How to Become a Professional Drifter (AKA SCUBA Instructor)

Sometimes I wish that my decision to become a SCUBA instructor and live as a dive bum, commonly thought of as society’s vagrants, was just a one-dimensional story. That my explanation of how I got here had evolved from the sort of amateur decision-making that you only realize was a ‘mistake’ once you’re already too far-gone. Or that my journey hinged on a general distaste for mainstream society as would be expected of someone that rebels against social norms by sitting at the beach instead of an office and drinks Kampuchea instead of Gatorade.

That would be so much easier than having to feign excitement as I divulge the details of my life over and over again to the point where I feel like a broken record just waiting for someone to swoop in and turn me off. When people say, ‘Why did you decided to come down here?’ it is almost guaranteed that they will not be satisfied with my answer of, ‘Why not?’

To my beloved customers who stare at me with wistful yet longing eyes:

I am getting quite exhausted trying to justify my decision to move to Mexico in a way that turns your patronizing nods into ones of understanding and respect.

Your condescension is showing.

Let’s not pretend that when you ask me why I decided to throw away my degree in Chemistry by moving to Mexico to become a dive instructor, that you did not immediately catalogue me into your, ‘oh, what a shame’ file in your reserve of stories about young, lost souls.

It would also be an oversight not to mention that once the dives are over, your condescending smirks turn into a deflated admiration for all those people at the dive shop who were brave enough to turn their passions into their careers.

Inevitably you will say, ‘You really have the best job, I wish I could have the luxury of working at the beach and diving all day.’

To that, I laugh because it is really quite simple. You can.

Pardon me for having to whip out these trite life lessons but you know there really is a lot more to life than stuffing your Louis Vuitton wallet with Benjamin’s. Especially considering the volumes of new regulations that make going through customs a tortuous experience, we are all still waiting on the verdict as to whether or not entry into the afterlife will allow you to bring your money with you.

I hope that the little voice in your head telling you how cool it would be to travel around the world as a dive instructor has destroyed the norms you’ve become accustomed to and opened your mind to another reality where doing a job for peanuts is irrelevant when you get to wake up every morning to a big kiss from the ocean breeze.

The people you meet, the cultures you become a part of, the oceans you explore and the adventures you will find as a diver, make the snide little grins of customers who reduce your job choice to one of an unfortunate mistake seem almost hilarious. They are paying you; tipping you; listening and hanging on your every word and instruction to experience that strikingly beautiful and awe-inspiring underwater world that you get paid to enjoy. It is quite simple then. They are paying to enjoy your job that they so haughtily dismiss as menial. How ironic.

The best part about this job is getting to change the way people think about those who choose to live in an unconventional manner. We are smart. We did not all drop out of high school and fall into the clutches of mediocrity. Our travels make us wise, they keep us grounded, remind us what is important, and open our eyes to what is out there past the bubbles that most people are content to call their reality. Ask anyone in my dive shop and they will have a story. Some are in their twenties, some in their thirties and some in their forties. But all of their stories share one thing- they decided not to accept the dissatisfied feeling of being trapped in a life of perpetual convention as the world passed them by. So they made a change.

People say, ‘How?’ That is the biggest question I get when I explain that I get to globetrot for practically nothing; that I know randomly useless words in Khmer and in a few other languages from countries still existing under our scope of recognition; and that I actually do have a job.



In case you haven’t noticed, most of the people working at resorts boasting of incredible ocean sports and activities are not actually from that country. We are foreign. We get to live in the places that you dream of visiting as you wait for your boss’s pending approval of those few extra vacation days.

How can we afford this?

In a normal world, we can’t. But in the world of hotels and hospitality, we can. Dive shops need to have employees from all over the world in order to accommodate the diversity of guests that have come to dive. Because of the importance of having a multilingual and passionate staff, the dive shops make it worth your while to work with them. Whether this means that you are provided room and board in exchange for work or you are being paid a salary, diving is the most awesome and effective meal ticket if you wish to travel around to places surrounded by beautiful oceans.

Some dive shops even provide free SCUBA certification programs along with room and board in exchange for work. This is not indentured servitude… indentured servants didn’t get to go diving, right? We call it an ‘internship.’ If you are looking to escape to some foreign land and you have no SCUBA experience but want to give it a shot, dive shops will still let you come work with them while they provide you with introductory to advanced certifications. Especially because I know how much certain dive shops just love to mold new divers to become their perfect employee, you will definitely have an opportunity to start your adventure as a diver.

Whether you are escaping your life at home or just need a change of scenery, it is worth your while to consider the prospect of becoming a part of the SCUBA industry. The resulting potentialities are endless and will allow you to create as many opportunities for yourself as possible in countless different countries that you may not even know exist.

Everyone wants to travel. Everyone wants to do it for free. SCUBA is how you can do it. Because let’s be honest, working at a job where your office is the beach and you get tipped for taking people to explore coral reefs, is not really ‘work.’ It’s funemployment. You will quickly understand why SCUBA divers will defend their right to dive and protect their oceans to the death. It is an industry that shells out services of a highly addictive nature. Breathing underwater. No one watches The Little Mermaid without secretly thinking how much they wish they could be mer-people. There is nothing better than this. Of course, I’m a bit biased, but this is the only chance you have to profit from you’re hobby of diving and exploring the oceans. It can take you around the world, it can pay for your apartment and it can take you to your potential soul mate… so the question is, what CAN’T SCUBA do? Worth it?

Call me in ten years when I’m lazing off the side of a yacht in the Turks and Caicos and ask me then.

Worth it.

Sarah Mishek Written by:

As the daughter of a commercial airline pilot with the world at my fingertips, I only just realized AFTER my free ticket-privileges expired that calling myself extroverted and impulsive really just means I have ADHD. For most people who struggle to have complete conversations without indulging in tangent after tangent, sitting still is difficult. We all know the type. For me, I have difficulty staying in one country. I am 22 years old, I graduated from UC Davis this past year with a B.S. in chemistry and I have already moved to Mexico to follow in the steps of Robert Frost on the road less traveled. As a diver I get to travel all over the world while meeting some incredible people…the job isn’t so bad either! I’m returning to graduate school to pursue my PhD in Chemistry with the hopes that one day, being a lab rat will pay off (literally), and I can become every mother’s dream- a professional traveler!