For those feeling stuck in the nine-to-five rat race, the life of a freelancer – where you can dictate your own hours, your own projects, and your own rates – might sound like absolute bliss.
But Europe-based graphic designer and gig economy worker Luke Giuffrida, originally from Melbourne, reached a point where even working as a freelancer from home had become too stifling.
“When I realised … I was sitting every day and all I need is internet connection and the computer, I thought, I should try this travelling and working thing.”
So one day in mid 2018, he upped and left with a one-way ticket to Iceland. He’s been travelling around Europe ever since, and earns an average of $7,000 a month from the gig economy while he travels – but it took years to get the lifestyle he has now.
‘I honestly didn’t think it was real’: A first taste of the gig economy
Over 2014 and 2015, a series of hip surgeries left Giuffrida unable to go to his internship at a music booking agency and his casino job. He took up logo-designing as a side hobby and was hooked from when he got his first online payment of $32.
“I really enjoyed seeing what everyone else was doing. You're seeing the art and what everyone was creating. Putting it together my own way then having people actually pay me for that… I thought, ‘wow, this is pretty crazy,’” he told Yahoo Finance.
“I honestly didn't think it was real. It was like this weird internet money.”
Back then, online marketplace Fiverr was true to its name – projects were being listed for very low prices.
“So for somebody like me who [only] had an interest in it ... I was only charging like $5 a pop, $10 a pop, so I didn't feel so bad that I wasn't delivering a degree in graphic design-level quality of work,” he said.
In this way, Fiverr offered Giuffrida the perfect platform to develop his abilities as a budding graphic designer.
“It was almost like a working and learning experience, really.”
For a year or two, Fiverr was just a side hobby – but over time, Giuffrida found his Fiverr gigs were contributing more and more to his paycheck.
Suddenly, the orders just wouldn’t stop and he was forced to hike up his prices.
“When I achieved [top rated seller status on Fiverr], everything in my account just kind of really exploded and everything kicked up a notch,” he said. “I thought, ‘this is a real opportunity here to be a full-time kind of job’.
“I was paying my rent from that money alone, which was kind of scary... I can't pay my lease if this thing doesn't work out.”
‘I was sitting there, looking for stuff to buy’: The tipping point
In April 2017, Giuffrida left his job at the booking agency and began creating logos full-time. But soon, even the work-from-home lifestyle began to weigh on him.
He found himself working 12-hour days in his bedroom, watching something on his computer before going back to bed and beginning the same cycle all over again the following day.
One day, he recalled searching online for things to buy just for something to do with the money he was earning before realising he wasn’t happy. He loved what he was doing – making logo designs – but job satisfaction was low.
At one point, Giuffrida made a stunning US$26,000 in three months, averaging AU$3,000 to $3,500 a week during this period. But it was precisely at that point that he wanted to tap out.
“That was probably around the exact same time I decided I wanted to travel overseas, because I had reached a point where I felt like, ‘I can keep grinding like this, work my ass off 12 hours a day and keep smashing out all this cash, or I can pull back a little bit and travel and work four to eight hours a day.’”
The two lifestyles were worlds apart, and his choice was clear.
“Grind away and keep making $10,000 to $15,000 a month? Or go out there and to see the world, and give myself a little bit of time to breathe and just do this whole digital nomad thing and experience the world?”
“What I realised was that I was sitting every day and all I needed was an internet connection and the computer.
“I thought, ‘I should try this travelling and working thing.’”
Same work, different part of the world
A year later, Giuffrida packed his bags and headed for Iceland, where he stayed a few weeks with a friend before heading to Barcelona.
When he got to Barcelona, Giuffrida immediately immersed himself in co-working spaces, which opened his eyes to the real possibility of working in the gig economy as a digital nomad.
“I stayed in a co-living house in Barcelona, where there was a bunch of people that worked remotely living there, and I kind of got a feel for the community and the other people that were doing a similar thing.
“And I thought, ‘This is really cool’. It was everything I hoped – the people that I would meet and what I hoped would happen actually existed. And that's when I was like, I want to keep doing this for as long as I can.”
Gig economy communities: Learning the ropes
While some people might be perfectly content ducking into a cafe or a hotel lobby and working on their own for hours on end across months or years, Giuffrida instinctively knew he needed the support of a community of people like him.
“Trust me, you’re probably going to find that you don’t have enough social time to yourself after the first week of being there. The culture is really cool,” he said.
“You’ll go there you’ll go to your room, there’ll be communal areas, there’ll usually be an office area which everyone works in during the day. You hang out with people, you might go get dinner together, you might go out on the weekends together.
“The idea is: people are there because they want to be around other people.”
He stayed in Barcelona for two months and brushed up on his Spanish along the way. But he didn’t stay for long: next in his sights was Croatia, followed by Portugal, Romania, Malta, and Bali, which Giuffrida says is a popular spot for people who work remotely.
All up, the logo designer has travelled 15 countries across Europe, with three more booked before he comes back to Australia for Christmas with his family.
Travelling, working, living
While Giuffrida’s career goes from strength to strength, his personal life hasn’t paused. In between travelling and working, Giuffrida met his girlfriend who also works flexibly, opening the door to a shared lifestyle that blurs the lines between work and play.
One night, Giuffrida sat down with his girlfriend and simply flicked around the globe on Google Maps before landing on Scopia, the capital of Bulgaria. After a quick search for flights and a nice Airbnb, plans were set.
“We’ll be like, ‘Cool. Let’s go for a month and check it out.’”
Giuffrida averages about $6,000 to $8,000 month, but had a monster June this year where he earnt $14,000 – and managed to travel around Munich, Salzburg and Sofia while he was at it.
In fact, since October 2018, Giuffrida has had so much work on his hands that he’s been able to bring on team members.
But doesn’t work get in the way of his travel? Not at all, he said.
“In my opinion, working and travelling enhances the travelling experience.
“I always try to pick a central location so working from home or from coworking spaces in each city allows me to experience each different city and its culture from what I feel is a more local experience. In this time I obviously take the time to do all the essential sight-seeing as well,” Giuffrida said.
Working online also means no restrictions to his working hours, he added.
“I usually wake up and check all my emails and make sure any urgent requests are taken care of. From there I take the day to go to the gym, do my shopping and explore the city.
“I generally work in the afternoon and into the evening if needed. Then I do my best to experience the nightlife of the city.”
‘Nine-to-five is the 1.0 of how people should work’
What does he say to those who like the idea of taking the plunge, but concerned about job security?
“I think the concept of nine-to-five is the ‘1.0’ of how people should work,” he said.
“There's an infinite amount of avenues which we can take from there, in terms of where you work, and what hours you work and your satisfaction,” he continued, noting that job satisfaction has a direct link to productivity.
He added that the ‘geographical arbitrage’ – where you can take advantage of different prices by working in a stronger economy and spending them in weaker ones – was another advantage of his lifestyle.
“I’m the biggest internet advocate in the world,” he said.
“I think that everybody should be looking to it as an opportunity ... even just the fact that people can speak English, they’d be surprised at how many opportunities there are.
“Everybody’s so talented, but they’re limiting themselves to our market.”
Make your money work with Yahoo Finance’s daily newsletter. Sign up here and stay on top of the latest money, news and tech news.