My Experience as a Freelance Writing Digital Nomad
As I write this, I have now been travelling Europe as a freelance writer for about 5 months. Since I’ve been meeting so many new people on the travel circuit, I’ve been telling my ‘story’ (and hearing many other peoples!) a lot, and there seems to be a total fascination with the concept of freelance writing, especially whilst living the digital nomad lifestyle. So I thought I’d get into it and properly share my experience here.
I’m not expert in this field, which I think is pretty clear throughout the article, but my hopes in sharing my story is that you may be inspired to dive in, and follow your dreams— even without hardcore expertise.
I also compiled a list of questions that I get asked often on the subject, and also reached out on IG to know what you guys want to know on the subject. I included a Q&A at the bottom of this article, and you can always reach out in the comments if you want to know more.
Note: my website (the one you’re reading this on) and my freelance work are separate writing projects. I am working on slowly monetizing my website (which I hope to eventually live off of, full time) but for now this article focuses exclusively on my work as a freelance for paid clients, that have nothing to do with my website. Although, as you’re about to learn, I never would have gotten all these paid writing opportunities had it not been for my site. Enjoy!
My Experience as a Freelance Writing Nomad
How I got Into Freelance Writing
I didn’t choose the freelance life, the freelance life chose me. Seriously.
It’s actually wild to look back on the past year, because it was about a year ago that I launched this website, and that my entire life changed so rapidly. When I launched this website (and my very first article about my water fasting experience), I was actually in the first year of a post-grad in holistic reproductive health. I had just moved back home after nearly 3 years in Australia followed by 3 months in Maui/ California so that I could settle down and focus on school for two years.
I launched the website because I had this yearning in my soul for years now to have a structured platform on which I could share my thoughts and feelings. Anyways, I posted my fasting article in a few Facebook groups on fasting, and next thing you know I had been contacted by Dr. Pompa’s team to know if I was interested in help write his upcoming book on fasting (!!!!). Needless to say I said hells yes.
Taking The Plunge: Going Full Time Freelance
After working on that book project for a handful of months (as a freelance contractor), I was offered more freelance work in other branches of Dr. Pompa’s company. I started writing regular articles for Revelation Health website, converting podcast topics into written articles for another one of his sites, and doing other miscellaneous freelance writing projects for the company. Other brands and companies in the wellness world started to reach out as well, and I started writing tailored recipes for companies I love, as well as paid blog posts (to be posted on their websites).
The cool thing about freelance is that you work on your own time, so you can move things around in your schedule, and say yes or no to as many things as you can handle. I was new to all of this, and being so excited I just kept saying yes, yes, and yes. It was after about 4-5 months into juggling freelance, school, and nanying that I started to realise that I was doing way too much.
I was so excited by all these opportunities and my reignited love for writing that I knew what I had to do: quit my part-time nannying job, and my full-time post-grad. This was an extremely difficult decision; the kids I was nannying are the loves of my life. Leaving that was more than leaving a job, it was like losing a part of my soul. Same for my post-grad, the Justisse program is truly one of a kind and I was loving the direction that it was taking me in. But you can’t do it all, and since my passion for writing burned brighter than all the rest, I officially became a full-time freelance writer on November 1st 2018.
And let me say this: bruh, it’s scary! I didn’t study business or had any prior concept of what freelancing really entailed until I found myself diving into it head first. I still have no idea what I’m doing to be honest. I’ve never been one to budget or plan, and I still am not. I didn’t have any idea what kind of wage I should be asking for, or what a contract ought to look like. I just decided to roll with the punches and trusting that things will unfold in divine timing. So far, so good.
Living La Vida Nomad: Moving to Europe
I’ve been highly nomadic for many years now, and when I settled down in Toronto for my post-grad program I immediately started to get the travel itch again. I don’t mean to hate on Toronto… but I just don’t dig the city’s energy whatsoever. My parents are there and one of my best friends lives there, but other than that I don’t consider it my home. Needless to say when I left my program and started freelancing full-time, I realised that I could take off again… and so I did.
I spent the previous summer in France, Greece, and Italy, and that two month trip ignited a fire in me to return as soon as possible. I felt such a strong connection to Greece, and fell in love with the Southern Italy vibe in Cinque Terre (Italy). I also have family in France that I felt so great reconnecting with, so it was an easy decision to pick up my French passport and take off on a one way ticket.
I’ll be the first to say it: Europe is not cheap. Especially when you’re getting paid in US dollars (the Euro is a stronger currency). I spent two weeks visiting my grandparents to start, but when I took off on my own I knew I had to get creative with my spending… especially housing. One thing I did was join the Trustedhousesitters website, that allows you to apply for house sitting gigs across the world (code RAF240027 will get you 25% off the membership). I house sat two weeks in Geneva, and two weeks in Berlin through that site which was awesome to have over a month (combined) in these epic cities, without paying rent. In between I spent time in France, Amsterdam, and then went to Helsinki, back to France, and then to Greece (where I’ve been for about 2 months, and will be for another month).
One of the greatest things about freelancing is the insane flexibility, which allows you not only to travel but also get creative with your travelling. Flight prices vary wildly, and different days/ weeks/ months yield hundreds of dollars difference in ticket prices. Travelling in the spring or fall also drops prices dramatically for accomodation, not to mention all the random opportunities (like house sitting, visiting/ staying with friends, etc) that you can take advantage of when you work from a laptop.
It’s Not All Glam: The ying/yang of The Nomad Life
Far from family and friends: this is one I’m still navigating, and it’s not easy at times. I am an only child and have an extremely good relationship with my parents… I love them a lot and miss them deeply at times. I also find though that my relationship with them always strengthens when we’re not in the same city. It’s easy to take people for granted when you have them at your fingertips, and although I miss my family and friends, the internet reconnects us daily. I also realize that some of my best friends in the world I met in Australia… a trip I never would have made had I remained in the comfort zone of my family and friends in Canada.
Less privacy: this too has a pro/ con aspect to it— staying in hostels, hotels, or airbnbs inevitably means less privacy than in the comfort of your own home. It also opens the door to meeting so many new people, sharing new experiences and adventures, and opening your mind to connections you might never have in your day-to-day routine life. I try to balance out hostel (shared rooms), with airbnbs, private room sublet in a shared house, and private hotel rooms so that I can get the best of both worlds (and also not blow all my money on rent). Still learning to walk the tightrope on that one, I find that every 2-4 weeks I need a couple of weeks so lay low and have privacy.
No control over EMF’s, scents, and blue light: whether you’re living in a shared house or a hostel, a hotel or airbnb, you are at the mercy of other people’s whack toxic habits. As someone who goes to bed around 9:30 pm, keeps the lights off after sun down, doesn’t use any chemicals in or on my body… this can get tricky in shared spaces. A guy that was in a shared room as me in Crete, and he would come out of the shower wreaking of artificial shower gels, shampoo, and cologne before bed, and I wanted to blow my face off. The key here for me is kindly explaining to people I’m sensitive to smell, and also being realistic that it won’t always go my way. Many people like having the lights blaring indoors until 11pm… luckily many people are flexible and kind, and for those who aren’t I always travel with earplugs and an eye mask.
NOT YOUR BED: there’s no pro’s here. Sleeping in random beds is always going to be weird.
So much change can be exhausting: the nomad life is fun and exciting, but it’s also tiring. If you don’t allow yourself enough time in one place (the sweet spot for me is 2-4 weeks depending on the place), you begin to feel exhaustion creep in. You need to make sure you leave yourself enough time to enjoy the place but also get work done. As someone who is go-go-go, if I was to spend 4 nights in a new town I would have no time to really soak in the area or do any work. When you give yourself 2-4 weeks in one spot, you also embrace the sunny and rainy days. When it rains you can work, and when it suns you can beach or explore all day. A pro of all the change is how beneficial new experiences are for neuroplasticity (basically the brain’s ability to adapt and learn).
My Advice if you’re considering the digital nomad/ freelancer life
Don’t force it: I’m not saying all things in life should find you (although, I also do believe in that to a degree), but don’t force something that isn’t coming at least somewhat naturally. Things do happen in divine timing, and just because you have an idea that appeals to you, doesn’t mean it’s right for you right here, right now.
Follow your heart: don’t be afraid of what your heart wants. You can never regret following your heart because when you live and speak from your heart space, the right people will genuinely resonate with you— always. If you feel deeply that this path is calling you, don’t let fear of what society thinks you ought to do or what feels ‘safe’… set yourself free from the expectations of your friends, family, and society.
Do what you love: you can definitely make good money freelancing, and afford to live the digital nomad life. The flexibility and opportunities are incredible, but none of it will mean anything if you fundamentally hate your work. Not all writing is the same, don’t compromise what you write about and don’t ignore the message that you’re conveying with your words. It may pay well to be a copywriter for big tobacco or big pharma, but your words matter,and they impact real human beings. Stick to an industry you truly love and want to support, and it won’t feel like work at all.
Try it: you can always go back to a stable job and a stable living situation if it doesn’t work out. One of the cool things about freelancing is that you can dabble whilst still working/ parenting/ studying full-time. Test the waters, apply for a few gigs or contact a few companies you would like to write for. Take on more than you can handle (short-term) and then if it lights you up or is working out, you can re-prioritize and potentially leave your other job(s).
What is freelancing?
Freelancing is the term for a position in which you are self-employed, and not committed to any one employer long-term. Contracts vary, but essentially your gigs are project-to-project, and you are not an official employee of the company that hires you. There are many freelancing jobs, including writer/ copywriter, photographer, graphic designer, and teaching/ tutoring.
Pros: you get paid more, you have (way) more freedom + flexibility, you generally have fresh opportunities and varying projects (which keeps work exciting).
Cons: you have no real job security, no benefits, no health insurance.
What does digital nomad mean?
Digital nomad is the term given to someone who works remotely from a computer, and travels. This type of work is as new as wifi— which is technically 1991 (the same year I was born!). All a digital nomad needs to work is indeed their computer, and internet connection; and digital nomad jobs include (like freelancing): writer, website developer, app developer, SEO specialist, tutor, social media marketer, affiliate marketer, etc.
Do digital nomads need work visas?
You do not need a work visa if your employer is not in the same country. If you want to work in a country (a job that is physically in that country), you need a work visa. But if you’re working as a digital nomad, you can work remotely from your computer in any country on a tourist visa. If you decide to pick up a client in the country your visiting as a tourist, best inquire with immigration to avoid legal qualms.
Tourist visas do need to be applied for, and their duration and terms vary widely from country to country. Most countries have 1 month, 3 month, or 6 month limits on tourist visas. Some are renewable (you simply have to exit and re-enter the country), and others have more confusing limits. Mexico and Panama, for example, offer 180 day tourist visas that are immediately renewable (in/out) indefinitely. Australia has a few options for tourists, including the 651 e-visitor visa that allows you 1 year, but you have to leave/ re-enter the country every 3 months.
A suggestion I have if you’re under 30 is to pursue a ‘working holiday visa’, which is available in many many countries, and allows you to work, live, and travel in a country for a whole year (sometimes two).
Visas have actually been a bittersweet symphony for me, especially regarding my struggle to stay in Australia long term. In Europe, however, I don’t need to worry about visas because I also have a French passport (and considering the EU agreement, I can live, travel, and even work indefinitely in any European country).
How much can you make as a freelance writer?
This totally depends. You can get paid per word, paid per hour, or paid per article. The ‘best’ (most paid) option depends on how you work, and what the project is.
I’ve worked in all three types of payment set-up, and even then I can’t actually choose a prefered method of payment. I’ve spoken to quite a few people who have shared their horror stories about low wages, abusive work experiences, and unpaid intern freelance positions— which personally I have no experience with. I feel grateful to have only ever engaged with amazing employers who respect and value me and my work.
I think it’s really important to know your worth, but also be humble and honest about where you’re at in your freelancing journey. Having had no experience going into my first writing position, I was given the opportunity to haggle for a better wage, and I didn’t. I was so grateful for the opportunity to work on such a big project, and I told my employer that whatever starting wage they were willing to offer me, I would take.
This is actually a strategy I have employed for a long time regarding wage. Employers often ask you during the interview process what wage you are asking for, and I find it much more interesting to see what they have to offer. If an employer is offering you a shitty wage, this is a strong indication about the nature of the relationship you will have with them moving forward. I’ve had jobs in the past (working at a juice bar, for example) where the offered wage is a fucking unlivable joke— and within a very short amount of time I noticed that the whole company lacked respect for it’s employees. These writing positions have been a complete opposite experience for me: employers have offered me awesome pay right off the bat, and as I gain experience I am slowly building up the confidence in my work to eventually ask for more.
How do freelance writers get clients?
I understand my experience is not a common one, but I haven’t actually applied for any of the current clients I work for. I launched my website out of pure passion, and I think this really shines light on the importance of being true to yourself, and not working only to chase a pay cheque. When you invest time and hard work in your passions, you have no idea what kind of opportunities can come from them, even if they aren’t paid in the beginning.
So from my experience, I would say start writing on your own platform— because this acts as a sort of resume. Whether clients find you, or you pursue them, you can send them a link to your website as a way for them to hear your voice and see your abilities.
I also suggest sticking to an industry you’re actually interested in. Not all writing is the same; writer’s block (in my experience) comes when writing is forced. If you’re writing about a subject you love, it won’t feel like you’re working a day in your life. Personally I write exclusively in the realms in which I love: health, wellness, travel, consciousness, personal development.
You can apply for jobs online but honestly, I don’t recommend it. What I recommend is reaching out to people and companies directly, to whom you know and respect. This is why it’s so important to write about an industry you’re passionate about: you know the businesses, you know the clientele (you’re one of them!), and odds are your words won’t only be for a paycheque, but actually to help impact an industry that you love. Go check out their website and see what kind of content they are putting out; if you feel like you are capable of creating similar content— reach out to them!
Once you get your first client a gateway opens, not only because you gain confidence but also because so many websites and employers are connected.
Freelance writing omg: how did you find opportunities in this space?
The freelance writing world is saturated, but the reality is the world in general is saturated: there are so many dang people on this planet! I think you ought to shift your perspective from that of ‘there are so many people and only one job’ to ‘there are so many jobs and only one me’. If you value yourself and the work that you do, you realise that your gift is something worth getting payed for.
I had this epiphany when I interviewed for a sales job working at a gym, in Australia. The interviewer (aka my soon to be boss) asked me why she should pick me and I honestly responded that I believe in my abilities and my passion in this wellness world, and that there are so many jobs out there… but only one me. This doesn’t need to come across as conceited whatsoever— confidence and humility can (and should) go hand in hand.
Shift your perspective, know your worth, and pursue a field in which your passion drives your work. When you work in a field you love, it becomes a mission that is greater than you. The freelance writing field may be saturated, but I genuinely feel like it is my duty to contribute to this world, using the written word.. and employers can feel it too.
What was your biggest fear when you first started a nomadic lifestyle?
Oh lord, I think just the idea of it— or rather my lack of knowledge on that freelancing even was. Being my own boss was always a dream, but I had never truly given it much thought. It was this concept I knew I liked, but hadn’t thought about it much beyond that. One part that I feared as being my own boss is time management… because I can be really good at procrastinating. What I realised, though, is that I only procrastinate when I don’t love the task. Writing for these companies I respect, on topics I love, has been a total dream and I’ve had no problems with procrastination.
There’s also the insecurities that I won’t have enough work/ that I won’t make enough… because when you’re on a salary you know exactly how much is coming in each fortnight. With the nomadic lifestyle + freelance, the fear was definitely finances, mostly because I have never made a budget… nor do I have the intention of ever making one. I loath budgets, I hate the idea of living on some sort of regimented spending plan and feeling a sense of lack, or restriction. I do factor in my income when it comes to how loose my spending is, but I don’t believe in crunching numbers, making spending charts, etc.
So anyways I just did it anyways: I moved abroad and I worked from my computer, writing. I also travel smart (I wrote about my tips for solo travellers in another article you can read), that includes things like the occasional house sit, and cooking for myself.
Doing things that scare you generally teach you’re capable beyond belief. You have to realise as well that if it doesn’t work out, you can always get a stable job or a stable living situation. That stable life isn’t going anywhere if you decide the digital nomad life isn’t for you.
What’s a day in the life look like for you?
Woah, there is no such thing as an average day in Life of Cam at the moment. I know some writers advocate the importance of routine but to be honest I absolutely love the ability to go with the flow. I try to spend enough time in any one location so that I have enough time to explore and also take enough days to focus on work. Freelancing has also given me a totally new appreciation for the rain, because if it rains I spend a whole day writing, which enables me to spend the next sunny day(s) away from the computer.
I try to get out of the house to do the majority of my writing, working from coffee shops mostly (ironically, because I don’t drink coffee). I like the vibe of public places where other people are working or studying, and it seems that no matter where I travel to, there’s always a Starbucks and their free wi-fi welcoming me with open arms.
The first thing I do when I get to a new place (and something I do almost every day) is visit the local organic/ health shops and markets. I love getting food fresh each day based on what my body is calling out for. I also walk a lot, and almost everywhere I go, and schedule in time to see sights, go on hikes, experience local cuisine. Depending where I am (and how long I’m there for) I might join a yoga studio, rent a bicycle. And yeah, that’s about it! Rinse and repeat (and sprinkle in a few Netflix binges along the way #realtalk).
How do you decide where you travel to?
Hm, it depends. Sometimes my heart just longs for a place, like it did with Greece the first time I visited. Sometimes it’s because of a house-sitting opportunity: I spent 2 weeks in Geneva and 2 weeks in Berlin house sitting, and had a month in between that I spend in Amsterdam (I sublet a room in a house). What brought me to Helsinki is actually a funny story… I had ordered a tent from the U.S. that offered free shipping, so I put in my address in France (where I was at the time), and it turns out the shipping was only within the States and the website glitched. So I posted on Facebook asking if anyone I knew in the U.S. would be in Europe soon, and a guy I had never met but knew through the grapevine said he would be in Finland in February. He agreed to bring my tent, and I went to meet him in Helsinki (and spent two weeks visiting as many saunas as was humanly possible).
I’m also extremely lucky to have family in France, so I intermittently visit my uncle and grandparents when I’m passing through France. Oh, and I often just book a flight if I see a cheap on on Skyscanner (like the 20 Euro flight I just booked to Morocco for August!!). I spend so much time on Skyscanner it’s borderline worrisome.
What has been your favourite place in Europe?
Ah! That’s like asking a mum who her favorite child is!! That’s really hard to say… I’ve fallen in love with many places. But I’ll say Amsterdam is up there as one of my favs, I just love the bicycle culture and how accessible and amazing organic food is there. People are so nice and the city just has a major vibe (and so many great wifi working locations). I think Amsterdam is one of the most livable (long term) cities for me. Also Greece as a whole (but specifically the island of Milos), just captured my heart last summer and still holds it dearly. I just spent 6 weeks in Crete, am currently in Athens (going to a Vipassana in just over a week), and then will be working my way down through the Cyclades for about a month. The food, sunshine, blue skies, and beautiful beaches… Greece is a total dream, but I couldn’t live there permanently.
Is there an age limits for nomads? What about children or partner/ spouse?
Hellllllls nah, there’s no age limits on anything, ever. You impose your own limits on yourself, based on how you let society shape you. There’s no rule on how you can and cannot live, and you shouldn’t let the status quo define what is possible. The majority of people are sick, and/ or depressed and/ or anxious, and/or hate their jobs. Why let other people’s unhappiness dictate what your path should look like?
In terms of partner and children, of course you need to find someone who is on the same page as you (at least for now). You clearly can’t live the nomad life and stay with a partner if s/he wants stability. Children, however, I think can thrive living on the go, so long as they are deeply loved and supported by their parents.
Personally, I don’t think I want to do the nomad thing forever. I also love the idea of building a home (and especially growing a garden), and being a part of a strong, loving community. Building a strong tribe is near impossible as a freelance nomad, and although I’m enjoying it for now, I do want to settle down and have a family in one spot, eventually.
Where's the balance, for you, between exploring and experiencing new cultures, relationships, and ecosystems consistently as opposed to growing in and nurturing one ecosystem and community? What's your difference of experience spending one season of growth with a people and place compared to dozens of seasons of growth? Does that yin and yang symbiotically feed each other?
What a banging question. Ok, well I’m in a stage of my incarnation where I’m embracing the chaos, the lack of roots and stability, the new sights/ smells/ experiences as a part of this very yang time in my life. I have this fire that burns inside of me to explore and soak in/ experience everything. I am so amazed by this planet and although there are definitely microcosms within the earth, I also feel deeply that we are connected across the planet as one single ecosystem that is a part of the larger cosmos. So although I’m not developing deeply into one community, I feel that I am doing so with the global community.
I guess I’m connecting the dots right now, and trying to experience the world as one big ecosystem. When I close my eyes, I can picture human beings that I have had deep, deep, connections with, all across the globe… and that feels really special. I see so much value in this, all the change and newness (and yes the odd sameness and humanity that you find cross-culturally across the planet). I also see so much value in the yin, stable, quiet, and nourishing of one single microcosm, one piece of land, one community, one tribe. And I absolutely want that for the next chapter in my life.
I don’t think either or is necessarily better or worse, I think they both have their pros/cons, their time and place, their own set of lessons, their value. And like you said, I don’t think it’s possible to isolate the yin from the yang, I think all experiences feed our soul and simultaneously inform one another. What a true gift (/ trip out) this human life is.
I hope all of this was useful and/ or inspiring! Follow your dreams, I believe in you.