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Archaeology Fieldwork Good for Travelers

This is a travelogue entry about how doing archaeology fieldwork is a good profession to get into if you want to travel. As with other traveling contract jobs, archaeologists in the USA get their living expenses on the road paid for them in addition to their standard pay. Doing archaeology is a good way to both make and save money concurrently.

I rode out from Phoenix to Quartzsite for one last day of work on the IBR Solar Survey project — one last day of walking in the desert before being transferred on to another project in the Tonto Forest.

I walked through the desert for the full 10 miles of this last day of surveying nostalgic. I learned a lot from this desert, I hope to be back soon.

I am sure I will be.

As the crew completed the last transect of the project, I turned around in a circle for one last panoramic view of the desert plain encircled by mountains. This was good. This was a good job, I am still in disbelief that I was paid for what I did:

Walking through the desert, enjoying the desert.

Not bad, as far as work goes.

Archaeologists in Arizona

Archaeologists in Arizona


I showed up for work this morning at the head office in Phoenix and had $156 in cash layed into the palm of my hand. I wadded it up appreciatively, but still made way to count it.

“It is only for four days instead of five because we are going to be working 4 tens,” a crew member reminded me so I would not think that I was shorted by a day.

But I was not concerned by this at all, for I have still not yet gotten over the fact that I get hundreds of dollars tossed over to me at the beginning of a work week — even before I do any work. The per diem pay that archaeologists make varies from project to project from firm to firm, but it is usually always way more than I could ever spend in the specified time that it is meant to cover.

I remember my first on-the-road archaeology job that I took in Illinois in 2001. I had just drove my first car — a bitchin’ Camaro — to the Midwest from Rochester, New York. After checking into the specified hotel, I went to my room. When I opened the door I found a fellow in it — my roommate — who told me that I could pick up my per diem from the field director a few doors down.

I went there. I was given over $500 in cash to cover a week of living expenses. I was 20 years old then, and it was a very rare occurrence at that point for me to be the possessor of that much money. This five hundred dollars was suppose to last me one week. I was suppose to pay for my hotel room with this money, but I quickly moved into the backseat of my Camaro to save as much of it as possible:

$25 saved and a rotten night of sleep is always better than sacrificing two entire days of foreign travel in the name of hotel bed comfort.

If the company was going to give me all of my per diem allowance up front and then set me loose, I was sure to hoard it and camp out on the sly.

Though some archaeology firms provide accommodation for their employees by paying for their hotel rooms directly, and they only give out cash per diem to their employees to cover food costs.Though I still am able to pocket over 50% of this cash after I have fed myself for the week.

The company that I am working for now in Arizona is one such company that pays for the hotel and only gives money for a food allowance — I suppose they learned better. So my allowance is now $39 a day for four 10 hour days of work, and I will probably spend far less than $70 a week on food (and beer).

Matate grinding stone artifact in Arizona desert

Matate grinding stone artifact in Arizona desert

Working archaeology jobs on the road is good for the traveler, as your living expenses are covered and you can save your entire paychecks for traveling.

This has been my formula for 8 years of travel. Three months of working around the USA from archaeology job to archaeology job and then I skip out of the USA and travel wherever I want to for the rest of the year.

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Filed under: Archaeology, Arizona, Make Money for Travel, Save Money for Travel, Start Traveling, Work

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 80 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3169 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Puketi Forest, New ZealandMap