Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved to travel. Something about stepping out of a car or plane into an unfamiliar place captivated my heart early on. Over the years, travel has become a passion (some may even say addiction) of mine. Travel is exciting and challenging, and in my experience, has been a catalyst for some of my most profound growth and learning. i had to find a balance to make a living as a freelance nomad.
The only problem with travel is that it costs money. The longer you travel, the more money you need. The more money you need, the longer you have to work and save.
But the truth is, there is another way, a way to have the freedom and adventure you dream of, while earning the money you need to make it a reality.
When I made the decision to become a freelance writer and delved into how to make money writing, I had no idea what would come of it. I did, however, know that many of the things I loved about travel, I also loved about writing. Like travel, writing is exciting. Every day is new and different, with all sorts of unexpected challenges you must adapt to. Writing pushes you outside of your comfort zone, and keeps you on your toes. Best of all, writing as a freelancer allows you a level of freedom that few other occupations do, and for me, that was the answer to my traveling woes.
So, last year, I bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok and started planning my Southeast Asian adventure. A couple months later, I sold almost all of my earthly belongings, moved out of my cozy Venice, CA apartment, boarded a plane to Thailand, and never looked back.
This kind of travel and work is certainly not for the faint of heart, but if you’re ready to ditch the home office and take that trip you’ve been dreaming of, here is some friendly advice from a fellow freelance nomad.
1. Be honest with clients
When I left Los Angeles to set off on this journey, I had several established clients for whom I was doing regular work. They were the bread and butter of my freelance business, and I admit, I was a bit apprehensive about telling them that I was taking off on what appeared to most onlookers to be one big, glorified vacation with no return date. However, their business was too valuable to me to risk getting caught in a lie (or raising questions as to why I was always returning their emails at 4 a.m.). So I sucked it up and told them. One by one, I picked up the phone and called my clients, explaining to them that I was going backpacking through Asia, but that my work for them would, more or less, stay the same.
The overall reaction was a mixture of indifference, excitement, and reservation. Rightly, there were concerns about my not being as available, but with a little reassurance on my part and good faith on theirs, every client agreed to stick with me.
While you have no obligation to tell your clients where you’re working from, doing so establishes a sense of clear and honest communication that is absolutely crucial to any freelance career, but especially one where you and the client are on opposite ends of the earth. By letting your customers know what they can expect from you and when they can expect it, you are setting yourself up for a successful and positive working relationship even as a freelance nomad.
2. Make balancing work and play a priority
The whole point of my trip was to explore new lands, immerse myself in new cultures, and eat lots and lots of delicious food. And while it would have been easier to spend every day hiking through jungles, cruising around on motorbikes, or lying on the beach, if I wanted to maximize my time in Southeast Asia and make my money stretch, I needed to make sure I was dedicating time to my work.
Perfecting the art of the work/play balance was a challenge for me, but a challenge I had to rise to if I wanted to succeed as a freelance nomad.
In normal, everyday life, you have a routine. You wake up, brush your teeth, have a cup of coffee and some breakfast, and tackle the day’s work. But when you’re waking up in a new place every few days and having to figure out everything from where you’re going to eat, to how you’re going to get from A to B, to where you’re going to sleep that night, the entire concept of a routine goes out the window.
Finding time for writing, amid the revelry and rigor of travel, is something that simply won’t happen without a certain amount of effort. There will never just be time. So it’s important to make time.
The key to finding this balance is actively planning days into your travel itinerary for work. Take time to explore ancient temples and wander around a new city. Do it without inhibition, and do it without worrying about work. Then take a day, a few days or even a whole week, to focus on regular writing assignments and seek out new ones. Not only does this give you a chance to write and make money without distraction, but it also gives you a chance to rest and reinvigorate yourself for the next leg of your trip.
Besides, working from a lounge chair on the beach or from a floating restaurant in the rainforest beats working from home any day.
3. Find your flow
Getting into a flow while writing from the road can be tricky. The need to constantly be thinking ahead and planning the next move took up a lot of my mental capacity. My mind would race with thoughts, making it hard to quiet the noise and focus on my writing.
So, I had to learn how to create both the physical and mental space to get into the writing zone. Sometimes that was achieved with 15 minutes of focused meditation or by strapping on my shoes and going for a run. Other times, it meant simply finding a nice, quiet place where I could write, uninterrupted.
Whenever you arrive in a new city where you plan to spend time working, scope out a coffee shop or restaurant to call home during that time. One of the most important and difficult things to find is a strong, reliable wi-fi connection. This should be a priority. However, finding a place with cheap food and drinks, a friendly staff and an atmosphere conducive to writing can be equally important (ocean view and lounge cushions optional). Finding a magical place that has all of these things may prove difficult (or even impossible) at times, but if you can find it, you’ll get into a flow of being a freelance nomad in no time.
4. Be realistic
I’ve always had a hard time saying ‘no’ to a project. At times, that’s come back to bite me when I’ve found myself overwhelmed with work. That pressure became compounded when I brought my work with me on the road. With less time, worse and less frequent internet connections, and a lot more distractions, it became increasingly important to manage my workload and be realistic about the amount of writing I would be able to accomplish in a given week.
My intention was not to spend every waking minute writing blog posts and press releases for clients, though I easily could have. My intention was to use my freelance writing career as a way to support my travels. If I never left myself time to enjoy the places I visited or simply spent all that time worrying about the work piling up, I would have been better off staying at home.
To be a successful freelance nomad, you need to learn how to gauge the pace at which you’re writing and also how much time you’re willing to allot time to work that week. If you know you’ll be off the grid for a few days, you’ll need to plan your workload accordingly. Likewise, if you know you have a big deadline coming up, it may not be the best time to plan a lot of activities.
5. Embrace the chaos as a freelance nomad
The most valuable piece of advice I can give to any would-be freelance nomad wondering how to make money writing is to embrace the chaos — because there will certainly be plenty of it. Travel is full of surprises, pleasant and unpleasant, and learning to accept this is one of the greatest lessons you can learn, both professionally and personally.
There will be days when you can’t find a reliable internet connection to save your life. There will be days when all of your best-laid plans crumble before your eyes. But there will also be days when a spontaneous road trip to some secret beach you heard about will trump any other responsibilities you have.
There will be days when you just have to say ‘yes’ to the adventure and see where it takes you. The beauty of travel lies in these moments of chaos.
In those eight months, I visited over 50 different cities in six countries. It was easily the most incredible experience of my life to date. But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. The life I knew back in the United States, the life that included my friends and loved ones, the life that included a routine and a home and a bed of my own, that world beckoned me back. In order to appreciate the exhilaration of travel and motion, you must also learn to enjoy the times of stillness.
In August 2015, I joined the Verblio (formerly BlogMutt) team, and while there are no ancient rainforests or exotic hidden beaches here in Colorado, there is no shortage of things to keep me happy and occupied. Here, I get to collaborate with a team of inspiring, hard-working individuals. I get to spend my weekends hiking in the mountains or camping with my friends. I get to fly home to see my family and to celebrate friends’ weddings and achievements. All of which would not be possible from abroad as a freelance nomad.
The most wonderful thing about working as a freelancer is that it’s a choose-your-own-adventure career. As long as you have some sort of internet-capable writing device and a semi-functioning wi-fi connection, you have the freedom to work from wherever you choose. It could be your home, a local coffee shop or a beach in Thailand. It’s up to you to decide when to write as a freelnace nomad.