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.


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.

Adventure, New Orleans, Personal Development, The Great Adventure

The day I had nothing left

New Orleans began in crisis.

I had spent everything. I had rice, beans and two empty rooms in the poshest hood.

Here’s how it happened:

October. I was making great money. On the road I had almost no living expenses but I still worked 3 days a week. I arrived in NOLA Oct. 17.

November. After an exhaustive two week apartment search I knew I had to either pay big or live in squalor. I signed a $1,000 a month lease on Rogue Chateau. I tried to scale up my client work but the opposite happened. I had less work coming in every week.

December. Disaster. Savings spent, no paying work—plus morning terror. I was going to miss my rent. I was done.

That was the last time I blogged about money issues—which is a little unfair to all of you. What happened in December and how am I doing now?

When I realized I was failing I felt paralyzed. But I made myself take steps anyway to try to pull out of the crash. Some steps worked and some didn’t, but I’m glad I acted.

This is what I did:

1. Exit plan

This was the most important thing. If you get committed to a plan it’s easy to think of it as all or nothing. It would be hard to be more committed than I was to wintering in New Orleans and practicing Vodou. But I was running out of money and had no local safety net. I might have to leave.

I have fond memories of two nearby hosts from my journey South: Jimmy in Natchez and Carla & Ryan in Vicksburg. I contacted each of them. I asked if I would be able to rent a room from them for a fair rent (much lower there than NOLA) while I saved up money. They were all agreeable.

This one step made everything else easier, because I knew I had a backup plan.

2. Keep pitching

Even though I was getting no response or negatives from potential clients, I still made time to pitch more every day (more than 160 total). It got depressing but prospecting has a low success rate and you have to ask a lot to get that one crucial yes. As it happened none of these pitches resulted in the immediate income I needed, but some later became regular clients and made the subsequent months much easier.

3. Current clients

I also reached out to my existing clients and offered to do extra work at a bulk rate, or pitched them on different projects. This got me a few smattering of assignments right away and led to more work down the line.

4. Be honest

I didn’t ask anyone to float me. I didn’t even ask my parents. But I was very honest about the difficulty I was facing. This led to several friends and readers reaching out to me with offers of paying work. At least two of those projects became reality and were a win-win for everyone involved.

5. New lines of work

One friend reminded me that I have all the skills necessary to build basic WordPress websites. Many people wouldn’t want to try a new venture when they are in the middle of facing bankruptcy but what did I have to lose? It was unnerving to dive into a new line of work but I did it anyway. This led indirectly to a major freelance gig right away and several web design projects since then.

6. Never said no

If someone asked if I do kind of work I immediately said “yes.” It didn’t matter if I had never done it before—if it’s even remotely within my skill set I said yes. Freelancers need to be flexible. I had plenty of free time and no other work coming in; worst case scenario I would have to spend long hours teaching myself new tricks in order to complete a project.

7. Used my free time

With no work I used my free time to produce creative things. The biggest complaint my friends hear from me is “I never have enough time for all my projects.” On the gallows it’s strangely relaxing and easy to work creatively. I produced short stories, book outlines and lots of visual artwork in this time.

8. Collaboration

I reached out to people I respect and admire. I pitched two musicians on a collaborative project (I have never worked on anything musical before) and one accepted. That’s in the works right now (so you’ll see it in, like, 8 years). I also reached out to two authors and pitched collaborating on books. Both said no but I’ll probably write one anyway. I worked on trying to create a portal for Afro-Caribbean religions on a major religion website (executive editor not interested, wth?). I pitched a TV show to a producer and I also pitched a vlog series to a Vodou priest. Some of these will never see the light of day but it brought an infusion of creativity and ideas from new sources whom I would never have time to scheme with if I was working.

9. System D

I sat on the street with artwork and sold it to passersby. I squatted on the sidewalk and painted little panels where people could see me at work. I walked into shops and asked if they wanted to sell my work. I sold things on Craigslist. I hustled.

10. Investors 

I said above that it’s inappropriate to ask your friends for charity. That’s true but it’s wholly appropriate to ask them to invest in something that will pay off. (There are rules. Only ask friends who actually have spare income; give them a professional pitch; make sure they will benefit from it; treat it like a real business. This is not your own money you’re dicking around with.) I had a whole website I pitched one friend on. Again most people said no. But it did lead to getting a grant to write about Celtic polytheism, and eventually I will create up to three books on that topic thanks to that money.

11. Generosity

I had almost nothing but I still bought cups of coffee at the coffee house in order to use their wi-fi. That’s more than a lot of people can afford. So I started tucking $1 bills into my back pocket to give away to beggars and gutter punks. When you need to pay a grand in rent losing a few $1 bills is not make or break. Likewise I would drop a dollar into the hat for musicians and artists on the street and always tip my barista. That is not charity, it’s just good manners. (If you don’t tip your barista you need to think about some things.) I added value to my own life by contributing to others.

12. Magic

I am a magician so it would be stupid not to enchant for money. I created a spell card and tucked it into my notebook that I always have with me. That same week things started to turn around. That could just be coincidence. I want to be clear that with 17 years of magic experience I have no idea whether magic really works or not, and any magician who says they do is lying (to themselves or you). I think it’s good to add magic to your strategy but don’t bleed your last drop for it. That’s why we’re doing Magic to the People.

13. Roommate

Not everyone has something they can sell but in my case I had half a cottage. I meant to live there alone and use one room to host travelers. Wealthy Rogue in another universe can do that. I also worried about what kind of person I would get as a roommate and whether it would be enough extra income. But these are all defeatist fears. “Roommate wanted” would not fix things on its own but as part of the strategy it saved my life. And I ended up with the very best roommate a guy could ever ask for.

Things I would have missed if I fled New Orleans.

Things I would have missed if I fled New Orleans.

14. Friends

The roommate also widened my network of friends. Previously my local friends were all from the Vodou community or a few artists I had met. My roommate opened me up to a whole other circle of friends on many walks in life. “Networking” is a fancy corporate word for being friendly and helping the people around you. I networked my ass off and now I have some of the best friends in the universe. They all contributed to my sanity, my happiness and my life.

15. Adventure

The keystone of my recovery was the attitude and lessons I got from the road. I have faced giants and ogres, the street I do not fear. I have slept alone in the rain, I have collapsed in the sun, I have picked myself up because no one was there to grab.

Life is good today. I drink good coffee and love good women. Another day life will sting and burn. I drink the hemlock right with the ambrosia. This is my world and I love her, I hold her close, who else is there to love?

My actions weren’t perfect. When you are anxious the mind races and you go in a million different directions. 15 directions in my case. For better advice you might like a piece by James Altucher called 10 Things You Need To Do If You Were Fired Yesterday.

Tomorrow I will tell the exact same story as today except different.

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?