So this here is a new section of the blog, where you can actually read about someone other than me: Huzzah! A nice break from the navel-gazing, let’s hope.
Anyway, I thought it might give us all a bit of inspiration to take a look at some of the great Escape Artists of legend and lore—the folks who’ve really shown how to blaze a path out of the office and toward creative pursuits. As often as possible, I’ll add a new profile of someone (real or imagined) who has done that with particular grace or gumption. And few possess as much of either of those qualities as one Miss Laurie Weed, freelance writer and vagabond.
When Laurie Weed leapt from the corporate ladder, she burned the rungs, running away to form a nomadic tribe of one. She first went to Southeast Asia as a tourist, returning one year later as a traveler—and a writer. Now she travels four to six months a year, feeding her passion for the road by copywriting and pimping out her inner grammar lady. When not getting lost in Laos, hitchhiking in Honduras, or bribing her way into Bali, she spins exotic tales from the kitchen table in El Cerrito, California.
Explain, if you will, how you came to lead the bizarre and wonderful lifestyle that you do.
It wasn’t exactly a linear path…
I walked away from a stable career in healthcare because, ironically, my health was suffering. From there, I sort of fell into part-time management consulting and a little light went on: freelancing 20 hours a week netted me more cash than working 60 hours a week on a manager’s salary. I returned to full-time employment briefly when the economy took a downturn, but this time in non-profit where my responsibility and stress levels were much lower. When the opportunity arose to travel for a year, the choice was obvious—although at the time I’d never been out of the country for more than a couple of weeks’ vacation.
Traveling changed everything, as it will, and even though I returned to the Bay Area penniless, I was reluctant to enslave myself again to someone else’s profit-machine. After a month of pounding the fiber optics and freeloading in a friend’s spare bedroom, I landed a decent freelance gig writing a business manual. I’ve always had a knack for words and it was exactly the sort of project I’d done for various employers in the past. Since I worked from “home,” I didn’t need a car, business clothes, or any of the usual trappings, and I began to recall the joys (as well as the tax advantages) of self-employment.
One gig lead to another, and when a client asked me to re-up for a 6-month editing contract, I agreed—if I could do half the work remotely from Mexico. Thus began a new pattern: 6 to 8 months in the Bay Area, followed by 4-to-6 more in the cheap, warm countries of my choice. And that’s how life has unfolded ever since.
In case I’m making this sound too easy, it is always scary to leave the familiar and launch into the unknown, and equally frightening to return to the “real” world empty handed, but soul-full. I dread the chore of rebuilding my client list every spring, but each year I get a little braver and a little bit more competent at swinging through the yin and yang of my nontraditional lifestyle.
Which came first—your desire to travel or your writing habit?
I think both desires were latent for years…when I found myself bouncing around the Third World with no job, no social network, and no plans, I started blogging as a way to keep in touch with the people I missed—and to process the massive influx of new information and experiences. By the time I returned to the Bay Area a year later, I was writing every day and my outlook on work—and life—had changed dramatically. The two passions have been intertwined ever since.
What kinds of jobs have you worked to support your vagabond lifestyle?
I’m afraid this answer isn’t tres Boheme—no pole-dancing, zoo keeping, or even waitressing on my resume. I’ve been lucky (and really flexible) in what I do for paid work, and for the most part, my freelance work as a business writer and editor provides a modest funding platform for traveling and travel writing.
Before anyone starts tossing tomatoes at me for not suffering too much in the work realm, let me explain that my “lifestyle” is mainly supported by the other choices I make—creative living arrangements, conscious consumption, that kind of thing. I don’t make a lot of money and probably never will, but I like my work, and I LOVE having control over my time. I have done admin and “go-fer” work in exchange for rent; I’ve bartered cat-sitting for legal services—if I can avoid paying cash for something, I will. If I’ve had a sluggish year of earnings, it doesn’t mean I can’t travel…it means I’ll be hitting the road dirt-cheap…(India, anyone?) I’m also incredibly lucky to have a network of people who “get” me. Wherever I go, moral support is never farther away than the nearest Internet café.
What kinds of things—actual or imagined—might have threatened this footloose existence? How have you overcome those obstacles?
I’m my own worst enemy. Between a large collection of neuroses and a spectacular, almost superhuman physical clumsiness, keeping out of my own way requires constant vigilance. Occasionally, someone will offer me a full-time job and I’ll actually consider it—for about a day. I don’t think I can be reprogrammed at this point. I would probably die of boredom if I had to do the same thing in the same place, every day, with no endpoint in sight. It’s my idea of Hell.
What’s some of the better advice you’ve received as you’ve come to this place in your life? Any advice of your own to share with those who are transitioning out of the office and into a less predictable career/lifestyle?
I wish I could offer something earth-shattering, but the best advice I’ve received, which I’m happy to pass on, has also been the simplest: Follow your goals and passions, but be open to change and flexible in how you get there. Take risks; you’re unlikely to end up in your own worst-case scenario (and even if you do, it’ll make a great story). Face your fears; reality is hardly ever as scary as what’s in your mind. And don’t allow anyone else to define what (or who) you are. I would also add to this: develop the ability to think on your feet and supplement that with as much discipline as you can muster. If you have no discipline, try charm.
And finally … where can we read your stories!?
I have a story in The Best of Women’s Travel Writing 2007 published by Travelers’ Tales and several short pieces in a new guidebook series by ThingsAsian Press, due out in 2008. Other than that, you’ll mostly find my musings on my own travel dispatch, Songlines from the Wrong Side of the Road and on my website.