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Travel Inspiration and Information Series: Rika from Cubicle Throwdown

This Travel Inspiration and Information Series is an on-going collection of stories from fellow travelers. They come from all walks of life, they all travel differently, and for different periods of time. 

The only common focus is: They travel.

Travel is a dream for many, but many see it as unattainable.

These stories are meant to inspire as well as inform others on ways to make a travel lifestyle happen. A travel lifestyle that fits them.

If you’d like to contribute your story beaming with travel inspiration and information, please click here.

This story is from Rika from Cubicle Throwdown.


*What did you do before?

I used to be a paralegal! I worked in a big busy law firm doing corporate and securities work. Thrilling stuff.

*What made you want to travel and live abroad long term?

I was scared that I would keep living my life working at a job I didn’t like just to pay the bills and enjoy my weekends off. It wasn’t the worst life but I just didn’t want to do it forever. I wanted some adventure and know what it feels like to love my job. I figured by living abroad and doing some traveling, I would find what sparked my interest.

*What hurdles did you have to jump in order to make this life possible?

I now live in the Caribbean and work as a scuba diving instructor, and while I sometimes make it sound like I just came down here and it all fell together, it actually took a lot of planning and saving first. I spent six months working two full time jobs (I worked as a paralegal during the week in the day, and managed a gelato shop at night and on weekends) to save enough money to do my dive courses, buy equipment, and keep myself afloat during the months it took to become an instructor. It took a real toll on my physically and mentally, but I had a goal in mind so I kept going towards it until I got there.

Now, as an expat, I’ve had to go through residency in a third world country to stay and work here legally, which has come with its own challenges and financial obligations. It’s not for the faint of heart (or wallet).

*Do you still have any struggles that you need to overcome?

My struggles here always seem to be financial. I work as a freelance dive instructor, which is kind of like a substitute teacher – when an instructor calls in sick or goes on vacation or the shop has overflow work, then I get called in. During busy season I have to turn down jobs every day because I have more offers than time. But during slow season I’ve gotten to points where I have to borrow money from friends just to eat. I’m trying to focus more time and attention on my online virtual assisting business, so that there is at least a small steady stream of income coming in! I think that would help my stress level a lot!

*Where have you been? Where are you? Where are you going? Where have you lived?!

Before I was an expat I did a few backpacking trips – Mexico, Cuba, Japan, Peru and some traveling in the States (I’m Canadian!). In 2013 I worked as a dive instructor on a private megayacht, and I was able to add Belize to my list of visited countries. I now live on a small Caribbean island called Roatan. We’re off the northeast coast of Honduras, in Central America. I’m not planning on going anywhere anytime soon, but I hope that in 2016 I’ll be able to explore more of Central America – so far I’ve only been here in Honduras and to Belize. I’d like to see Guatemala and Nicaragua while I’m so close geographically to them.

*What do you do abroad/online to sustain your travel/live abroad lifestyle?

My main gig here is working as a scuba diving instructor. I also have a side hustle, as do most dive instructors because our pay is crap and our island is expensive. I have an online virtual assisting business and do some freelance stuff through UpWork. I also make a small income from my blog (www.cubiclethrowdown.com) and it’s been fun to watch it grow from something only my mom read, to having 5000+ visitors a month.

*What do you want others to know about what you do/what do THEY need to do to get where you are? (Be real! We all need the truth! This is the “information” part of the series…How can they do what you do?)

You absolutely CAN move to the tropics and work as a dive instructor. I did it and there’s no reason people like me couldn’t do it too as long as they plan and prepare properly. I made my plan, I timed it right to get out of my lease, I sold my furniture and put everything else in storage, I worked two jobs and saved the money I needed, and then I bought a plane ticket and did my dive courses. I did well in my courses and got a job. Three years later and I’m still here!

My lifestyle is not for everyone. I meet people on vacation here every day who tell me how lucky I am, and that they’d like to move down here and be a dive instructor too. I always smile and laugh with them, but they never see the reality of our jobs – hauling tanks and gear all day, dealing with emergency situations, fixing equipment, trying to teach struggling students, being forced to dive when you’re sick, a six day a week 10-hour day workweek, and all for not very much money. A lot of tourists seem to think we just jump in the water and go diving and then lay on the beach the rest of the time…I wish!

For those interested in being a dive instructor, I’d encourage them to talk to current instructors. Being a dive instructor takes more than just loving being underwater – you have to be a great teacher and be able to impart knowledge to people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. It also takes a crapload of money and time to do all your courses (mine took about a year total from my first course to my instructor course… the minimum is 7 months, but the more experience the better). Instructors are also expected to have their own full set of equipment and dive gear is not cheap. I would say with my courses and equipment, it cost me about $14,000 to become an instructor. Not including all the gear I’ve had to replace since then! We dive three times a day, six days a week and that’s a lot of wear and tear. You have to be in good physical shape as well to keep up with the physical demands of the job. A customer service background is important too, as that’s the majority of our job.

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*What information can you share with the reader to help them more? Feel free to add a link to your blog with that info, you don’t need to write it all out here.

I recently started a Roatan FAQ page on my site because I get tons of emails asking about life here – cost of living, working as a dive instructor, etc. and I don’t have enough spare time to answer them individually. I’m planning to build up this page quite a bit by the end of the year and hope it will be a helpful resource for people.

*What motto do you try to live by? / What would you tell others who aspire to have this lifestyle?

I always say I’ll try anything once. When I moved here, people back home thought I was crazy. I was always being asked, “What if you don’t like it? What if it doesn’t work out?” and my answer was always the same – even if I fail and come home after a month, at least I can say I tried it. There’s nothing wrong with giving it a shot, you never know how it’s going to turn out but it’s better than looking back 40 years down the line and thinking, “What if I had…?”

*Anything else you would want to add…

If you want to live abroad, make sure you talk to expats there to get a REAL idea of day to day life. Not everywhere is as great to live as it seems when you’re on vacation there. Vacation life is almost never the same as real life, unless you’re retired!

Bio: Rika is a former paralegal-turned-scuba instructor who decided one day that life in a cubicle just wasn’t for her. She left the corporate grind in Canada behind in 2012 for the sunny beaches of a little Caribbean island, and now spends her days underwater instead of behind a desk. Follow her adventures (and misadventures) in island life over at Cubicle Throwdown.

You can connect with Rika on: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | G+

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