The Blogpacker: Travel Writing Your Way Around The World
Is it possible to make a living while sitting on your butt in the sunshine of a distant land? Yes, it is. I know because I’m doing it right now; tapping on a keyboard while little boats bob on the clear blue Ionian sea in front of me.
I’m a blogpacker. I’ve just made the term up but it fits well enough. (We wrote this piece quite some time ago. Digital nomad may have caught on slightly better than my suggestion). I live out of a backpack and run an internet based writing business. I edit this website and others, a travel blog and a jobs abroad vacancies site (now all combined into one website). Whenever and wherever I like I can unpack and get to work earning my living. Every few days, weeks or months I repack and move on to wherever I think the grass will be greener. It is a form of travel writing without the nuisance of enduring rejection slips from travel editors.
Anyone restraining themselves from throwing things at the screen in envy only in the knowledge that PCs are expensive to replace should be aware that I’m not raking it in. I could stay at home and earn more, or as much, stacking shelves in my local supermarket or by flipping burgers in McWendyking. But I don’t want to and because of technology and cheap flights, I don’t have to.
Once, not too long ago, travellers that took a fancy to a place and wanted to stick around for a while had a few routes to doing so: bar work and teaching English are a couple of examples. For more ideas feel free to browse this website. There are plenty of good books and websites available to provide the lowdown on being a tour rep in Tenerife, a cook in Cairns or salesperson in Salem.
But all those rely on being employed by someone else, are location specific, often depend on the local economy, the skills of the local work force and kafkaesque red tape. And when you want to move on the job, and the income, ends, requiring another round of knocking on doors and showing your face to a new set of potential bosses.
Many others, having found their ideal location in life want to stay for the duration, decide to start a business. The world is full of bars and restaurants run by a team of expat and local proprietors. But tourists these days have much more choice than a generation ago and many of these once lively establishments are now empty.
Blogpackers, regardless of whether the stay is for weeks or a lifetime, require less start up funds and can be far more flexible. This is no get rich scheme. For me it has taken years of working for free before it has become possible to earn a living and even then it took some luck. But for those that have a passion for a particular subject, know their way around a keyboard and can string together a sentence below are a few tips.
Equipment for Digital Nomads
There are several ways to work on the move; each has its own pros and cons. Though even the smallest can be a heavy burden, a laptop enables one to work at your own pace in a hotel room or anywhere else that takes your fancy. Your working time is limited when on battery power but most budget hotels have a plug socket somewhere in the room.
I find it best to carry the laptop in my hand luggage, a small rucksack (that looks like an ordinary bag and not a specialist laptop carry bag), where I can keep an eye on it and ensure it doesn’t get thrown about or packed underneath the luggage of other bus or plane travellers.
That’s not to say I haven’t flung it around myself – in my desire to get my heavy packs off my back and chest on a hot day I’ve thrown my bags down heavily to the floor forgetting I was carrying the laptop. I usually pack my thickest jumper and any newspapers or magazines I’m carrying front and behind – I prefer not to have to add extra weight to my pack by taking specialist laptop carrying equipment.
These precautions have worked so far and enabled the computer to travel by speedboat, light aircraft, 4×4 and truck, as well as the more usual transport options of buses, trains and planes.
Flexibility extends beyond writing. Additional advantages of taking a laptop include easiness for photographers to store and make copies of their photos. And, after a heavy session on the keyboard, the opportunity to watch a DVD or listen to a CD is welcomed.
Other ways to update your website or blog include taking along a smartphone or iPad. Admin and emails can be done with an iPhone but otherwise are not a genuine substitute for a laptop or netbook. I have not used an iPad so cannot comment on their effectiveness.
If you want to really reduce the weight of your portable office equipment then use someone else’s computer. Known by various names, USB keys, datasticks or pen drives are an increasingly popular way to carry files and applications. The range of software includes a web browser, word processor, image editing, email and virus checker. An alternative is to use the Cloud.
Working on the Move and Security
I would advise getting your own room. Trying to work in a dorm is almost impossible as there is rarely a table and almost always the distraction of others. In addition, you are doing the equivalent of flashing your travel wallet about to people you do not know very well. Your fellow roomies may be as honest as a summer day is long but then again, they may not be.
With a livelihood as well as an expensive piece of equipment at stake, security is important. This is difficult to accomplish effectively. Precautions we take include using a codename when discussing the machine in public: the word “laptop” is one of those words that stays the same in many foreign languages.
Where possible I chain my bag to something immovable like a radiator. This will slow down a spontaneous thief but would not stop one more determined and armed with a blade to slash open the bag. On other occasions, I’ve simply left my pack out to attract a thief to it and hidden “Mr Benn” under the pillow or under a spare blanket above the eyeline on top of a wardrobe.
Sometimes you just have to accept that there is little you can do and not ruin your day worrying about the worst that can happen.
Some choose to carry their laptop around at all times. I prefer not to. More than once I’ve settled my bill and walked away from a restaurant table without that all important bag. And what happens in a mugging? At best the mugger gets a big bonus for the day, at worst I am carrying something I may think twice about handing over immediately – and that can be lethal.
Wandering around interesting cities and sights with a laptop is an additional burden. Imagine carrying a computer up the Inca Trail. No thanks, that’s hard enough as it is. After all, that’s why I’m travelling. If I didn’t want to see the world, its natural wonders and man made genius set in stonework, I could find it much easier to work at home behind a big desk, with a filing cabinet and permanent broadband internet connections.
It can be very mentally freeing working on the hoof. With a limited amount of paperwork I’m able to take with me, I don’t waste much time deciding what task to get down to each day and have the perfect excuse to put off aspects of my job I find tedious or difficult.
The hardest aspect of the job can be finding a new place in each city in which to get my work from laptop to website. Not all webcafes are receptive to laptop toting travellers. I’ve experienced genuine fright and anger at some cafes that I would dare to enter with my own PC.
And try discussing the intricacies of TCP/IP protocols in schoolboy German, halting Spanish or non existant Malay. Webcafes for gamers seem to be the best – staff there are usually younger, more understanding and helpful with any problems.
Since I originally wrote this piece from a Greek hotel balcony in 2006 WiFi has become much more common. On our recent trip around the Middle East, a free connection in our room or in the common area of our hostel or hotel was not infrequent. Mobile connections and MiFi are other options worth exploring, at least for short periods online.
The way we make an income is mostly with Google Adsense. You see those four vertical text adverts to the left of this article, a bit further up the page? That’s Google Adsense. After choosing the size, shape and colour of your advertising, you simply place a bit of code where you want the ads to appear and they do. After all the hard work of designing, writing and marketing your website adding the advertising that brings in the bacon is the easy bit.
If our readers are interested in the ads above and leave through one of the links then we make some money, and Google takes its cut. Visitors that leave our site another way do not contribute to our income but, hey, that’s life. If you’ve worked hard and been useful to your readers then maybe they’ll come back and contribute to the “yacht fund” another day.
The beauty of Adsense is that the ads are targeted to the content of your site. For example, a gardening website will display gardening relevant advertising rather than, for instance, fishing related advertising.
Again, things have changed a little from when I originally wrote this piece. Then a decent living could be had with Adsense but the travel blog explosion now means greater competition for eyeballs. These eyeballs are also increasingly blind to advertising, sending clickthrough rates plummeting. We still make a living from our websites but I have given up the dream of buying a yacht.
An alternative is to sell your own advertising by contacting potential advertisers directly. Lastly consider trading your advertising space. Either swap some of your readership with other like minded websites or trade for something tangible like accommodation, food, a cup of coffee – it all helps when you are on the road and want to stay there.
Ready to start your digitally nomadic life? We've saved hundreds of dollars moving money around by using Wise. We save even more in ATM fees by combining Wise with a local bank account. Use this link and Wise will give you a free money transfer up to £500.
If we weren't house plant murderers we would do a bit more house sitting. It really is a great way for digital nomads to save on accommodation expenses AND get a comfortable environment in which to work. Americans may prefer to join here.
We will be using SafetyWing when we start travelling again. Their policies are aimed at nomads like you and us and both their travel and health insurance include cover for Covid19 so we can spend as much time abroad as we please.
Running our website was such a chore with our last host. It is so much easier updating our site now we have made the switch to A2 Hosting.