How a freelance journalist takes vacation without losing business

  • Lola Méndez is a freelance travel journalist.
  • Two years ago, she took her first real vacation in years — and was miserable.
  • She was operating in a scarcity mindset, fixated on all of the opportunities she might be missing.
  • Here’s how she’s learned to take restful vacations, and shifted towards an abundance mentality.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Salaried workers have it good in many ways. 

Their benefits often include partially-funded healthcare coverage, 401K matching programs, paid sick days, and even paid time off for bank holidays and vacation. Many people even negotiate their vacation days before accepting an offer for a new role. 

Freelancers get none of these perks. Sure, we get to set our own rates and choose clients that align with our passions and expertise. But when it comes to getting away from it all and going off the grid for a few days, freelancers often struggle to mitigate stress. After all, a day away from work is a day bringing in zero earnings for freelancers who don’t have passive income.

I’m all too familiar with the struggle of vacationing as a freelancer — especially as an independent travel journalist. It’s nearly impossible for me to switch out of work mode when vacationing. I’m constantly searching for story angles, scribbling notes, chatting with locals, and snapping photos. Even when I’m not traveling on assignment, I act as if I am.

Two years ago I booked a week-long getaway on a Cambodian island with very little internet access. It was my first real vacation in years. I had zero obligation to write about the place where I was going. I expected to spend all day sunbathing at the beach, reading in a hammock swaying underneath palm trees, and enjoying all the cocktails my heart desired. Leading up to my trip I got all my assignments turned in on time and alerted my editors that I’d be offline.

I was miserable in paradise. 

After a few hours of truly relaxing, I’d want to work. I love my job and the travel-centric lifestyle I’ve created for myself. Forcing myself to take a vacation didn’t serve me. I was desperate to check my emails. I couldn’t wait to return to the mainland and get back online. I was operating on the scarcity mindset and was afraid of all the opportunities I was missing by being offline.

I’ve since learned how to embrace a short holiday. Spending three to five days offline is my sweet spot. I can truly enjoy my experience without worrying too much about work. Even though I’m typically overseas, I tend to schedule my vacations around US bank holidays, since that’s when most of my clients will also be offline. I know it’s unlikely I’ll have unexpected edits or assignments due over a long holiday weekend.

To be able to enjoy your vacation, notify your clients as soon as possible about the dates you’re taking off work and assure them you’ll meet all deadlines before you jet off. 

As a journalist, I usually have a handle full of articles in various stages of editing. I email any and all editors who may email me with edits while I’m gone to let them know I’ll be OOO.

If you get incoming work close to your scheduled vacation, be realistic with yourself about whether you can fulfill the duties before your holiday. I try not to accept new deadlines two weeks before my departure. Ask your clients if they have any wiggle room with the deadline and try to schedule it for a week after you return from vacation. 

Don’t take on too much extra work to make up for the “lost time,” or you’ll be so burnt out on your vacation that you won’t be able to enjoy your time off. 

If your clients give you grief about taking off, it might be time to consider if you want to end your professional relationship with them. Freedom is one of the key reasons many take a freelance career path. Do you want to work with someone who makes you feel guilty about cultivating a healthy work-life balance?

I don’t work for an intelligence agency. My work will not save the world from imploding. It can wait until I’m back. I try to truly log off during my vacations and not check my email. If I’m going away for a long weekend from Thursday to Monday I usually don’t take my laptop with me. 

I always put up a vacation responder on my email. 

In the subject, I include what day I’ll be back online. My biggest tip is to write that you’ll be online a day after you’re actually back in the office. That way you have a day to clean up your inbox (which will inevitably be filled with emails).

In my out of office message, I state if I’ll have internet access and when folks can expect a response back from me. If I’ll have access to email, I’ll note that I’m checking emails once a day and that if the request is truly urgent to email me back with URGENT in the subject line so I know which emails need a quick response before I’m back on the clock.

If, like me, you have daily clients, try not to get too caught up in thinking about the money you’re “missing out on” by taking a few days off. I know this is difficult. One of my gigs is as a trending news writer. Most days I earn between $120-$290. A week away from this work means I could lose up to $1,450. 

But, when I come back from my holiday, I usually have crystalized a few ideas for features that could earn me double that amount. You’ll be able to make up that lost income when you return from your holiday refreshed, and ready to jump back into work with a renewed energy. 

Your clients aren’t going to forget you because you took a vacation. 

They’ll benefit from the improvement in your work after you’ve rested. Your business will continue to thrive, and may even blossom after you unwind on vacation.

Adopting the abundance mentality has been tremendous in helping me feel confident that spending a few days away from my inbox won’t be detrimental to my career. Yes, freelancers have zero job security, but I remain positive that money is always coming my way. There will always be more opportunities. Freelancing ebbs and flows — there are great months and awful months whether or not you’re glued to your computer screen or spending a few days getting lost in the woods.

This Business Insider article was originally published on October 24, 2020.

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