How I built a freelance career while traveling the world

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For my entire life, I dreamed of travel.

I dreamed of visiting far off lands, experiencing new cultures and doing something unconventional with my life. Yet I always thought that travel would come someday in the future, someday when I had become wealthy and could afford it.

Today, I write this post from a small town outside of Barcelona, Spain. In about 12 hours, I hop a plane from Barcelona to Paris. France will be the 13th country that I will have visited this year.

I’m not independently wealthy and I’m not globetrotting on my parents’ credit cards.

Sidenote: Once you finish, read how 4 freelancers built recurring revenue models that changed their business. You'll love it.

Instead, I’ve built a freelance career that allows me to work remotely and travel the world.

The emergence of a new age

We are in the emergence of a new age. The age of the digital nomad and the remote worker.

  • Years ago, tools like Skype, Dropbox and e-mail were just becoming mainstream.
  • Years ago, the internet was outrageously slow and hard to come by in many foreign countries.
  • Years ago, we lived in a completely different world.

Technology has granted us a new opportunity, an opportunity to work from anywhere.

For the first time in history, our income is no longer dependent on our location. This shift in how we do our work has the ability to completely reinvent your life.

The benefits of remote working

Maybe you desire to travel the world, or maybe you desire to work from home and spend more time with the kids.

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Regardless of your motives, the ability to work remotely can dramatically improve your quality of life. Working remotely means:

  • less time commuting to an office or client meetings.
  • more time spent on what is important to you.
  • that you can travel the world, live in foreign countries or take extended vacations.
  • freedom that you can use however you see fit.

How to work remotely

It’s easy to overcomplicate remote working, but in reality it is quite simple. To work remotely, you need two simple things.

  1. The ability to create value without being physically present with your client
  2. The ability to find new clients without relying on in person networking

If you can do these two things, then you can build a freelance career that allows you to work from anywhere.

How to create value without being physically present

This is highly dependent on the skills and services that you offer.

Some skills such as graphic design, web design, development, copywriting, video editing, consulting, etc. are all skills that require no in person contact. Everything about this type of work can be done from anywhere.

On the flip side, there are skills that do not lend themselves to remote working. Skills such as photography, videography, make up artists, event designers, etc. are skills that require you to be in person with the client.

So what do you do if your skill cannot be accomplished remotely?

Either you suck it up or learn something new.

I was a videographer in a previous life, but when I got hooked on this idea of world travel I knew I needed to change. I signed up for some courses on Lynda.com and learned how to become a web designer. The processes are similar, but the skills are different.

It required starting over from scratch in many ways, but for a life of freedom, it was worth it.

How to find new clients without relying on in-person networking

This scares many people at first.

It scared me as well since in-person networking is often an easy way to build a network and find new work. But the truth is that in-person networking is only one of the many ways to market yourself as a freelancer.

Some of the methods used to find clients remotely are marketing tactics you may already be using.

Below are just a few of the other marketing methods that you can use to get clients without being physically present:

  • Direct outreach / Cold e-mailing
  • Job listing websites such as oDesk & eLance
  • Staying in touch with friends and past colleagues
  • Social media
  • Partnerships with agencies or other creative professionals
  • Asking for referrals
  • Online networking in forums and industry groups
  • Blogging / Content marketing

When you work remotely, you invest the time you once did in networking events and focus that on additional time in other marketing channels.

It takes time to build up, and it may mean learning some new marketing methods, but it’s worth it for the freedom it provides.

How to make the jump to remote working

Start small. Start by setting up a home office and working from there.

This will give you a small taste of what it’s like to work remotely.

If you still need to visit networking events or take in-person meetings, you still have that option. Get into the habit of trying to avoid these temptations. Start avoiding commutes and you will experience just a bit of what remote working is like.

Once you feel that you have some momentum, make the jump.

For me, when I landed my first client without ever meeting them in person, I knew it was time.

I bought a one way ticket to Mexico for my girlfriend and myself. We spent the next four months living on beachfront property enjoying margaritas as I built up a client base for my freelance career.

Start somewhere cheap

Why Mexico? If you’re planning on working remotely and traveling, start somewhere with a low cost of living.

By going to Mexico, we dropped our living expenses by nearly two-thirds, which meant both that I needed to make fewer sales and that I had more time to invest in marketing, learning and building my business.

Starting somewhere cheap will make the transition to a digital-nomad lifestyle much easier.

The bottom line

Remote working is a completely new privilege, and it’s simpler than most make it out to be. Remember, you just need two things:

  1. The ability to create value without being physically present.
  2. The ability find new clients without relying on in-person networking.

If you can do those two things, then you’re well on your way to experiencing the freedom that remote working can bring.

For some, that means more time at home with the kids, more time to care for an elderly family member, or simply a more leisurely, hobby-filled, stress-free lifestyle. For me, that means 13 countries in one year and a series of experiences that I will never forget.

How you use that freedom is up to you.

How will you use the freedom?

Leave a comment and share what freedom has meant (or will mean) to you!

PS – Got questions? Drop a note in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer those, too.

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About Jake Jorgovan

Jake Jorgovan is the creator of Outbound Creative: We help agencies win their dream clients. He has also published a free email course that dives deeper into this strategy – How to win your dream clients with outbound marketing.

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Comments

  1. Wow Jake, I am so envious!! I would love to travel, and your article has really inspired me to push my freelancing career in that direction! I am currently spending a lot of time trying to network face-to-face as I just assumed this was what I was ‘supposed to do’, but you’ve really given me a different perspective on not relying on in-person networking. Thanks a lot for the great read, much appreciated. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment Grace. I spent years doing the same thing networking face-to-face. It’s not a bad thing, but it is only one of many ways to get new clients.

      If you can practice some of those other methods of acquiring clients remotely, then the freedom to travel is completely in reach!

  2. Thank you for this post. It hit me with clarity. In the complex world of freelancing, sometimes we need a reminder to why changing your lifestyle makes so much sense. Very inspirational post.

    • Thanks Sidsel. Freelancing isn’t just about the money, its about the lifestyle.

      So many people treat freelancing just like any other job.

      Instead, take advantage of the freedom that this career path gives you and design the life that you want to live.

  3. Diana Izquierdo says:

    Loved your article!
    It made me feel inspired. I just started as full time freelance a month ago and it’s been nice. I hope one day to do like you do..Right now im kind of finding out how this works and making sure i pay what i have to pay first (bills, rent and so on..) But it’s really nice to read that it’s actually possible to do it. 🙂 Thanks!

    • That is great to hear Diana. It is completely possible.

      Just keep pushing onward and spend at least 30 minutes everyday working on marketing yourself and growing your business.

      And if the bills are a struggle, consider doing what I did and move to Mexico or somewhere relative. It dropped my cost of living by almost 2/3rds!

  4. Your story and information was truly inspiring! I literally hung on to your every word. Some of it was confirmation as well because it confirmed for me that I am on the right path.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    norastine

  5. Great post. I made the jump to travel and work a few years ago. You’re right, start somewhere cheap. Right now I’m in Panama doing freelance web design, graphic design and social media management. It’s a beautiful place, gorgeous beaches, lots of opportunities to expand. In the past 2 years I’ve also traveled to Philippines, Hawaii, Costa Rica and all over the US and Canada.

  6. This is a fabulous post! I have been doing freelance graphic and web design for 13 years. After graduating from a Graphic and Advertising program in 2001, I worked in a sweat shop agency for a year. I then decided to become my own boss and made the leap into freelancing from my home office. I have never looked back! My clients are in North American and Europe and 90% of them I have never met face to face! I have often thought about freelancing from warm climate areas around the world and your post has inspired me to look into this further. Thank you!

    • Kristin, that is great to hear. If most of your clients are already remote, then you are 90% of the way there. All you need to do is make the jump and move somewhere amazing.

      You can do this by moving at the end of a lease, renting out your place on AirBnb, or whatever else it takes to make the lifestyle work.

      You have the income already, now it just comes down to living the lifestyle if you desire it!

  7. Very inspiring article, thank you! I think it is a dream of many people to earn travelling, but only some do achieve this. I think you can add some experience to the prerequirements, since it’s much easuer to learn something working not alone, but later on, when you become a professional new possibilities open up

    • Victoria, thanks for the comment and that is true. Some experience is necessary although you don’t need to be a professional. I was a complete rookie with web design when I set out on this journey but I was good enough to do some basic work and get paid for it.

      As they say on the Fizzle show, you are “Expert Enough”. As long as you know enough that someone who doesn’t know will pay you for it, then you are enough of an expert to start freelancing.

      • Thank you so much for that!
        That was my struggling as well. I’m a software programmer but for long time i dont think im enough for doing it. but i found out it never end if i keep thinking about this.
        I dont need to prepare , i just need to jump in !
        I started to get some project now and to prepare for doing a freelancer traveler.
        Thank you so much!

  8. It is hard enough to build a freelance career locally, so it is amazing that it can be done this way.

    • Ron, when I was living in Nashville. My cost of living was roughly $5,000 per month.

      When I moved to Mexico, my cost of living dropped to $2,000 per month.

      It actually was easier to start a freelance career remotely than it was back when I was in Nashville.

  9. Yeah, I’m totally agree with you. We have the same goal!
    I’m also a full time freelance designer. but not to long,just a freelance beginner. I also want to travel around the world. As you know, so i have choose the way to work remote. But now, I have to spent a lot of time to learn marketing,find new clients, and in fact I really hope all my time put in to design work. Especially now, I only have a little time to do design. so it’s really make me tired and contradiction. So how do you balance your design time and find client time?
    Thanks,
    Nikiyo

    • Nikiyo, great question!

      I set aside 30-60 minutes every morning to work on my own stuff before I ever even think about client work. Sometimes that means working on my site, writing blog posts, building marketing materials etc.

      These personal activities are my priority every morning and then client work comes after. I never schedule client calls before 11am and I guard this time as if it were sacred.

      I hope this helps!

      Jake

      • Precisely – yes. It’s amazing what you can build for yourself if you actually ringfence time that is only for you, not for clients. And you so quickly move into that proactive (rather than reactive) way of working, where you’re creating your own scheme of work rather than feeling like a monkey who constantly has to respond to what others want of you.

        Of course if you have clients then you have work to do for them and deadlines to meet for them, but setting aside that sacred first hour each day still leaves you with plenty of time for this, plus you’ve put your own needs first. Priceless.

  10. Great article, but I have a follow up question. Owning a business takes time. Time to market yourself, keep up with social media and create peer relationships. Do you feel you spend more time working than you do enjoying all those great places you get to visit? As a videographer you may have a different business for comparison. Is design work somehow less time consuming than other businesses in that aspect?

    • Jennifer, you are correct that it does take time to run a business.

      As far as balancing and working goes, it is a challenge at times. Sometimes when a work week gets tough and I end up putting in 40-50 hours in a week, it gets frustrating because I want to enjoy the place.

      But even if I work a long week with a hectic schedule, I still have my nights and weekends in a totally new place.

      Also, it helps if you stay in each location for a month minimum. if you do that you can generally find a good balance of work and enjoyment. When you are hopping around locations very quickly, that is when the struggle between work and enjoyment really shines through.

      Videography is a time intensive business, but it is still possible. Throughout my entire travels I have invested 50% of time into client work, and 50% of my time into marketing myself or learning new skills. This has allowed me grow my portfolio quickly, attract lots of new leads and increase my rates at a rapid pace.

      It doesn’t necessarily matter how much time your work takes, what matters is the amount of time you spend on it vs the amount of income that it brings in.

      I hope this was helpful and let me know if you have any other questions.

  11. Mexico sounds awesome.
    If you are in Europe – try Bulgaria.

    Btw – there’s a new interesting directory that could be useful if you share the ideas in this article : http://www.Localancers.com ( the easiest way to locate freelancers ).

  12. Good stuff Jake! I wrote an article for HOW magazine (Nov 2014 issue) about building my virtual ad agency from anywhere, including a year in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The article is called “How to Work from Anywhere~ Looking for a change of scenery? Find your creative freedom by designing virtually, from virtually any place you desire” I think your readers would enjoy it. Where else have you lived? What are your top 3 favorite places on earth so far?

    • Damien,

      That is awesome and it sounds like we followed quite a similar path.

      After this post I went through Southeast asia for six months, and then 6 countries in Europe over the course of another 3 months, and I still feel like I have so much more to see.

      Saigon, Vietnam
      Barcelona, Spain
      Oslo, Norway

      My top 3.

      Jake

      • My boyfriend and I have been traveling Central and South America Countries the last 3 years, Damien and Jake, we could probably be a good team to drink something and share tons of experiences!

  13. Hi,

    Very interesting post. I’m thinking of having a new career as a freelance in web design, I’m an expatriate and my husband will tend to move a lot. The only thing I can’t determine is how do you become a freelance who moves all the time? Do you create your business structure in each country you are settling in or is there a better option for people who move all the time and are no longer resident in their native country? Any tips on that or a link to a post? That would help a lot..

    Thanks!!

    • Chrys,

      I don’t have any posts on it although it is eaiser than you think. You just need a US based mailing address and keep operating as a home citizen (or wherever you are citizen of). You don’t tell them and just keep your money and mail flowing to your place back home!

      Jake

  14. Great post Jake. Thanks for sharing!
    I am happy to say I am half way there, now striving for more ‘quality’ not quantity of clients to keep my work/life balance enjoyable… I Loooove what I do everyday and try to travel at least once a year. I have to say I still have not carried my laptop with me but that will be next along with the longer periods of overseas travel. It’s achievable!

  15. Tunde Micheal says:

    Can anyone explain to me more on how to become a freelancer… am a graphics artist.

  16. Thanks so much for this. I am in the middle of transitioning into freelance and I don’t even know where to start to get new clients. What would be your favorite most effective way to bring in clients for the first time? I want to do the exact same thing you are doing. I work in an office as an in house designer and I miss traveling so much. I am ready for the jump. Thanks again.

    -Jackie

  17. I love your post. I’m a designer from Toronto and actually moving to Cozumel to work remotely in March

  18. sorina vaziri says:

    Hello!

    This article is exactly what I needed, I was thinking about moving toSpain for a while and freelancing, but given the unemployment I was a little worried. I am working as an in-house graphic designer now but I do web design and I was curious to know what it was like finding work in Spain. Ideally I would love to work freelancing for agencies but do I need to know Spanish fluently? I know it would help but I was looking at international agencies and I wanted to see if you felt it was necessary?

    thanks !

  19. Kennez Zell says:

    If you are already self-employed, believe it or not there are ways to get out there and experience other cultures, but it’s not about saving up money, getting rich first, and then taking a sabbatical.

    Mapdestinations

  20. I’m starting the journey now. I finally have an inflow of clients making it possible, and a supportive wife who is great at finding the right jobs and promoting my work. We’ll be Korea for a short while with plans ever developing.

  21. Sam Sharples says:

    Great article, living my dream! My only question is, how do you get around the legal stuff like paying taxes?

  22. Joshua Matthew Dudas says:

    Hey Jake. Fascinating read. I am looking for further advice in building a better network remotely. Do you have any references or advice where to get started getting a network, or is it more important to commit to a jack of trade?

  23. Jill Sockolov says:

    Thank you for this! I am about to graduate and don’t want to hurry into a 9-5 40hr/wk job. I want to travel and see where life takes me. This article eased some of my stress and worries. Thank you!

  24. My question is the same as Sam Sharples’: How do you do your taxes? Would you write a post on all the nitty gritty that makes this lifestyle possible?

  25. Jessie-Jeanne says:

    Great post! I’m not sure if this is a question you can answer but I can’t seem to find a clear answer anywhere so it’s worth a shot. I am a Canadian freelance makeup artist looking to temporarily stay in Hawaii (under 6 months out of the year) and hopefully get some freelance jobs doing makeup for weddings/photoshoots. Can I legally collect money from American clients if I am Canadian (claiming the earned money of course)?

  26. Claire Vautour says:

    Hello, I would just like you’re opinion on something.

    So just to explain my background, I finished college a year ago and I’ve been working for almost a year as an intern graphic designer. My internship will be over in three months and there is a 50% chance that they might keep me for an extra year. But I want to find a plan B in case they don’t choose me.

    I was thinking of moving to a bigger place to find a job, but honestly my dream has always been to travel. And with my new partner and I being country people and disliking living in cities a lot I was thinking of starting a freelance traveling life with him.

    The thing is, it makes me really nervous to take a step into this dream because I am still 16 000$ in debts because of colleges. So my question is, would you suggest I wait until I pay my loan off before starting this new lifestyle? Or do you think I should take the chance, because I am aware that even if I pay this loan off I will most likely have a new loan in a few years…?

    I really hope to hear from you,
    have a good day,

    Claire Vautour

  27. Hi Jake, I’m thinking of doing a similar freelance for travel journey. I would be curious to know how you utilize contracts with your clients in order to protect yourself, and make sure exchanges of work are not taken advantage of. I’d love to talk to you more, feel free to email me. My background is Industrial Design and Graphic Design.

  28. As a freelance designer who’s just come back from a moderately lengthy stay in Japan, I can vouch for this article’s validity.

    Embrace your freelance freedoms; not everyone is as lucky in their work environment as us who are able to work remotely.

  29. Hi Jake,

    One question – what about visa restrictions. Working and travelling seems pretty ‘muddy’ as to if you can actually do this – without a working visa anyway?

    Thanks!
    Andy

  30. What are the best remote jobs to do to be free to travel the world?

  31. A very interesting article. It would be great to have more info about taxes and in which country to start the self-employment.

  32. Could you give us some insights on your ‘remote office’? Do you stay at hotels and work in internet cafe’s or libraries, do you rent an appartment for a while or do you travel around constantly?

    The reason I ask is because I’m leaving my home town to travel around myself as a freelancer.

  33. Jenae Christensen says:

    I am absolutely amazed with your story! And am for sure that this is what I am wanting to do with my life. I am only 18 and I know for a fact that I can accomplish this on my own with the help of you guys on the internet that has gone through the same thing. I have a few questions and if you could answer them in the best way possible that would be great! How did you know what to freelance in? I am interested in the website design, computer design part also, but how did you sell and find pricing and things like that to start off? How did you advertise to find your clients and what did you promise them? Did you ever go to college?

  34. Hi Jake, Fantastic article.
    Something I’ve been aspiring to do for a long long time.
    I moved in with my girlfriend (in Germany I’m from England) and we’ve been living together for four months.
    Both want to travel and see the world together. I’m a freelance illustrator and she’s a hairdresser. Tips on how to go about doing all of this? And what did your girlfriend do while you were freelancing?!

  35. Jake this was really so inspiring and helpful article. Me and my wife (both graphics designer) are actually planning to move out of home town and explore new cities while working freelance. I really feel lucky to be in one of the fields that allow us to travel while working and not bound to one place for earning.

    This is really a helpful read, I am definitely going to share with my wife.

    Thumbs up 🙂

  36. Thank you for this blog! Made me realize tons of things. More fund travels for you!

  37. Olivia Crellin says:

    What does your girlfriend do? I think it’s hard enough to set up one remote career but how do you do two and get to travel the world together?

  38. Hi!

    First of all really good article, is really inspiring😊

    I was wondering, how do you do about the visa, when you travel country towards others country?

    Thanks a lot!

    🙏🏼

  39. Hi Jake,
    Loved your article, I’m also planning to do the same, and learning new Marketing courses on Lynda. Will leave the job and work remotely. I’m confident that i will make it a career, but making the transaction is bit difficult.
    How did you got the courage and motivation to break through it and make the change?
    My family supports it but it needs courage to do it.

    Regards
    Ravi

  40. Great to read you’re followoing your dreams, Jake 🙂 you give me hope that despite my anxiety and insecurity I might take the first step to finally combine distant travel and freelancing, too, instead of sitting at home. Good for you!

  41. How do you actually find and get your clients? How do you find the people you do work for and not just end up stuck in a country?

  42. How do you get visas to stay in different countries, for example in Europe, for longer than 90 days?

  43. Hi Jake,

    Thanks for the post, this article has been very helpful in my research.

    I am a graphic design and illustration student graduating in May. My dream is to freelance and travel the world but I know I need to have a strong client base first. I was wondering if you could elaborate more on how to research and connect with clients?

    Do you also have any recommendations for resources that you can provide for learning how to manage the business side of freelancing, both at home and on the go?

    Thank you!

Trackbacks

  1. Blog Love says:

    […] How to build a freelance career while traveling >>> […]

  2. […] just about the money or most of us would quit. It’s about something deeper. For some, it means experiencing the world while you freelance, for others it means freedom from a boss. For others, it means more time with […]

  3. […] you read those tantalizing stories about other creatives working remotely while traveling the world and wonder if it’s right for […]

  4. […] PS – check out Jake’s Millo post on how to select a starting point: How I built a freelance career while traveling the world. […]

  5. […] currently do a lot of freelance work, if I were to go travelling, I would probably work as a freelance writer. You can earn a good […]