As more and more people are freelancing these days (whether it was their own choice or not), an increasing number are also realizing that doing so from New York City, San Francisco, or any other expensive city doesn’t really make sense. I’m among the group of so-called “digital nomads” who has been location-independent for over a year now, saving money and having a great time by traveling all over Asia instead of a more expensive lifestyle in the States.
It’s definitely true that you can actually live on far less in many parts of the world, even in hotels and short-term apartments, but actually running your own freelance “business” isn’t quite as easy as it might first seem. Getting paid a First World rate while partying on Third World prices really can be a great way to get yourself started as an independent professional, as long as you take things like the following into account.
1. Acquire skills and clients before you leave
I’ve seen many people on travel messageboards who plan to take on this lifestyle, and some of them reckon they can save up a bit of cash, quit their fulltime job, and then head out on the road before picking up freelance work. This is (almost always) a mistake. Not only is the freelance market more crowded than you realize, and wages for services probably lower than you realize, but living on the road will be very disorienting at first, making it a tough time to find new work.
Yes, there are always loads of jobs on offer on eLance, oDesk, and even on Craigslist all over the world, but competition for them is so fierce that you are likely to make very little when you take your “admin time” into account. I recently posted a gig for a logo for a website for US$30 and within 3 hours I’d received 33 applications, including many who tried to undercut their competition by taking a lower price. Add in all that time applying for jobs and learning the specs from ones you get, and it’s a tough life regardless of where you are living.
For these reasons, and some others below, you are far better off establishing yourself as a freelancer long before you put your stuff in storage. Do it for 6 months while you are winding down your job, or work like crazy if you are already unemployed, and then set out once you have some steady clients or regular work.