Life as a Digital Nomad: How to Find Sponsors to Fund Your Travels

Kay Bolden

After the pandemic, working remotely while traveling the world is more popular than ever.

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Image by mediamodifier on Pixabay

In August 0f 2019, I put my regular life in storage in San Diego and committed to being functionally homeless for the next 12 months while I traveled the world on my "gap year at 60". While the pandemic interrupted my plans five months in, I still managed to maintain my four income streams (freelance editing, ghostwriting, Kindle eBooks, and grant writing) on the road. Now that health restrictions are easing--and I'm fully vaccinated--far-flung travel is back on my agenda.

To keep all these balls in the air, work no more than 30 hours a week, and still travel in relative comfort, I have to find creative ways to allot my time. After all, I want to do more than take city bus tours and bang on my laptop at every foreign Starbucks — I can do that right here. No, I want to learn new languages, jump off cliffs, and eat foods I can’t pronounce — and that’s just for starters.

My solution? I look for ways to get cool experiences while “working” at the same time. Often, that means pitching deals for non-monetary compensation, and finding sponsors to fund my travels.

If you’re dreaming of the post-Covid digital nomad life, think about adding these tools to your entrepreneurial toolbox.

Pitch More Than Articles — Pitch Speeches/Talks, Workshops, Presentations, Videos, Podcasts, and Interviews

Of course, writers and photojournalists should always be pitching stories to print and online publications in your niche. But don’t stop there. Think about other markets that could profit from your travels and that might be willing to cover some expenses today in exchange for content later.

Costa Rica, for example, was on my gap year bucket list, and it’s not the cheapest place to hang out for weeks or months. But stayed in Costa Rica for several weeks — because I pitched a community college for a series of talks on the growth of local media in Latin America. The college paid my airfare and 30% of my lodging expenses (always the biggest money drain) in return for:

  • Two three-hour workshops (for journalism students)
  • One 60-minute presentation (for faculty)

My actual work outlay? Less than 20 hours: four hours on research and prep, four hours interviewing local print and online editors, four hours to organize notes, write handouts for the workshops, and write the speech, and then the actual delivery of the workshops.

Perks:

  • I met some fascinating young writers and editors, some of whom may be changing the face of international media someday.
  • Thanks to my new writer friends, I was introduced to a local naturalist who spends his days tracking jaguars in the cloud forest. I took a ton of notes and photos, and while I never saw a big cat myself, I’ve now got a great story idea for an environmental or nature market.
  • I developed a pitch for parenting markets about kids and ziplining after striking up a conversation with a family who’d brought their little ones to the canopy of the rainforest.
  • After a capuchin monkey landed on my breakfast table, swiped my mango, and knocked over my coffee, my hotel gifted me a fresh red snapper dinner and a bottle of wine.
  • I sampled a lot of sangria. (My Spanish is always better after sangria. There may be an article in there somewhere.)

If you’re looking to pitch travel magazines specifically, I like Dream of Travel Writing’s magazine database — but there are tons of others that keep up with travel writing news, including The Write Life.

Even if you only have two or three travel-related pieces in your portfolio, get into the habit of introducing yourself to managers and guides as a traveling writer. Many will want to make sure you get some unadvertised perks and leave with a favorable impression.

Look for Sponsored Retreats, Writing Residencies and Other Non-Monetary Means of Support

I wanted to spend several weeks in Scotland, another not-cheap place to live, so I searched for writing residencies and sponsored (or scholarship) writing retreats. I ended up in Edinburgh for eight weeks with about 50% of my expenses covered as part of a literature and creative writing residency.

Perks:

  • I lived in a gorgeous old Victorian house with four other women writers, all working on memoirs or novels.
  • I got to work one-on-one with a published Scottish novelist, which led to one of my stories being accepted by the London Reader.
  • I learned to make a few Scottish dishes and sold two food stories to local U.K. publications.
  • I spent my weekends wandering the breathtaking Scottish Highlands.
  • And … whisky tastings, anyone?

Check out the Poets & Writers Conferences and Residencies Database or the Alliance of Artists Communities to search for residencies in the state or country you want to visit.

Barter With Your Strongest Skills

Public speaking comes easily to me. Give me a mic and 1,000 listeners and I’m ready to roll. I also have years of experience in nonprofit management, urban farming, community development, and youth leadership programs. So when I’m pitching for non-monetary compensation, I barter with my strongest skills. I’ve successfully set up speaking engagements in exchange for plane tickets, Airbnb stays, attractions, and tours with:

  • A statewide homeschool association
  • A local civic group
  • A large church
  • A national urban agriculture organization

On the other hand, I find filming and film editing to be a total brain drain. I recently turned down a sponsorship that would’ve covered my expenses for a trip to Guadalajara because they wanted a video produced with the speaking engagement.

If social media or photography is your jam, follow #TravelBloggers on Twitter and watch for offers in your desired locations that will provide free lodging (or other perks) in exchange for taking professional photos or sprucing up their social channels.

Let Go of the Idea That You Have to Be an Expert on the Topic to Write or Speak About It

I recently pitched a university — one with a strong commitment to environmental issues and organic food production — a talk or presentation about small farms and artisanal trends in Colombian coffee production. Why? I love coffee, I love to talk, and I want to go to Colombia. It won’t be hard to find local growers who are experimenting with new techniques or have a cool project underway. Everyone loves to tell you their story! And I don’t need to be a coffee roast master or a member of the World Trade Organization to write it up.

I just need to share my authentic experience while being informative and entertaining. I’ll even bring back coffee bean samples!

Think about topics you enjoy and your favorite hobbies, whether you’re an “expert” or not. If you can conduct an interview, you can teach what you’ve learned.

Enjoy the Best Perk of All

The best perk, of course, is the freedom to organize your days around your natural writing rhythm and your own personal priorities. I might decide to go back to Costa Rica tomorrow — or stay here in New Orleans for two more months — and my work output will continue at about the same pace either way.

Thanks to pitching these deals, I’m not staring at my computer screen 10 hours a day, trying to drum up paying gigs; I have time to look around. I can enjoy the spectacular view. Learn to surf. Have a beer and make a friend.

And that’s why I took my writing business on the road, after all.

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Digital nomad, traveling the world on my #GapYear at 60. I write about adventure, food, and family. What are you waiting for? It's only too late if you don't start now.

Chicago, IL
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