Financial Case Study: Rebecca, A Creative Nomad, Graphic Designer

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Rebecca is a graphic designer from Sydney, Australia. After starting her career in design she decided to do some traveling, so she moved to London on a Working Holiday Visa. This is where she developed a serious case of the travel bug that was never cured. Rebecca made the big decision to combine her love of graphic design and travel, becoming a freelancer and taking it on the road. She blogs as her creative outlet on A Creative Nomad. Learn more about her graphic design career below!

In this series, we’re exploring the various careers of world travelers, and how they make ends meet financially while living abroad. Yes, financially sustainable full-time travel is possible!

This post was originally published in 2017. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

How long have you been living/working on the road, and where have you traveled to?

I have been traveling on and off for the last five years, I have just decided to take off for another long stint with only my freelance work to cover me. I have traveled a lot of Europe, touched on India and South East Asia, did a stint in New Zealand and a long few months around Vietnam. A lot of my previous travel has been funded by long term more stable jobs with a side of freelancing. I have now in the last year been alone with only my freelancing and the complete open road; a very exciting time.

Please describe what you do for income.

I am a graphic designer so I do everything from working with startups on branding and logos; I work with corporate companies on print collateral and marketing strategies; I work with companies all over the world on digital designing from magazines, ebooks to worksheets, PDFs, annual reports and more. I create and manage WordPress websites and social media maintenance as well as creating images and artwork for social media and marketing campaigns and much more. My design jobs vary greatly, which is what I really enjoy about it.

How many hours per week do you work on average?

This is a hard one as freelancing hours vary greatly. In a busy period I could work 50 hours in a week, on a slow period I could work 10 hours on design but a good 20 or so on admin, catching up and finding clients.

I am a bit of a workaholic so there is always something to be done… along with enjoying working on my blog as my creative outlet, I also have a few personal websites I’m creating, She Roams Solo is my current project that takes up a lot of my free time.

How much money do you make?

This varies depending on the amount of work I have and is never the same every month. Currently I am only making money from my freelance design as I have been traveling a bit, which takes up a lot of time.

A monthly average mark is $3,000 USD (this has increased and was much lower when I was starting). Whilst this is less than when I was employed, I also do not have commuting costs, I have freedom and I believe this figure will grow the longer I am freelancing.

I plan to make money from my other projects, She Roams Solo and eventually my blog but I have been giving all my time to setting up freelancing and everything else has been placed on the back burner.

Do you make enough money to support your lifestyle?

I do, I am very good at living a cheap lifestyle and also very good at keeping savings, this is highly important when freelancing. Admittedly, I had a much more extravagant and costly lifestyle in Sydney when I was employed.

When I was starting, there were tough months where I would not make enough to support my lifestyle, this was a testing time that taught me a lot of skills in saving and supporting myself. Slowly I am gaining more disposable income and having higher paid months, it is an evolving process.

What do you like most about your career and lifestyle?

I love that I work with a variety of clients and a variety of creative styles. Because I’m not working with a senior designer or art director, I lose that creative influence. Working with a variety of companies allows me to be learning about different industries and different styles of design.

At the same time, some of my work is more independent, such as designing websites and social media or working with start ups, this is what I love, getting to create and design using strategic design to see how design can help small businesses and marketing.

I love working with clients from all over the world. I love the challenge of handling everything when I’m busy but having the flexibility to work on my side projects when I’m not busy. I love being able to take my work on the road and I love the lifestyle and challenges it offers.

What are some of the challenges you have with this career and lifestyle?

Time management has been my biggest challenge; I am not naturally a very organized person, I tend to say yes to every job, which is a lesson I have learnt. I tend to always have a larger to do list than I can handle. This matched with wanting to travel and have side projects can be quite stressful.

Not having a stable income; going from knowing how much money I will earn, can spend and save to not knowing how much I will make month to month or when I will get paid is the second biggest challenge and possibly the one thing I hate about freelancing.

Motivating myself, I work harder as a freelancer then I ever did as an employee. At the end of the day, if I don’t find the clients, I will have no work. If I don’t do a fantastic job, the work will stop and not grow. If I don’t market myself, do the admin and motivate myself to do the hours needed, I will not succeed. In saying that, I love that I work harder then ever, I feel like I am really working for something important, this matters a lot more to me than having the cushy lifestyle I use to have.

What is your vision for the future of your lifestyle on the road?

I love designing and I believe I will be designing for a long time. I love the flexibility it provides on my lifestyle and the challenge, I have always loved the adrenaline rush I get when the design is not quite working out but I find the right solution.

However, sometimes I want more creative control and graphic design does not give you that (hence, my blog). I have plans to launch She Roams Solo and a few other websites into more of a full-time job and continue designing with the jobs that give me creative flexibility and enjoyment. I would love to work with student designers to teach them design, give them a start in their career and allow a lifestyle of flexibility for their career and lives as well. The next step will be to outsource to students and be able to concentrate on the projects that bring me the biggest challenge and most amount of creative satisfaction. I do doubt that design will ever leave me though.

Any advice for the aspiring traveler about living and working on the road and managing finances?

Become better at not spending money than earning money. If you are going to take on a lifestyle such as traveling/working or freelancing, there will be times when you need to become very good at not spending money. This will sometimes be more important than making money.

Find what you love doing. There’s no point thinking “I will become a designer so I can travel” – it doesn’t work like that. I often have to stay in the hotel and design or do admin when I would rather go out and explore. I often have to say no to that next drink with backpackers/expats I meet because I know I have a tight deadline. I recently went to Madrid for four days on a whim, but instantly becoming very busy with a huge tight deadline and only got to spend one day exploring and the rest in any bar/cafe with wifi or the hotel room. The grass isn’t greener but if you love what you do then it’s all worth it.

It’s a learning curve. Going from employee to freelance was like entering a completely different career without the training/mentor. It’s been a long learning curve but one I have enjoyed every minute of, from the stress, tears, joy and empty bank account to the job satisfaction of a happy client, the ability to hop on a flight to Paris without requesting leave and the knowledge that I am doing all of this for myself and not working to buy my bosses a yacht.

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2 thoughts on “Financial Case Study: Rebecca, A Creative Nomad, Graphic Designer”

  1. Loved this article! I’ve been designing for about 7 years and just started freelancing. Just curious, how did you find most your clients? I do the same sort of work.. designing for marketing teams and corporations on print/digital collateral, and logo/brand work for various businesses. However, local staffing agencies found me freelance work for clients in the city I live in. The higher paying stuff is obviously the corporate work, but I may have post-office traumatic syndrome and feel guilty for traveling when they expect me to be in an office at home (or pop into their office if they are in the same city). Basically, I want to find more clients in various locations instead of the city I live (Austin, TX) to avoid that guilt of not ‘being there’

    Thanks for your this article!!

  2. Awesome stuff. I can’t wait to get going with my nomad life. Now I’m looking at ways to get in touch with my first clients as I patiently wait for someone who’s willing to buy my desktop or trade it for an iPad Pro. You’re article was insightful for me in more than one way! Thanks!


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