Many of us dive instructors wander through life, trying to find a life that’s different than the norm. Some of us shutter at the idea of ‘getting a real job,’ and its why many of us got into this line of work. Not only is diving an extremely fun activity, but it’s a much better way to make a living (albeit a marginal one) than sitting in a soul crushing cubicle or pouring over investment charts (to some of us at least)
That being said its not without its challenges. But us diving instructors meet other like-minded wanderers and anti-office types, which creates a very interesting community where we end up. People come and go, which can be tough, but we all are similar in the sense that we want to find something new. It might not ever end up exactly the way we think it will, and we might not ever find that permanent solution. But it makes for an interesting existence that’s for sure. I’d like to open up a little bit about the good sides and not so good sides about being a wandering dive instructor on Koh Tao, Thailand and beyond.
People have their friends and acquaintances sorted out back home. If you go to a bar in your home town, everyone is hanging out with people they already know, but maybe aren’t so interested in meeting new people. Everyone is from the same town generally, and there’s nothing exciting about yet another dude from the suburbs of San Francisco California.
However there’s something amazing about international travelers. Not only do they want to hear about what life is like in San Francisco, I want to hear about their Danish, Swedish, or Norweigan lives! (I don’t know why everyone from this example is Scandinavian, but here we are. I’m fascinated by what life might be like in Molmo, or what the Roskilde music festival is like.)
Not only that, but travelers themselves are actively looking for new friends and traveling partners. Everyone is social on an entirely different level, which makes for a very open and welcoming environment at nightclubs and bars. People always have good recommendations to share, and part of the fun of traveling is sharing these pieces of advice and life stories from our home towns with each other. I never had many dutch or german friends before, and its pretty cool to say I do now.
Being a dive instructor, you meet so many people from all over the world. They give you more credit than you deserve, as if you invented scuba diving. Anyone could’ve taken them, but you made their day special, and you befriend people who end up being friends for life. Or, maybe you don’t see them ever again.
There’s always people who haven’t seen the island before. So it can be a great experience to introduce them to viewpoints, restaurants and night life, and activites that they might not know about! To show them such things and have them be legitimately excited feels legitimately helpful and cool to do. Plus you might get a free pizza out of it! (Never expected, always accepted).
Its very difficult to see people coming and going. Your experience as a tour guide on an island known for tourism is that tourists leave quite frequently! Even diving instructors and co-workers leave much more regularly than back home. The amount of going away parties we attend is too damn high!
Because the setting and activities don’t change so much, but the people do, we end up telling the same stories, the same jokes, and answering the same questions.
“How long have you been here for?”
“Well I lived here for four years, from 2015-2018, but just came back in August” is a phrase I’ve memorized and can recite in 5 different languages.
During my courses I tell the same few diving jokes.
“Hey, why do scuba divers fall backwards off the boat?” “Because if they fell forward they’d still be on the boat!” is a joke I’ve used roughly 384 times.
The pay isn’t amazing. Nobody gets rich being a scuba diving instructor. You don’t hear of many Elon Musk’s or Jeff Bezos’s starting out as a scuba teacher, who parlays their massive pay into some amazing entrepreneurial opportunity. It’s a labor of love.
As we get older too, we wonder if its time to start a family or buy the house with the white picket fence. Sometimes we feel like the backpacking crowd gets younger as we get older. It can be mentally tough to feel the pressure in life to move forward, to ‘grow up,’ and to do something that is more appropriate as your peers do. At certain ages it can feel like we are ‘supposed’ to do a certain thing, and if we don’t do that thing, we might feel left behind.
But the truth is the grass is always greener. My friends back home with their families are envious of our freedom, and I envy their modern lives! They are always asking me about my experiences on a tropical island.
At the end of the day, wherever you go, there you are. And you have to find a way to make that place home. If you can find some great locals to surround yourself with, some cool activities, and a good job, I think you can be anywhere and make a good life for yourself. For me, I have warm water, some people with whom I play some music after diving, good food, and can take care of myself all while working in the dive industry. I’ve met travelers who I would’ve never met if I was stuck in my hometown. And I count that as a massive win.