Freelancer Diaries: When My Side Hustle Became My Only Hustle

To celebrate my first month as a full-time volunteer and freelancer, I'm pulling back the curtain to show what my days look like and how I manage to balance making money and volunteering. Click through to see your inside look, and figure out how you could go abroad to volunteer, work, or study, too!

I didn’t really do this in the “traditional” way. At all. When I quit my job to be a full-time freelancer and volunteer, I didn’t have a steady side income to slowly transition to. In fact, my secret is that I hadn’t made one dime as a freelancer. But, I did it anyway and lived to tell the tale. Was it the smartest decision? Hard to say. The point is that there is no pre-written “right” time to do things. If you want to make something happen, you will.

Have you ever dreamed of your hobby becoming your full time job? There are LOTS of articles on how to monetize your passion, and most of them say you should have an income before you leave your stable job. That's good advice, but this girl did NOT follow that. This is how I became a full time freelancer, traveler, and volunteer without any freelancing experience. Leaving your day hustle for your side hustle more about timing than money (I think!). Here's why!

So, before I dive into my daily life as a volunteer + freelancer in Southeast Asia, here’s how I got there in the first place…

My story

I read a lot about how to start your own business while working full time and recognizing when that right time is. Yet, I can tell you that I did not quit in that “right time”. I wasn’t making a steady income from my side hustle yet. In fact, I barely had a side hustle…

So, what made me feel ready even though I “wasn’t” on paper?

I had the courage

I’m a strong believer that a lot of life is about momentum. When you’re on a roll, keep that roll going! This mentality has certainly worked for me. Sure, sometimes it may result in me not sleeping enough or forgetting that I have a cell phone when I’m so engulfed in a project. But, there’s no greater power than the human soul on fire. So, when I felt my heart light up in excitement about quitting to travel, I knew I had to follow that. I could’ve waited until I had a side income, but what if I didn’t feel that excitement or bravery then? That momentum continued to carry me.

I focused on my youth

During this time, I couldn’t stop thinking about how young I was. I saw it as both a positive and negative, but it was always in the back of my head. On the one hand, being young meant this was the time and place to quit my job without a plan. The older I got, the more difficult that would be. It also meant that should I actually screw anything up by doing this, I’m going to have a lot longer to repair it than I would later in life. Knowing my youth put me in that position made the decision easier.

I declined my law school acceptances

This was very personal, but the truth is quitting my job to freelance full time was a result of declining my law school acceptances. I spent months contemplating whether or not I should go to law school once I was accepted. It was exhausting. It’s what I thought I was going to do for my entire life and then all of the sudden I had doubts! Once I truly accepted the possibility of not going, it didn’t take long for me to flee from the entire field. I declined my acceptances, quit my law firm job, and kept the momentum going by moving to Southeast Asia within a month.

(read more on why I declined law school here)

My typical day

Because I’m such a planner at heart, I’ve still made a “schedule”. Part of me wishes that I could be more spontaneous, but hey, we play the cards we’re dealt. I’ve also found that having a structured and consistent schedule makes this time more purposeful than feel like a long vacation (which it’s not).

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7:00– wake up. This is actually a bit late for me, as I’d like to wake up at 5:30/6:00 in New York. But, the sun wakes me up at 7:00 here and I’ve come to love it. It’s my morning reminder that I’m in beautiful Southeast Asia, and I’m quite lucky to be! Because I’m 12 hours ahead in time difference, I usually let my family and friends know I’m alive and well at this time.

7:15-8:00– make breakfast, run to the store next door and refill my water bottle and get some tea. Watch an episode of Full House because it’s on Netflix here and is the best.

8:00-8:30– read e-mails. Make my to-do list for the day, prioritize each task, and block out how long each will take me.

8:30-11:00– hop on my bike and help out with an English class at a local community center!

11:00- 12:00– pilates or yoga then shower.

12:00-3:30– Lunch at a cafe. Stay there all afternoon and kick my inner freelancer into gear.

5:00-12:00– (mon/wed) bartend.

4:00-6:00– (tue/thur) volunteer at a local Elementary school with English pronunciation.

6:00-11:00– (if not working) go out to dinner, talk to other volunteers and meet other awesome people!

My methods

This is how I “pulled this off”….

I was strategic with money

Because I didn’t have a steady flow of side income already coming in (or really, any side income coming in), I had to be strategic with the little savings I did have. First things first, I decided to travel somewhere that was very inexpensive. Considering I live in Manhattan, basically anywhere is less expensive. But, if I wanted to focus on making money in a way that interested me (rather than just a get rich quick mentality), I needed to go somewhere really inexpensive. I knew I could live in Southeast Asia comfortably for quite a while and knew it was an incredibly safe place. So, Southeast Asia it was!

Related: how to quit your job with no savings

I found a part time job abroad

This actually wasn’t the most useful strategy in all my ways to manage this transition. I did find a bartending job pretty quickly in Cambodia and it was fun. But it paid horribly and wasn’t a great immersion into the local culture as it was an extremely touristy bar, both contradictory to my intentions of traveling in the first place. However, I’m glad I did it and think it’s a great option for those wanting a bit of stable money when traveling, volunteer, and/or freelancing.

Related: getting a job abroad

I positioned myself as a freelancer

The truth is that I was not a freelancer before I quit my job to freelance. Irresponsible or not, the world will never know. It still feels sort of ridiculous to type on paper, but hey, I lived to tell the tale! Right when I arrived in Asia, I spent the bulk of the first two days on Upwork applying for freelance jobs that looked for skills I had developed professionally or in school. I, of course, didn’t mention that this was my first freelancer job. Though it was, it wasn’t the first time I had used the skills they were looking for. That’s what’s important. I was certainly lucky in getting a job so quickly (within the first couple of days). I knew that I had to kill that first job because that would also be my first rating. Once I had a five-star rating tacked onto my profile, it became easier to find jobs.

Related: your guide to beginning to freelance

I hustled while over there

This was definitely the biggest reason I successfully did this for four months. It’s not enough to have a calculated plan on how to afford things and work. It’ll probably get you by, but you’ll miss a lot of opportunity along the way. While I was over there, I talked to everyone that would listen. Even if they didn’t speak English, I basically managed to somehow hear about their life.

While I was in Bangkok, I had an extremely fortunate chain of events happen to me. I invited myself to a volunteer organization’s lunch, met a woman there that invited me to the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra with her, attended and met a Cellist of the Symphony, ended up teaching her children English 5x a week, and eventually moved into her second apartment (view below). It was incredible and the combination of a little self-marketing and a lot of luck. Like my father always says, the harder you work the luckier you get.

(Read that story and more on self-marketing here.)

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How can YOU side hustle full time?

So, I know my story is really unique and, honestly, probably wasn’t the most responsible process in the world. But, there are some takeaways I think any aspiring freelancer/traveler/volunteer can apply!

There is no “right” time, you make the “right” time

Don’t wait for something to happen to you that’ll make this easy to do. The truth is that it’s never going to be easy to go from stable to freelancer. So, do it when the momentum carries you. You will figure out how to solve the challenges it presents. Because you are awesome.

Hus.Tle.

Whatever you end up doing, go all out. Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself and talk to everyone. If you don’t, you’ll probably be fine, but could really miss out on some opportunities! You did NOT just take a huge risk for it to turn out simply fine.

Believe in yourself

You, against all odds, can and will prevail.

 

Want to learn more about freelancing and start yourself? Grab my guide below in my Side Hustler Resource Library.

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