There are a few requirements for journalism, starting with the most essential: ethics. These days, a strong wireless internet connection is essential, too. Big ideas, creative perspectives and a vast database of sources and information can grow your career tenfold. A fundamental knowledge of content marketing and search engine optimization can help you propel into the double-digit range. But for most wordsmiths, having a specific home base isn’t essential once you’ve built your career and started to retain long-term clients. That’s why, like many other professionals, writers are taking their gigs on the road and becoming part of the new digital nomad trend.
Nearly two years ago, I tested out my own ability to pair wanderlust with work when I accepted an invitation to join Remote Year. This company is one of the many that organizes large group travel for location-independent workers who want to see the world — and still get paid. Over the course of 18 months, I worked from every nook and cranny of the planet, living in more than 13 countries on six continents. While staying on deadline was easier in some cities compared to others, the experience not only propelled my career forward, but it gave me an unshakable confidence in my abilities. Understanding how to prioritize and remain productive — no matter if I’m on a train in Tokyo or a bus in Peru — has made me a dedicated, multi-tasking journalist who can handle whatever my clients throw my way.
Though I’m thankful for my nomadic experience — and all of the ways it’s benefited me professionally and personally — I ultimately decided I needed a home base. These days, I file away content from a WeWork in Boston, but I still travel every couple of weeks. There are many journalists who, like me, were bit by the travel bug and were never able to give it up. If you’re considering packing a bag, grabbing your laptop and going for it, take a page out of these successful writers’ portfolios on how they make the lifestyle work.
Advice from freelance writers who are digital nomads
1. Travel — but don’t get off the grid.
Freelance journalist and author Karen Asp specializes in health, fitness, nutrition, pets and (of course) travel. In addition to writing for renowned publications including Woman’s Day, Better Home and Gardens, SELF and Harper’s Bazaar, she’s also a multi-book published author. And while she has a home in Indiana, she hits the road every three weeks to look for stories — both internationally and domestically. When an opportunity knocks, she carts her laptop and goes for it, even if it means sacrificing a bit of sleep along the way. To make the juggle manageable, she’s learned how to focus in any and every environment, whether it’s the lounge of a cruise ship, the counter at a brewery or a restaurant, a coffee shop or an airplane.
The only downfall she warns aspiring digital nomads of is a little thing called Wi-Fi. “Unfortunately, [you] can’t go off the grid for long periods, but being able to cart your work with you allows you to get out and explore/experience the world,” she continues. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re traveling internationally or just in your backyard.”
2. Keep your mind forever open.
Though writer and social media manager Ashley Laderer began her career writing away about fashion and beauty, it was the chance assignment about her anxiety disorder that revealed her true passion. Realizing she was propelled to break stereotypes and stigmas surrounding mental health and wellness, she has developed a niche within the industry. Now, she writes for a number of publications — and lets the freedom of travel inspire her pitches. Especially as someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, a traditional office gig left Laderer feeling suffocated as she dealt with symptoms and triggers at work. “Being a digital nomad has offered me flexibility of schedule, and more importantly, room to grow as a person. Traveling and working remotely has changed me, helped my anxiety, made me a braver person, and a harder worker,” she explained.
Today, she’s in warm Los Angeles, but she chases sunshine around the world, submitting stories from London, Paris, Florence, Rome, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and many others. “Traveling provides so many new experiences that I wouldn’t necessarily get at home. For me, experiences equals stories. I’m constantly experiencing something and then thinking, ‘Oh my god, this would be a great story!’ So I’m never running out of inspiration,” she adds.
3. “It is possible.”
When your career centers around adventure, public lands and conservation, being part of the action is basically a job requirement. That’s why a digital nomadic lifestyle makes sense for freelance writer Cassidy Randall. She’s profiled all sorts of fascinating people, but mostly she features women doing incredible feats and overcoming odds. “I write about unlikely heroes in the outdoors, like the pioneer on the frontier of adaptive backcountry skiing; and about complex issues, like the emotional trauma avalanche survivors experience and how the mountain community deals with it,” she explains.
Another one of Randall’s passions is public lands, which requires her to spend time in the places she’s researching. “So many landscapes get under our skin and soak into the bone,” she continues. “A good writer can create that feeling for someone who’s never even been the place in question. For me, coming to know a place is the best way to share it forward in words.”
So where does all of this adventuring take her? Well, everywhere. In the last month, she’s written from Revelstoke, Golden and Invermere in British Columbia; Whitefish and Missoula in Montana; off the grid in Utah’s newest wilderness in the San Rafael Swell. In the past, she’s traveled and worked from New Zealand, Australia, Chile, the Yukon, Japan — and the list goes on. Though she feels incredibly fortunate to have this as her reality and career, she encourages all writers to figure out if being a free agent is right for you. And more to the point: Remember it can be done.
“It’s possible to chase stories — assuming you have the funding — and say ‘yes’ to opportunities. I can’t even remember what it’s like to wake up, get ready, and be out the door to get to a 9-5 office job anymore,” she shares. “I love waking up wherever I am, drinking coffee, and writing in my pajamas.”
4. “You learn to write from anywhere.”
Journalist Nina Caplan might just have your dream life: She writes about travel. And oh, wine. Also an author and speaker, Caplan was named the Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year in 2018, and the Louis Roederer International Food & Wine Writer of the Year in 2016. While her career initially started as a film critic for UK newspapers and magazines, today she primarily pens for her columns in The New Statesman and Times Luxx, along with other publications.
Though many professionals decide to shift their lives completely to make the digital nomad routine work from them, Caplan’s career has always involved around jet-setting. “I woke up one day and realized that I was living my life online and between one place and another, and that these two things were perfectly aligned,” she shared. With her former editor gigs, she was always moving between various European cities, and when she decided to return to freelance, everything came together for her. She could write from wherever, so — no pun intended — wine not?
Right now, Caplan is in rural Burgundy, near Dijon, where she lives part of the time. She also lives some of the year in London, and another few months in her home country of Australia. Her partner is Canadian, so she’ll also hop over to Montreal, too. “I write about — and have lived in all those places — but I’m a wine and travel writer. So the rest of the time I’m probably in Rioja or Tuscany or South Africa, or somewhere else where the wine is good and there are stories to be found,” she adds.
All of this moving and grooving has given Caplan the profound ability to write from anywhere. “I have finished articles in the back of taxis and on boats; received commissions while boarding planes; met people who were useful or just fun or interesting in all sorts of virtual ways,” she shares. “Sure, I have missed out on great commissions because I was already committed to be somewhere else. But I travel to broaden my horizons. And the online world does that for me, too. I can be wherever I want, whenever I want, doing whatever needs to be done no matter where the work needs to end up. My only geographical obligations are family and the destinations I want to write about. You can’t really argue with that.”
5. “You can meet local experts around the globe.”
For the past four years, Amna Shamim has been working as a writer, running editorial calendars, mapping content strategies and consulting on SEO keywords. Her bylines have appeared in everything from Glamour and Entrepreneur to The Huffington Post and Business Insider. Though she says some of it has been luck, much has been hard work. Even so, she’s been able to build this career while traveling all around the country and world, beginning in October of 2014.
At the time, Shamin says the term “digital nomad” wasn’t a recognizable term, and her family definitely thought she was crazy for believing she could make money while country-hopping. At first, she says it was difficult. But over time, thanks to connections and trial and error, she figured out how to make the routine work. “ I started my journey looking for another city or country I could happily live in, and I realized that there were too many places I love for me to be in just one all the time. So now I spent about 70 percent of my year revisiting people and places I love and the rest of it exploring new spots,” she shared.
Currently, Shamin is in Medellin, Colombia, for two months before she heads to meet pals in Mexico. In the past, she’s loved working from Buenos Aires, Timisoara, Lisbon, Singapore and London, to name a few.
One of the greatest advantages for writers is actually surprising: time zones. “EOD deadlines often buy me extra time, especially when I’m in Europe and they’re in the United States,” she shares. But more so, having access to local community makes for one-of-a-kind pitches that get attention.
“I’ve been able to pitch stories and interview locals for smaller publications that don’t have travel budgets. I happen to be there and am happy to write for them, so everyone wins. I build my rolodex of local experts because I’m on the ground in different places and that helps me land more work with publications because they need access to those experts,” she continues. “Everyone wins, including the local experts who are able to draw international attention to the issue at hand.”