facebook twitter youtube google plus linkedin

The Pros and Cons of Being A Globe-Trotting Freelance Writer

The Pros and Cons of Being A Globe-Trotting Freelance Writer

By Kevin Casey

What’s the best thing about making a living as a freelance writer?

It’s the fact that it’s such a wonderfully portable profession. With a laptop, a PayPal account, some content-hungry clients and a reliable Wi-Fi connection, I can work from just about anywhere on the planet – and I do. 

I’ve written insurance articles from the shores of Lake Bled in Slovenia, composed eBook chapters from a riverside cabin on Vancouver Island, crafted product descriptions from a penthouse in the heart of Milan, Italy and cranked out blog posts from a beach shack in Savaii, Samoa.

When I recently enjoyed 5 weeks in an AirBnB apartment in Cordoba, Argentina, I spent around $4500 on the entire trip (airfares included) but earned $7200 in writing profits while I was there – and still had time to see the sights and sample those magnificent Argentinean steaks and salsa dancing clubs that the country is famous for. 

My foreign journeys generally fall into one of three categories: serious explorations of the world’s remotest rivers (see www.remoteriverman.com – I leave the laptop at home for those), normal vacations (when I occasionally write) and what I call ‘working trips’, which typically involve plonking myself down in an apartment in a fascinating foreign city and juggling sightseeing and writing for a month or more. 

The Rise of the Over-40 Digital Nomad 

One of the greatest myths about modern digital nomads is that they’re all twenty-somethings backpacking around Thailand or Bali with a laptop and some vague idea of ‘earning a living online’.

In reality, location-independent entrepreneurs come in all ages, as I discovered when I started doing research for my best-selling book The Over-40 Digital Nomad: A Practical Guide for Mature-age Global Adventurers. 

As an over-50 ‘working traveller’ myself, I found that there are lot more mature-age nomads out there than people think, with many leveraging their breadth of business and life experience to make quite a decent living ‘on the road’, either part-time or full-time. 

These seasoned nomads are Web developers, online English teachers, social media marketers, computer programmers, SEO experts, business coaches, consultants and much more, basing themselves wherever their wanderlust takes them.

They crew yachts in New Zealand, house-sit in Tuscany or run e-commerce businesses from the beaches of Malaysia, Colombia or Portugal. Some maintain a home to come back to, while others are full-time global wanderers. In my case, I have a house in Australia but usually spend 4-5 months of each year travelling. 

Some of today’s older remote workers were combining work and travel even before the term ‘digital nomad’ was in common use.

In many ways, they’re the pioneers of the DN movement. Others are late bloomers, deciding on this lifestyle later in life and using their accumulated years of business acumen to forge new and exciting portable careers. There’s no ideal age to become a digital nomad. The perfect time is when it feels right to you – whether at age 22 or age 62. 

A location-independent lifestyle  the good, the bad and the over-hyped 

Being a wandering writer is an incredibly rewarding experience but like any life choice, it comes with its ups and downs. For me, the advantages hugely outweigh the drawbacks and I hope to be writing and exploring the world for many more years to come. My only regret is that I didn’t latch onto this lifestyle sooner! 

If the possibility of travelling the world as a location-independent freelancer appeals to you, the first thing to understand is that it’s not all sipping tropical drinks by the pool with a laptop at your elbow. Anybody who tells you that being a successful digital nomad is ‘easy’ is probably trying to sell you a book or a course that will make life ‘easier’ for them 

Online work is still work, whether you do it from a Peruvian café, a beachside apartment in Varna, Bulgaria or a log cabin in Kodiak, Alaska.

The mistake too many nomads make is in rushing to buy a planet ticket to Santiago, Skopje or Sarawak before they’ve got their online business sorted out and have a healthy head start on a client base to keep them going. 

Technology has made the process of dealing with international clients much easier. These days we have mapping apps, international payment platforms, Skype, VPN (to make Wi-Fi connections more secure), language translation apps, Wi-Fi signal boosters, house-sitting sites, AirBnB and loads of other tools to help us ease into a location-independent lifestyle. In many instances, ‘slow travel’ with a bit of money-making thrown in can actually work out cheaper than staying at home.

So, what are pros and cons of being a nomadic writer out in the real world? 

The pros: 

Autonomy and location freedom –  

When you run your own business from anywhere, that’s incredibly liberating. You control your own destiny. If you want to buckle down and make big bucks, you can. If you want to take a month off to explore the jungles of Suriname, you just plan ahead and then go. You still have to meet income goals and client expectations, but you’re free to live life on your own terms.  

Your clients can come from all around the world  

If you’re a plumber in New Jersey, there’s a geographical limit to where your customers can come from. But as a nomadic entrepreneur, your potential clients can be found in any English-speaking country. I’ve written for businesses in the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. That giant global client pool is a big plus. 

Currency arbitrage  

Chances are, many of the places you’ll be writing from will have a cheaper cost of living than what you’re used to at home. Since digital nomads tend to be paid in the currency of the clients they’re writing for rather than local currency, they can often live quite cheaply abroad. If I decided to set myself up in an apartment in Laos, Poland or Bolivia for a couple months while being paid by clients in Aussie dollars, US dollars or British Pounds, I’d be looking at a daily cost of living MUCH cheaper than I’d have at home. For example, a quick comparison on the Numbeo website tells me that in Ohrid, Macedonia (a lovely spot by a lake), rent is 87% cheaper than in Brisbane, Australia – and restaurant prices more than 60% cheaper. As a digital nomad, there are plenty of spots where your dollar will go a lot further than at home. 

It’s easy to make international friends   

Because I tend to spend a bit longer in one place than most travellers, I have plenty of opportunity to make friends with the locals, which is one of the true delights of my lifestyle. Location-independent living expands your social horizons in a big way and introduces you to cultural differences that help you grow as a person. 

Follow the weather  

I don’t like the cold, so I’ll often spend October-April in South America or Australia, then hop over to Europe or Canada for the May-September period. Chasing the sun is easy when you can work from anywhere. If you want a white Christmas, or wish to avoid the Ecuadorian rainy season, or would like to coincide your trip with a local music festival, you can. 

Create your own hours  

When you work in an office cubicle, you have to be up at a certain time, get to work by a certain time and punch out at a certain time. The clock rules your world. When I’m combining writing with travel, I normally set my own deadlines, which means there’s a lot of flexibility in my work day. I can get up early, finish an article by lunchtime and spend the rest of the day hiking, hitting the beach or checking out the local sights. Your client generally doesn’t care (a) where in the world you are or (b) what you’re doing with the rest of your day or night, provided you’re doing a great job for them. 

You can find the perfect accommodation –   

When I hang out in a foreign city for 4-6 weeks to do some serious writing, I look for an AirBnB apartment on a high floor (above the traffic noise), with a comfy-looking table and chair to work from, dependable Wi-Fi, a kitchen and a quality bed. I like to be outside the main touristy areas but close to local markets and a selection of promising restaurants. By checking the reviews, I can usually ensure I meet all these requirements, which means I know I’m going to be able to get my work done and also enjoy what the city has to offer.  

The cons: 

Unreliable Wi-Fi and sporadic electricity –  

To make a living online, you absolutely must have a dependable wireless signal and electricity that doesn’t mysteriously shut itself off for hours at a time. Unfortunately, in some parts of the world, these things are not always readily available. 

Travel and work aren’t always compatible  

Quite often, you’ll have so much work to get done that you won’t get to see as much of the local sights as you’d like. At other times, all that moving around can make it hard to mentally settle into work mode, and you’ll struggle to concentrate. Procrastination often rears its ugly head too – when the sea outside your window is clear, blue and warm, it can be hard to focus on churning out another article on government health policies, steel frame home construction or ‘how to select the right taxidermist’.  

Saying goodbye… a lot  

You know all those cool new international friends I mentioned before? You’ll spend a lot of time saying goodbye to them when it’s time to move on to the next place. It can be hard to build lasting, meaningful relationships on the road, and it’s a pain when you’d love to spend more time with people but you simply can’t because you have to leave town. 

Visa restrictions   

Because you make money with your laptop and enjoy a somewhat different lifestyle than a typical tourist, there are times when you’d like to spend longer in a particular country but can’t because of the visa restrictions. For example, as an Aussie, I can get a 6-month stay in Peru but only 15 days at a time in Ukraine. Some countries are pretty lenient with the old ‘hop-across-the-border-and-then come-back-in-again’ trick but others aren’t. Digital nomads are a bit like sharks that need to keep swimming (or they’ll die) – we always have to move on to a new place, whether we’re ready to or not. 

Health care abroad  

In some countries, you may find even better – and cheaper – health care than is available in your home country. But finding quality medical care in an emergency (or even a pharmacy with the medication you need) can often be difficult in parts of the world where you may not speak the language or know how to tell a top-notch doctor from a shoddy one. 

Support network  

When you’re traipsing around the globe, you’re further away from your old friends, your family and many of the creature comforts that you’re used to at home – your own shower, your own bed, the local pub, your favourite restaurant, walking the dog after work, etc. There can be a fine line between freedom and loneliness, and that constant blur of motion that long-term travel requires can wear you down at times. 

Personally, I wouldn’t trade my jet-setting copywriter lifestyle with anyone – I love it. 

I don’t believe everyone is cut out to be location-independent (or even wants to be), but it sure works for me! 

Kevin Casey, The Jet-setting Copywriter, is a professional writer, global wilderness explorer and part-time digital nomad who pays for all his overseas adventures through freelance writing. Born in California, he now lives in Brisbane, Australia. Kevin’s passion is exploring wild, untouched rivers around the globe. He has ventured up pristine tributaries in the Guyana jungle, searched for Kermode bears in British Columbia, discovered unknown waterfalls in Australia’s Kimberley region, shared antelope stew with pygmies in Gabon and tracked jaguars in Bolivia. Kevin is the best-selling author of  The Jet-setting Copywriter: How to Fund All Your Overseas Adventures through Freelance Writing and The Over-40 Digital Nomad: A Practical Guide for Mature-age Global Adventurers, which are available from his website.  

Other Related Posts;