Portable Careers — Can You Really Make a Location-Independent Living?

Recently my online expat blogging friend Russell Ward asked that question.

“I’ve been an office worker my entire adult working life. I’ve been in government for ten years, in a blue chip corporation prior to that. In both sectors, I’ve worked in traditional office jobs, devoid of flexibility and misaligned with my outlook on life.

“Both roles have been a means to an end, a way to pay the bills while I worked on the other aspects of my life abroad – family, lifestyle, our home.

“In the past twelve months, I’ve reached something of a tipping point. A craving to change this final piece of the puzzle. When a job leaves you feeling like a square peg being bashed into a round hole, it’s time to fix it.”

He admitted that his blogging doesn’t pay the bills, and as a married man with a newborn, that’s a high priority.

He asked whether location independent work — what I refer to as a portable career — is suitable for people other than travelers.

“Is it realistic in this day and age, with the financial and physical constraints that come with daily life, to work independently and forge a meaningful and sustainable career?”

Many readers added thoughtful comments, and it got me thinking.

Is it possible to create a portable career that will sustain you — maybe even enrich you — wherever you are?

I believe the answer is a resounding yes!

untether yourself

It took a little while for my own portable career to start paying all the bills. But I earned more every month, and I’ve been supporting our household with it now for four years.

I know people — quite a few people, in fact — who are doing extremely well for themselves as freelance writers and bloggers. I also know of another group of people who are earning good livelihoods as photographers, teachers, programmers, or life coaches.

If you, like Russell, are craving change in your work life but don’t know where to start, I have some recommendations. All of these links go to people, companies or organizations that I’m comfortable recommending and some of them pay me a small commission when I refer business to them.

If You Don’t Know Where to Start

If you’re looking for location-independent work, think about your skills and interests, and then think about whether they can be divorced from a physical location.

If you’re a chef, you need a kitchen. Not very location independent. But maybe you could parlay your culinary skills into publishing a cookbook, or creating how-to videos to teach others how to cook.

I’ve run across music teachers who have created video lessons, or even offered live classes via Skype.

Ditto with language teachers.

Writing, of course, is extremely portable. So’s photography.

If you’re an avid cyclist, as my husband is, can you teach or lead others? Bicycle touring, bike repair or training regimens could have a virtual component.

There needs to be a market for what you want to do. You can be the best in the world at breeding naked mole rats, but if nobody else wants to know anything about them you won’t have much business.

You need to find a spot where your training, interests and passions intersect and where you can create something that others will be willing to buy.

If you’re really floundering, look for a coaching or self-assessment program to help you figure it out.

It will help you understand your strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, skills and passions. All that is necessary before you try to zero in on how you want to spend your working life.

Do you have questions about portable careers? Please share them in the comments section.

Click here for Part 2, where I’ll recommend specific careers and provide links to get you started. . .

Photo by ckroberts61 on flickr


  1. Thanks for responding to my recent blog post with your own. Great stuff and I look forward to reading Part 2. It’s always encouraging to hear that you can work portably and potentially earn a decent income. With writing, I’ve identified that it might be better to specialise in an area of writing – corporate writing, for example. By specialising, I become something of a skilled expert and add value in a specific area. Well, at least that’s the plan! Thanks again.

    • FutureExpat says:

      Glad you liked it, Russell 🙂

      Part 2 is going to include lots of resource links, I hope some of them are helpful. And of course we can continue this discussion via email if you’d like.

  2. More and more people are developing their careers online, myself included. I have been working remotely for a number of years and have finally taken the plunge into moving my business all online. I used the skills I have learnt throughout my career and developed them by adding what I love to do into the mix. I work with a number of freelance remote workers and liaise with all my clients online. As part of my development as a remoter worker I also put together a website purely based on remote working where I also interview people who are location independent to find what works for them and to help people develop their own niche.

    I would say if you are interested in seriously being location independent, take a look at what you are good at, what you are interested in and combining them into something that you will not only love to do but will also be able to make a good income from.

    Good luck to all those taking the plunge.

  3. Hello,I am a girl from China.And currently I am spending most of my time trying to be a profitable freelance translator.Hopefully in the near future I can be on the road. I took a peak at location independent lifestyle a while ago in Bali and Koh Lanta. It wasn’t easy to be on the road when I wasn’t completely ready.

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