Think about your last vacation. Was it as long as it could’ve been? Did you get to experience everything you wanted to see?
Imagine the luxury of being able to travel the world without the worry of needing to get back to work or the stress of having to pay your bills.
Oftentimes, what gets lost in the conversation about traveling the world indefinitely is that eventually all travelers must arrive at a crossroads where they need to make a decision based on resource constraints. Usually travel comes to an end because of limited financial resources, or a defined amount of vacation time.
All too soon, it’s time to pack it in, return home to an unrewarding desk job and Wednesday night happy hours with colleagues who are unsatisfied with their lives.
You don’t need to settle for that lifestyle. Highly paid freelancers who work from beaches in Thailand or cities in Europe are becoming increasingly prevalent as today’s definition of employment becomes more fluid. Give up the idea of settling down for the time being, build a portfolio as a freelancer, and set your sights on traveling on your own terms.
I chose this lifestyle after spending a year wandering around Europe, and I realized I had no desire to go back to my old life.
It’s been just over a year since I took my first job as a freelance writer on upWork. Right now I have four or five steady monthly clients who pay me anywhere between $30 and $50 per hour to write for them, as well as several other odd jobs each month.
I never spend more than 5 hours per day working, which gives me time to cook, go bodysurfing (currently I’m back home for the summer in my native San Diego) in the afternoons, and read. And yes, I actually give myself weekends off.
But of course, things didn’t start this way.
Back in May 2014, I took my first job while I was spending a week exploring Copenhagen. An American graphic designer paid me $20 to spend 4 hours brainstorming possible domain names for his new website, on the condition that they include some combination of color and animal. Sounds easy, but after an hour I had run out of the obvious color/animal combos and was scraping the barrel with domains such as cyanlemur and goldfox.
So, I sat in a café in Copenhagen sipping a latte that cost me half my wages (to my chagrin) and concocted half-assed domain names for a few hours. As I was sitting there, it occurred to me that despite my degree in English from Brandeis University and over a year’s experience writing a humble yet moderately successful travel blog, no one was going to hire me to write their website landing page, create killer e-blasts, or edit their Amazon product descriptions, unless I worked cheap and built up a portfolio demonstrating the marvelous things that I could do with words.
My lack of copywriting expertise may have seemed like a burden initially, but in the end, freelancing helped me accomplish something invaluable to me – the ability to live the lifestyle I wanted.
Regardless of what field you go into, the first jobs you do are rarely pleasant, or well paid.
“I had to write shitty stag party website articles,” says England-born, Budapest-based entrepreneur and freelancer Andrew Davison. He now manages Learn English Budapest, a website that connects Budapest-based English teachers with locals or other non-native speakers trying to improve their English. But the payoff from those first unsavory freelance articles he wrote is that he got to see first-hand how businesses make money online, and the passive income he makes from his business has allowed him to travel with leisure around the continent.
And so for me, it was a long slog of writing blog articles about boring topics, editing scientific research paper synopses, and the occasional racy travel interest piece for sketchy contributors-only websites that never compensated me a dime for my work. The good news was that even content I didn’t enjoy creating served as sample material for prospective clients. I’ve learned how to leverage my old pieces to win increasingly interesting writing gigs, and begin commanding higher hourly compensation.
By January of 2015, when I spent a month living in Split, Croatia, I had my first break-even month. Mind you, the cost of living in Split is a fraction of what it would be to live in New York or San Francisco, but what mattered was that I was having the time of my life without hemorrhaging money.
I’m far from being the only person out there who has found a happy medium between work and travel.
Mallory van Waarde, co-founder of the boutique SEO firm Magnifyre, left her home in Missouri back in 2014 for a six month journey through Europe and South America. When she returned, she realized she wanted to retain her independence to travel, and started freelancing as an SEO specialist with a longtime friend. “Starting out as a freelancer and then creating a full-time business while exploring the world has allowed me to grow in ways I never could have if I had stayed at home,” she told me from her summer home base in Istanbul.
Check out this article on starting a freelance business while you’re still working full-time.
Freelancing has allowed myself and countless others to do something otherwise impossible if we had stayed at home and worked conventional 9-5 jobs. I’m not ready to give up either of these freedoms, and if you work hard enough and take the leap, you won’t have to either.
Whether you’re looking to start a freelance career or grow your existing business, check out this Essential Guide to Launching a Freelance Career.