How I Find Inspiration and Freedom From Traveling the World While Freelancing (Mary Blackiston’s Story)

This post is brought to you by a few psychology books Mary has found useful for understanding marketing and copywriting:  Predictably Irrational, Made to Stickand How to Win Friends and Influence People.

This is the latest interview in a series featuring digital nomads talking about their lives and lessons (click here if you want to be interviewed). The goal is to help demystify the process of making money online, wandering the world, and living an unconventional life!

Mary travels the globe as a freelance copywriter. Her passion for travel and exploring the world started when she was 16. Be sure to check out her website for helpful resources about becoming a copywriter or a digital nomad!

Thank you for being here with Freedom Is Everything, Mary!

Key takeaways from Mary’s interview:

“Nomading all these years has made me realize that ‘the norm’ isn’t necessarily the best way to do things. It’s encouraged me to challenge the status quo. Having met all types of people from all over the world, it’s also helped me become much more open-minded.”

“I *still* have a lot of student loans and debt! But nomading and living abroad have actually allowed me to pay off more of my debt than I would have if I were living in the US. When I was working at my office job in San Diego a few years ago, I was just barely getting by. But when I landed my remote job and moved abroad, I was finally able to cover all of my living expenses, save money, and pay off my debt, little by little. My rent was lower, food was cheaper, and I didn’t have car expenses to worry about. I feel grateful to be able to live in more affordable places that allow me to pay off at least some of my debt.”

“It sounds cliché to say…but don’t wait to do things. If you want to do something, just DO it. And don’t let other people or excuses stand in your way. Yes, EVEN IF you have a spouse and three kids. Even if you’re 75 years old and have never traveled before, even if you’ve never stepped foot on an airplane, it’s never too late.”

Table of Contents

Introduce yourself! 🙂 Who are you? What do you do for work? And what is your nomadic story?

Hi, I’m Mary! I’m from Connecticut originally but left when I was 18 and since then, have lived all over. 

I’m a freelance copywriter for creative entrepreneurs and online course-creators (although I see myself as more of an entrepreneur building a business than a freelancer). I went full-time freelance in September 2020. Before that, I spent four years working remotely in content marketing for a digital agency.

I’ve been a digital nomad for 4.5 years now. Since I started, I’ve lived in California; Florida; Medellin, Colombia; Florianopolis, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Barcelona, Spain; and (most recently!) Playa del Carmen, Mexico. 

But I’ve always been a bit of a nomad. I guess it all started when I was 16 years old. I went to New Zealand on a school exchange and stayed with a Kiwi girl. I went to school and parties with her and got a real taste for New Zealand life. That experience opened my eyes and changed my perspective on the world. 

From then on, I was hooked on travel. In my junior year of college, I studied abroad in Italy for a semester. Then I moved to France after college and ended up staying for four years teaching English and getting my Master’s degree in Global Communications. After that, I moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil *without* a job (this was before I really knew that working remotely was an option). I stayed for nine months before moving back to the states. 

But…as you can probably imagine, my travel itch didn’t go away. A few years later, I landed a remote job in content marketing and officially started my digital nomad journey.

What inspired you to start nomading? And how has nomading changed your perspective on life?

When I graduated from college in 2009, most of my classmates moved to big cities to work. At the time, there weren’t many people (that I knew anyway) who put off the 9-to-5 to travel. 

So I was originally planning on moving to New York City. But then I had a change of heart. 

The summer before I graduated from college, I spoke to a career coach. She told me that she moved to Colorado after college and worked there as a ski instructor for a few years. I thought to myself, “hmm…now that’s an idea…” My mom, who always had an adventuresome spirit, had actually done something similar as well. 

I started pursuing my options and decided that I wanted to move to France to teach English through the French Ministry of Education after I graduated. I had never lived abroad alone or even really traveled alone, so it was a big step for me. 

But I ended up having the best time of my life. I met amazing people, learned to speak (more than just high school) French, and live in a foreign country…all on my own. It was an eye-opening experience, and I realized how much I loved not just traveling but *living* abroad. 

Fast forward to a few years later–I was working in an office job in San Diego, California as a proofreader. While I liked the people I worked with, I didn’t feel challenged in the work I was doing. I wasn’t inspired. And I hated working in an office. 

I read The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss and, after that, knew I had to find a job that would give me the freedom to live wherever I wanted. 

Shortly after, I ended up finding a remote job (on Facebook of all places!), doing something that challenged me and that I really enjoyed. And best of all, I got to travel while doing it! Win-win. 

Nomading all these years has made me realize that “the norm” isn’t necessarily the best way to do things. It’s encouraged me to challenge the status quo. Having met all types of people from all over the world, it’s also helped me become much more open-minded.

Please tell us the detailed story of how you started your business.

I started my one-woman business, Nomad Copywriting, in September of 2020. I had been itching to go freelance for a long time before but was scared to go out on my own and had gotten used to the steady income from my remote job. 

I started by cutting back on the hours I was working at my remote job. And gradually transitioned into going full-time freelance. My former boss was kind enough to refer me to one of our clients to start with. Another copywriter I had reached out to also referred me to a client (in exchange, I gave her a referral fee). And I got a few more clients from sites like Upwork and Problogger (I don’t recommend going this route for high-paying clients, but it’s better than nothing if you’re just starting out and trying to build your portfolio). 

After having worked in content marketing for four years, I initially positioned myself as a Content Marketer and Copywriter. Then a few months later, I realized I wanted to focus entirely on copywriting. So I took some courses and read some books to get up to speed and improve my skill set. And the rest is history!

What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about nomading?

Don’t plan ahead too much. I’m a very last-minute planner, often booking plane tickets the week (or even the day!) before. But I think that makes things more fun and exciting. 

Also, remember that you aren’t going on vacation, so have a plan for how you’re going to stay productive. And be intentional about the places you stay in. Ask the host for a wifi speed test before booking. And make sure you’ll have a productive space to work. 

If you’re staying in a crowded Airbnb with six people throwing parties every day, it might be nice for meeting people, but it’s probably going to be difficult to focus on work (I’ve been in this type of situation before, and trust me… it’s not ideal!). Same thing with hostels. 

For meeting people, join Facebook groups local to the area of where you’ll be staying. Find people with similar interests and hobbies as you (ideally other nomads who share your philosophy on life). A coliving can be a great way to meet and bond with other nomads (I’ve actually never done this before, but would like to try at my next destination!). I’ve also made friends while working at coworking spaces. 

If you’re not sure where to go, check out nomadlist.com. You can filter places by the things that are important to you, like weather, air quality, and cost of living. Read blogs from people who’ve lived there (they can also give you the local tips, too!). 

And pack LIGHT! I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it just makes life soooo much easier. This is coming from someone who’s a notoriously heavy-packer, but I’m really trying to be more minimalistic, so I can lighten my load while traveling and not have to rely on storage units to hold my stuff! 

The other thing I’ve found while traveling is that the 80-20 rule almost always applies: 20% of the clothes you bring will probably satisfy 80% of your needs. So it’s just not worth it to pack a lot. 

What is unique about the way you travel, and what advice do you have for someone that wants to travel with a similar style?

I like to slow travel. Meaning…I like to stay in one place for at least a few months to really get to know the culture, people, and language. It’s also just exhausting to constantly be on the road! Plus, slow traveling allows you to get local prices (and discounts on Airbnb rentals). 

I guess you could say I’ve been reaaaaaallly slow traveling for the past two years. I’ve been living in Barcelona for over two years (I got a visa which has allowed me to stay there long-term). I plan to travel again soon (hopefully to Southeast Asia), but perhaps make my home base in Spain. 

What are the 2-3 favorite places where you’ve lived/traveled to and why?

The top of my list is Brazil, for sure. I love (almost) everything about the country. The friendly, hospitable people. The laidback, happy vibe. The melodic, sing-songy language. The stunning nature…

I lived in Florianópolis (Floripa as the locals say) and Rio and loved both places. For nomads, I highly recommend Floripa. It’s safe, beautiful, and has a high quality of life. And in the summertime (our winter), the island comes to life–it’s a lot of fun! 

I also love Spain. I spent last summer on the beautiful island of Mallorca pet-sitting and exploring all the different beaches in my free time (I’m a big fan of beaches and warm weather, in case you can’t tell!). Also, one thing I love about living in Barcelona is how much there is to see and do not only in the city itself but outside the city as well. I visited some beautiful places in Costa Brava and in the mountains of Cataluna–such a nice escape from city life! 

If you had debt/student loans when you started nomading, how did you handle or think about this, and what advice would you give to other people with a similar situation?

I *still* have a lot of student loans and debt! But nomading and living abroad have actually allowed me to pay off more of my debt than I would have if I were living in the US. 

When I was working at my office job in San Diego a few years ago, I was just barely getting by (and fortunately, my dad was able to help me out a bit, or I don’t know how I would have survived!).

But when I landed my remote job and moved abroad, I was finally able to cover all of my living expenses, save money, and pay off my debt, little by little. 

My rent was lower, food was cheaper, and I didn’t have car expenses to worry about. Now every time I go back to the US, I’m shocked at how expensive everything is! So I feel grateful to be able to live in more affordable places that allow me to pay off at least some of my debt. 

If you have debt, I highly recommend slow traveling (staying in one place for at least a few months), so you can get the local prices. And of course, choose places with a low cost of living. If you’re an animal-lover like me, you could also try TrustedHousesitters. It’s a website that allows you to stay for free in someone’s home in exchange for caring for their pets or home. 

What is one of your favorite travel stories/experiences?

When I was 22 years old, I moved to France to teach English for the school year. I wanted to stop in Munich for Oktoberfest on my way to France. But all of the hotels were booked solid. 

This girl I connected with in the language assistant Facebook group I was part of told me about this website called couchsurfing.com, where we could stay for free in the house of a complete stranger. I thought the idea was crazy! 

We were supposed to stay together, but things changed at the last minute, and I ended up having to find my own place to stay. I connected with a nice German guy through the couchsurfing website who agreed to let me sleep on his couch for a few nights. I was nervous about doing it alone…but decided to take my chances. 

As I was at the airport, I realized that I had overpacked…by a LOT. The airline wanted to charge me $500 or some ridiculous fee. Then a guy in line behind me said, “We can carry some of your luggage as my carry-on.” Problem solved: He and his friends carried my belongings in plastic bags as their carry-ons–and saved me $500! 

When I got to Munich, I realized that I didn’t have the address of the person I was staying with (and I didn’t have internet on my phone either!). Classic rookie travel mistake. So I dragged my heavy luggage to an internet cafe to get in touch with my host. Then more random strangers helped me lug my massive suitcases down into the subway (why I didn’t just pay a few more euros for a taxi is beyond me…). 

I had a lot of hurdles to overcome on that trip (and learned a lot of lessons along the way), but thanks to the kindness of strangers, it all worked out. My new German friend, Sebastian, and I went to Oktoberfest together with a few other couchsurfers that were staying with him–and I ended up having one of the best weekends of my life. 

Since launching, what has been most effective to acquire/retain customers and scale your business?

To be perfectly honest, I’m still figuring this part out! But one of the best tactics I’ve found so far is engaging in communities and connecting with people. 

I’ve joined several paid copywriter groups (The Copywriter Underground and 10XFC), where other copywriters share leads/client referrals. 

I’ve recently niched down a bit, so I’ve also joined several Facebook groups where my ideal clients hang out and have gotten a few leads from there. 

Next, I plan on creating some more authority-building content and getting it published on websites that my ideal client reads — which I’m confident will help me generate a more steady flow of high-quality leads. 

What digital tools do you use for your work/business?

I use Zoom to chat with clients and prospects. Google docs to outline and craft copy (and InVision for wireframes). Timular to track my time. ActiveCampaign to send out marketing emails and collect leads. Evernote for making important notes and adding to my swipe file. HelloBonsai to send and track invoices (although I’m actually switching to a more extensive platform-I think Dubsado). Canva to create graphics for my marketing material. Loom to record videos for clients and prospects….to name a few!

What scale is your business at today, and what are your future goals?

I’m essentially in a startup position, still in an early stage of expanding my network and growing my business. My goal is to become a six-figure business by the end of the year. 

For someone interested in becoming an entrepreneur in your field, what’s the best advice you would give? And what books, podcasts, thought leaders, or other learning resources do you recommend?

To grow my business, the biggest thing I’ve done so far was join a copywriting mastermind group (Copyhackers 10XFC). Being in that group has taught me how to really run my own copywriting business and become a highly paid copywriter. 

Also, having a strong network of expert copywriters I can reach out to and get feedback from at any time has made a world of difference. It’s 100% worth the investment. 

As for books, I highly recommend The Four-Hour Workweek. If you haven’t read it yet, it’ll completely change your mindset on life and work. 

I also love psychology books (and they help a lot with marketing and copywriting!)–some favorites include Predictably Irrational, Made to Stickand How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleAnd I love listening to podcasts like The Side Hustle Show and Mixergy and getting inspiration from other entrepreneurs. 

Directly related to copywriting, I highly recommend The Copywriter Club podcast (they do interviews with other successful copywriters) and the books The Adweek Copywriting Handbook and The Ultimate Sales Letter

If you really want to up your copywriting game, I would invest in Copy School by Copyhackers – the course is insanely comprehensive and taught by one of the best copywriters out there, Joanna Wiebe (also my coach in 10XFC!). Lastly, study great copy (and continually add examples to your swipe file). Notice what works and what doesn’t. And don’t be afraid to ask other copywriters for feedback on your work. 

Tell us about your content creation journey and share some of your favorite content that people should check out!

I have my own travel and copywriting blog, but I haven’t been consistent about writing in it. A few years ago, I wrote a blog post on how to land a remote job, which you might find helpful if you’re looking for a remote job! Or, if you aren’t sure what type of job to look for, I wrote a blog post on the different types of remote jobs you can do. I’ve also written a bunch on life in Brazil and abroad.

If you’re still hesitating on whether or not you should become a digital nomad, this article I wrote several years ago just might convince you to take the plunge!

If you only had a few minutes to live, what are the most important life lessons you would share with the world?

It sounds cliché to say…but don’t wait to do things. If you want to do something, just DO it. And don’t let other people or excuses stand in your way. 

Yes, EVEN IF you have a spouse and three kids. Even if you’re 75 years old and have never traveled before, even if you’ve never stepped foot on an airplane, it’s never too late. 

What do you travel with that you couldn’t imagine traveling without?

Kindle 

Bose over-ear noise-cancelling headphones 

MacBook Air 

Sun protective clothing and wide-brim hat from Mott50 (essential for the beach!) 

Apple watch (for health, sleep, and fitness tracking) 

Tell us about a deep passion of yours! What has your journey been like, and what advice/resources would you recommend for someone interested in learning more about this topic?

I became vegan a few months ago–and it’s already become a big part of my life. It can be hard at times, especially if I’m traveling in a place where there aren’t many vegan-friendly restaurants. But I’m hopeful that will change more and more in the years to come. 

If anyone is interested at all in animal rights or veganism, I highly recommend watching Dominion or Earthlings. The Game-changers and Seaspiracy are also eye-opening. 

How can people learn more about you and your work?

If you’re interested in becoming a copywriter (or a digital nomad), I share resources on my website that you might find helpful. Feel free to connect with me on Instagram and shoot me any questions you have. Happy to help in any way I can! 

 

Lauren Allain
Lauren is a freelance journalist from Seattle. She travels the globe in search of the best grocery stores, bouldering gyms, and snorkeling locations. Her mission at Freedom Is Everything is to help others make the transition into location-independent lifestyles.