There are hundreds, if not thousands of travellers that support themselves by freelancing, whether they blog about it or not - because not everybody is a super cool trendy travel writer, and not everybody wants to talk about it in public, or maybe because they don't have the time to. 

However, I have noticed that those who do write about it tend to make this lifestyle seem way to easy - of course, since one of the basic rules of marketing is to show everything in a positive light. While I'm happy with this choice, although I'm more of a nomad who spends a few months in each place rather than a full-time traveller, like any job, and any lifestyle decision, there are cons. Right now, I'm at a point where I try to avoid talking about my work (tricky if you're constantly meeting new people), because a lot of people see you as a snobby stuck-up kid that never had to work properly in their lives. And as this is not a marketing blog, let's have a look at the darker sides:

It's a lifestyle, not a holiday

While others go out and party, there are times when you have to suck it up and stay in the hostel/your room to work. This means a lot of people will see you as a spoil-sport, and hostel/guest house/hotel staff might regard you as downright weird. The more touristy the place is, the more you'll feel this (it's the main reason why I disliked Thailand, where nobody ever stopped trying to sell me tours).

You can't get drunk every night and sleep all day, at least not if you still want to see something of the place you're staying at. When there's a deadline, there's a deadline, and while you can usually determine yourself when you work, work has to be done eventually.

It comes with all the complications of self-employment, plus some

Unless you only work on project that span several months, chances are you'll never really know how much you will earn in a month. There may be time where you have to work 15 hours a day, every day, and then there are stretches where you'll also have next to nothing to do. As long as things even out, that's cool, but it means that your travel plans are never as spontaneous as for those who backpack with a certain budget but 100% free time.

Self-employment also means you have to take care of all the things that your employer usually does: writing proposals and finding new work, taxes, insurance... and also wiggle room for actual days/weeks off and sick days.

A lot of people will not take you seriously

My grandfather now thinks I'm high and living on the dole, because he doesn't understand how you can make money working online. When I visit my family, he thinks that I should spend every waking hour with him, because 'you don't work anyway'. One of my flatmates here in Belfast constantly proposes all kinds of minimum-wage jobs to me, because he thinks I'm just pretending to work and when I say I will only stay here for a couple of months, to him it means 'until she runs out of money and has to go home to Germany' (the last place I'd consider home), while for me it means 'Until my tax return is done and I can catch a cheap flight to India'.

This is also due to the fact that a lot of people who backpack write or want to be writers, without making any money from it, so many people assume that's what 'freelancing' means, too (hint: the 'free' part doesn't mean you work for free, and sadly, there are no knights and horses involved in the lance part, either). Or due to the popularity of the book 'The four hour work week' (which I haven't read, but I just assume it's daft).

That's an extreme example, but a lot of people will be jealous and think that you're not working properly if you don't get up and go to the office at 8 am, 5 times a week. Which of course, is rubbish. Yes, often I will only work 4 hrs a day, because I'm fast and manage to get the same amount done in this time than I would have in an office in 8 hours, and also, because I get to set my own rates. But getting to decide when and how much you are working doesn't mean that you're not working.

On the other hand, others will think you're some kind of god(dess)

Some people will not get what you're doing, no matter how often you explain it to them. They have wild, romantic, unrealistic dreams and project those onto others. They will adore you and want to talk about your work all the time, while completely ignoring what you actually do.

70% of my work is B2B, commercial marketing. Which means I translate and write web content for companie's websites, brochures, blogs that I meant to be read by other companies. Yet, when I say 'freelance translator' or 'freelance, people see me playing the SimsSocial or MyPokemonWorld or whatever there is on Facebook all day, while writing the next Harry Potter and researching for the next edition of Lonely Planet Uzbekistan.

Not everybody can do it

In theory, everyone can start their own business and take it on the road. I'm not trying to be elitist and say that you need to have some amazingly special superhero skills to do it. Sure, there has to be some skill, and whether you acquired it from a university or not doesn't matter, but you don't just wake up an become a web designer, for example. I trained to be a translator and worked in marketing for 5 years - especially with translation, people get it totally wrong all the time. Just because you speak language A and B fluently, it doesn't mean you can be a translator. You're not a developer because you installed Windows 7 on your sister's computer and you're not a travel writer because you spent half a year backpacking in Central America and kept a travel blog about it.

first work, then noodles
But as mentioned above, self-employment is tough. Can get up every day and work even though there is nobody there to tell you that you have to? Can you be organised enough to keep all your paperwork and client communication in check? How good are you at marketing and selling yourself? Are you good at motivating yourself? These are just some of the questions to ask yourself. It's not so much about skill, but about your personality.

... this is not a pity-me-complaining post. Because after work, you can eat noodles/drink beer/lie in the sun or whatever you fancy, and feel good because you don't have to worry about a fixed travel budget running out. Let's not talk about the tax return.

One Comment

  1. I'm a freelance Graphic Designer and you are so right! I'm not travelling right now, and because I work from home, I am always the one people ask to drive them out to the airport, or drive them somewhere during the day.
    Also, you've reminded me, I need to do my tax return!


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