How to Work Less and Travel More as a Chef

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I am a chef. I’ve been travelling and semi-location independent for over 3 years. During that time my wife, kids and I have visited 5 continents, 40+ countries and spent more time together than any chef family I know. I’ve not missed a Christmas and that’s a big deal. We’ve found a new way of living with a better balance of work less and travel more as a motto.

In part we have changed our lifestyle through online earnings. My wife owns several travel websites and makes a living through affiliate marketing as a travel blogger and through selling advertising on her sites.

This site is starting to earn us money too. But up to this point I’ve worked part-time as a chef, less than half the year, to boost our travel fund when we needed to. We are working to become digital nomads, to totally fund our travel lifestyle through location-independent online endeavours.

The Work Less and Travel More Chef Lifestyle and Work Ethic

Four years ago I was an Executive Chef working 60 plus hours a week with 4 weeks annual leave plus public holidays. Of course, as a chef, I rarely managed to take holidays and after 5 years had nearly 2 years of holiday unused. We all know what that’s like.

Sure, we had the occasional week or two in Thailand or Bali but there had to be more to life than a few weeks a year of travel and being together as a family.

Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking and working in professional kitchens but with a young family the balance just wasn’t right anymore.

My wife and I devised a plan to allow both work and travel to flourish, making it work financially and practically. I wanted to work a few months of the year and travel with my family the rest.

I’m always being asked, so I think it’s time to explain how we’ve pulled this of.

It comes down to four main parts, all different, all important. LOCATION, WORK ETHIC, LIFESTYLE, and SKILL LEVEL.

How I work less and travel more as a chef.
Work Less and Travel More.


Location is an important factor for a number or reasons. You would find it very hard to support a home and mortgage in a fixed location as a part-time chef.

We figured out that travel makes our expenses far lower and life more enjoyable, so that’s what we do. We travel at least half the year and I slot in a few months of work when I can.

Back in 2014, we chose to live in London for several months to break up our global travel adventure. We’d depleted our savings and I needed to top up the bank account with my chef’s earnings.

My wife’s websites pull in a reasonable income, but back then it wasn’t enough to support a family of four.

London living allows easy access to any part of the world and there was a huge amount of work available in hospitality. But the problem with London is that housing is extremely expensive and hard to find short-term.

There are ways to make London accommodation cheaper and we’ve tried them all. House sitting effectively gives us free accommodation for weeks or months in exchange for looking after people’s homes, gardens and pets. To do this, sign up with a reputable agency like Trusted Housesitters, but I’ll warn you, competition is fierce and it’s hard to get sits, particularly for a family.

To make the agencies work for you takes dedication. All of our house sits have been offered to us by my wife’s readers. (we’re open to offers!)

AirBnb can be a good option in London, particularly in summer when families take off on long holidays and want to make some extra money with their homes. We’ve recently found a month-long stay in an expensive part of London for just £60 per night. A hotel or apartment will cost you £80-125 for 4 people in London.

We’ve also previously taken a short-term lease for 8 months, the price was about the same as the AirBnB rental above.

AirBnb is something you have to sign up for, use our link to receive a discount on future stays.

Our first time back in the capital we stayed at a hostel for a week while I searched for work. With so much work on offer I could pick what terms I wanted and generally what was going to be best.

My wife and kids always have a great time in the city, London offers kids so much and she, being a travel blogger, gets loads of free admissions and perks in exchange for publicity. They’re really cool with our living arrangements, whatever they are.

Back in 2014, looking for a casual, well-paying job and having contacts in the city, I sent out emails and landed a few interviews straight away. I also signed up with hospitality recruitment agencies, both permanent and temp and again, was given numerous interviews. The danger became that I’d attend interviews full-time and not actually get around to any paid work.

Being honest with what I wanted straight-up cut a lot of wasted time down. I didn’t say I wasn’t going to be in London full-time for the next 10 years and never claimed I was looking for a full-time position.

People appreciate that honesty and it allows everyone to be on the same page. With so many restaurants and hotels in London, the needs and demands vary greatly. I was lucky enough to land a job as a casual chef in a hot hotel with an agreed hourly rate where I could come and go as I wanted.

While there I could work as many hours as I liked and be paid for them all. I didn’t get holiday pay or sick pay, instead, that was lumped into my hourly wage. This brings me to the second most important aspect which is work ethic.

Work Ethic

Nearly all the chefs I know have a great work ethic, certainly when compared to the average working Joe. But like anything in life, there are those that don’t have it.

For this new work: life plan to happen you have to have a great work ethic day in, day out. I only get paid when I’m actually working.

As a casual temp chef, you are of course at risk of being laid off when business is slow. A rarity in London and really only something that happens around Christmas and January. These are the times I always take off anyway to be with my young family for the holidays and to ski in Romania, no problem there.

If the work dries up at any other time, easy, we take off to Thailand, Romania or Mexico and live cheaply for a while.

You need to be the person that the head chef always goes to when they need that extra help. You have to become indispensable, which is easier than people think, but does take dedication and hard work.

I’ve never actually said no, I can’t cover this shift, nor do I worry which department they put me in.

I routinely work 70+ hours a week and during November and early December can increase to over 80 hours. The last three months from September through to Christmas I worked 6 day weeks only ever having Sunday off. 

Don’t feel sorry for me as it was my choice and I did it all with a smile. That is important because no one in a kitchen likes a whinger.

If you are going to make this work and do the job then you have to do it well and with enthusiasm, that’s another reason the chef will keep coming back to you time and time again. All the senior managers at the hotel know I can and do cover all shifts as they need them and so I become the first person they ask.  

I’ve been coming back to this same job from time to time ever since.

After working hard for a while you enjoy that pina colada on the beach even more!

Skill Level

Skill level is the last missing ingredient that goes into making this travel lifestyle work.

If you don’t have loads of experience it’s still possible, but you won’t get as many opportunities or as much money.

I have 20 years of experience in 5-star hotels and restaurants from apprentice to executive chef. I can put myself out there in any type of kitchen from banqueting to fine dining and everything in between.

I can run teams in any of the kitchens and understand what the chef wants whether it be food cost control or an unbeatable mind-blowing dish.

The most important thing here is to play your strengths. If you are predominately banquet based don’t say you can do fine dining or if you have only done fine dining don’t say you can run a banquet for 1500. Nowhere quicker will you be found out than in the kitchen where actions are essentially everything.

In my current job as I move between departments, chefs ask how does that other department work? How do you serve a 3-course meal for 1500 insides of 60 minutes? Or how does the plate-up and cooking work when everyone orders differently and hits the restaurant at exactly the same time?

How do you set up the lounge buffet display for the evening? Educating yourself in all the operations of the establishment will go a long way to making you indispensable.

Lifestyle choices

Working the way I do I now have the lifestyle that I want. I recently finished reading UnWorking: Exit the Rat Race, Live Like a Millionaire, and Be Happy Now by Clark Van de Venter, a great book on how he dramatically changed his life.

Not a rags to riches tale, but one of high earning conventionally successful man to a traveling non-conformist homeschooling dad. So much of the book rang true with me and I’d have to recommend reading it to anyone who is remotely thinking of changing their lives around.

Our lifestyle now encompasses the world. As a family, we sit down and decide where we want to go. Not just for a two week holiday but for months at a time. Can you even imagine being able to do that?

This year we skied through January before spending a month in Sri Lanka, kids choice, followed by Nepal where we trekked the Everest region A few weeks in Dubai came either side of that before a European road trip back to London.

Who knows where we will end up at the end of the year or next year but Asia, Mexico, Iceland and West Africa are likely. Without being shackled to a job or a holiday calendar we are free to choose what’s best for our needs and likes.

So many people at work ask me how I do it. That I must be some sort of millionaire. These same people normally have more yearly income than me, nearly all have the latest and greatest £500+ phones and they all spend every cent they make.

Quite a few have partners working regular jobs, meaning they bring in double what we have money-wise.

 It’s about working out what you want to do and following that dream. People work so hard to clutter up their lives with worthless junk and stuff we are told we need and must have.

If you don’t buy all that stuff imagine the money you’d have left over to travel. Do you need a 75 inch TV? If you do and that is your happiness then that’s fine but if not, change it.

We have done that and hopefully, I’ve shown you that it is indeed possible as a chef to do this. In fact, being a chef is one of the easier career choices for travel. Which is one of the benefits people told me of 20 years ago when I first started in the industry. They just didn’t realise how far I was going to travel or how long!

How to Work Less and Travel More as a Chef. How I've taken myself and my family to around 40 countries in the last 3 years. Family travel and chef lifestyle design.

Sign up to follow our journey here, you’re 3 (now, almost 10, this post is old) years late, we’ve been living this way for a while, we’re not stopping.

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I’m not a very prolific blogger, my wife has the blogging talent in our family and you can find further information on how we make our lifestyle work on her sites: World Travel Family and Homeschool Group Hug. She has 8 in total now in various niches.

Thanks for being here on this largely neglected website, once I’m out of the kitchens and IronMan Malaysia is in the bag, we’ll be travelling and blogging again. Tell me in the comments, what do you want to read here about being a travelling chef?

Update: During the pandemic we were stranded in Australia, unable to travel. I went back to the kitchens, part-time, to earn a living income in such an expensive country. Travel shutdowns smashed our travel blogging income. I set to work reviewing every restaurant in town. We’ll be back on the road as soon as it is possible.

Safe travels!

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Chef is James Long, a professional chef, world traveler and endurance athlete. He has spent almost a decade traveling and working internationaly.

17 thoughts on “How to Work Less and Travel More as a Chef”

  1. This is so great! Thanks for explaining the chef side of it! But I’m sad because I just booked our vacation through Air B and B and didn’t feel you have a link or it would have used it! My husband just did a restaurant opening in Vegas, and ended up booking two huge homes through Air B&B for the training cruel as it was so much cheaper than staying at a hotel. We’re trying it for the first time as a family soon. Glad to know you guys use it and have been happy with it.

    • We use it very rarely Jennifer, we normally find that hotels and guest houses are cheaper, but for London it works and we once used it in Guatemala for a 1 month stay. In the last 3 years we’ve only used it twice, but it has it’s uses. Hope you have a great and well-deserved holiday!

  2. wow work less travel more. Awesome and interesting after all one of life’s best experiences can only be gained through travel.

  3. My husband and i and planning to travel aroud the states. Im wondering how to become a traveling cook/chef or any resoucres that your have when help.

    • Hi Cherston,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post. My best suggestion would be to have a brief CV outlining your strengths and talents. Do some research on the places you’ll be visiting and may want to work in. If you can get names of people that will be in charge of hiring that is an added bonus. The more experience you have across a wide range of kitchen environments will be invaluable as the jobs people normally need doing are varied and hard to fill with local chefs/cooks.

      Hope this helps.
      Good luck with your travels next year.

  4. Is there work for a traveling pastry chef or is that too specific a kitchen position? I also cycle which is why I want to travel. How do you get in your training while moving around?
    Love your blogs-I never realized their could be others out there with my exact interests!?

    • Hi Julie,
      Yes there is always work for a pastry chef although you’d probably stick to more western countries and
      bigger hotels for more choice. The hardest part is getting the visas to work in places. If you’ve got that
      sorted then most places are short staffed across the whole kitchen including pastry.
      Where are you thinking of traveling to?
      Thanks for reading

  5. I’m really interested in the working my way as a chef while traveling. I’m at a perfect time of my life right now where I have all the criteria needed.

  6. My husband is a chef, we own our own restaurant, and we want to travel to Italy for 2 weeks but have a real TRUE Italian experience. He graduated from the CIA 30 years ago and has the incredible work ethic you’re talking about. I am an elementary school teacher who stopped working to do the book work and front of the house mgmt.

    We raised 4 boys, last one just went to college, we would love to travel…as well.

    But first…any suggestions as Americans in Italy, to get the Fullness of the experience of food and culture in Italy?

    • Good Morning Brenna,
      Thanks for reading. Sure sounds like you’ve been busy.
      My advice for travelling in Italy, as with any country
      is to get out into the villages and visit the smaller areas.
      Rent a car and just go for a drive. The big cities while
      good won’t always have small places to eat without local
      knowledge which might be harder in a two week break.
      Enjoy your trip as Italy has some real great places to eat in.
      Cheers James

  7. Hola Chef,
    This is an awesome read! I have a for a few years thought about traveling and cooking. I was raised in the kitchen but on paper only been in the kitchen 5yrs. In that time frame i reached my goal of becoming a sous chef in a casino steakhouse. Would of loved to gone further but due to Covid a lot of things have changed. Do you recommend someone like me try to do something like you did? And if so how can i get started? I at this point would love to reach Room chef status but i love traveling more then what a Room Chef does lol. I can say kitchen is life, i love cooking i love creating i love the heat i miss it all! Would love to hear your thoughts!! Thanks for putting this out there gives me a bit of hope!

  8. A fabulous adventure story, any ideas on a traveling Pastry Chef? I have over 20 yrs as you experience-wise and am trained in France immigrated from Switzerland and now live in WA State. My wife and I are free of kids now all left the nest yay and we can do this but haven’t seen it done in the Pastry world.
    My dad 91 almost 92 still going strong joined a company and traveled the world while they paid his expenses he made no income he volunteered to help set up bakeries in other countries for new business owners. He retired young with Mom and they have been all over the world. Like your wife my wife is a writer she has been published a few times and now has books in the making but due to Covid I’ve been laid off now going on 2 yrs and on too many interviews for full-time work to count We are done with full time relying on resorts and this is what we really want to do but as freelancers like your self not like Dad and Mom
    did it.
    Would you have any info on Pastry Chefs doing this? We would be greatly appreciated. Love your adventurous spirits! How lucky are you and your family right? The Kids will have a wealth of knowledge for Life!

    Kudos to ya all Great story!
    Kind Regards,

    • Chef is away volunteering right now Roger, but I’ll ask him to get back to you. (This is his wife) The world is a very different place today unfortunately, we’ve been stranded for 18 months now with borders still closed and little hope of them opening. Hopefully, the world will be back to normal soon.

  9. I would love to follow you and your cooking adventures — something I aspire to do as well! Thanks much!

    • Thank you, Lindsey, my pleasure. The pandemic has halted me for a while but hopefully, borders will be open soon. I’m actually back in the kitchens cooking for a living until travel returns and with it our online income. I got stuck in Australia.


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