Welcome to another edition of my interview series, where I talk with badass boss babes who are living the location-independent dream!
This time, I am very excited to introduce my friend Amanda. I met her ages ago when her travels brought her to Roatan… and since then, we’ve both called new places “home” all over the world and kept in touch along the way. Keep reading to find out how she lives and works around the world!
I already know you, but for everyone else – who are you, where are you, and what do you do?
My name is Amanda Walkins and I am a freelance writer and blogger and also an international house + pet sitter! Originally from outside of Boston (Massachusetts, USA), I’ve lived in 6 other countries and therefore consider myself to be a serial expat (just like Rika!). I currently live in Scotland, which is where my husband grew up.
What made you decide to jump into the expat life? Was there something specific, or did it just sort of happen as life unfolded?
I intentionally left the US, although I didn’t know it would be indefinitely. I had itchy feet and really wanted to long-term travel, so I pulled a Rika and did a Cubicle Throwdown, quitting my cushy office job in Washington, DC, back in 2012 for an adventure. I didn’t get very far though! I met a guy on a beach my 3rd day of traveling…and that was the end of that.
Instead of traveling, I put down some shallow roots in Roatan, Honduras (which ought to be familiar to any of you who’ve followed along with Rika’s adventures!). I had lived overseas short-term previously, first in Spain and then in Ecuador. Those short-term stints were the catalysts to my needing to see more, so I’m always grateful for those early opportunities I had!
Tell us about your job – what does a typical “work day” look like for you? Are you able to keep a steady income stream from freelancing? What are some of the pros and cons of being self-employed abroad?
I dislike routine, so freelancing actually suits me perfectly. I absolutely know how to buckle down and get work done when I need to do it, but I prefer variations in my days and in how and where I spend my time. Unfortunately, with freelancing, you have to take the work when it’s there and then let that carry you through the quiet times. So some months I end up sitting behind the laptop all day every day in whatever home we’re currently living, while other months I can get out and explore more while still searching for the next fun project!
In terms of actual work, you can find me planning and executing effective website content, SEO-centered blogs, monthly newsletters to keep customers informed, and all sorts of other fun projects. I’ve edited, updated, and written travel guides in three different countries so far. I’ve answered TripAdvisor reviews for an overwhelmed company. I’ve consulted on social media management. I’ve written press releases, interviewed business owners, and ghostwritten ebooks. I’ve done all sorts of writing in a wide array of industries. The variety is fun for me!
The finances of freelancing can, of course, be a concern. The magic of moving away from home is that many expats gain better insight into what’s important versus what is extra. We painstakingly pack all of our belongings, so we’re better equipped to evaluate the necessity of those things. Because of that, we live with less and spend less. That certainly helps me to more easily live off of a freelance income that can vary widely month to month.
We choose lower cost of living locations and we look for the cheap options for housing and utilities. We live on little, which also suits my freelancing perfectly! I think folks should realize how much you can do on very little income. I’ve never earned as much as I did working in Washington, DC…and I worked at a nonprofit there where I was only an associate-level employee. So, no, I don’t make much at all as a freelancer. But we don’t need much to be happy and to keep exploring!
One very effective way to make a freelancing income last longer is to house and pet sit. We’ve used TrustedHousesitters since 2016, with many other house and pet sits done for friends and family over the years, too.
How did you get started in house sitting? Do you have any advice for people looking to land their first sit? Have you faced any big challenges?
Oh housesitting – how I love it! The reason for starting with TrustedHousesitters in 2016 was simple: Our dog, Lina, who had brought us together in Roatan and moved with us to the US and then to Scotland, very suddenly became ill and died. We felt lost without her. She had been such an enormous part of our lives and left a massive hole. I signed us up to house and pet sit in a selfish attempt to manage my own grief, to be honest.
But, since then, we have snuggled cats and dogs – and even chickens and goats! – in 6 countries. Yes, goats like to snuggle! Housesitting has helped us to travel, to meet new and wonderful people, and we’ve been able to share our adoration for animals even though we’re not in a position to rescue another one of our own yet.
We’ve done both short- and long-term housesits. One thing I will warn folks about is clearly understanding the requirements and expectations of a homeowner. While housesitting is great for traveling and for staying for free somewhere, if you are petsitting as well, then your priority shifts to those animals, no matter what. Make sure you and the homeowner are on the same page about how long you can be away from the home and the animals, as well as about any special needs for the animals or the home.
Tell us a bit about the places you’ve lived so far – are there any that stand out as personal favourites? (Or any that you don’t feel the need to return to ever again… ha!)
My husband and I met in Roatan, where we lived for 3 years together. That island will always have a piece of our hearts!
I absolutely adore Edinburgh and loved living in the city itself. We’re living outside the city now but I find myself popping in as much as possible to take advantage of all the beauty and the fun events. I cannot recommend Scotland enough for a diverse and jaw-dropping destination!
I really enjoyed living in Malta for its incredible history and many, many layers. That tiny island nation in the Mediterranean hosts some of the oldest standing structures on Earth. It also boasts an eclectic population with countless languages spoken all around you; the views are amazing, the cost of living is still fairly low, and the options for fun and adventure are plentiful! This is another great spot for scuba diving, with a plethora of WWII Wrecks surrounding the island.
We most recently lived in Asturias in Northern Spain. My very first experience living overseas was in Bilbao, in Basque Country in Spain, so returning to nearby my old stomping grounds was already wonderful. But Asturias blew us away! I would very happily go back for a much longer stay next time…it’s still a possibility! The vistas and natural beauty are just breathtaking. The cost of living there is really affordable and the people are genuinely so welcoming and kind.
The one place we struggled was actually in Ireland, mostly due to the high cost of living and the challenges we faced in the legal bits of moving there. While my husband is an Irish citizen, we ran into several hurdles that proved to be too much for a more permanent stay. It wasn’t our best move, but I still absolutely adore Ireland and it will always feel like home for both of us!
What qualities do you think are must-haves for people to succeed in living and working abroad?
Flexibility, empathy, understanding, and curiosity all come to mind. If you want to live in another country, you need to understand that it is *not* your country. I think a lot of expats end up returning home because they simply do not want to adapt and instead try to force their new homes to be more like their old homes. Moving somewhere different means you have to accept those differences and adjust yourself to them.
Working overseas can also be a challenge. There might be different expectations, requirements, and cultural norms for you to learn and to adhere to in your new role. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! It’s ok to not know and to ask for help. If you can’t ask at work, ask in expat circles. Someone else has been in your shoes and will undoubtedly be willing to lend a hand. Those of us who choose to live in an unfamiliar place understand that we all make mistakes, we all feel a little lost, but that it’s all part of the adventure!
What’s the BEST thing about your expat life?
People! I have met such a wide variety of people through this journey! These are folks whose paths I otherwise never would have crossed, so I am always grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given and I never forget how very lucky and privileged I am to live this life. The people I’ve met along the way are what make my daily life so much fun. I don’t really take souvenirs or things with me, but I always carry those people with me. My favorite memories are not of historical sites or hiking trails or museums I’ve visited; mine are the nights out and the cups of coffee shared and the birthday celebrations and even the goodbyes.
Anything exciting coming up that you’d like to share?
We’ll be staying in Scotland for a wee while (see what I did there? I’m so local), so I’m actually hoping to explore more locally. I still haven’t been to any of the Scottish islands, so we actually bought a car this time around and we hope to enjoy some sheep-counting and haggis chasing in the highlands before checking out the white sand beaches and turquoise waters off the west coast. I’ll bet that doesn’t come to mind when you think of Scotland, right?! But it’s true. This country’s geography is exceptionally diverse!
Where can we find you?
I’m around! Come find me at www.amandawalkins.com, www.facebook.com/amanda.walkins.writer, www.instagram.com/amandawalkins, www.twitter.com/awalkins, and www.linkedin.com/in/awalkins. I love people (obviously) so don’t hesitate to reach out and say hi!
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