Today sees the return of A Reader's Story series, which over the years have been readers of this blog sharing their own experiences, or asking me questions or for advice related to travel and writing. This post is actually one reader giving us some advice, and it's a topic that's close to my heart. When I first started this blog I was beginning both a journey around the world but also a journey into a new world; freelancing. And I wrote a lot of content about how I got started as a freelancer and what I learned as the years went on. However, one post I didn't write was how to freelance while still travelling. I don't know why, but it was a huge oversight as now I'm no longer travelling full-time so I don't feel equipped to comment on it now.
But Millie Walton a former Conde Nast journalist and current editor of LUX Magazine is both travelling and freelancing, and today she shares her story and her advice for balancing freelance work with travelling. There are also some beautiful photos to accompany this piece - enjoy!
How I freelance while travelling
Almost exactly a year ago, I quit my office job to travel the world. I'd worked as a journalist for over three years so I was used to travelling for meetings and press trips, but I'd always returned to the safety of a salary and office structure. Now I was going freelance to fund my adventures, which would mean firstly trying to find work and then working out a way of completing deadlines without missing out on any of the fun. Here's what I learnt:
You have to plan ahead
Your priorities shift when the money you're earning is going towards travel rather than rent. Work becomes exciting. The more you do, the more you earn and when you're travelling in countries like India or Thailand, your earnings go a long way; two hours work could be two nights accommodation. But unlike an office job, you're not going to get automatically paid at the end of the month so you have to be organised with your time and plan ahead so that you don't miss deadlines. Whilst travelling, I tend to set aside the mornings for work (which could be pitching for jobs or working on a project) and spend the afternoons exploring. You have to think about time zones too and internet connection: when is your client going to be online? If you're going to be travelling somewhere remote, do you have all the information you need before you go?
Allow for the beauty of travel...
It's simple stuff, but it's easy to forget when you're bewildered by new sights and smells. My partner and I enrolled on a week's yoga course in Cambodia thinking that we would have plenty of time in between classes to catch up on freelance work only to arrive and be told that digital devices were strictly forbidden. We had to sneak out to the market one afternoon and sat on a bench outside a man's phone shop using his wifi for a couple of hours.
If you're not too picky, there's always work out there
In the course of my career, I have built up a good base of contacts, which has made freelancing a lot easier, but even then work is never guaranteed or constant. Sites like UpWork are invaluable for freelancing travellers as new jobs are constantly being posted and even if there's not your preferred work, chances are you'll be able to find something you can do. In the past, I've put my InDesign and photoshop skills to use on graphic design projects and helped to transcribe interviews.
Put a value on your time
That said, it's important to work out the value of your time early on so that you don't take on a job and then find it takes you much longer than you estimated and end up getting paid very little. Of course, there may be times when it's worth accepting a job for a little less if it's going to lead on to more work, but you need to decide whether it's really worth your effort or whether it would be more valuable to spend that time exploring and doing something you enjoy.
Don't waste your time answering emails
Whilst it is important to stick to deadlines, there's no point being in a country if you're never going to leave the internet cafe and actually experience the place. I've read so many stories about freelancers who travel and the main theme of their narrative seems to be sleep deprivation because they save up their freelance work for the nighttime and work into the early hours. I'm the type of person who can't cope with less than eight hours a night so that's not really an option for me; in the first month of freelancing whilst travelling, I was very unproductive as most of my mornings were wasted doing administration and at lunchtime, I'd always pack my iPad away to wander the streets meaning that I was actually doing very little journalism.
Have a secret weapon
I then started working with a virtual PA, Kate through a virtual services companyl. Kate takes care of all my email correspondence, sends me reminders for deadlines, helps me with research and books my onward travel. My working time is now spent writing articles and I find it much easier to relax and enjoy my afternoons knowing that Kate's got all the background work covered. She even pitches to magazines on behalf so that I don't have to. We check in once a week over Facetime and the rest of the time, I send across tasks over email. It is an extra expensive, but it means that I'm able to fully immerse myself into the travelling experience whilst still being productive.
Recently, I was passing through London for some meetings on the way to India and just a few minutes after I landed, I received a Whatsapp from Kate: "Hi Millie, I hope you had a good flight. I thought you might not want to carry your luggage around with you all day so I've emailed you a list of places in London where you can safely store your bag for a few hours. Let me know if you need anything else."
When you're travelling, that kind of assistance can make a huge difference in reducing stress and generally making the whole experience more enjoyable. Kate's my secret weapon.
(And Frankie would like to add...)
Be clear about your goals - are you travelling or working first?
If you're main objective is to travel, then work should support this goal, i.e. do the jobs and the work that allow you to see and do more travel. This could mean that you have to adjust your expectations accordingly and be very efficient about how you work. I would also highly recommend that you then have savings in the bank before embarking on your travels so you can take time off work to enjoy certain experiences or to simply prioritise the journey over the hustle!
However, if you're actually just as committed (or more so!) to growing a successful and (personally and finacially) profitable business then you should choose your travel to suit your work. This was definitely more our scenario. My partner was growing and managing a software company with multiple staff located around the world, and I was growing my copywriting business and also attempting to make writing fiction a viable source of income. Therefore we always had to be somewhere the WiFi was reliable and strong, and we chose to stay in places away from tourists for a few months so that we could spend many weeks just focused on work. It also defined our "end date" of travel as after nearly two years of moving from place to place we felt we could do more if we stayed in one spot... Amsterdam. The rest, of course, is history...
I hope you enjoyed this post by reader Millie. If you would like to share your story or ask me a question, you can find out more about guest posts here.
Millie Walton is travel and arts journalist, and the Digital Editor of LUX Magazine. She was born in the English countryside, but spent much of her childhood in the mountains of Zimbabwe and considers Africa her second home. After 9 months travelling and freelancing around Africa, India and South East Asia, she is currently based back in the UK while she works on her fiction writing.
Frances M. Thompson
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