How to Create a Writing Career So You Can Become Location Independent – 4 Seasoned Writers Share Their Stories

How to Create a Writing Career So You Can Become Location Independent – 4 Seasoned Writers Share Their Stories

For many people who want to become location independent the most burning question is, “How will I make money while I’m on the road?”  A career in writing is often one of the first that comes to mind.  I mean, writing is obviously portable, doesn’t usually have to be done at a specific hour, and can be easily sent via electronic means.  If you’re at all active in social media you have probably seen many people who claim to be traveling the world while they write.  Some are travel writers, others are writing on other subjects.

But what does it take to become a career writer?  Does it require a special background or is it something that can be jumped into from a variety of directions?  And what are the chances you could make enough money to support yourself on the road writing?  Finally, what would it take to become a “travel writer” and get free hotel stays or vacations in exchange for your work?

I’m proud today to present to you four writers who are location independent.  They’re here to answer some of the questions I just posed, share their experiences and tell us whether we could do what they do.

sharonhhLet’s start with Sharon Hurley Hall.  Sharon is currently living in Barbados with her family. She has written for numerous entities including Ms. Ileane Speaks, Park Ride Fly USA, and PiggyBankPie.  You can see her full list of publications and services at Sharon Hurley Hall.

A lot of people who would like to become location independent consider writing as a career.  You have made that happen.  Can you tell us how you got your start in writing and whether you had educational or professional experience that helped you in the beginning?

Before moving to an island, I first went freelance, but I must admit to having an ace in the hole. You see, I’d already had about 17 years’ experience as a writer, sub-editor, editor and journalist, including about five years teaching journalism, so I didn’t have much to learn in the way of basic writing skills. When I decided to freelance it was a matter of learning to write for the web (my friend Suzanne James of Inspired Author helped with that) and toughing it out till I got some clients.

How did you go about getting your first writing assignment?

It was a case of ‘throw everything and see what sticks’. I started blogging, I signed up for Guru, Ifreelance and Rentacoder, I scoured Craigslist and Deb Ng’s Freelance Writing Jobs site and took any opportunity that came my way. Although all of these contributed to building my writing career, my first paid writing gig as a freelancer came from a personal contact ? one of my former students who was promoting a band for a charity. He didn’t feel confident enough to write the story himself (he was still at university), so he asked me to do it.

How long were you writing before you became location independent?

It was just about a year, but the plan had been in place for about four years. We’d chosen our dream location and were in the process of sorting out somewhere to live. Once that was done, we moved to the Caribbean. Ironically, this was just about the time my writing career really took off, so when we moved I had to sit in an room using two empty suitcases as a desk while we waited for furniture to arrive.

What are the issues for people who would like to travel while they maintain a writing career?

The key issues are connectivity and reliability. Although it’s nice to think you can go anywhere, if you have a thriving career, you’ll need to go somewhere where you can guarantee having good internet access. Having a decent laptop or computer and a reliable backup solution is also a must as you need to be able to access your files wherever you are. But reliability is also about buckling down and doing the work you need to do to fund your lifestyle ? sometimes that means putting a day trip on hold to meet a client deadline, but it’s worth it for the peace of mind it brings.

Many people dream of being a ?travel writer?.  What I mean by that is getting trips, hotel stays, or cruises paid for as part of their writing profession.  What does it take to make this happen?

I’m not really a full-time travel writer (more a writer who travels), but I’ve managed to get trips to interesting places through an unusual route ? working as a journalist for a trade magazine, which I did for about 18 months. Trade magazines mean trade shows ? and someone’s got to cover the news. That gig took me to Mexico, Chicago, London and Bahrain. And because I’m location-independent, I have been able to visit family and friends in other places while carrying on with my writing career.

Do you have any advice for someone who would like to write professionally and travel the world?

It is possible to write and travel and make a success of both. All you need are self-belief and sound planning.

ThursdaybNext, please meet Thursday Bram.  Thursday not only writes but also advises freelancers on how to earn money and be successful in their careers.  She’s had a variety of writing gigs including travel writing.  See more about Thursday at ThursdayBram.com.

A lot of people who would like to become location independent consider writing as a career.  You have made that happen.  Can you tell us how you got your start in writing and whether you had educational or professional experience that helped you in the beginning?

I started freelancing in high school and continued in college due to the fact that writing was not too hard to fit around my class schedule. It wasn’t difficult to just pick up and move my computer across two states, which got me started thinking about how I could write anywhere. In fact, I did exactly that and studied abroad for a semester, continuing to freelance all the while. My degree was in communications, but I could have continued writing with or without the degree.

How did you go about getting your first writing assignment?

My first writing assignment actually came from my mother, who ran a small magazine. I could either write for her or do the dishes ? easy choice in my opinion! After that, I picked up writing for local newsletters and other small publications and worked my way up to some bigger gigs.

How long were you writing before you became location independent?

I pretty much considered myself location independent after I graduated from college. I’m back in school right now (working on my master’s degree), so I’m only location independent between classes. But my husband’s job requires quite a bit of travel (for months at a time, at points) and I generally go along when I’m not in school.

What are the issues for people who would like to travel while they maintain a writing career?

Be prepared for everything. I’ve submitted work by typing it out on my cell phone before because I couldn’t get internet any other way. Just making sure that you can fulfill your contracts can be the biggest problem ? and it’s one that is crucial. That means preparing for anything that might get in the way of your ability to work.

Many people dream of being a ?travel writer?.  What I mean by that is getting trips, hotel stays, or cruises paid for as part of their writing profession.  What does it take to make this happen?

I’ve done some travel writing ? and mostly it requires being willing to work harder than in a lot of other freelance writing gigs. There are so many freelance writers who want to be travel writers that you have to find some way to set yourself out from the crowd. It can be done (I know several freelance writers who earn a full-time income from travel writing), but it’s hard work.

Do you have any advice for someone who would like to write professionally and travel the world?

Make a budget and stick to it! Freelancing has its ups and downs in terms of income and when you combine that with your travel schedule, you have to have a good grip on your money. Your budget doesn’t have to be particularly frugal, provided you’re pulling in enough income to cover it, but it needs to include building up savings ? what if you get stranded somewhere you can’t get a good internet connection to send out work over? You have to have enough money available to get you to the next place you want to go.

joannahJoAnna Haugen is an avid writer/traveler.  One of her goals is to visit all seven continents.  She writes about her travels at Kaleidoscopic Wandering and also keeps a site for her professional writing at JoAnnaHaugen.com.  She has been published in Copia Magazine, Bootsnall and National Geographic Traveler among others.

A lot of people who would like to become location independent consider writing as a career.  You have made that happen.  Can you tell us how you got your start in writing and whether you had educational or professional experience that helped you in the beginning?

I have a degree in public relations and jumped into a marketing career right after college, both of which incorporated a great deal of writing. I joined the Peace Corps shortly thereafter and when I returned, I found another job and also took a class through the mail on how to write for children. It was through that class that I learned how the magazine industry worked and how to pitch articles. I applied what I learned in that class and sold an article on a college-related issue to a publication I still write for today. From there, I branched out to other publications, writing styles and genres. I had a full-time job up until about a year ago, but one of the reasons why I was able to become a full-time freelance writer is because I did freelancing on the side for a few years before that. While I was working at a “real” job, I built relationships with several editors, started a blog and a website, became active on social media, learned more about the industry and then, once I was making a small side income, I quit my job altogether to focus on writing.

How did you go about getting your first writing assignment?

I wrote web copy when I was a marketing specialist right out of college, and my very first paying magazine article was for $.10 a word for one of my alma mater’s college-specific magazines, which I did right before I left for the Peace Corps. My first job once I returned stateside gave me the opportunity to write a column for the company’s newsletter, and I wrote for a local arts and culture publication for no pay, but by then I’d built up a nice portfolio of clips. It wasn’t until I learned about queries and the editorial process through my mail order class, however, that I finally figured out how freelancing actually worked. I landed my first traditional freelancing gig with a hard copy query letter (the only job I’ve gotten via hard copy query to this day). The article was about how college students could take advantage of their resident advisers in the dorms for College Outlook. It was published in the fall of 2007.

How long were you writing before you became location independent?

I’ve been writing practically forever. I’ve kept a journal since the third grade (yes, I haul around a heavy trunk filled with hand-written journals). I originally wanted to pursue journalism in college but went the public relations route because I thought it was more practical. I made a little bit of money off of a few articles in the fall of 2003 but didn’t actively try to sell anything else until 2006. My first sale of my current freelancing life happened in late 2007, and from there I began to take freelancing seriously. I juggled freelance writing and a full-time job until October 2009, when I began working for myself full time.

It’s important that people realize that I don’t only pursue travel writing. I write for many different industries on several different topics including athletics, health, business, writing, animals, the environment and philanthropic topics. I am a ghost blogger and copy writer. I’ve edited books, and I hold editing roles for two different publications. I do all of this in addition to writing about travel for print and online publications.

What are the issues for people who would like to travel while they maintain a writing career?

One of the things that I find most convenient is that most places are wired, which means I can stay in touch with my editors and clients regardless of where in the world I am. But this also means that it is very hard to take a real vacation for two reasons. The first is that I really can’t be unplugged. When just about every hotel and hostel has internet connection, there’s no good reason why I can’t check my email, but that also means I can continue to work and make money, so that’s also a good thing. Also, as a travel writer, I always have my eyes and ears open for a potential story. I’m always snapping photos to accompany those stories. The downside to that is that it’s easy to miss what’s going on around me as a result. Sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s okay to put the notepad and camera away and just absorb a place. But let’s be honest, they’re never too far away.

Many people dream of being a ?travel writer?.  What I mean by that is getting trips, hotel stays, or cruises paid for as part of their writing profession.  What does it take to make this happen?

It takes a lot of work, time and perseverance. If I ever figured out how much I make per hour on my travel writing, I’m sure I’d cry. Being a travel writer is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It requires writing for publications that pay below what you’d like to be making so that you can build a portfolio and credibility. It means spending time on social media and at conferences making connections and getting to know people in the industry. It means underpromising and overdelivering. It requires work at weird hours in weird places when you’d rather be sitting by the pool or sleeping on an airplane. You have to talk yourself up honestly, but also help to promote others when it’s not your time to shine. It also means you should say thank you, because there are a lot of people who help travel writers get where they are, and a small token of appreciation goes a long way.

Do you have any advice for someone who would like to write professionally and travel the world?

Become a travel writer because you love to travel and you love to write, not because you might get press trips and it’s glamorous. And don’t feel like travel writing is your only option. With global connectivity, you can write about just about any topic from almost anywhere in the world.

serenamSerena Makofsky is a woman whose blog, Have You Seen the Dog Lately? sealed the deal on my decision to choose Oaxaca, Mexico, as our second destination last year.  Her description of her son’s first day of school along with her subsequent warm responses to my questions made it clear that Oaxaca would have viable educational alternatives for the kids if we went there.  Serena developed her writing career unexpectedly after arriving in Oaxaca.  She has since become very active and created a viable income source for her family.

A lot of people who would like to become location independent consider writing as a career.  You have made that happen.  Can you tell us how you got your start in writing and whether you had educational or professional experience that helped you in the beginning?

I’ve always written, and started my career writing friends’ essays in high school for cash, I’m sorry to say.  While the ghost writing industry has flourished in the meantime, I’ve worked my way into other niches.

How did you go about getting your first writing assignment?

I landed a staff writer job for a fake travel magazine in 1990.  We used computers like typewriters, printing out everything and sending pamphlets to clients.  I doubt the magazine ever made a dime, but rounds of investors came through like clockwork, until the dot.bomb of 2000 hit.

How long were you writing before you became location independent?

I’ve written on and off all my adult life (a couple decades now), but moved abroad, to Oaxaca, with the intent of teaching English, not writing.  When the teaching job fell apart, due to the school owner deciding not to pay for my work papers, I scrambled quickly to revive my writing career as I had only one ongoing client.  I landed a great new client within a week, and had a six-month stint writing pop culture articles before securing a long-term contract to write curriculum for English language-learners.

What are the issues for people who would like to travel while they maintain a writing career?

I think being location independent helps me as a freelance writer.  “On assignment in Oaxaca for xx magazine” catches editors’ attention.  Writers should have a lightweight laptop and excellent online and print clips.  Oh, and learn to live ever-so-cheaply.  I can support my family of four in Oaxaca purely on my freelance income, but I would have to work many more hours to accomplish the same feat in Oakland, California, my home town.  I also recommend people on a long-term expatriate plan consider selling their homes and possessions stateside to simplify their finances.  I think that real estate and cars are what hold back a lot of people from making the leap to the expat lifestyle.

Many people dream of being a ?travel writer?.  What I mean by that is getting trips, hotel stays, or cruises paid for as part of their writing profession.  What does it take to make this happen?

I’m not a travel writer per se, though travel, culture, language, and expatriate issues show up in many of my articles.  I think the freebies are the easiest part of the gig to get, and the hardest part is persevering with daily marketing to attract good, ongoing clients who pay fairly and on time.  To score the swag, polish your clips and send them to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, press board, tourist authority or other association of the locale of your choice.  These entities often run fam trips–familiarization trips–for travel journalists.  Other potential sources include airlines, cruise lines, luxury hotel chains, and high-end spas.

Do you have any advice for someone who would like to write professionally and travel the world?

The two go together famously!  Roll in marketing and pitching as part of your work day, read up on professional sites such as Media Bistro, and endeavor to write and travel with style.

Many thanks to all four women who graciously agreed to do this interview with us.  We appreciate you taking time from your busy schedules!

If you’d like to meet these women on a more personal level, join our NuNomad Tribe and “friend” them. The majority are members!

Featured photo: Tnarik

  • Serena

    Gracias, Carmencita. I enjoyed reading the piece.

    • http://www.nunomad.com/blog Carmen Bolanos

      Thanks for being in it with us!
      NuNomad

  • dawei laoshi

    I really enjoyed serena’s comments. I leave in China and she has given an inspriation to me
    Dawei Laoshi – what they callme in china

    • Carmen

      Thank you Dawei. I’m glad you found Serena inspiring.

  • Ricardo

    Good stuff, Carmen. The people you’ve interviewed are great inspirations. As you know I make my living as a website designer for the nonprofit sector. So, one could argue that I’m, in a way, working as a writer (since I’m writing a lot of code to build websites, and add a lot of actual content). In addition to my website work, I’m a novelist. I’m wondering if any of our readers here have had success in this field: literature. If so, if there is a community for us location-independent types.

    -Ricardo

    • Carmen

      That’s a great question. I know when we were in Oaxaca one of our nomading friends was a novelist. I believe a lot of novelists travel for research purposes. Maybe we should see if there are others in the Tribe?

  • http://jdmeier.myopenid.com/ J.D. Meier

    What a powerful and empowering post!

    I really like the insights, trials and tribulations from actual experience.

  • http://www.getinthehotspot.com/ Annabel, Get In The Hot Spot

    Bit late reading this but glad I made time for it. What an inspiring bunch and some top tips too. I met Thursday at BlogWorld, that was brilliant:) Thanks Carmen, off to Tweet, Stumble now x A

Get Adobe Flash player