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How going travelling with my family for a year helped me nail the freelance lifestyle


February 21, 2018

I sat at my desk. The job I’d slogged so hard to get and then keep suddenly seemed pointless. I drummed my fingers and mentally hummed Queen’s “I Want to Break Free.”

After nearly a decade of early starts, late nights, checking emails from home, phone calls from the boss at weekends, pushing myself to take on extra deadlines and commissions on top of managing a team of journalists and editing a section of the website, I’d had enough.

I ditched the job I’d dreamed of — arts editor at a national newspaper — and set myself up as a sole trader, a freelance journalist, copywriter and media strategist.

That first week after jacking it all in was terrifying. I had one ad-hoc client and a week of gaping emptiness to fill.

But, focusing week by week, hitting small self-devised targets, I grew my business (which is just me, a writer of articles, content and copywriting) into an enterprise I could run as and when I liked.

It was, and continues to be, more rewarding both emotionally and economically.

But more than a year after I quit I still felt I hadn’t grasped my new freedom with both hands because I was still essentially working the 9 to 5 — even if I tacked on extra hours after my son was asleep.

The solution to fully breaking out was taking my business on the road. Or rather, 24 airplanes, umpteen trains, coaches and more rickety rickshaws than I care to remember.

Almost exactly a year ago we put our belongings into storage and took ourselves, two small backpacks and wheelie-bags off to India on the first leg of a journey that would take us around the world.

My son wasn’t yet of school age. My partner works for a charity and so was able to take a year-long sabbatical. And I was able to keep our living costs coming in by working.

For 9 months we traveled from place to place and I used the advantage of differing timezones to get ahead on deadlines and to be the first to hear breaking news.

My days were filled with the joy of traveling: sight-seeing, living out of a backpack, stories from people we met, the food and the smells.

Best of all was the time with my partner and our son — I didn’t have to say goodbye in the morning and race home to do collection from the childminder, dinner and then bedtime.

Father and son stand-up paddle boarding together.

In the evenings and early mornings I worked.

I wrote features on my laptop on the floor in ashrams in Southern India.

I went up on the roof of a hostel in Mcleod Ganj the Himalayas to get a wifi signal.

I conducted phone interviews from paradise beaches in Thailand.

In Kathmandu, a very loud turkey interrupted a phone call with an important client in London.

I hastily took a tram down from The Peak in Hong Kong to take a work call I’d forgotten about.

I sat outside in the dark at 3 am in a campsite in New Zealand to conduct interviews.

In South Korea I had to ask bemused monks up a mountain for a wifi code — they supplied one!

When you’re the only kid on Maya Bay, where The Beach was filmed. Leo DiCaprio eat your heart out.

It didn’t matter how difficult the timezone differences or the pressure of deadlines I had to hit, the fulfilling life I was living meant I felt I could take anything on. Travelling meant I had the opportunity to nail the Hoxby workstyle.

Having just recently returned to London, I’m still riding the high of last year’s adventures. And I’m firmly hanging on to my workstyle.

I have joined a co-working space, my commute is a 10-minute stroll across the park and I still sometimes work weird hours to have fun with my family when I don’t feel like doing the 9-5. Who knows, maybe next month we’ll jet off again.

Matilda is a journalist, editor, and copywriter. Formerly arts editor at The Independent, she has also worked for The Times, Evening Standard and i newspapers and was managing editor of BBC Earth magazine. Her copywriting clients are primarily in the charity and non-profit sector. She also advises businesses on media strategy.

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