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I get asked how I do it all the time. Even most of my friends and family still don’t really know how I can afford to travel all year.
The truth is, I still work (almost) full-time as a freelance writer. When I tell people this they often say the same thing: “I would love to do something like that.” This boggles my mind because I don’t think anyone knows just how EASY it is to travel as a freelance writer these days!
You don’t have to slave away and wish and hope for jobs… there’s thousands of people searching for great writers who are ready and waiting to throw piles of work into your lap. All you need to know is how to find them, so I’m here to tell you exactly where to go.
In this guide I’m going to explain the exact steps I took to find clients, make money, improve my skills, and build enough business to travel as a freelance writer!
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s start with the most common questions I get asked about what I do before I break down the journey it took to get here.
How much money do you make?
This has certainly fluctuated. When I first switched from social media marketing to writing I had to start the process of getting long-term clients all over again. However, after a year I usually work around 4 to 5 hours a day and make around $500 to $800 a week. But, it’s important to keep in mind that freelance work will honestly never be steady, and I still get stretches of slow to no work at times.
How long did it take to make enough money to travel?
A few months! If you want to start traveling right away, make sure you have savings for the weeks or months when clients lag and work is slow. I’ve noticed that work tends to slow down at the end of December and early-January, and then again in the summer.
I took about six months before I was reliably making at least $2,000 every month. One year in, I charge more so I can work less and still make more money!
What kind of content do you write?
The first thing that comes to mind when most people hear “writer” is an old timey novelist like Hemmingway, puffing a pipe and drunkenly writing a paragraph a day. Unfortunately, that’s not me. Most freelance writers today are not writing books.
Instead, we create all of the web content you consume every day. This can include blog posts, web pages, product descriptions, email newsletters, and everything in between.
Can you really travel as a freelance writer anywhere in the world?
Almost. The only things that constrain me are timezone and internet speed. As a writer, if you’re willing to answer client messages late at night or early in the morning, timezones won’t be an issue at all. So far, they haven’t been for me even though I live 8 hours ahead of my clients, who are all American.
The other problem, though, is internet speed. But again, writing and uploading documents doesn’t require too much power so you can still work in places with a pretty slow speeds. I was able to travel as a freelance writer in Peru where the average speed is 6 mbps per second, but even that was still obnoxious and I try to stay in countries with fast internet whenever possible.
Ok, now that these are out of the way, here’s the exact steps I took to become a freelance writer and start traveling the world!
Step 1: Learn How to Write
When I first started writing, I thought since I had done it in college I was good to go… yeah, no. When I look back at the first articles I wrote for clients, it’s kind of embarrassing. The work was fine, but it’s nowhere close to the standard I hold myself to now.
Because of that, I wish that I had taken some refresher courses before I started. This isn’t just my ego talking either, now that I have a year of writing under my belt and my work has gotten better, I’ve been able to double my price without any complaints. I only wish I had improved my skills sooner!
Resources to use: You can find online courses on Udemy to brush up on your skills like Writing With Flair 2.0 or Editing Mastery: How to Edit Writing to Perfection. If you want a more in-depth course specific to travel writing, check out Nomadic Matt’s month writing course (which I’m currently taking) with personalized feedback from a professor at Columbia. Seth Goodin’s Freelancer Course is also popular if you want something more focused on freelancing as a whole rather than just writing.
Step 2: Build Your Freelance Profile
There are tons of freelance websites out there but for me Upwork fills all of my needs and I see no reason to use anything else.
Visit the website and create a profile, and take the time to fill out everything with thought and care. Upload a professional looking photo (if you don’t have one, spend an hour with a friend to create your headshot) and complete the rest. This is what my Upwork profile looks like to help you get started.
You may be thinking “Doesn’t Upwork charge ridiculous fees?” and the answer is yes. They’ll take 20% of every payment you receive from a client for the first $500, and then 10% after that.
But, it’s so easy to get around I don’t even know why people complain. Just charge enough that you’re happy with the final payment you end up with and problem solved. I know it’s annoying but Upwork makes travel as a freelance writer so easy that I’ll make the trade any day of the week.
Step 3: Apply to Jobs
Now that your freelance profile is built on Upwork, it’s time to apply for jobs. I’ll give you the same tip that I did in my guide to starting a digital marketing business: keep your proposals short and to the point.
You can only apply for 30 jobs per month on Upwork, so you need to pick to the ones that you really think are a good fit for your skills and will pay you what you’re worth. Send a quick message saying that you’d like to write it, briefly mention any relevant experience if you have it, your rate per word, and ask any questions you have, like what website the content will be posted on or how much work they expect to have per week.
It should be about three to four sentences max, and then I always like to finish with the ol’ “looking forward to hearing back from you!” because I think it subconsciously makes people feel like they have to respond.
Just a tip, though. At the start when you have zero reviews and zero hours worked, it’ll be harder to get attention. Obviously make sure you have perfect spelling and grammar in your proposal, but also offer a lower rate than you normally would just to get your foot in the door. Once you have one or two reviews you can raise it for the rest of your projects.
Step 4: Always Give Exceptional Service
I stand by this more than anything, If you answer all emails and messages promptly and politely, people will love you.
Unfortunately, once you enter the freelance world you’ll be ghosted more times than you can count, and deal with the rudest people and most ridiculous requests. The bar is set very, very low for you already.
If you stay polite, turn in good work, and always make your deadlines, you will rise to the top. I 100% guarantee it. Even on the occasions where people were unhappy with my work, I had always been so unfailingly professional that they asked for changes, I made them, and they we’re even more thankful that it wasn’t a big deal!
When I first started out I was terrified that a one-star review would bring my freelance career crashing down, but then I learned that if you’re nice and normal, it’ll never happen.
One last tip: make sure you always ask questions. Most people haven’t worked with a freelancer before so they don’t know how specific they have to be about what they want. Nothing is more annoying than getting requests for changes that they didn’t even tell you they wanted originally.
After that happened once or twice, I learned to always state back exactly what the client wanted if I was unsure and didn’t start until they confirmed. Then if they ask for something different later, you can charge for a rewrite because the miscommunication is squarely on their shoulders.
Step 5: How to Spot Red Flags
In one year of freelance writing, I’ve heard from more assholes than I ever knew could exist in this world. Some people are seriously delusional, and you will have the unfortunate job of working for them… IF you don’t learn to spot these red flags and turn them down from the start.
If someone invites you to a job and uses words or phrases like:
- “Rock-star” anything (this person will think work comes before all else in your life.)
- “Content that drives traffic/makes conversions” (No, I’m not an advertising agency. I just write the content and will not be responsible for how it performs.)
- “Work on commission” (Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever agree to this.)
- “MUST” (this word used before any demand, often in all caps, means they’re probably an asshole.)
- Or if they “need a sample project” before you start. (That is of course unpaid 90% of the time, no thanks.)
If you ever get bad vibes about anyone, if they want to pay you off-site before you start a working relationship, if they have less than 4.5 star average review, just bail.
You’ll soon learn to spot the makings of a terrible client in just a few sentences, and I promise the extra money is never worth the hassle and stress they will bring to your life. Just. Say. No.
Step 6: Extra Tips for Success
Here are some final things I wish I new before I started to travel as a freelance writer. Keep these in mind when you’re just starting out and hopefully they’ll make your transition a little easier.
Always ask for reviews. Once you become “top-rated” on Upwork people will begin to invite you to jobs instead of applying, and you’ll save so much time by just having your work handed to you.
Run everything you write through Grammarly to edit it (I use the free version but it definitely doesn’t catch everything) and PaperRater (or any other plagiarism checker) just to be safe. Then, leave it for a few hours and work on something else, so you can go back for a final edit with fresh eyes before you submit it.
Learn extra skills like SEO and social media management to be more marketable. About half of the jobs I accept require some knowledge of SEO and keyword density. Familiarize yourself with the terms.
Always charge by word instead of hourly. The client will put the money in escrow and you’ll know exactly what you’re going to make. Additionally, if you charge hourly on Upwork it’ll take two weeks to get paid instead of a few days, and if the client account is suspended for some reason you’ll have unending issues. I’ve found getting paid per project is both more profitable and safer.
Step 7: Scale Your Freelance Business
Working as a freelance writer doesn’t have to be a dead end job. There are easy ways to scale it and increase your income as you go.
The most popular option is to become the middle man. Once you have a lot of regular clients sending you work each week, simply hire someone to do it for you. For example:
Client X pays you 10 cents per word for a 2,000 word article every week.
You outsource it to another writer on Upwork for 3 cents per word.
At the end of the day, you get paid $200, pay the writer $60, and walk away with $120 in the bank just for a quick edit job.
Of course, this will require a time investment to find someone who writes well and can meet deadlines, but once you have the system set up there’s really no limit to how much work you can accept and how much money you can make.
See the World as a Freelance Writer
It honestly is this easy. These are the exact steps I followed and the lessons I learned along the way. I still work 9 to 5(ish) but I have gotten to see so many crazy and beautiful parts of the world I never would have explored otherwise.
Travel as a freelance writer is not for everyone. You will NEED to have the discipline to wake up and work everyday. Treat it like a job (seriously) and you’ll soon be making money and building your own reputation in the freelance world.
It doesn’t have to be a dream, or a someday, or a what-if. Log on to Upwork today and build your profile. Commit to taking one or two jobs a week for the next couple months, and move forward from there. It’s not as daunting as it seems to create a life of location independence, so if it’s something you’ve been yearning for take the leap!
PS still exploring your options? Visit the Working Abroad Series to learn more ways to make money while you travel and find in-depth guide to teaching online ESL classes, working as an au pair, getting a job as a flight attendant, finding work as a translator, landing a full-time position teaching in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, or even working on a yacht!