Why I Quit My Office Job To Be A Travelling Freelancer
Some words of wisdom on this hard-won reality.
It’s basically the dream – ditching the nine to five for a life on the road. But is it actually viable? After spending a cumulative year and a half as a travelling freelancer, digital nomad VIVIENNE EGAN has some words of wisdom to share with you about her hard-won reality.
I’m bad at office jobs. And I don’t mean ‘bad’ in the sense of ‘don’t like it much’. I mean it in the sense that it seems physically impossible to me that anyone could get to work on time, or that they’d consider staying after the exact stroke of 5:30pm to complete their work. In terms of putting in effort, I’m on a downward trajectory from day one of any new role. I’ve always wanted to travel the world and to work for myself, preferably with a Carrie Bradshaw style syndicated column; so anything short of complete autonomy was abhorrent to me.
The last full-time job I had was in 2013. I wasn’t quite living the dream of traipsing around New York as a well-paid journalist. Instead I was in the UK on a working holiday visa, employed as the sole copywriter in a digital agency where my job was to write a lot of blog posts for clients, including lots about travel. Then I had to find travel bloggers who took sponsored posts and offer to pay them to host the articles I’d written.
There’s a unique pain in having to spend your days in an office actually being paid to look at travel blogs. Slowly, I found myself doing a worse and worse job on the ‘writing the articles’ front, and a better and better job at the ‘researching the blogs’ part of the job. I felt so tantalisingly close yet frustratingly far from the life I wanted. I was writing for a living and I worked at a decent company with alright pay. But I wanted to be those travel bloggers with their beautiful websites, exciting lives and getting paid – paid! – to post articles like the ones I was writing on their beautiful websites. I wanted in.
I was nearly at the end of my two-year visa and the company I worked for had generously offered to sponsor me to stay on in the UK – and I really wanted to do that. But things got dire when I went home to Sydney to sort the visa out. I was still working, but in a different time zone and without the structure of an office. My downhill slide was quickly becoming apparent and I was eventually given a warning to pull my socks up. And fair enough too, I was a dreadful employee.
So I’d come to a tipping point. Should I put up with the job and think of England? Or was this my chance to stop daydreaming about those travel bloggers and make a break for my dream lifestyle? By this stage, my travel blog habit had led to a digital nomad blog habit – I’d found out about the people who travel but make their money all kinds of ways – not just as travel bloggers – by building businesses while travelling the world.
I didn’t have much in the way of savings, but I was lucky: I had a cheap living situation and an ongoing freelance gig that I’d picked up the year before. My boyfriend wanted to come too. My mum said that she believed in me. I decided to go for it.
That was nearly three years ago. Since then, I’ve spent time in Thailand, Turkey, Hungary, the UK and Australia. I’m still writing for a living, but these days I actually do get published as a real journalist. The money I make isn’t much (my fault – I still don’t work that hard), but I’m not working to make someone else’s dream come true. If I want to spend Monday morning at the movies or visiting a temple or sleeping in, I can.
If I could go back and give me from three years ago some advice, I’d tell me to have a lot more money saved up and to have a much steadier stream of income than the occasional copywriting gig. I’d tell me to spend the entire first year in South East Asia, not just the first three months – going slowly makes your money go much further. I’d tell me to prepare for loneliness, and to make a big effort to stay in touch with my friends – not just saying ‘let’s Skype some time!’, but actually marking a date in my diary.
But I’d also say that working for myself is both liberating and rewarding, and that I’ve made brilliant friends and learnt so much about the world. I also have an awful lot of privilege that makes this life easier for me (I speak English; I have an Australian passport; I’m educated and able-bodied; I have no big responsibilities; I’m straight and white; I’m able to make money from a laptop; I own a laptop… the list goes on). And I think about that privilege every single day. I appreciate home that much more for having been away, but I also now feel at home in a lot of places.
Someone once said to me about a career in the arts: “if you can do anything else at all, do that instead”. I think it’s the same for being a self-employed nomad. If you can do the nine to five and don’t feel like you’re dying every day – do it. There are a lot of upsides: regular pay, holiday and sick leave, and someone to tell you what to do so you can take home your paycheque. You even get co-workers.
But if you find yourself reading blogs and inspiring books and wanting something different for yourself, or if your work drags you down and your city is stifling, or even if you’re desperate to travel and want more than your 20 days of annual leave, I would recommend finding a way to make it happen. Because as corny as it is, you’ve only got one life, and you’ll never be as young again as you are today.