Profile: Life Remotely – Redefining Travel While Living and Working Anywhere
Ever dreamed of hitting the road and picking up interesting freelancing gigs along the way? Imagine it. Finishing a client project in Rio. Or landing one in Paris.
This is one of those stories that I love to write. Because I’ve lived a similar dream. For 12 years, my life revolved around bicycling in all 50 of the United States. Some of my travels happened when I was between jobs. Others took place while I was vacationing from the last full-time job I had before becoming a freelancer.
My All-American Bicycling Experience made me very aware of the notion that there’s more to life than staying in one place, climbing a career ladder, and amassing a pile of possessions. It’s my pleasure to introduce three kindred spirits to the FreelanceSwitch community.
This is an article about a trio of freelancers who aren’t just dreaming, they’re doing. Meet Jessica and Kobus Mans, and Jessica’s brother, Jared McCaffree.
- Jessica is a freelance graphic designer specializing in presentation and event design.
- Kobus is Jessica’s husband. He’s a web designer and developer, and a college instructor at Lake Washington Institute of Technology.
- Jared is a software developer specializing in web and mobile application development.
This adventurous trio is sharing driving duties in Blue, a Toyota 4Runner, as they head down to the tip of South America from their home base in Seattle, Washington. They’ve been on the road since October 2011 and expect to be in Ushuaia, Argentina, where the road runs out, in another nine or 10 months. They’ve just left Central America and are now exploring Colombia.
While Jessica, Kobus, and Jared are seeing the world, they’re plying their respective freelance trades and adding all sorts of interesting content to their Life Remotely website. The site goes into painstaking detail about anything you would ever want to know about making a living while traveling very far from home. It’s all here – the details on:
- What vaccinations you’ll need and when you should get them
- Finding Internet access anywhere in the world
- International warranties on laptops – and what to do when yours breaks down
- Adapting your profession so you can work anywhere
- Balancing work and travel
Be forewarned that Life Remotely is one of those sites that will pull you in and won’t let you leave. It’s also important to note this not-so-fun factoid from Jessica: “It took me nine long years to go from part time freelancing to a successful location independent lifestyle.”
So much for ditching civilization and hitting the road next Monday.
Jessica explains the journey-to-her-journey this way:
I worked as a part time freelancer and as a seasonal contractor after college for about 5 years. In 2008 I drove across Africa with my husband with what little money we had saved. Afterwards I decided to try grad school, for journalism of all things. I lasted 5 weeks. Dropped out. Moved home. And started my full time freelance business. It was the smartest thing I’ve ever done.
Three months after dropping out my schedule was full. My rates tripled. In 2010, my husband finished his bachelors and took a part time teaching job. He started freelancing as a web developer. In 2011 our business was on target to make $200,000. I was working 60 hours weeks, making PowerPoints. We could have bought BMWs with cash, built a house, or financed a third world revolution (okay, maybe not the revolution). But that’s just not our style.
We sold everything except what would fit in the back of our 4Runner and headed south. I fired most of my clients, and cut my hours to 15 a week. My husband still teaches part time and I still design PowerPoints…
It’s not all rainbow and unicorns. I live in a tent most of the time. The internet speeds often make me want to torture kittens. And I have quite possibly the worst sciatic nerve pain you could imagine. But I wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for anything else in the world.
Let’s see if we can distract Jessica – and allow the kittens to flee to safety – with this FreelanceSwitch interview…
Q. You’re traveling with your husband and brother in a Toyota 4Runner. Sounds like pretty cramped quarters. How are things working out?
Not everything is rainbows and unicorns, but for the most part things are working out really well.
My husband and I met while working on cruise ships. We spent the first 5 months of our relationship sharing a bed that was less than 2 feet wide in a room that was smaller than 8×12 feet. We adapted quickly to the small quarters and have taken those lessons with us.
Travel presents enough tension and stress, we do our best to face it as a team and laugh about it.
My brother and I have traveled together even before I met my husband. We share common interests and have always been friends. And of course my husband and my brother can’t help but enjoy having another man around to disagree with me.
Although there is the occasional sibling rivalry and marital conflicts, generally our biggest problems aren’t within our team. Travel presents enough tension and stress, we do our best to face it as a team and laugh about it.
The lack of space in our 4Runner is a totally separate struggle. We spent at least a year packing, sorting, and repacking gear to get everything to fit. Everyone has one 35 liter bin where all of their clothes and personal items must fit – with few exceptions. Why my brother needs three fishing poles and my husband needs four pocket knives, I will never understand.
We have huge discussions about buying new things. We just ordered a 5 quart dutch oven that has been the topic of serious debate for 8 months. I finally caved after multiple promises of pulled pork and cobblers over the campfire. We’ll see how it works out.
Q. It took you nine years to go from part-time freelancing to a successful location independent lifestyle. I’m sure that there are others reading FreelanceSwitch who’d like to get there faster. What advice would you give them?
Yeah, nine years is a long time. While it does take a lot of patience and persistence to make this lifestyle work, it surely doesn’t need to take a decade. Here are three things I could have done better:
Improvement 1: Concentrate on a dream lifestyle not a dream job.
I tooled around a lot in short term contract jobs. One year I received a record seven W-2 tax forms. I was always doing part time freelance graphic design work, but I had this idea in my mind that I need to find my ‘dream job.’ I spent a good 5 years trying to figure out how to be a National Geographic photographer. But in reality, all I wanted was to travel the world and take photos.
What I realized is that I didn’t need a dream job, I needed a dream lifestyle. The ability to travel continuously was what I wanted. The working part is trivial to me. I could be a graphic designer, a software engineer, an accountant, a gardener. It doesn’t matter.
I had the opportunity to become a full time freelance PowerPoint designer in 2006. But I said no, because I didn’t like the idea of that job title. I didn’t realize that the money I made being a part time presentation designer would easily pay for the traveling I wanted to do.
Improvement 2: Go full-time freelance as soon as possible.
I waited forever to start my full-time business. Always afraid I didn’t have enough money saved, enough skills, enough contacts. I thought I just needed a few more months to do trivial things – redesign my portfolio, find an attorney, set up my Twitter account.
What was I thinking? You don’t NEED those things to be successful. Be really really good at what you do and be really really nice to your clients. The rest of it will happen when it needs to.
Improvement 3: Work on your success first, then go mobile.
If you have a successful freelance business, and you work mostly from home, going location independent is easy.
Don’t get me wrong, this lifestyle isn’t always full of sandy beaches and cocktails with little umbrellas. You do still have to work, and you will have logistical nightmares to deal with. But compared to the hardship of setting up a full time business, becoming a digital nomad is easy.
There is a huge community of freelancers and entrepreneurs that are working their way around the world. The technology is already here, and clients are surprisingly accepting of this lifestyle, some even a bit jealous.
I waited nearly 3 years because I didn’t think the world was ready for digital nomads. Wow, was I wrong.
Q. You have quite an impressive website. I’m sure it’s a real snap to update when you’re in a broadband-rich country like this one. But such speedy Internet is a rarity in many of the areas you’re going through. How do you handle the site? And work for your clients? Other things that require connectivity?
Thanks for the compliments on our website. We started with a simple idea of creating a way to document our new digital nomad lifestyles, but have since grown into quite a huge resource for others trying to follow in our footsteps.
We can maintain it successfully because there are three of us, and someone always has free time to get things done. We have copies of our website on our local machines, so we can write and format new articles offline and post them when we have reliable internet.
Managing client work is trickier. The three of us are limited to working 15 hours a week for our clients, mostly to maintain sanity in our travel schedule. We have designated work days, that we research in advance to find a place with steady wifi where we can stay put and get things done.
The rest of the week we connect at internet cafes or we use our unlocked 3G USB modem that is setup with a local SIM cards. Essentially anywhere there is a cell phone signal we have internet. It’s not always fast, but it works for basic web browsing and sending emails.
In general, finding internet hasn’t been an issue, finding good internet is often a painful experience. But, it’s part of the deal. We just have another cup of coffee and enjoy the scenery while waiting for our 100mb file to upload at 2kbps.
Q. What happens if you get called for jury duty?
We’ll probably have to fake our deaths in order to avoid it. Just kidding. That would be way too complicated.
I actually have no idea. I assume that we could ask for a postponement for a time when we are back in the States. Send the judge a nice letter explaining the circumstances and a pound or two of free Colombian coffee. I think they’d understand.
Q. As a woman traveling alone on a bicycle, I was subjected to a never-ending barrage of warnings and horror stories about what happened to others. Fortunately, I was never assaulted, robbed, or murdered. You’re a woman traveling with two guys, but I’m sure that they’re not always with you. What has been your experience on the road?
My experience has been nothing but positive. In fact I think I get harassed less on the street than the guys do. Locals are overwhelmingly polite and honest about the safety situation in their towns. We always head their advice and use our common sense. So far, no problems.
We too heard all types of ridiculous warnings, especially about driving through Mexico. One fellow traveler told us he was warned not to go to Mexico because ‘they kill babies and stuff them with drugs to smuggle them across the border.’ Really? While Mexico and Central America are not without their safety issues, most of the stories we heard were completely unfounded.
We’re about to publish an ebook about overlanding in Mexico and Central America, which we have snarkily titled, ‘Don’t Go There. It’s Not Safe. You’ll Die,’ because that was the response of so many people when we asked for travel advice in these regions.”
Q. Anything else you want to tell the readers of FreelanceSwitch?
If you’re already a freelancer looking to go location independent, don’t hesitate! You’ve already done the hard part. The transition to working remotely from around the world is easier than you would think.
If you are just starting as a freelancer, then you’re reading the right website. FreelanceSwitch is an amazing resource. Take advantage of this community and the lessons taught here. It has helped me countless times to find answers to all types of business and creative problems.
Thanks for reading and be sure to leave any questions or comments below. All the best!