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Freelance Writing to Fund Travels

Freelance Writing to Live Abroad or to Travel SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico- “I will probably write two books and fifty articles this month,” Rachael spoke matter of factly while sipping a beer. I raised an eyebrow — two books and fifty articles in one month? — and I thought I wrote a lot. [...]

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Freelance Writing to Live Abroad or to Travel

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico- “I will probably write two books and fifty articles this month,” Rachael spoke matter of factly while sipping a beer.

I raised an eyebrow — two books and fifty articles in one month? — and I thought I wrote a lot.

As thus, I was introduced to the life of the freelance ghost writer.

I met Rachael on a referral from a mutual friend who knew that I was doing a series on travelers who fund their journey through independent micro-businesses, and she agreed to grant me an interview on my offer of a free beer. We met up in a coffee house in central San Cristobal, and immediately began talking shop. Rachael proved to be very well spoken, quick witted, and stated her opinions with a rapid fire sense of confidence and clarity. She had her hair braided in revolutionary pigtails.

Rachael, originally from Chicago, funds her international living and volunteer projects from taking on a wide range of writing jobs. She works for herself, picking and choosing the projects that she is offered from a clientele she built from the ground up. She is completely location independent, she can ply her writing trade from anywhere in the world with an internet connection, though she prefers to stay places long term, engaging in volunteer projects and community organizing.

Rachel originally came to San Cristobal de las Casas on a three month project in conjucture with her law school studies in Chicago. Though, after the experience of living and working with indigenous communities in Chiapas, the confines of law school began to lack appeal.

So she returned to Mexico.

“This, is my law school,” Rachael spoke, referring to her social activism in Chiapas. She then launch into an explanation of the projects she is currently involved in while working with the FOMMA indigenous women’s theater group. For the past year and a half, Rachael has remained active in the rural communities surrounding San Cristobal de las Casas, exposing and working against injustice.

“Who funds your volunteering?” I asked bluntly, wondering if Rachael had some ingenious living strategy through which she obtains free room and board in exchange for volunteering and then boots the rest of her costs through writing.

“I do,” she replied with equal bluntness, and then told me how the organization offered her a living stipend but she turned it down, stating that she makes enough money to live, so why would she want to take money away from the organization she is assisting?

It then became apparent to me that Rachael makes a real living off of writing, that ticking words off into the ether was not merely a supplementary income but was a solid living in its own right. Giving this, I became increasingly interested — you meet a freelance writer every other day on the road, but seldom do you meet one who makes any money from it.

Modern freelance writing, image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freelancer

I then asked how she came into freelance writing, and Rachael explained:

“It was my original plan that I would come here and either work in web design, freelance writing, or teach English.”

It seems as if writing has worked out well for her.

Originally, Rachael used Elance, a web service that hooks various fields of freelance workers up with businesses looking to hire them, to find writing jobs. She threw up her resume, a writing sample, a proposal stating what she could do, bid on jobs, and then watched the offers come in. After taking on a few jobs for an array of clients, Rachael found herself with a pet group of companies willing to solicit her services on a regular basis, as well as refer her to other clients. Rachael had thus successfully corralled in a solid client base, and turned freelance writing into a regularly plied profession.

What is freelance ghost writing?

Rachael told me that she generally takes writing jobs as a ghost writer. What she writes does not get her name attached to it upon publication, and her pieces are often credited to someone else or published anonymously. She is a hired technician of sorts, she writes in the background, her personage always hidden behind her words: she completes a project, gets paid, and that is the end of her involvement with the product. She did not seem to mind being an uncredited ghost writer, and she laughed as she told me all of the topics she has written on:

Relationship training, marketing campaigns for various companies, organic mattresses, the difference between pepper spray and mace, a bilingual resource, myriad articles for various life coaches, a book on how to raise teenage boys, a book on being a step mom . . .

I could not hold back my laughter: Rachael was clearly neither a step mom nor ever raised a teenage boy, but she has written books on these topics.

She got paid for writing on these topics.

“So writing forces you to learn about things you never would otherwise?” I asked rhetorically.

“Yeah, sometimes I have to learn too much!” laughed Rachael, and then added, “This is really no worse than being a waitress. It’s a job.”

She then explained that much of what she writes is for inbound marketing campaigns. Inbound marketing is the practice of a company putting up massive amounts of relevant content, mostly through blogs, on their websites to attract customers. The idea is that these articles are written on topics related to the company’s consumer niche, and will therefore come up in the search engines for relevant keywords and drive high quality traffic to their websites.

“So it is like you are building bridges between the public and what a company is selling,” I concluded with my understanding of her work.

Advantages of working location independent in the south of Mexico

Rachael and I continued talking about the benefits of working our web based independent travel jobs, and how taking on various projects and within different spheres of work prepares you for other potential employment opportunities.

“And you are building skills here in case you ever want to go back to the USA and get a real job,” I proclaimed.

“What do you mean a real job? I have a real job!?!” Rachael snapped.

“I meant a job where you work for someone else,” I hustled to clarify my statement.

But she was correct, she does have a real job, and, not only that, she cultivated a real business that she can do from almost anywhere in the world. Few people working a real job can make this claim.

Being location independent in a relatively cheap region of the world also has other advantages when taking jobs from USA/ Europe based companies. Working from the south of Mexico, Rachael can do a lot more with a lot less money than another freelance writer based in a more expensive country. In this way, it is my impression that a freelancer can price their services very competitively, and perhaps find themselves with more work than someone else who has a higher income threshold that they need to meet.

In point, working online from cheaper regions of the world is not only a move to better enjoy life, but it is also a prudent business move as well.

Rachael tells me that she lives well on around $500 per month, and that her monthly rent for a room in an apartment building is only $95. She says that she makes anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per month taking freelance writing jobs, so she is clearly making ends meet while doing work that she seems to enjoy — on her own terms.

“I wrote in my pajamas this morning,” she added.

Technology enables location independent living

“It’s crazy doing what we do,” Rachael began, “five years ago we couldn’t do it here.”

She was correct, within the last half decade the high speed internet infrastructure has taken over large swaths of the globe. It is true that there was internet in San Cristobal de las Casas five years ago, but it did not come standard in nearly every hotel, restaurant, coffee house, or were there as many apartment complexes pre-wired and set up for a digital nomad to move right in and set up a mobile office. To work an internet based job from the road you need a 24 hour internet connection in your room — you cannot run a business like Rachael’s from within the bounds of an internet cafe — and more and more places in the world are becoming suitable for this type of work.

Skills, experience, education needed for being a freelance writer

I asked Rachael what kind of education or experience a person would need to be a traveling freelance writer, and she sort of laughed at me:

“Nothing!” she exclaimed, and then added that all you need is talent.

How to become a traveling freelance writer

“If you want to live in Latin America, work, live, come here with $1,000,” Rachael stated firmly, confident that someone could start up a little independent business or find work within the amount of time that a thousand dollars can buffer. Rachael did not have a stock pile of cash to fund her current endeavor in Latin America, and she has now been here for over a year and a half. From the looks of it, she has successfully made a business, generates an income, and made a life for herself in the south of Mexico — all on her own volition, determination, and talent.

Other people can do this too.

To run a successful internet based travel business, you first need to find strategies to keep your costs of living low, as it is quite clear that you are not going to make a million dollars from this line of work. But if you can match your travel expenditures from your work, then you can continue traveling — you have done your job.

From talking to Rachael, it seems as if the door into the world of freelance writing can be opened through such web based services such as Elance. Each freelancer on the system is given feedback for each project they complete, and their reputation is in full view to all prospective employers. In point, the better work you do the more likely you will chosen by prospective employers. Eventually, you stand to build up a client base and receive work on a regular basis — as Rachael does.

Rachael added that, when approaching freelance writing, it also helps to identify your writing niche and to know your strengths. Most importantly, she emphasized that you just need to try it.


Rachael seemed very realistic with her position in freelance writing, stating that, unless something big happens, she knows that she can only make enough money just to get by from this work. From my experience, I know that she is correct. Though Rachael quickly turned the conversation around by restating the benefits of her freelance writing business:

“It is good if you want to taste the world.”

This statement sums up the true riches to be found in working an independent travel job: you are free to experience the world. The real payment of why I work full time on VagabondJourey.com or, I assume, why Rachael does freelance ghost writing is that this work provides us with the means to live life on our own terms, to go where we want to go, to explore our interests, to learn what we want to learn, and to try to live out any wild dream that we may conjure up.

The person who controls their work controls their life.

As V.S. Naipaul once put it:

“When I learnt to write I became my own master, I became very strong, and that strength is with me to this very day.”

This article is part of a series, to read more go to Independent Travel Work on Vagabond Journey.


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Filed under: Digital Nomad, Independent Travel Business, Make Money for Travel, Mexico, Travel Writing, Work

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3723 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

6 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • Richard Sykes November 23, 2010, 12:12 am

    “She had her hair braided in revolutionary pigtails.”
    Viva la Revolucion! Err, what exactly does a revolutionary pig tail look like? Can you still stick them in inkwells? Do they still have inkwells?

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 23, 2010, 1:49 pm

      Look at posters/ pictures of revolutionary women from China to Latin America. This physical attribute stuck out to me as representing her personality well, so I included it here.

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  • David Jacobs November 23, 2010, 6:05 am

    Excellent article..

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 23, 2010, 1:50 pm

      Thanks David,

      She has a really good strategy for getting around the world.

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  • Richard Sykes November 23, 2010, 3:57 pm

    Yes, good article about an interesting girl, even if she’s not Becky Thatcher. I still think you may have invented something with this Revolutionary Pigtail Movement, though.

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