Since “digital nomad” is still a new term, employers and clients still raise an eyebrow to the concept. Even within the freelancing community, the dynamic has only recently started to shift.
For many decades, contract employees were still considered to show-face in the office, or at least be available for a face-to-face meeting. Nowadays though, teams are scattered about continents, freelance writers file deadlines from anywhere they can find Wi-Fi, and ideas are sourced from experiencing global cultures. For wordsmiths, being location-independent doesn’t just fundamentally change how they work — but it can create a whole new layer to their portfolio.
Before I became a digital nomad myself, I was primarily a lifestyle writer. But as I lived in 12 countries a month at a time, I bubbled over with new ideas. The ability to email editors I have solid relationships with — and pitch news ones — grew my travel clips tenfold. I credit much of my ability to land bylines at top-tier publications to my nomadic days. Even if I have a home base in Boston now, I’m frequently hopping a flight or hitting the road for an assignment — or to fulfill my wanderlust, and thus to find a new story.
But this benefit is just one of the many writers have when they decide to travel full-time (or some of the time). To use jet-setting to your professional advantage, consider these tips from talented professionals who have navigated the way:
Broadening your freelancing experience and opportunities through travel
1. Save money by co-living.
One of the most convincing reasons to pack up everything you own, sell what you want and grab a bag or two for the road boils down to one word: money. There are many benefits to being out of the country that stretch beyond a heightened worldview, including a lower cost of living. Many parts of Southeast Asia, South and Central America, and Eastern Europe have jaw-dropping affordable rents, making your input vs. output lean more in the favor of your savings account. Also, for Americans who choose to take their work abroad, staying out of the country 330 of 365 days makes you eligible for the Foreign Income Exclusion rule, which can save you in the double-digits.
Another way digital nomads are cutting corners — legally — is by adopting a new angle of cohabitation. As content creator Akua Sencherey explained from her own experience, being a digital nomad introducing her to the concept of co-living. Part work, part sleep, part networking and part party, she describes co-living as an international community built around shared housing.
Examples include Selina in Medellin, Colombia; Sun & Co in Javea, Spain; or Zag Co-Living in Montevideo, Uruguay. She’s stayed at all of these places, and was able to not only be productive but make friends. One couple who shared her thirst for work and adventure made quite the impact. “Although we weren’t formally networking, I gleaned a lot of wisdom from hearing about their professional journeys and got to connect with them personally while practicing speaking Spanish,” she continued. “It was also inspiring to see the potential in a couple traveling this way.”
2. Make networking a goal.
When you wake up in the apartment you’ve called home for years — brew your cup of Joe, answer those emails, get to writing, repeat — all of the days can blend together. For contractors, the lifestyle is nice since you make the rules, but it can be lonely. When you’re a digital nomad, it’s easy to fall into the same routines, especially if you tend to be more introverted by nature.
Writer and social media manager Ashley Laderer says it’s a mistake to hole up in your hostel or AirBNB when you’re in a new country, since traveling allows you to grow a worldwide network. “It’s more fun to connect with someone on the beach in Puerto Rico than on LinkedIn, right? You never know who you could meet, who you can collaborate with or work with, or who will potentially help you get a gig some day,” she continues. “And of course, if you’re a writer, soak up all the experiences to write about!”
3. Consider your location — and go for it.
Writer Amna Shamim says being a nomad has given her a different perspective on events — especially global ones like the Women’s March. She happened to be in Argentina this year when it was happening. She snagged a byline in Bust because she was on the ground, when no one else was. Her biggest suggestion to fellow wordsmiths is to be mindful of the stories and the sources around you when you’re in a new country — and go after the assignments.
“Pitch with that angle and make it clear this story will not require travel expenses from the publication. As budgets are getting tighter, editors appreciate knowing that up front,” she continues. “If you aren’t on the ground yet, let them know you will be and when. Try to tie your pitch to a time-sensitive event that will be happening when you’re there.”
4. Stay connected — and available.
When you’re on a beach in Thailand with $1 coconuts and $2 iced coffees — it’s tempting to lay in the sun and ignore your computer. Or, you’d rather walk through the winding streets of Prague, where new meets old, downing a beer at every stop. But if you don’t make a living as a digital nomad, you won’t be able to continue the journey.
That’s why journalist and author Nina Caplan stresses the importance of staying connected — even if you’re halfway across the globe. “There’s no point you being somewhere fabulous that an editor would love to commission a piece on if you’re not checking messages or indeed posting to social media to alert people to your whereabouts,” she explains.
Make time for the deadlines — and be bold to think for yourself. “Do a couple of things differently, just to learn something and to have different copy from everyone else. Do something you think you won’t enjoy, whether it’s for actual copy or just to see the world from a slightly different viewpoint,” she continues. “Travel is supposed to broaden the mind, but that really does depend how you travel.”
5. Maximize your independence.
Even if you are moving from one location to another with a friend or a partner, at the core of the digital nomad life is freedom. This includes how you structure your day and week, what time zone you choose to work in, where you work from and where you invest in your energy and creativity. This is a major professional advantage because it gives you permission to really capitalize on what makes you the most productive, while also yielding an endless stream of creativity.
Sencherey challenges remote workers to really take advantage of this anything-goes mindset. “Seek out ways in which you can grow your career, your network, or yourself by traveling to attend conferences and events. You won’t regret the money invested if it helps you to level up in the skills department or provides a new business opportunity,” she adds.
6. Release “should” from your vocabulary.
When you first dreamt of being a writer, you probably had a dreamy idea of what your career would look like. As technology and media has evolved over the decades, so has the field of journalism and content creation. Even so, many writers hold themselves to impossible standards or unfeasible goals — making every win only temporary until another challenge arises.
For Shamim, traveling was able to let go of the shoulds of her life and her work. “Being a digital nomad can help your writing career, if you let it. How it does will depend on what you want from your career. No matter what you want, challenging yourself in one way and proving to yourself you can do it will help you succeed in other aspects of your life,” she adds.