I got the travel bug like so many people often do. I remember it clearly. I was in Mrs. Morrison’s second grade class and she shared Steve McCurry’s “Afghan Girl” National Geographic issue. It was the first National Geographic magazine that I had ever seen. I instantly wanted to pick up a camera and go see the world. That same year, Mrs. Morrison also taught us the “Seven Continents” song and I made it a personal goal to see them all before I turned 30.
In college, I traveled around the world on credit cards with all the naivety one is filled with during their younger years. More passion than planning, more whims than wisdom. During this time the words “interest” and “credit limit” were just words I skimmed over before signing my name on the dotted line. (Credit card companies are like vultures, but that’s for another article.) Needless to say, it took years of hard work to get out of debt. I’m now 28, live in Los Angeles, and run my own small business. I’m so thankful that while my debt has disappeared, my travel ambitions have not. I’ve been fortunate enough to see over 40 countries, and in these past two years alone I’ve been able to explore more than 10 countries while freelancing.
So, how do I do it? And how can you, too?
Unlike in my younger years, I don’t buy anything I can’t afford (this is a life tip, too, not just a travel one) and I always have enough emergency money. This may seem obvious, but when traveling you never know what may happen. Trust me, you don’t want to find yourself stranded in East Africa by yourself, trusting the airport taxi driver’s recommendation of hotels or the airline employee who just wants to finish their shift, without enough money for a decent meal … let alone a plane ticket home.
I PLAN ACCORDINGLY.
I do Art Direction and Graphic Design. I can’t direct an LA photo-shoot while I’m in Sri Lanka, but graphic design I can do from almost anywhere. So, I plan from there. When traveling, I only take on projects that I know I can complete and say no to everything else.
Before the trip:
- I let my clients know my travel plans ahead of time.
- I do back to back shoots if I have to.
- I proof print projects.
- I do all client presentations.
- I pull long hours during the weeks leading up to a trip.
During the trip:
- During layovers, I will sometimes spend extra money to sit in airport lounges to use the wifi. Yes, it may cost 50 dollars, but if I get five good hours of work done, it’s worth every penny.
- I prepare work for long flights ahead of time by loading any inspiration images, leaving 20 browser tabs open, and preloading emails so that I can write responses off-line. I try to maximize on these times as much as possible, since you’re forced to be in one place. You don’t feel guilty about burying yourself into your computer while on a plane as opposed to when sitting on a white sand beach.
- Many countries have incredibly slow Internet connections, so I make sure to download all my files ahead of time.
- When I travel alone I often don’t feel safe going out at night, so I get up early to explore in the morning and spend the nights in my airbnb or hotel working. One of the best things about traveling is the people that you meet, so reserve nights out on the town for once you’ve made new friends.
I try to maximize on these times as much as possible, since you’re forced to be in one place. You don’t feel guilty about burying yourself into your computer while on a plane as opposed to when sitting on a white sand beach.
I LOOK FOR WORK WHILE TRAVELING.
One of the most surprising things I’ve found while traveling is how easy it can be for designers to find work while they’re doing so. Now when I travel, I often reach out to local design firms I admire. I let them know that I’ll be in their country/city and that I would love to meet and buy them a drink at one of their favorite haunts.
I always bring business cards, keep my portfolio on an iPhone or iPad, and be open to what’s out there. I also keep an eye out for pro bono work, looking for organizations that are doing great things locally. I’ve found that good work leads to more good work, and if nothing else, it’s a joy to get to use my skills to help others.
Not a designer? Not a problem. You probably have skills and talents that I don’t that you can also use to make money while traveling. For example, if you’re reading this article, then you know English. Just about every non-English speaking country is on the look-out for teachers.
- Do you like to write? Email some of your favorite travel blogs or magazines to see if they’ll hire you to write an article about your trip, or a city guide to one of the places you’re traveling through.
- Are you a foodie? There are plenty of farms and vineyards looking for short-term help and it’s one of the best ways to have a genuine cross-cultural experience.
- Are you good with children? You could be a traveling nanny for a host family.
- Do you have pipes like Adele? So many of my talented musician friends have stopped at a city center sidewalk, pulled out their instrument, and turned their music cases into cash registers to spend an afternoon busking.
- Want your freedom to sightsee and keep your own schedule? Consider using sites like TaskRabbit or Fivver where you get to choose what projects to work on when it’s convenient for you (this is particularly perfect for big cities).
The key here is to be as creative as possible. For example, I don’t have a huge network on Instagram, so I’m not much help to companies in regards to promoting their products. I can, however, take decent photos. So, recently I’ve been offering to take pictures of different client products to use for their social media outlets. It’s great because I get products that I want for free, I’m going to take pictures of my travels anyways, and now I get paid for both!
I’ve found that good work leads to more good work, and if nothing else, it’s a joy to get to use my skills to help others.
Another easy way I’ve found to make money while traveling is to rent out our place while I’m gone. There are a lot of websites that now allow you to host your place for others. We’ve chosen to use Airbnb and it’s been great. Most of the time when we rent our place in LA, it’ll at least pay for the Airbnb where we stay in another country, if not more. These are just a few of the ways I’ve found to generate income.
What are the unique skills that you have people in another country could benefit from? What are some of your personal resources that you can access and use while traveling?
I TRY AND USE THE TIME TO WORK ON INTERNAL PROJECTS.
What happens if you don’t book any work before your trip, or you don’t find work during your trip? I’ve found that while traveling it’s a great time to work on:
- Internal projects.
- Prep for tax season (this sounds lame, but trust me, it makes the terrible movie selection somewhat worth your while).
- Work on fun design projects I never seem to have time for at home.
- Research new clients that I’d like to pitch to when I get home.
I CONSIDER EVERY MOVE I MAKE.
Lastly, the thing that seems to help make freelancing around the world the most possible are my relationships. I have great friends. I live in a great community of people that are so willing to help each other. I do my best to treat everyone with respect and produce great work for my clients. About 75% of my work comes from referrals, from previous clients telling other clients about my work ethic and style. You never know what may catch up with you.
PS. I’ve almost reached my goal of seeing every continent; I still just need to make it Antarctica!
Do you prefer the freelancing life? Why or why not?
Illustrations by Nina Hans