, called Dick’s Tea Bar (Hint: connections are really useful in the hospitality industry). People would literally travel from other ski resorts just to be there for the big nights.
And on these nights, the atmosphere would rival some of the best nightclubs in Ibiza & London.
What’s more was that this was my first ‘real’ bartending job. When I working at Wayne’s Bar, I was predominantly a server. So when opening night came around and I saw how busy it was getting, I was scared shitless!
But as with everything in life, you improve over time. And after a month of working under the pump like that, bartending became second nature. In between shaking cocktails (I’d always wanted to do that!), serving customers, and wiping down the bar, I was dancing with Swedish girls, drinking beer, and having shots with my managers.
It was awesome.
Then there were those days…
If you like skiing, snowboarding, or just the snow in general, I couldn’t recommend doing a ski season more. Sure, you’ll work while you’re up there. But because you live there, you get to ‘play’ on the mountain every single day…
And it’s a lot cheaper than when you go on holiday.
Lift passes are the same price for the entire season as what they would be for 2 weeks. Accommodation is generally a part of your compensation package. And because you get to know everyone around town, drinks are cheaper. In fact, most of the time, they’re free!
And at the end of every day before you start work, you get to chill out with new & interesting friends, drink beer, watch movies, or play cards.
The days are even better than the nights, and the nights are nothing short of spectacular.
The Finer Side of Bartending
When you’ve got a decent amount of experience as a bartender, you can find work almost anywhere you go. If you enjoy travelling, that knowledge is liberating because it means that if you want to live overseas for a year, it’s not a problem.
You can just book a flight that day and be confident that you will easily find work.
It also means that if you get sick of one style of bartending, you can move onto another. There are loads of different types of bars you can work in. Pubs, nightclubs, ski resorts, beach resorts, hotels, sports bars, cafes, restaurants, etc, the list goes on.
And on my end, after spending 2-3 years living a crazy bartender’s lifestyle in rowdy bars and nightclubs, I was ready for something different.
So I decided to start exploring the finer side of bartending…. which is what exactly?
It’s a shame, but most people don’t realise that there’s a lot more to bartending than pouring drinks & having fun. Sure, that side exists. But there’s also a much more professional side. The side where bartenders take their craft seriously and you’ll usually find them working in hotels, nice restaurants, or cocktail bars.
I’ve been lucky enough to experience this side of bartending for a few years now, both in Australia and in the UK. And I’m constantly surprised at how much skill & study goes into it.
For example, when I lived in Brighton in the UK, I worked at a place called Hotel Du Vin. And the staff I worked with were highly skilled.
The bar manager knew more about cocktails, rum, and rap, than I knew about bartending. Another bartender was competing in cocktail competitions. And one of the others could describe the flavour profile of every single whiskey we sold (there were more than 100 of them…).
It was pretty impressive.
Well, my journey certainly isn’t over and I’ve still got a lot to learn.
But as for right now, I’m traveling around Australia in a camper van with my new wife (we just got married in February!). With plans to visit South East Asia & South America before we move back to the UK, life’s pretty damn good.
And guess what? None of it would have been possible if I hadn’t taken a chance and become a traveling bartender. So now, I want to hear from YOU…
Yes, I’m finally sick of talking about myself!
How do you want to live your life? Do you want to spend it chasing someone else’s dream? Or do you want to make up your own mind and take a chance??
Whatever it is, let me know in the comments section below. I can’t wait to hear from you 😉
[For more information on Tom Blake – Visit craftybartending.com]