For recent college graduates, freelancing can mean working while traveling anywhere in the world. Mobile freelancers have adopted what’s known as the “digital nomad” lifestyle, working whenever and wherever they choose using platforms like Upwork or Fiverr to find gigs. Countries like Estonia will soon be issuing special one-year visas for digital nomads who choose to live and work temporarily within their borders. Digital nomads embrace the freedom to combine bucket list destinations and experiences with making money through professional accomplishments.
Some remote workers have discovered ways to make travel part of their career, by writing reviews of their adventures, taking photographs or vlogging about their journeys. They often leave unsatisfying 9 to 5 jobs behind, travel for a living and adopt a multicultural lifestyle. Some of these freelancers do social media marketing for hotels and hostels in return for accommodations. Others work on graphic design, web development, creative writing or other projects in the knowledge economy.
I completed a several-month-long Southeast Asian trek financed primarily off of the here-and-there freelance writing gig. I used online platforms to pick up regular work writing simple articles and blog posts for a couple clients that had me eating street food without wondering how I would pay for the next meal, the next bus or the next temple-admission fee. Meeting other people in hostels around the region doing the same thing was pretty cool, there’s a little digital nomad community that’s an incredible resource to tap into. We watched out for each other and set aside time in our days to work on our projects.
I’m not the only one with a success story; in fact, there are many. Many people have worked as digital nomads for much longer trips than mine!
Radhika Basuthakur is a self-described traveling foodie and Upwork freelancer. She has been doing content marketing projects for Upwork’s social media team for more than 4 years as a digital nomad but has been freelancing longer -- since her college days in 2005. A passion for travel and the desire to check out new places motivates her every day. She says, “I don’t see myself ever going back to traditional work.”
In 2016, Radhika could sometimes be found at a co-working space in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She usually starts her day reading articles related to technology, productivity and the future of work. She seeks out interesting posts for the Upwork Twitter. Then she moves on to her work for other clients, and then her own personal projects. She limits checking e-mail to the middle of the day to avoid the time-consuming distraction it can be. At the end of the day, she goes to the gym or a yoga class for both mind and body fitness.
In the evenings, Radhika cooks with her boyfriend, or if it’s been a really busy day, they go out to eat. They move to another country every two or three months. Her clients are spread across Australia, the U.S., and Europe. So the biggest challenge can be keeping track of time zones and not slipping up in a way that would affect a client’s needs. But Radhika thinks that’s not much of a burden given the flexibility and freedom to travel she enjoys. She loves discovering new cultures, especially the food, wine, and coffee.
Radhika also likes not being tied to any particular place and being able to go “home” to be with family when she wants. She finds “working without boundaries of place, borders, time or nationality” inspiring. She encourages anyone with solid skills they can use online and a love of travel to try out the digital nomad lifestyle.
Not that long ago, recent college grad Nicholas Traugott gave it a shot. He had studied abroad in France and couldn’t wait to go back. So after bouncing around the U.S. working heavy machinery with his Dad in California and doing remote digital marketing, graphic design and Facebook ads for a small business he didn’t enjoy, he decided to hit the road. Nicholas is now a skilled freelance writer of website content with plenty of clients, who started out before joining Upwork, doing odd menial jobs in strange lands just to keep himself going.
Living in Australia at crunch time, Nicholas knew he needed to find a new way to make good money, so he wouldn’t be forced to return home again. He read all about Freelance to Win and then bought the course. He also studied Secrets of a Six-Figure Upworker, followed its recipes for success, and joined its community of remote workers for moral support. Nicholas has written everything from reviews of online dating sites to holistic health blog posts. He even enticed his Mom, who also loves to write, to follow in his Upwork footsteps. And she did, although taking a pass on becoming a digital nomad.
For Nicholas, traveling is no longer an escape, but a successful way of life, in which he’s building his business every day. Like Radhika, Nicholas has spent time in Thailand, including at a beautiful beach. He’s also been to Japan and the Netherlands. He’s been on rugged hiking adventures in Tasmania and visited with cousins in Tokyo.
Successful freelancing as a digital nomad requires motivation and commitment. Outside the structure of an office environment or a single culture, online professionals need to be confident self-starters and careful about maintaining a healthy work/life balance. Preferred attire and work hours may be more relaxed, but freelancing digital nomads develop their own daily routines.
As someone who takes on the occasional freelancing gig to make a few extra bucks and used freelancing as an opportunity to travel long-term, I have found that Upwork and Fiverr makes it possible to work for a diverse array of clients on different types of projects. Freelancing can be a bit of roller coaster, trust me, but when paired with a digital nomad lifestyle, it just makes life more interesting and cool.