How can I travel and work as a freelance copywriter?
It’s many people’s dream to get a job they can travel around the world with. Travel writer or photographer, masseuse, English teacher, cruise ship employee, tour guide… they’re all realistic options but they’re hard to get into or don’t pay very well, or both. The best option for travelling and still earning money is to be a freelance copywriter, writing marketing material for companies and advertising agencies. It pays well and you can work from anywhere.
The majority of people travelling around the world now have funded it in one of two ways depending on their age:
1. Before your career: Gap year for young people
On a gap year – after university and before work – many young people spend a year working their way around the world. Many countries offer a temporary work visa to people under 30 and you’ll make lots of friends and have an amazing trip. You can do things like becoming a ‘WWOOF’ (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) volunteer for which you give your time and effort for bed and board. The downside is that you have to do a lot of bad jobs that you wouldn’t dream of doing if they weren’t in a foreign country. And you don’t get paid very much for doing them
2. After your career: Retirement plan for older people
Sailing around the world, driving a camper van across American or Europe… the roads and seas are clogged with old folks living out their life fantasy. They see all the sights they’ve only ever dreamt about, throwing everything in a joyous last roll of the dice while all their old friends back home work in the garden and wait jealously for updates. The downside is they get bored very quickly after a lifetime of activity, miss their grandchildren and families and are not truly happy. It’s also kind of a shame to wait till you’re old to do all the things you want to do when you’re young!
3. The third option: Incorporate travel into your career
a) A career that involves travel, such as an airline pilot. Glamorous though being a pilot sounds, even this option doesn’t give you real travel freedom. You’re invariably on a tight schedule so have little opportunity to get out and see a place. And as for relaxing with a few beers, well that’s just a no no, isn’t it?
b) Working online. As this is a blog largely directed at freelancers, this is the area we’ll concentrate on. How do you succeed as a travelling freelancer? Be your own boss. Travel where you like, whenever like. Keep doing the same job so you grow your skills and your career, and feel secure and grounded, while being continually inspired.
Copywriter, designer, web designer… if you’ve got a creative job and you mostly work online it’s something you can do. Once you’ve worked 5 years in a place as a permanent or as freelancer you have contacts and know how the work is done.
You must first make your reputation. It’s the same as with music, screenwriting or publishing, you read about people being discovered on YouTube or sending in their work and getting snapped up, but if you really want to make it, you still have to go to the source and knock on the doors in person. To Nashville, LA or New York. Get the work, then go off to do the work.
Golden tip: Travel without travelling too much
The mistake most people make when they hit the road is travelling too much. It’s so tempting after years of pent up emotion and being stuck behind a desk to travel at speed, spending a few days in each place and then moving on. This equals a lot of energy, more expense, more stress looking for Wifi and places to stay. And inevitably missed deadlines and dissatisfied clients. Find a place you like and stay there for a few weeks or a month and then move on.
So where to go?
- Go somewhere cheap
If you leave your city of origin and work online, know that you will earn less than if you were still there. So do your finances a big favour by going somewhere cheap – Thailand, India, Africa – and take a step down in your living standards. Don’t move from London to Portugal: it’s cheaper but not dramatically so.
- Go back regularly
You have to accept that your contacts and your work will gradually decline when you leave. You’re not showing your face at the parties. You have to keep going back to the cities where you get most of your work and reconnect with your clients. Take them out to lunch and tell them about your adventures. They’re going to be jealous and dying to hear all about it.
- Go to a new city to pitch
Now you’re mobile you can target some other cities and countries that have potential to offer more work. Target the city with an express purpose for a set time, pre-prepped. Make appointments in advance and then spend two weeks or a month meeting or greeting. If you travel and work aimlessly you will drift. You have to do one thing at once and having these bursts of concentrated pitching yourself will keep you feeling productive.
Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong or some other place where they have money to spend and need Western communication services. New markets who need the skills that you offer. These places are still expensive so do your prep work (portfolio, appointments, leave-behind, printing) in a country with low living and/or production costs. Budget it in advance, go when it’s the low-season. Ideally find a host (friend of a friend or couchsurfing) to cut your living costs. Then, if it’s all working out work-wise, rent an apartment and stay longer… six months or however long, until you have built-up a viable business.
You will only get work from an agency or a country if they have met you personally (or you’re recommended by your freelance creative partner). This may be the internet age and everyone works online, but your online presence is just an extension of your real-world existence – not a replacement for it.
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