Being a freelancer is tough. We have to manage our business, finances, clients, workload, marketing and more. It’s exhausting and sometimes even scary. So why do we do it when we could easily just work for someone else?
Most freelancers will tell you it’s so they can be their own boss and work their own hours. But what’s the point of working your own hours if you never have any of them free? With all the added stress of running a freelance business, it only makes sense that there should be an upside. And there is: travel.
Travelling the world
In my opinion, the best upside to freelancing, especially for young freelancers, is being able to travel wherever you want, whenever you want. As a freelancer you can quite easily work from anywhere in the world. All you need is a laptop and an internet connection and you’re good to go. Don’t believe it is true? I have spent the past 5 years on the road, travelling all over Europe and South East Asia; all whilst managing my laptop-based freelance business. It’s much easier than you may think. You just have to take the plunge. Often when I post pictures of my travels on Instagram or Facebook, my freelancer friends will comment with things like “I wish I could travel this much!” These comments always puzzle me because the truth is they can travel just as much as I do. But they’re scared to leave the comfort of their home office.
Personally, I think they just need a friendly nudge in the right direction, and that’s why I’ve written this post.
Why travel as a freelancer?
If you’ve ever dreamed of taking your freelance business on the road and enjoying the fruits of your labour, now is the time to do it.
In this short article, I’m going to give you 5 rock-solid reasons why you should pack up your bags to travel the world (and why I think it’ll actually help, rather than hinder, your freelance business).
Inspiration is everywhere, and very different
To start with: The flyers and posters you’ll see in Tokyo will be very different to the ones you see in Orlando, or London, or Marrakesh. It’s hard to quantify how much I’ve been inspired by different cities over the years, but I can assure you I’ve never been short on inspiration.
I come from a very small town in northern England. There’s a couple of local pubs, a supermarket and not much else going on. Seeing the same small-town things every single day leaves very little room for world-changing inspiration. However, strolling through downtown Bangkok, as an outsider, can leave visions of new styles you’d never even considered. And while there may be dozens of graphic design inspiration websites to browse through, nothing beats experiencing good design in the flesh; as a real and tangible piece of work. When you travel to different cities, countries and continents, you begin to see completely different styles of artwork. It’s obvious when you think about it, but only when you travel does it become a reality.
Viewing Japanese artwork through the lens of your home computer won’t have the same effect as seeing it pasted up on a billboard in Osaka.
Let yourself enjoy the freedom
One of the biggest mistakes I see freelancers making, especially new freelancers, is not leaving enough time for themselves. They work every waking hour, never taking a day off to recharge or engage with their hobbies. If you take no time off to recharge, you will burn out. This is a fact. And as many of us already know, burning out will cost you a lot more time than taking a short vacation. Taking time off to enjoy yourself and relax may not sound like it has a direct benefit to your business, but if you want to keep powering through you need some downtime to recuperate. And in my experience, taking some well deserved time-off wipes out creative block for weeks. Talk about an investment, right? And anyway, you’ve worked hard to build a freelance business, you should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labour, right?
Grow your network – Meet other designers in co-working spaces
5 Years ago I flew to Thailand. After months of travelling I settled down in the northern city of Chiangmai for a few weeks (which for many good reasons turned into years on and off). I was taking some time to complete client projects and I would work out of a local co-working space. For years I’d worked from my alone in my home office. Until I started to travel and work from co-working spaces, I completely neglected the huge upside co-working spaces could have for my business. All of the other people using these co-working spaces in far-flung countries like Thailand, were, just like me, freelancers who were travelling.
I met dozens of website owners, developers, writers, designers, illustrators and photographers. We would work together in the co-work space during office hours and go for beers in the evening. We would help one another with our work, find solutions to problems and share our tips on managing clients or finding new work. The things I learned from these different freelancers had a huge positive impact on my business. Almost every day someone would say something that truly revolutionised my business, and in just one year of travel I’d doubled my freelance income.
Meet other clients in co-working spaces
As I mentioned above, working from co-working spaces as you travel results in meeting lots of interesting and exciting people, most of whom work online in some capacity. This sea of mobile business people is a gold mine for freelancers who’re looking to find new clients. Not all of these travellers are graphic designers. There are website owners, business owners, photographers and more – all of whom may need help with their graphic design. Even for someone like me, who is more of an introvert, I picked up dozens of new clients just by saying I was a graphic designer. No hard sell needed, just a few casual beers and somehow we were in business.
Save money (geo-arbitrage)
Just imagine you can travel the world, work from white sand beaches, for fewer hours AND save money at the same time. Sound impossible? Well it’s not. In fact, it’s quite easy and it’s now why I spend most my time living and travelling in Asia.
I first got turned onto the idea by Tim Ferris and his best-selling book “The 4 Hour Work week”. He dubs it “geo-arbitrage”, whereby you live in a country with a weaker currency, but earn in a strong currency (like US dollars). It’s ideal for freelancers, especially freelancers who bill in dollars. The cost of living in countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia is very low; yet these countries rank as some of the most liveable (and happiest) in the world. They have fast internet speeds, good standards of living, great quality of life and huge expat communities. Yet you can live there for 25% (or less) than you’d spend living back home.
For every dollar you earn in America, or pound in England, it’s worth 3-5x more in South East Asian countries. So for $1,500 per month, you can live in Asia “like royalty”, simply because the currency you bill with is worth more. Couple that with my earlier points of how travel can actually help grow your business, and you’re onto a real winner. This is how it is possible to live by a white sand beach and work fewer hours, yet still go home with money saved in the bank.
What if you have a family?
When I talk to other freelancers about the virtues of travel, a common objection is that they have a family with young children. I don’t have children, so I can’t comment from a personal standpoint, but I can say I have met dozens of families on the road, and they seem to manage just fine. Oftentimes even, with the reduced cost of living in South East Asian countries, only one parent needs to work whilst the other takes care of the youngsters.
Your opinion? Have you considered travel?
I’d love to know your opinions. Have you ever considered travel? Is the freedom to work your own hours the reason you became a freelancer? Perhaps something else?
Would you love to travel but have a family to look after as well?
Leave a comment below and share your opinion with us all!