I’m all about living on a low budget, but I haven’t figured out how to live completely for free yet. We all got to make a buck, now and then.
When I first started living the nomadic life, I would travel for a few months, then go back to Australia and work as a tradesman to raise some money, so I could hit the road again. That was fine (and doing trades work is good money in Oz) but I wanted to find a way to make money on the internet. I wanted to become a digital nomad.
I’ve met a bunch of cool travelers over the years who built online careers or businesses for themselves, and they inspired me.
I’ve been writing since I was a kid and I’ve been making this blog for years. I already knew how to write; so I set about becoming a freelance writer.
I got a big break last year when Innis & Gunn sponsored me to to do my big hitchhiking/blogging epic across Europe. That experience had some profound effects on me. Amongst other things, it gave me a big confidence boost as a blogger and reassured me that my persistence was paying off.
The freelance writing gig is a pretty sweet way to make money as you travel. You might want to give it a go yourself. It’s taken me a while to figure it out, but it’s starting to work, so I want to share with you what I’ve learned so far about freelance writing.
1. It is possible to make a living as a freelance writer.
The caveat to that statement is: as long as I live and travel in countries with very favourable exchange rates.
When I got my first gig as a freelance writer on Upwork, it was very exciting. I wrote two short articles for an American electrology trade journal about how to handle men who get erections during treatment sessions. I made US$150 for a day’s work and it felt amazing.
Now, 150 bucks doesn’t go far in Australia, but because I was living in South East Asia, that was a substantial chunk of cash (especially for someone like me who’s been living on about $10 a day for years.)
Here’s some interesting math: in Chiang Mai, Thailand (where I’ve been living for the last six months) US$150 becomes 3,878 Baht; which pays your rent in a basic guesthouse room and keeps you fed for a fortnight! This is one of the awesome things about being a digital nomad; You earn in one currency and spend in another.
(Below: Worrorot Market in Chiang Mai – you can buy everything here!)
2. Upwork is not the work of the devil.
Upwork is the biggest freelancing and outsourcing platform in the world, but it is not universally loved. A lot of people shit on Upwork – and I can see where they’re coming from – but it isn’t all bad.
The good stuff about Upwork:
About 50% of my freelance writing gigs come from Upwork.
Upwork is a busy freelancing platform, so there are new jobs to apply for almost every day.
Upwork has a pretty secure payment system so it’s difficult for hirers to rip you off.
The website and app are easy to use.
I’ve tried a whole bunch of different freelancer job sites and Upwork is by far the easiest to use and offers the most opportunities for me as a freelance writer.
The bad stuff about Upwork:
Upwork is expensive. They take up to 20% of what you earn on their platform. That’s just daylight robbery in my opinion. They kind of have a monopoly on the market so it will probably change if a disruptive competitive website comes along.
A lot of the jobs on Upwork are badly paid, so you have to get good at discerning which jobs are worth applying for and which are a waste of time. I only look at jobs that are classified by the hirer as ‘expert’ or ‘intermediate’ level. Also, I only apply for jobs that clearly state in the listing what the project fee is going to be up-front, so I know what I will be paid if I get the gig.
A lot of hirers on Upwork are looking to pay people bottom dollar and presumably, they aren’t too fussy about the standard of work they get.
I want to work for the people who expect a good result and are willing to pay someone to be a bit creative.
3. There are a whole bunch of freelancer job websites.
If you are interested in working as a freelance writer, check these out:
These are also potentially useful, but I haven’t had much luck with them yet:
You can also sometimes find freelance writing jobs in Facebook groups. Do a search for ‘freelance’ or ‘digital nomad’ in the ‘groups’ tab. Good, well paid jobs don’t come up very often on FB, but sometimes you get a decent one.
4. Grammarly is my new best friend.
Grammarly is an awesome web service that checks your spelling, punctuation and grammar as you write. Grammarly is way beyond what a basic spell-checker can do. It identifies even subtle grammar errors in text and offers suggestions for better sentence structure. It’s free too!
(Below: beautiful Koh Chang, Thailand. This island is one of the prettiest and cleanest Thai islands I’ve been to. And not expensive either!)
5. After living in a tent, being a digital nomad feels like luxury.
I’ve been living on my freelancer income for more than a year now, and it feels great to be making my living as I travel.
I could be earning a whole lot more cash if I was settled down, renovating kitchens somewhere in Australia, but freelancing gives me an awesome compromise between income and freedom.
I’m earning enough to live in comfortable hostels, eat good food three times a day, and have a few beers on a Friday night. For a guy accustomed to scrounging in bins and living in a tent, this lifestyle I’m living now feels super-fancy.
If you want to read some of the freelance writing work I’ve been doing, check out my portfolio, here.
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