On the Road Again: An Interview with Rachel Stuckey

AV caught up with editor and world traveller Rachel Stuckey, aka the Nomadic Editor, in Thailand recently for a quick interview. Rachel’s path to editing on the move is fun and inspiring—and may get you thinking about how you can work while travelling (or travel while working), even for short stints.

Q: How did you get started as an editor? What drew you to this career and why?

A: Both my first job as an editor and my early training as an editor were at my university’s student newspaper. It was a small paper at a small school in Illinois but I learned to do everything (except paste-up—I’m not that old!). I had started my studies as a Biology major, but my freshman Computer class and a job in the campus media office eventually led to an invitation to write for the paper. By second year, I had been pulled over to the dark side of the English department! I never looked back. Soon I was running the newspaper, majoring in English writing, and completing internships and fellowships related to writing and editing. Then I came back to Canada and did my MA in writing at Waterloo, taught writing at Humber College, and completed the publishing certificate at Centennial College. When I look back, I realize my entire adult life has been about writing and editing.

Q. What about travelling? When did you get the bug?

A. My family were always travellers. As a child, I travelled all over the U.S. with my parents. My parents supported my older siblings’ adventures—they also travelled on their own, once I was old enough to be left behind. I started travelling on my own in university, but only to Europe. It wasn’t until I went freelance in 2007 that I started thinking more seriously about travelling more seriously. Most of my friends had limited vacation time and I realized I couldn’t wait for other people to be ready to travel with me—I had to take the plunge myself. I went on a trip to Egypt in 2008—I joined an organized tour with Intrepid, a company that does small group travel and doesn’t require single supplements. After that, I travelled in North America and Europe a little more, but I was eager to travel further afield. Towards the end of 2010, I realized that since the airfare to and from Canada was cost prohibitive, the best way to travel the world would be long term and uni-directionally. That was when I started planning my first big trip.

Q. When, why and how did you bring these two parts of your life together?

A. At first, as I planned for my first trip around the world, I planned to work very limited part-time, just to maintain my client contacts. I saved up money and expected that I would do just the bare minimum of work in between my adventures. But it didn’t work out that way. I tried to finish up projects before leaving, but authors never keep to schedule when you need them to, so I ended up working quite a bit while I was at the London Olympics and after travelling to Thailand to visit friends. Then, more work came, and I found myself working quite a bit. There were times when I couldn’t work, but the mix of working while travelling just came about naturally.

Q. What are the best things about this combination of interests?

A. I’ve found that I appreciate slow travel. Compressed holidays are so exhausting to me—cramming all the fun into a two-week period is overwhelming. Working and travelling allows you to travel slowly. I usually spend an extended period in a destination. Last year I spent a week in Valencia—I probably did about 3 days’ worth of touring, and the rest of the time was spent working a few hours a day and relaxing at the end of the day, just as you would at home. Doing one interesting thing a day is a great way to really absorb a place and its culture. That’s what I love best—getting to know a place. In some ways, I’m not really a nomad because I prefer extended stays in places I’ve been before. Like this year, I’ve returned to Chiang Mai, Thailand, for a 3-month stay. But, like last year, I will combine the familiar with the new—I’ll be exploring Southern Africa in the spring.

Waterfall in Doi Inthanon National Park, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand, January 2018
Waterfall in Doi Inthanon National Park, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand, January 2018

Q. What do you do when work and travelling don’t mesh well?

There are many complications when you combine travel and work. Finding a good place to work can be a challenge. Dealing with time zone differences can also be frustrating. Also, I have little control over my schedule because my projects rely on different moving parts, so often I’ll make plans and then work obligations will upset the apple cart. And of course, Internet access can be unreliable.

The important thing is to set boundaries—if I make plans, I treat that as vacation time and handle it the way I would at home by sending notifications and putting on my “out of office.” I also practice flexibility. Travel hiccups are a common occurrence, and much of the world has a different relationship to time and planning than we’re used to in Canada, so I’ve learned to just go with the flow and solve problems as they arise.

The more you travel, the more you realize that at its core, the modern world is pretty much the same everywhere you go—as they say here in Thailand, it’s “same-same, but different.” You get sick in Vietnam, you visit a pharmacy and get some chicken soup. Your computer breaks down in Spain, you go to a computer shop to get it fixed. You rip your only pair of jeans in Thailand, you go to the nearest mall and buy a new pair. The Internet goes offline at your house in Goa, you go to the nearest Internet café and get online. Eventually you realize that it’s the “but different” part that makes all these “same-same” things more interesting! And you must always have a sense of humour when life doesn’t go as planned.

Q. What advice do you have for editors who would like to follow in your footsteps?

A. Well, my first piece of advice is to read my book [Freelancing on the Road: A Digital Nomad Guide for Editors], of course! I wrote the book because I found that so much of the digital nomad rhetoric simply didn’t speak to editors—and yet, now that digital workflow is the norm, freelance editors are perfectly suited to being nomadic. But, we editors tend to be a little conservative and risk-averse, so my best piece of advice is to keep an open mind and embrace adventure. The wonderful thing about working while you travel is that you don’t need extensive savings to fund your adventures—your income can pay for food, accommodation, transport, and fun anywhere in the world, just as it does at home.

Afternoon Tea at Newens Teahouse in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, March 2017
Afternoon Tea at Newens Teahouse in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, March 2017

Rachel Stuckey

It’s not easy to find Rachel in person, but you can visit her on her website anytime. Also pick up her ebook "Freelancing on the Road: A Digital Nomad Guide for Editors" from Amazon.

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