It didn’t take long for Jean-Christophe Champin to make up his mind. He was on his way to Australia just a month-and-a-half after deciding to leave France and travel the world. He found a sub-leaser for his flat, quit his job, packed a few bags and hit the road.
JC had a few thousand dollars saved up, but surely not enough for a year-long trip through Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. To pay for his travels, JC is bartending his way through each country.
He first landed in Melbourne, Australia and is now in Wellington, New Zealand, where he is designing his first signature drink menu for a new bar. In a few months (or whenever he feels like it, really) he will be off to Canada to explore both the French and English-speaking provinces. Throughout his travels he has kept an eye out for potential locations for his future bar/restaurant concept.
Lessons from Road on Traveling and Bartending
At first glance you might assume Jean-Christophe is a world-class bartender who has restaurants begging to employ him; or maybe you assume he is a “Points Guy”, a professional discount traveler. Maybe you think he’s both.
In fact, he is neither. JC has only bartended for 18 months had never really traveled outside Western Europe before this trip.
So does a relatively unseasoned bartender make ends meet while taking the trip of a lifetime? It boils down universal bartending skills and making smart travel decisions.
I spoke with him recently and he shared lessons about travel, bartending, and making the most of your time in a new country.
If you would love to bartend around the world, here are 8 lessons from JC to get you started.
1. Get a Working Holiday Visa
The first thing JC did was register for a Working Holiday Visa. This special type of visa is available to anyone under 30 who wants to live and work in a new country for up to one year. It is relatively cheap and easy to obtain. JC received his Working Holiday Visas for Australia and New Zealand in just 2-3 weeks.
Compared to regular work visas, Holiday Visas don’t require sponsorship from a company, which means you can jump from city-to-city in your new country without extensive paperwork. Working Holiday Visas are available for US citizens in the following countries:
- New Zealand
- South Korea
Every country has different requirements for obtaining a Working Holiday Visa (for example, Ireland has no age requirement), so check out this article from Gooverseas.com for more information.
2. Join the Local Bartending Community
Bartending while traveling is a completely different experience from traveling as a tourist. You have a chance to become part of the culture, not just observe it. Working instantly creates new friends, stories, and experiences you would never get otherwise.
For Jean-Christophe, connecting with the local bartending community has also had very practical benefits.
“It doesn’t matter where I have been, there is always a bartender to answer to my questions or help me, even if it was to find a place to live, or advise me about something in the city.”
One huge resource is the Global Bartenders Exchange, a network of Facebook groups that connect bartenders in local areas to one another.
When you’re planning your next trip, search on Facebook for, “<Name of the city> Bartender Exchange” to see if there is a community. The Melbourne Bartender Exchange, for example, has over 27,000 members.
3. Forget Creativity- Focus on the Fundamentals
Creativity is sometimes considered the peak of bartending skill. It’s a beacon of brilliance that we all pursue. Even here at Four Line, we hold creativity in the highest reverence, with our mission being to fuel the creativity of people in the drink world.
But when you’re trying to get a temporary bartending job in a new country, the manager does not care how well you improvise drinks. They want to know if you can serve customers what they ask for.
In fact, JC sees creativity as the most overrated skill for a bartender.
“We all try new things everyday and this is good, but I see lots of bartender (myself included) get a special drink request from a customer and grab the first 3 bottle behind the bar, improvise, and serve a drink. No, Malibu, Kalhua, cranberry will not be good cause it sounds exotic.”
Sure, creativity is important, but it must be rooted in the fundamentals.
“Know your basics and how to balance a cocktail, taste the hundreds of classic cocktails and after, with a bit of practice you’ll be able to improvise a cocktail.”
Bonus Resource: If you want to get to know the basics, download Chris Lowder’s FREE cocktail essentials PDF, which has over 170 cocktails.
4. Earn Higher Tips by Doing the Little Things
Money can be a concern when you’re bartending your way around the world. You should take advantage of any practice that may boost your tips. Most of the time, these practices are small but meaningful to the customer.
First, give special attention to the presentation of the drink. JC looks up to bartenders like Marian Beke and Denis Zoppi, two master mixologists who turn bartending into an art form. From the way they pour, to the way they shake, and most importantly, the way they present the drink, turns the interaction into an experience.
Now, a great garnish isn’t going to turn a bad drink into a good drink (see lesson #3), but JC believes presentation can turn a good drink into a fantastic one.
Second, get to know your customers. Small talk makes customers feel more comfortable and therefore, more generous. Plus, interacting with your customers is another way to get to know your new city or country.
“Small talk definitely make the difference between two bartenders, so don’t be afraid to practice,” said Champin.
5. Be Fast Behind the Bar
While bar management practices change from venue-to-venue, there is one universal skill that will keep you employed wherever you go: Be fast behind the bar.
“I started behind the bar in a Tex Mex restaurant chain in Paris that is a really fast paced venue, especially for the bar during the happy hour,” said Champin. “The cocktail was in a low quality range but I learned to be fast by having a strong set up of the bar, organizing my service during a rush and also communicating with my colleagues behind the bar AND on the floor.”
6. Embrace Local Ingredients
In some countries around the world, you might not have access to the spirits or liqueurs or herbs that you’re used to using at home, and that’s a good thing.
“Getting a cocktail which is 100% the same in New York, Paris and Melbourne would be little bit disappointing,” said Champin, “Local ingredients gives each city and country its own unique feel.”
Use your travels as an opportunity to discover new flavors and combinations. Visit farmers markets, try local spirits and try to add local twists to classic drinks.
7. Be Spontaneous
When I first chatted with Jean-Christophe, I asked him which city he was heading to next.
“Not sure,” he said.
Spontaneous travel planning has been one of JC's favorite parts of the trip. From booking flights a week out to staying in hostels just 3 nights at a time, sticking to a strict schedule means you miss chances for random adventures.
Of course, this type of travel is a personal preference. If this sounds like anxiety overload for you, then plan things out a little further in advance.
8. Just Do It
This final lesson could not be overstated by Jean-Christophe. Most people learn this lesson the hard way; they never pull the trigger on their biggest dreams and let opportunities of a lifetime pass by. Do you really want that to be you?
JC decided to pull the trigger one afternoon while talking to a friend. In just a month and a half, he was on the road. Don't leave time to second guess yourself, just do it.
“Make the decision today!”, said Champin. “Not tomorrow, not next week, or there will always be an excuse to delay your departure.”
Original Cocktails from the Road
At the very least, a trip around the world is bound to provide inspiration for original cocktails. Here is one for wine-lovers that he developed while in New Zealand: