Four Work Skills to Extend Travel Abroad Without Going Broke
Setting Yourself up for a Life on the Road
“Make money while traveling! Quit your office job!”
Phrases like this have all the outward charm of a bad get-rich-quick scheme. It is easy to be skeptical when someone spins the line that you too can trade your oh-so-normal office career for one that travels with you all over the world—giving you the freedom to explore the globe over an extended period without draining your savings.
Scratch beneath the surface though and you will find an increasing number of people who are managing to dove-tail their skills and careers successfully with a traveling lifestyle.
Some go by the name “digital nomads.” Others describe themselves as “location independent.” Whatever the title, the result is the same: an income that supplements or pays for their travels entirely—an attractive proposition for anyone considering an extended journey.
These are not the usual English teachers or bar workers – professions which have been the mainstay of travelers for decades. Instead, they are writers, editors, consultants, coaches, website designers, photographers, graphic artists and translators, all of whom have found a way to leverage their knowledge into an online source of income that they can keep generating, without regard to their physical location.
How do they do it? I spoke to four people currently making a living while traveling and discovered that, despite their varied professions, they share key traits in common.
Skill Number 1: The foresight to start early
Any new venture requires a certain amount of forethought, and getting ready to work remotely is no different. Take a good look at your current profession and ask yourself what abilities you already possess or could learn that would give you the opportunity to work from any location.
Can you start an online business? Go freelance? Convince your boss to let you work remotely? Once you have come up with an idea, give yourself at least 6-9 months to prepare.
You will want to:
- Outline your plan in detail so you are clear on what your goals are and the steps needed to achieve those goals.
- Amass any special tools or learn any new skills you will need to make your venture successful.
- Put a safety-net in place in case things do not go as planned. Consider setting up a “security stash” of money to use should you return home unexpectedly, paying down any debts and getting good travel insurance.
- You will also want to build contacts as much as possible before you leave, with a focus on a particular type of client, according to Tyler Kellen, whose work designing custom software for U.S. firms is currently paying for his travels by bicycle with his partner Tara.
“Put a focus on finding clients who are “value” customers – those who pay on time and are easy to work with. Once you have a few of them, make sure the service you provide is so good they have no reason to look elsewhere. By the time you break the news that you’re leaving, if your relationships are sound, it won’t matter.”
Skill Number 2: An aptitude for technology
“The chances are high that you'll be running some sort of business on the internet and your tech skills need to be up to the job,” says Lea Woodward of Location Independent, who has been successfully combining work and travel with her husband Jonathan since 2007.
But that does not mean you need to be an expert at coding complicated websites, although it does mean you should at least be familiar with how to set up a basic blog site using programs like Wordpress and Blogger to promote your services. In addition, more than superficial familiarity with social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook are invaluable for communicating with your customers and contacts. You will reap even greater rewards for knowing how to perform activities such as produce podcasts and videos—nice add-ons to any site.
If you are not totally comfortable with the technological side of things, consider hiring someone to set up an attractive site that is simple to update. This is your portfolio—your office to the world – so it is important that you have a “shop window” and that it looks good.
Also, look into how you will access the internet while you are traveling. This will largely depend upon the destination you have in mind and could include anything from Internet café and accommodation that comes with Internet access to a USB modem or a satellite receiver.
Skill Number 3: Finding the balance between travel and work
The idea of working on a tropical island with a view of the beach is an exotic one but the danger is that you get so wrapped up in your work that you never take a walk down the beach. If that happens, you might as well be at home.
“If you can’t compartmentalize your goals, working and traveling could be extremely overwhelming. You can’t spend your travel time worrying about the huge project you haven’t finished or your work time upset because you’re not traveling!” says Tyler Kellen.
To avoid this conflict, decide before you go how much work you want to take on. How much is too much? How much can you do, while still enjoying the pleasures of the new place you are visiting? Start slowly and increase the amount of work only once you are sure that you can handle what is already on your plate and that you are happy to do so.
Ask yourself as well if your trip is long enough to justify the effort needed to set up a mobile career.
“Travel and work will only work if you are going to travel for a long time,” advises Aaldrik Mulde, who is three years into a 5-year trip with his partner Sonya Spry. Together, they design websites for businesses around the world and also dabble in e-commerce, travel writing, and translation services.
“Don't bother trying to find a job when you are only planning a trip of a year, it is not worth it. Work a bit longer before you go, save a bit harder or shorten your trip and you can enjoy it and don't have to worry about where you should get your money from.”
Skill Number 4 – Staying flexible and open to change
Just like your career at home, working from the road is almost certain to involve an unexpected twist or two. It is common to see your idea evolve as you try different things and see how others are working towards the same broad goal.
For Nora Dunn, host of the www.TheProfessionalHobo.com, who originally quit her job as a financial planner with the idea of becoming a tour guide, it took a few years before she eventually found her niche as a travel writer.
“I was going to lead groups on outdoor adventures in various countries, which would provide an income large enough to live comfortably in one place and travel comfortably to the next outdoor adventure locale. However as soon as I developed my blog to keep in touch with family and friends, I learned of all sorts of opportunities to write for money, and rekindled my love and passion for writing—this time as a new career option.”
“It took a few years of research, shaking on trees, and dedicated writing to develop a repertoire that sustains my travels, and even at that I don’t make a particularly respectable income by North American standards. But then again, my expenses are very low too, so as a location independent living, I can make writing work nicely on the road.” Editor's note: Nora published her most recent earnings in a post summarizing her yearly location-independent income, which has increased of late.