Adventure, Ask Me Anything, Business, The Great Adventure, Travel

How Do You Make Money and Travel Without a Visa?

Photo by Jonathan Blocker

Calluna asks:

It seems to me that getting permission to live/work/travel in foreign countries for long periods (3 months or more) can be silly complicated. How are you navigating these legal issues in your travels?

Answer: by making sure they don’t apply to me.

I’ve never actually asked for a visa in any country, because I’ve intentionally never needed one. The same goes for work permits. Here’s how.

Visas

I’m fortunate in that Mexico actually allows foreigners to visit up to six months with no visa. That’s twice as long as most countries. I’m sure this is a win-win: it encourages Americans to come and stay for long trips, long Spanish courses, and long work assignments, spending money the whole time they’re here.

(Of course, there is a “tourist card” you have to get on entry, and you pay a fee for it on exit. But you don’t need to apply for an actual visa.)

With the six months to play with I’ve never needed a visa. To put it in perspective, the  entire bike ride from one end of Mexico to the other took only 90 days.

Looking ahead, the next countries on my route all have 90 day limits. But these are small Central American nations, and by my math I’ll make it through each one on time even if I walk. That’s including rest breaks in cities.

So I’ve never actually applied for a visa. If you wanted to live here long-term, of course, you might consider it. But even then it could be easier just to make a border run. Leaving the country and re-entering starts the six month period over again. I’ve heard that Mexican customs officials can get cranky if you do this too many times, but having been here five times in three years I’ve never had a problem.

Work Permits

The other issue is permission to work. To get a job in a country as a foreigner you need a permit, which helps that country make sure you’ll pay taxes. Getting these is very hard unless your employer helps you (such as a language school).

Luckily I don’t need one. I’m fully employed—in the United States. I’m a freelancer, which means I may be working on my laptop in Yucatán, but the work I do is for US-based clients, who pay me in US dollars deposited into a US bank account. I spend money in Mexico but, like most tourists, I don’t earn money here.

(And yes, I continue to pay my US taxes every year.)

High Leverage Travel

I don’t believe that one lifestyle is right for everyone, and a lot of people are happy with very different lives than mine—with or without travel. But I will say that there are an insane number of benefits to the kind of lifestyle I’ve chosen, that most people don’t realize. For example:

  • Lower cost of living. In Mexico, rent is laughably cheap and most other stuff costs only 60% what it would in the US. Living abroad saves me money.
  • Strong income. Since I work for US dollars, I have the same income as other Americans in my field. Travelers who work locally don’t get this.
  • Continuous income. I freelance, which means even though I may be off enjoying traveling, I still have money in every month. People who save up to travel have a limited budget.
  • No deadline. Because of the above, there is no time limit on my travels.
  • Less hassle. Since I go from country to country, and do not work locally, I don’t have to worry about visas and work permits. That’s rare. Even friends who work for language schools often can’t get the permits they need.

It’s not a perfect lifestyle. Like any freelancer, sometimes I’m up working till 3 am on a Saturday night. Other times I have to cancel amazing travel adventures because a rush project comes up. But I think it’s one of the best career paths you can choose, especially if you value freedom. So if you’re thinking you’d like to travel, or even just save money, I’d consider freelancing.

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Adventure, Business, New Orleans, Writing

Adjusting to a New Life

Image by Lucia Whittaker

I don’t usually talk about finances.

It seems too personal, and for me it changes so often it’s hard to know what to say. But travel and adventure bloggers need to be honest about this topic. A lot of blogs exist just to convince you how easy it will be to travel the world—if you buy their product.

By policy, I no longer run affiliate links on Rogue Priest. I have no product for you.

I’ve worked on a freelance basis for over a year. I last had a full time job in August 2011. I don’t regret leaving my job, but it hasn’t been all mojitos and lattes, either.

The way I make money is by writing ad copy, PR pieces and press releases. This is surprisingly fun work. I’m fortunate to be able to do it.

But it’s not consistent.

A Penny a Word

When I started I was paid $4 per article. These were short articles, but still—you have to write a lot to make a living wage at that rate. I ate into my savings, chalked it up to “getting started” and soldiered on.

As my reputation grew, so did my pay. It’s not uncommon for me to earn $50-70 an hour. That sounds fantastic, but how many hours a week do I work? If clients slow down, maybe four. Maybe none.

While bicycling I set aside 2 – 3 days per week for writing. Often, people were amazed and impressed that I worked on the road. I guess they figured only wealthy people can travel like that. When they discovered I worked for a living, it changed their attitude toward me—sometimes substantially.

(I continue to find this unsettling, by the way. What if I was rich? I wouldn’t be worth talking to?)

During those 2 – 3 days I had to do client work, blog posts, columns, and work on my books and personal projects. My total income declined, but it wasn’t a problem: expenses were so low while living on a bicycle that I actually came out ahead.

Then came New Orleans.

I knew I’d need to work more to cover the cost of rent, groceries, utilities, and all the other realities of having a fixed home again. But while expenses rose sharply, my income hasn’t. It takes time to build up a strong client base, and some reliable clients are in a slow spell of their own. Is this is the life of a freelancer?

I think many travel bloggers find themselves in this circumstance. Most don’t talk about it, because it’s bad for business. They’re supposed to look successful and carefree. But whether they do freelance work of their own or promote product after product, it’s a tenuous and unstable line of income.

In this case, it’s landed me somewhere scary.

Clouds of Worry

November is one-half over. I have exactly one-half of what I need for monthly bills December 1. That is too close to the edge.

So this is what it means to arrive in a bohemian lifestyle. Adventure isn’t just travel. If adventure means facing fear—maybe this is it.

But an adventurer’s art is to overcome challenges, not just suffer them. One of my objectives for my time in New Orleans has to be smoothing out the business side of what I do: finding some combination of freelance and creative projects that will be reliable anywhere I go.

For the present I’m reaching out to more clients, feeling out local venues to sell my artwork, and working like mad on my novella. Want to help? You can become a patron of my work, which comes with some pretty cool benefits.

I feel like I’ve joined a long and storied lineage of writers who suffered for their art. It’s not something I chose, but it’s not something I’m afraid of either—not entirely. Amid the clouds of worry there are sometimes flashes of certainty, a strange certainty that it will all come together exactly as it should.

Is that crazy?

Or, more accurate, I should ask: is it rational?

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Business, Spotlight

The New Rogue Priest by Zack Whitley

This is the new Rogue Priest business card by Zack Whitley. I’ve been wallpapering the American South with these things, and I love them.

If you’ve seen it, the old business card had a similar look—on the front. But I was way too pushy about putting my own ideas ahead of the designer’s gut feeling, and ended up with a look I didn’t like on the back. The new version fixes all that, and looks great.

Zack hand-drew the image on the front. It features a lone owl in a tree. Alone says rogue and owl says wisdom. Are priests wise? Well… bit by bit we eat the head of the rat.

And yes, my business card says Adventurer. I can’t stop smiling about that.

Heaven May Be a Dream

The best part about the card is the line Heaven may be a dream. I came to Zack bubbling with ideas for quotes to add to the design, and he patiently advised me.

“Quotes can easily look hokey on a business card,” he said. “Or they can really add something. It makes sense to include one, since you’re a writer, but to be effective it has to leave them wanting more.”

Damn, boy.

I took that to heart, spoke to a lot of friends and combed back through a few of my favorite lines from Rogue Priest. “Heaven may be a dream” is the logical conclusion of my “love it the first time” ethos. It captures everything about the Heroic faith, and my attitude. I put it on the card.

The result?

It gets attention. Just about everyone who turns over the card reads that quote, often musing out loud, then looks at me and says, “What does that mean?”

Then I get to explain.

Slam dunk. 

If you need a new business card that will turn heads, or any kind of design work done, I can’t say enough good things about Zack Whitley. He isn’t just a good designer, he knows how to explain the impact of your choices to you. You can reach him at whitley.zack@gmail.com.

What do you guys think of the look?

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Business, Favorites, Writing

New Policy: No More Affiliate Links

Rogue Priest is the first real blog I ever started. Considering that it’s gone pretty well. Swimmingly in fact, and I owe that to all you awesome readers, adventurers, and encouragers who keep coming back for more.

But it hasn’t been without its learning curve.

Like any smart blogger, I read about how to do a blog “right”—how to be profesh and really engage your audience. It was helpful. I know how to lay out an article with pictures, headlines and boldface to really grab your attention.

See What I Did There?

But there’s a downside to that same “profesh” blogging approach, and that’s the emphasis on marketing.

I’ve used this space to promote paid products including books, courses and membership sites. There are three things to note about these products:

  • I usually got a kickback
  • I usually said up front that I was getting a kickback
  • All the products are things I personally endorse, and swear by in my own work

There’s nothing wrong with this kind of affiliate marketing. An author likes a product, the author has a chance to make some money endorsing the product, and the author is transparent about the whole thing: okay. That’s the way capitalism should work; that’s capitalism at its moral best.

But an author can do more than “just” be ethical.

An author can also inspire, build, set things in motion—or fail.

My goal is build the greatest living philosophy I can discover. A philosophy of adventure, transformation and selfless action. If I treat that as a brand, as designer-label ad space, I’m putting my career ahead of the philosophy.

By using affiliate marketing links I introduced a conflict of interest with my core goal. As soon as I’m earning a commission there has to be a question of motives—is this link really good for my readers, or do I just want a pay check? That kind of doubt doesn’t build fellowship.

So here is my new policy.

I will not place affiliate links in any Rogue Priest posts.

Not for anyone—no matter how good the product is, or how relevant it may be to my readers.

I feel no remorse about my past affiliate links: those products are awesome. If you joined Location Rebel, I’m glad you took such a big step for yourself and I hope you’re making money with it like I am. If you bought one of the ebooks, I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I did. I stand by all the products I’ve promoted, but I don’t want marketing to distract from my purpose.

Corollaries:

  • I’m still a professional author and still intend to sell my own work.
  • I may still promote products I think you’ll like. But I will turn down the chance to make money doing so.
  • I understand why other bloggers choose to use affiliate marketing, and wish them only the best.

This policy introduces a new level of risk for me. Five weeks from starting the Great Adventure, I scramble to afford quality gear and make final preparations. Relinquishing an income stream is not strictly in my best interest.

So what’s my plan?

My plan is to make money not as a salesman, but as the philosopher you want to support. I have a new book about the Heroic Life on its way, and this one will be available for Kindle. I’m still working on a premium subscription for dispatches from the road, and continue to accept donations toward the Great Adventure.

In other words, I want to provide you the very best and most intimate access to the Adventure that I can offer, in the belief that it’s something worthy of your support.

Will that work? The Heroic Life says live for your ideals. Here’s me trying it.

If you enjoy reading Rogue Priest, believe in my journey, or just love seeing a spirited adventurer on the road, please consider making a donation to the cause. Your gift will help fund professional-quality equipment for the Great Adventure. It’ll keep me safe and help every step of the way.

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Business, Spotlight

Magic Scrolls at Altmagic

I don’t talk about this much here, but I practice ritual magic.

Even though I don’t believe in anything supernatural, I’ve observed profound effects from traditional magical ceremonies. As an art form magic captivates me; as a spiritual practice, it’s hard to surpass.

For a long time I struggled with how to practice and share my magic in a way that’s authentic. Too often when you talk about magic you draw out the weirdos. Other times it brings you under attack from those who think you must be a fraud, or crazy.

Last year I began to combine my magical practice with my artwork. I realized that I can make large, high quality works of art and enchant them. Each piece is nice to look at on its own, and the traditional spells I design them around (and cast on them) add a powerful new dimension to them.

So now I hand craft magical scrolls that can be hung as fine artwork.

For the last three months I’ve blogged about the process at my new business, altmagic.com, with the promise of scrolls to come. At long last the scrolls are complete and ready to ship.

Want to add magic to your life? Check it out: Magic Scrolls Now Available

Some other altmagic posts that are fun to read are:

Three Magic Spells That Are Proven to Work

Looking for Potions at the Witches’ Market

Finding a Carpenter in Mexico City

I don’t plan on promoting altmagic here often. I’ve worked hard to build an audience that includes a range of theists, atheists, humanists, skeptics, believers and faithful. In keeping with that I like to keep my occult peanut butter out of our philosophy chocolate. But if you know people who enjoy art, artwork, or the occult please tell them about altmagic. The more you share the link, the more the word gets out.

I also tweet the best links I find about art +/- magic throughout the day via @altmagic.

In Rogue Priest news, I’ve been going after atheists a bit lately and it’s time to turn the tables. Stay tuned for an upcoming post aimed at bad spiritual ideas instead. It’ll go live as soon as my science inspector finishes the fact checking.

(And how cool is it to have a science inspector??)

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Business, Writing

Life into Digital Clay

Some people don’t like the digital.

Digital is my medium. More than that, it’s my home. In my traveling lifestyle digital spaces are the only constant I share with family, friends and readers.

Digital space is an extension of geographical space. It is no longer just a tool. It’s a meeting place, a dwelling place, a location as real as any coffee shop, art museum or suburban house. Like any of those places, the value of what happens there depends mostly on the company you keep.

Draft of a scroll for altmagic.

Mixing Media

There are people who feel they’re missing something by meeting online, by reading or creating or consuming online. People felt that way about the written word once, too.

There are artists who miss the sense of manual creation.

I feel the opposite. Is it fair to say that creating something digitally is just as satisfying as creating something by hand? No. That doesn’t go far enough. It’s far more satisfying to create something digital.

For the past two years I’ve moved toward almost exclusively digital work. My first book was digital-only, my blog is digital, even my freelance work is digital. But now I’m moving backwards. I decided to start a business that is very much physical.

Two weeks ago I opened the doors on a new website, altmagic. The purpose of the site is to sell beautiful handmade scrolls enchanted with real magic. It’s fun. I’m the kind of artist who works in fits of inspiration: a few long nights are better than a lot of measured mornings.

You can check out these magic scrolls yourself.

Is it satisfying to work in a physical medium again? Yes and no. I enjoy the process of making the scrolls. I love the challenge of choosing the right figures, the thrill of sketching the designs and planning the rituals. I get artless with it.

But it’s also deeply frustrating. There is no copy and paste. No ctrl+z. You can idealize that in any sepia-tinted way, but it translates to: unnecessary work. Wasted effort. Spoiled materials.

But then I made the altmagic website. It’s the second blog I’ve started, and the only one where I knew what I was doing.

As I went live I could directly see the impact my creation has. It shows in numbers on a graph; more importantly it shows in conversations. People contact me. They teach, praise or slander me. They react.

Unlike any other medium, their living reactions are included in the work itself. The twitter feed and the comments embed human moments in the digital work. At its most basic that means that any emotion I provoke can be part of the work I create. But that’s nothing. My audience can actually provoke my creation itself, changing its shape.

Birthing a website means seeing those vital signs start. It’s breathing life into digital clay.

Thoughts?

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Adventure Prep, Business, Travel

Goals for Mexico City

Just as I did when I went to Thailand, I have some goals here in Mexico. I’ll be here for about 10 weeks total, or 2.5 months. One week is already down, and time’s not slowing.

So what do I need to get done here? Well…

Goals for Mexico City, 2012

  • Learn Spanish. This is the most important. I want to be functionally fluent when I sail away March 10. Immersion is a key part of this strategy, which means I need to stop speaking in English with my generous host and his friends. This week I’ll ask for an hour a day of English embargos. Eventually it will be whole days. Aside from immersion, I’m working on online Spanish lessons and arranging a tutor.
  • Bolster & expand my SEO income. Through Location Rebel I learned to write SEO articles and make good money doing it. I’ve made enough since September to get by, but I would like a higher income so I can develop a nest egg & buy gear for my Adventure. I plan on writing a longer post about finances & income soon, but for now I’ll keep it simple: the plan is to build up a stronger portfolio of clients. Prospecting is in my future.
  • Start my own business. A blog is not a business. Separate from Rogue Priest I will be launching my own lifestyle business over January and February. The purpose of my business is to share one of the most influential and life-changing forces in my own life: magic. I have unique views on the practice of traditional magic and I want to share and explore those views with like-minded people, while hand-making scrolls to embody this ancient art.

There are many other things I want to accomplish while I’m here. I want to keep practicing my jujutsu so my Sensei can be proud. I want to lose 15 pounds. I want to see my graphic novel move forward. I want to write more fiction. I want to redecorate Rogue Priest.

I could go on all day.

I’m a dreamer with endless ideas. Like many dreamers, I sometimes need to shut my idea-hole and get to work. Accomplishing one or two big things has lasting value; imagining fifty is just cheap therapy.

So, I’ve chosen these three things to focus on for January, February and half of March. If I can accomplish this much I’ll feel good about the time I spent here. I’ll know that I’m working hard even with no boss to push me, and that I’m being responsible toward making a living and contributing something to the world. And that’s a big deal.

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