When I started this whole freelancing journey, my biggest dream was to work while traveling the world. You know the romantic picture-perfect image of a sandy beach and a couple in love.
I thought that it is already difficult to find someone you really connect with, so giving that up simply because of something as dumb as visas or other logistical challenges seemed ridiculous.
It turns out there is a dark side to living and working as a digital nomad. Not only does your work and income take a serious hit in the beginning but your relationships too.
Traveling gets exhausting after a while. It doesn’t take that many temples and sights until they are all the same.
You will face challenges connecting with clients because of internet- or transport problems (delayed flights, anyone?). You know how everyone has those random days where life throws you a curveball?
Normally, I bet you’ll be able to find room in your day to be flexible whether that is a change to your day-to-day plans, client calls or something else.
When you travel as a digital nomad, it consumes all your life and every aspect of each day until you have worked out your new systems and adapted your lifestyle and habits.
When traveling, that ‘buffer zone’ you are used to from home is usually all spent dealing with all the random things a foreign country, city, and culture throws at you.
Do a short practice run and see for yourself how much work you actually get done.
What it actually requires
Consider this a disclaimer to help you avoid making a big mistake and travel before you are ready. The alternative is you are forced to go back and start over.
You should not be traveling until you are experienced in each step of the freelancing process from finding a new client to completing the project and getting paid.
By experienced, I mean to the point that you can do it in your sleep. When you travel there will be a lot of random things you can’t control so you don’t want to be learning new things at work too. When one thing in life is unstable, other things need to be stable to avoid a breakdown of your systems.
If you have, say, three core things to keep you stable in life you might let one become unstable temporarily while the other two will keep you sane.
An example of three things could be: your day-job, freelance income, and your relationships.
If you start traveling all of these three will take a hit – at the very least for the first 90+ days until you get a chance to build new systems.
In this case, after saving up a year’s worth of living cost, I’d start by potentially moving abroad with my significant other (or another important relationship to you) to a single city.
Stay there and develop your new freelancing-systems for being in a new city or do a bunch of short-term trips (think weekend trips) to practice.
As you eventually sort these out, you can switch your focus to working on your relationships and building new ones along with a system you can use for traveling. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t meet new people right away, I mean you shouldn’t focus all your energy on it.
Your new connections will make or break your new ‘expat’ life, so they are definitely important. You want to aim for spending about 50% of your non-sleeping time on freelancing, 20% on meeting new people and the rest on other things like working out and finding good cafes to work from, etc. until you are confident in your new setup.
Spend your best hours doing your primary focus (getting more freelancing projects online and completing them) and focus on relationships secondary. If you switch to different time zones you might want to prepare your clients on how this benefits them.
These are the basics, you’ll also want to have a war chest ready to cover your living- and travel cost for at least six- to twelve months (I like numbeo.com for checking what things cost in each city around the world).
You could save up from your day-job but in an ideal world, this war chest is made from freelancing, so you have proven to yourself and your market that doing well freelancing is possible in your niche of choice.
Now that we have the basics out of the way, for the small group of readers that will be ready to pursue this dream, let’s talk about how to make the transition and your big win when traveling: creating powerful connections.
Both in terms of impressing clients by trying services or products from your clients or their competitors, and also by meeting your clients or leads in person (both are excellent ways to build trust).
It is powerful to ask “is it possible for us to meet for coffee? I’m in town the next two days” – of course, you shouldn’t misuse it.
Traps you (probably) haven’t anticipated yet
How does it affect your freelancing business when you have work to do but you are traveling and
- Flights, trains or boats are delayed?
- When you are tired, your Airbnb host cancels last minute and the weather fucks up your plans, and you can’t find any decent food?
- You can’t find a good internet connection and or place to work that you like?
- You can’t get yourself to be productive for whatever reason?
- The list goes on..
Better solve these challenges first, build systems and a contingency plan for what you are going to do WHEN these things happen.
Benefit from traveling by building powerful connections
Even with the list above, there will be a ton of small details you don’t know and can’t really research online- you’ll experience a lot of annoyances and the best way to help make the move work is by making new friends quickly.
Experienced expats can help you with housing, visa, work-setup, etc. in your city of choice so you can get a stable ‘day-to-day’ going fast.
The best place to start is if you have a friend who can connect you with someone that knows the city of your choice. Going in ‘warm’ will usually help you move quicker. Otherwise, I’d check the expat-Facebook groups for that city although those are usually a hit or miss.
I’m not going to comment on housing, etc. as it is different in each city and I don’t know your specific situation. Rather, it sucks to be abroad for three months only to wake up with no friends. And then it’s too late.
People often leave a city behind because “there are no cool people”, “I just don’t like the vibe” or whatever they wanna call it. It usually comes down to the same thing; they did not make enough good friends.
Usually, because they didn’t try hard enough and expected things to come by themselves. Which makes a lot of sense if you haven’t traveled much- most of us, including myself, did not learn how to go and seek new people- they came automatically via schools, jobs and clubs.
Not you, though. Not FreelancingWithChris-readers.
My comments below are intended to help you meet new people both professionally and non professionally while having a lot of fun abroad.
When I came back home after traveling the first time, friends always asked me “Weren’t you scared of not having any friends when you moved abroad?”
I was! Hella scared!
Before moving abroad, I had only been traveling to a few countries. I wasn’t particularly interested in traveling – and I was a bit shy, to be honest. Fortunately, as it turns out, expats communities are quite different from what we are used to from home.
My impression is that a lot of people worry about this for little reason. What many fail to remember is that most other foreigners have the same issue as you which means they want to make friends 10x more than people do at home.
Of course, if you just arrived compared to someone who’s been living there for a while, you will have fewer friends than that person but as all expats know it is common that people come and go – it’s just part of the expat life.
That means that if you stop making new friends you will end up with none at some point. I tried both so I hope you’ll learn from my mistake.
There are many cool things about making money online but one of the challenges is that you don’t have an office with co-workers to talk to every day and you have to proactively meet new people.
Like anything else, you can only get better by practicing and it is much easier to do abroad. Nobody knows you, so you can act in any way you want or be who you want to be.
It might take time getting comfortable doing something different but it is much easier abroad. Once you have done it a few times and you realize that people judge foreigners much less than locals, as you can play the ‘innocent, dumb, foreigner’-card, you will feel doing things that scare you becoming so much easier.
Once you have some friends, things will start to snowball as people are much more open to introducing you to their friends.
What does a group of amazing connections even look like?
A great network doesn’t require a specific number of people; it all depends on how you are as a person and I’ve found diversifying to be important.
Some people like to connect with everyone all the time and others are slightly more private. When you are working online and living in a foreign country, there are various sets of people that will be helpful to know both professionally, non-professionally, online and offline.
The key here is that the inputs from all these different types of people will help you stay balanced while knowing what is happening in your industry as well as in the online industry in general.
As you get a better lay of the land, I’m sure you will see lots of new great business opportunities MUCH faster than those people who are lacking a proper network. In fact, it’s a HUGE disadvantage to not have a proper network – you don’t even know of all the opportunities you are missing!
Of course, you should also have friends in your network that you don’t do work related stuff with.
Personally, I like to have a mix of local friends and foreigners that don’t work online. In my experience, it is very rare to become as close to a local as you do to other foreigners unless it is someone you are dating.
Locals will just never understand what it’s like for you to live in a foreign country doing what seems to be the dream to many. Just like we will never truly understand what it is like to be a local like them.
They are great if you are a curious person, like me, who like to learn about the culture, food and a bit of the language.
Most of us will be proud of our home country and love to answer any questions about it, just like many of your new local friends will. Use that to your advantage but showing interest with the locals rather than reading the latest lonely planet or travel blog.
Foreigners, on the other hand, will understand your new situation much better and you will probably connect way better with them.
On that note, I suggest avoiding living with your countrymen. You will get a much better experience if you don’t live with them and instead meet up with them on occasion.
The problem with living with countrymen is that you will get into a comfort zone very fast where you might speak your own language at home.
Since you already took that leap of faith when you moved abroad and busted your comfort zone, you now have to work harder to break it again. It’s much easier for you if you learn to live without them and appreciate it when you meet up them instead.
Professionally it will be helpful for you to have these people around you
- Some at your level to battle the challenges out with
- Some at your level some doing something similar yet different online
- Some 1-2 levels above you – doing something similar to you
- Some 1-2 levels above you – doing something vastly different
- Some way better than you – doing something similar to you
- Some way better than you – doing something vastly different
These six groups of people will give you a great mix of different knowledge so you get a better idea of knowing what’s moving in your industry both in your niche, type of business and other online industries.
Don’t underestimate the power of knowing people who can help you when you’re stuck. If this sounds overwhelming, relax. You don’t need to find these people tomorrow- it’s one step at a time.
It’s an art to be perfected and personally, with the people who are levels above me, I take my time to make sure I approach them in the best way possible.
I like people whose beliefs aren’t too similar to my own so they can challenge them once in a while and help me stay open to new ideas.
However, if you have none of these groups in your network, the first group -people at your level to battle the challenges out with- is definitely the one you should start reaching out to TODAY.
When you have some friends who are doing something similar to you and at the same level, you can help each other professionally but more importantly support each other on bad days.
We all have those and it’s really helpful to have some motivation rub off on you on a bad day from someone who understands what exactly you are going through. I’ve been guilty of thinking I didn’t need anyone to help me for a very long time – don’t make the same mistake.
Having the right people around you is probably the most important thing you can do. It’s amazing how a little bit of advice from an expert can boost your results. Not to mention the fact that you can refer clients to each other.
The key to a great network is just a little bit effort each day and it will snowball quickly.
How do you find the right people?
Finding people can be done in very different places. Usually, each niche has its own online forum but the people and how they react probably varies a lot from place to place.
I won’t get into details about specific sites as there are way too many but the key is knowing your sources – what type of people you find where. For example, public internet forums are probably much worse than private forums if you are looking for serious people.
Where to start looking
- Internet forums
- Industry meetups
- Networking events
- Co-working spaces
- Home-country events such as get-together at the embassy or chamber of commerce
- Through other friends/flatmates
If you are starting from scratch, start by finding someone who is doing the same thing as you – create a mastermind or something.
When I move to a new place I usually use the opportunity to find flatmates that have 9-5 jobs so I’ll have some friends who are doing something completely different than I am.
Hack: leveraging your lack of knowledge to make new friends
There is one thing that has been extremely useful to me when making friends both online and offline; curiosity.
As mentioned previously most people are proud of their country and will be happy if you show interest in their roots.
At the same time, you will learn about new food, culture and perhaps the language that you can use to impress your friends and family.
One of the best things about being abroad is that when you meet new people the topic always seems to start out with where you are from, which also makes it an easy icebreaker because you can follow up by asking them if they know X and Y from the same country.
This gets much easier the more you do it as your network grows and you know more people and learn more cultural insights you can turn into questions.
If you go to an event where you know there are is a mixed crowd you can be pretty sure there must be some locals so if you don’t know what to say you can always prepare some questions about the country’s food, culture or language. You can use the news or history books for inspiration.
Action steps you can do today
Professionally – if you don’t have any friends online that you are working closely with on the same topic, get started there!
If you still have no clue about where to start, go find an online forum about your niche and private message people who seem to be doing the same as you. Don’t get discouraged – sometimes it takes a while to find people that you connect well with.
Non-professionally – plan something with the people you’ve already met and make sure they invite some people you don’t already know (you should do the same for them) and speak to those strangers.