Ep. 270: How This Travel Writer Designs Her Life Around Freedom and Helps Others Do the Same with Rosie Bell
In this episode, I speak with Rosie Bell who is a location-independent travel writer, author, and freedompreneur.
She helps freedom lovers ditch the rat race, become lifestyle entrepreneurs, and travel the world and has appeared as a travel and life design expert on the likes of ABC News, NBC News, Business Insider and South China Morning Post.
Listen on to find out how Rosie designs her life around freedom.
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Hey everyone, thank you so much for being here.
I am really excited to speak with my guest today. I’m here with Rosie.
Hi Rosie. How are you?
Hi, Debbie, hello, hi!
I’m so excited to be talking to you today, because you won’t definitely have an offbeat life.
So, before we get to your journey, can you tell us about you and why you live an off-beat life?
Hello, Debbie. First of all, thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
So, my name is Rosie Bell, and I’m a British travel writer, author and lifestyle entrepreneur. I grew up in Namibia, Nigeria, the Netherlands and the UK and for the last 10 years, I’ve worked for myself remotely, all around the world. And I help people who want to skip the rat race and work online and travel through courses, books and mentoring. And I find so much joy from seeing people design and live their lives on their own terms, and I live an offbeat life because I just couldn’t have it any other way.
This is the way that feeds me the most, this is how I feel happiest. I somewhat grew up with an offbeat life, anyway. So, this is just a natural extension and I found a way to fit my career into my desire and need to travel.
Love that. It is definitely a motto that I live with as well, Rosie.
That’s why I was like, “yes, yes, yes”, so Rosie, how did you end up creating this freedom lifestyle for yourself? Because for most people, it’s probably out of reach, or they think it’s out of reach for them. And how did you design it so that you can have this lifestyle that you can be wherever, do whatever, pretty much, you know? Anything you want.
Well, it’s interesting because I actually got here via a series of I guess, quote-unquote failures or disappointments. I, actually, it was always my dream to work in advertising. I always wanted to work in an ad agency, and straight out of University in London, I got my quote-un quote, dream job at an ad agency. It was very prestigious, but it was so deeply unfulfilling. 9 to 9 office job, and I just kind of felt like my job was useless. It was pointless. I didn’t feel like I was making a difference at all; the environment was absolutely toxic and the employer, definitely actively demoralized, overworked and just being snowed under psychological problems, emotional problems, cranky colleagues, backstabbing, exhaustion, competition.
It was just endless and I just, I felt like my job was pointless. I hated my commute, absolutely hated my commute! Don’t even get me started! And yeah, there were so many things that I disliked about my office life. I hated waking up early, I hated the schmoozing, the presenteeism.
Also, the mildly obligatory socializing. I don’t know if you know much about UK culture, but, it’s all about going for after-work drinks and you know the agency had a bar on the side, so that was a whole other thing. Just the unrealistic demands of office life and I learned very, very early on that it just wasn’t from me; that that wasn’t what I wanted but I didn’t know what the alternative looked like.
That was a long time ago, actually, that was in 2011 and I actually only managed to last a year, in a professional office job, that’s as I could do. So, I quit. And then I decided that I wanted to work for myself. I then started a swimwear brand which I ran from my home, and I taught myself everything. I did everything for that company. I designed, I did sketches, I did fabric sourcing, PR, everything under the sun. So, I was a jack-of-all-trades and it was really a baptism of fire and such a good training to run your own business cause you can actually see everything that was involved. But, I actually didn’t like working in fashion. There were a lot of things about the fashion industry that I found troubling, like the glorified wastage, essentially. You know, the things that you have to do to be in.
So, interestingly, of all of my tasks with swimwear, I found out the one that I enjoyed the most was actually writing for the blog, because it was a Hawaiian branded blog. So, I was always writing stories about Hawaii and I loved Hawaii and you know I go to Hawaii twice a year and I was like, “oh my goodness, I just, I love this. I’m just writing stories and inspiring people to dream and go places.”, and I really, really love that. And then actually in 2015, I accidentally ended up in Panama, fell head over heels in love with Panama. I decided that one day I was going to move there.
So, eventually, I did go back to London. I sold everything. I stopped my swimwear brand even though, you know, I did have some, you know, relative successes, I had celebrities wear my swimwear, Rihanna, you know, had a pair of my designs, but, I just, I didn’t want to do that anymore.
So, I moved to Panama, took a year off to write my book, Escape to Self, which is all about life design and designing your life with your desired ingredients but first of all realizing what those ingredients are and accepting them, because sometimes, it’s not so pretty. Let’s face it.
In that year, I actually just got offers to write articles for some quite big publications because Panama’s quite small. So things just came my way. I would have, Forbes Travel Guide, write to me asking if I could go and review a fabulous hotel and I was like, “Yes, yes I can, all day, everyday!”, you know, “What next?”. You know, Lonely Planet. I just thought of all these amazing opportunities, and I thought, “Wait a second, I can do this as a job.”, and I guess the rest is history and that really works for me because I knew that I wanted to really truly be location-independent. I didn’t want to have a physical product that I was selling anymore. I wanted something that could truly do anywhere in the world and travel writing gave me that and it’s such a blessing.
Yeah, and as you had mentioned, it takes a lot of self-discovery before you can find your sweet spot, because you did a lot of things you were in corporate, you started your own business, and you were successful at it. You know? Not many people can say that Rihanna wore their clothing, and then to leave that behind, right? That’s a huge step too deciding that that you wanted to let go of that because you wanted something else for your life.
And I think that that’s one thing that I really want to emphasize is that sometimes you can achieve success and realize at that moment that that’s not where you want to be and it’s still not a failure because, you realizing that to me like at least for me is actually success understanding where you really should be in life, right? And sometimes we do have to get to the top before we realize that we don’t want to be there.
Absolutely. I made it with my dream job in such a prestigious agency, but I realize I don’t want to be my boss in 10 years. I don’t want to be any of these people. Nobody is happy here. Everybody was getting signed off on exhaustion and just, it just was not, it was not ideal and that’s exactly why I said, quote-unquote failure is because, you know, people would, could potentially view that, you know, leaving a very comfortable job, you know, with like, views over SoHo and you know glamorous parties? Some people might view that as a failure. You know, not being good at that. Not climbing up the career ladder but I’m more about career portfolios than a career ladder.
I’m not about, like, striving for one thing, you know unilateral focus. You know there’s different things that you can do and different things will feed you in different ways and yeah so I definitely don’t view that as a failure but it does take so much self-discovery and I think what’s very beautiful for people now is that, you know, there’s podcasts like this as The Offbeat Life. Where it literally shows you and holds your hand and teaches you how to do this. And I would have loved to have something like this existed back in those days.
That’s really the huge difference before, you know five, even ten years ago, there was a lot less people who are doing something that you’re doing Rosie and people don’t understand or realize that it can be possible. You can do it and the corporate ladder is one way of doing it. And it’s not a bad way but it’s not the only way, there’s other ways too to do it as well.
And you know, me having grown up in New York City, and you talking about what life and culture is like in terms of business and in England and London, specifically is, you know, fairly similar. It’s a lot of that culture and it’s also a lot of hustle culture that, you know, a lot of us just don’t align with like it’s not the lifestyle that you want to align with. And that’s why you ended up and you mentioned this accidentally being in Panama, let’s go through that. How do you accidentally land in Panama.
So, I had a relatively big break up at the start of 2015, was on New Year’s Day actually. He left London and moved to Bali and I needed to get away, my sister suggested. She said, why don’t you go travel? And she actually so lovely. The best person that exists. She actually helped me take over my swimwear brand. And I just went away to Costa Rica, I booked three months in Costa Rica.
And back then, I didn’t know about you know, border jumps and, you know, backpacking and going to multiple countries. So I thought, okay, you can only stay in Costa Rica for exactly three months.
So, I booked a flight to be there for exactly 3 months and planned everything I wanted to see. You know, made my budget and all of that good stuff, but I got to Costa Rica, but as a very much happens for some people, you know, the reality and the dream don’t really align. I found it wasn’t really my place and I just, I didn’t find that Nirvana I was looking for and I pretty much have done everything I wanted to do in those three months in three weeks.
And so I was just sitting, you know, in this hostel and, you know, right there was this Lonely Planet guide book. It was the Central America on a shoestring and I think it’s so interesting that I now write for Lonely Planet. I think it’s such a lovely full circle story, and there was a Lonely Planet guide book there and I was reading through then there was Panama, and I thought this could be interesting, you know, they’ve got some cool history, the Canal. Sure, let’s go to Panama for 5 days.
So I’ll go there for 5 days and explore and from the moment I arrived in Panama. It’s like, that’s when my life started.
I met the best people. I just felt free. I was so surprised by how beautiful and livable the capital city was. Panama City is called The Miami of the South, those beautiful, tall buildings overlooking the water, for a quarter of the price, you know, living in a fabulous condo with a pool and all that stuff for a quarter of the price you find in Miami.
Also that it’s all just westernized. But also you’re still very much Latin, there’s always wonderful music, escaping from somewhere and something you can dance to and spicy food, and seafood and islands, like you’ve never seen before. And I was just so enamored of this place from day one just in the capital and then day two, I meet this mysterious gentleman who I talked to for a couple.
You know, I talked to him for maybe let’s say an hour–two hours max and he said, “oh have you heard of this place called, Bocas del Toro? You really need to go there and I said, “yeah, I know I’ve heard of it, but I don’t really have enough time to go. I have a trip back to Costa Rica next week”, and he was like, “no, you don’t understand. YOU of all people have to be in Bocas del Toro, archipelago of 19 islands and you get to reach one in a water taxi and there’s this crazy party happening on Saturday. You know what, this hostel that has a trampoline and you jump right into the Caribbean ocean, you have to go!”. And I’m like, “just you know, I haven’t budgeted for that.”. I didn’t plan that and he would, he just said, “stop with the excuses. Give me your passport number. I’m booking you a flight.”, and I was like, “What?”. “I’m booking your flight to Bocas, you need to be in Bocas”, and I was like, “okay, sure, if you insist.”.
I gave him my passport number. He was just someone I met at a hostel, he booked me this flight and honestly that was the most pivotal moment of my entire life. I have never up until that moment seen a place that was that beautiful and I just loved the novelty of like I’m hailing a water taxi to go to an island with even more palm trees than this one and I just adore that place and I never went back to Costa Rica and it was actually arriving in Bocas seeing that Nirvana and seeing that existed. You know, from my to build dreary rainy life in London. And I was like, no, this is over. I’m coming back here. Like my whole entire life is going to have an overhaul, so thank you to that guy who I never saw again.
Well sometimes, things happen for a reason and people happen for a reason, you meet them for a reason which is pretty funny. And now your whole life trajectory pretty-much, I think that was kind of like, your sliding doors moment. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that movie, you know,
I know that movie! I love that movie!
You’re Gwyneth Paltrow and you know that you’re sliding doors moment is meeting that guy. If you didn’t listen to him, if you didn’t meet him, who knows what would have happened, right?
I know, I know! Maybe I would be like the, you know, head of account management at a London advertising agency, hating my life, everyday, or being like, the 30% — 37% of people in the UK apparently, believed your job to be completely useless.
Wow, that’s sad. That’s actually really sad. That’s the thing, there are certain times in your life where you do have that sliding doors moment, where you either make this decision and it changes your life for the better or worse. I guess. You know, it’s not so bad, right? If you’re alive, you’re living and you can take care of yourself but it’s just a huge pivotal moment that happens in your life and you make that decision and I feel like there’s different times and there’s different moments in our life that could happen.
So, if you haven’t had that sliding doors moment yet or if that has happened to you and you feel like you chose the wrong paths, don’t worry, it’s going to happen again, maybe it’s even listening to Rosie, right now and listening to her moment where she completely changed her life. But it’s so interesting, how life can be so unexpected in so many ways that we didn’t even know because who would have thought that going to Costa Rica would lead you to meeting this person when you go to Panama just from happenstance. Reading a Lonely Planet guide book that you are now writing for.
Yeah I love that story. Sometimes I get shivers thinking about it and I’m so grateful. All these things happen to be the kind of push me towards this life. But I think if anybody’s listening and they resonate with that feeling of a little bit stagnant or confused or a sense of futility with your job. And exactly as you said as well before, it’s not always about, you know, working for yourself or starting a business. You definitely can travel the world and feel free within a corporate career. It’s definitely, absolutely possible. It’s just the case of how I did mine, but it is totally possible.
Absolutely. There’s just a lot of different options there for you when you start going outside of it. And also, I do want to reflect on this. Just leaving the environment that you’re in and going somewhere different can be really life-changing as well. Because most of the time, especially if you’re living in a city like London or New York, all you see is hustle.
All you see are people stressed out. You know, you see other people telling you that this is what it’s going to be like corporate is the way to go, and then you go to places like Panama or somewhere in the Caribbean and people are just living life, very slowly but they’re happy, and they don’t have as much as people in those big metropolitan cities. But why are a lot of those people so much happier? And we have to ask ourselves that like, is it really? Like what is it, right? What is going to make you happy? And it’s different for everybody obviously, you know?
Absolutely. I think, if I may touch on this and have gone from London to New York, I have not worked in New York but I stayed there for a while, I think New York is even next level compared to London. It takes things up to an entire different level. Here is the gym, the gym is open 24 hours. You can always work out but also still have a social life and be like seeing all the trendy places, but also go to work and be the first person in. It was very full-on. But I think, maybe for me, what I would say and was also probably one of, like, part of my plight was very much like living in the shoulds and you’re “supposed to life.” I think we do get inferences, societal inferenes of “this is what you’re supposed to do,” “this is what your career should look like by the time you’re 24,25. You know, you should have had a couple promotions by now. You should be earning this much. You should be working towards getting an apartment,” even though you don’t even know if you want to live there for the rest of your life, but it’s the dumb thing, you know. I think it’s the shoulds.
I think women get different inferences, men get different inferences as well. It’s like, “you should be in a stable relationship by this time, you should be working towards children.” People, I think we don’t actually ask ourselves what feeds us. You know, like you just kind of grow up knowing that this is the way. And you don’t really question that. And I think that’s what I touch on in my book, Escape to Self. First of all, realizing what you want. Because, yes, I always wanted to work in advertising. But once that very prestigious, very corporate, dream ended, I had no idea who I really was. Do you know what I wanted my work to give to me, what I wanted it to add to my life.
And, you know, I think also we get these messages that, you know, your work should be your life, at least a big part of your life. Yes. Absolutely. But I think your work should work for you, your job, your career should work for you. You shouldn’t be on an endless wheel of chasing things that you don’t even know are your dreams. So I think that’s probably one of the things I would say it’s like our plate in, you know, places like London and those big cities, those corporate careers, we just inherit dreams that aren’t necessarily ours. And that’s why there’s this incongruence between when you get it, you’re like “why aren’t I happy? I have these things. My friends are still looking for work, my friends have part time jobs and they’re just trying to find their way but I have this amazing job. I just shot an advert with a celebrity last week. I got offered a trip to Paris for the afternoon, to have afternoon tea. I should be happy. Why am I not happy?”
And yeah, it’s definitely the shoulds and it being in that hamster wheel of always doing what you’re supposed to be doing and then achieving like you mentioned Rosie, achieving the, the top of it, or you’re achieving all of the success that you think you should have gotten and you’re still really unhappy and that, you know, that is the cause of a lot of us and depression, you know, becoming depressed because you’re like, what is wrong with me?
Why can’t I be happy? What am I missing? Like this is on my list, you know, and a lot of people who are high achievers. They do have this list of achievements that they want to have. And then once they take it off, and nothing still changes because you feel like something should change, right? Like, I should be happier.
Like, this is what I told myself would make me happy now. I’m even more unhappy because I’m still unhappy and I can’t get out of it and yeah, it’s so true and it’s so real. And yeah, and I definitely think you’re right Rosie it’s definitely part of that. It is thinking that it is what we want. But it’s actually what we’re trying to do to make other people happy and not ourselves.
Absolutely and creating and having extrinsic goals. So, you know, I want to earn this amount of money. I want to be able to afford this type of clothing. These type of holidays, those are extrinsic goals and, you know, not to be dark or anything, but if you’re looking back at your life, at the end of it all, you know, is anybody going to say “she wore a really nice Gucci shirt” or like, “she always shopped at Gucci.” Like, that’s not what anyone’s going to say. They’re going to say, you know, “she was caring,” “she really lived her life full.” “She was passionate,” “she did the things she wanted to do.”.
Those are the things that you probably want, you know, have in your legacy. And I think it’s creating intrinsic goals, like the things that you really need and desire, not those nice to haves. Because having a corner office is nice to have and having a fabulous job is nice to have. But, you know, does that push the needle forward in terms of your happiness. You can be definitely content and this is definitely not too rubbish to anybody who has a job like that of course, absolutely everybody is different. This is what you cover on the show, you have all these different voices coming in.
Talking about, you know, what happiness and freedom means for them. Everybody’s different. But I think having goals that make you want to get out of bed everyday is fantastic. I have goals, like, I really want to go to the salt flats in Bolivia. That is something that I definitely want to do. It was always my goal to go to the Maldives. I was like, before the end of this life on earth for me, I have to go to the Maldives. In fact, when the pandemic happened I thought, “oh my God, I’m never going to the Maldives.” like, oh my goodness. And now, I’ve gone to the Maldives.
Now, it’s happened. And I’m very happy about that, but I still have other goals. Ultimately, if I didn’t go to the Maldives, I would have still been fine. You know, my life has been fine because at my core, I have the life ingredients that I need to make me feel relatively fulfilled on a day-to-day basis. I just want to put it out there, that just because this is what works for me, what makes me feel alive and good. It does not mean that it would be the case for everyone.
Absolutely because I do know people who are very much like corporate people and it gives them like, they love it. They just love it so much and it makes them feel alive. And, you know, like you’d mentioned, Rosie. Everybody is different, whatever makes you feel alive, is different. And if you love that, if you can balance things out with, you know, your career and your life, and your personal life. I think that’s, you know, that’s the way to go.
Let’s look at what you are currently doing now, Rosie. Because you are writing, you’re doing freelance writing. You’ve written for huge public relations like Lonely Planet, Conde Nast, Travel and Leisure, and you’re doing this and it’s not only your passion but it’s also something that creates income for you.
How did you get started with that? Because this is what a lot of people dream about and you’re actually doing it.
Well, yes, I have been fortunate to write for some of those very, very incredible publications that I’ve been reading for my entire adult life like Conde Nast Traveler and Lonely Planet, and Nat and Obscura. When I moved to Panama, I felt like, because that’s where I was really supposed to be. All of these opportunities came to me as well. Also because Panama is quite small and I think a lot of publications were looking for somebody who actually lived there and you know, could actually talk about it and it was some sort of authority, you know as a local. But also with proven writing chops.
While for me it was somewhat accidental but fortuitous that I ended up in Panama. So Panama has been my niche and still is my niche. I still get most of my writing assignments that come to me about Panama. I’ve just finished a content project for Lonely Planet all about Panama as well. And I’m doing something for Nat Geo about Panama City as well, right after this. So it’s not about, you know, you don’t have to just be in the right place at the right time. If you want to write, and I actually created a course about this, my travel writing 101 course is on Skillshare. If you actually want to write, the first step is about getting proof of your writing.
Whether that be, a blog or a medium publication. Just a place for editors to very quickly go and see what your style is, that you know what you’re talking about and that your voice can match their publication. Because every publication wants to know that you know their audience and you know how to talk to their audience. Because the audience in the Conde Nast Traveler is very different from the Obscura audience or the Nat Geo audience, they’re very different places. You don’t actually have to have bylines in huge publications to get started. You know, you can just send a very well worded pitch, saying “This is a link to my latest article.” You don’t have to mention if it’s your only article, just that it’s your latest one. Just one place where you where your writing lives online, because an editor is taking a chance working with you. It’s you know, taking a chance paying you money for the ideas.
Which is a beautiful, wonderful privilege. But it is actually easier to get started than you might think. I mean everybody can start a blog now. Bluehost, get hosting or Squarespace or whatever it is. Everyone can start a blog. Honing your voice, writing. Reading the stuff that you want to write to sharpen your pens. If you want to write about luxury travel, read Conde Nast Traveler, see what words they use. The feelings that they create through their stories.
Keep sharpening your pen and engaging yourself in the ecosystem of your given topic. If you want to write about luxury travel, if you want to write about digital nomad travel. Have that voice, have a place that’s yours. Even though I do write for these various publications, I do have my own digital Nomad lifestyle blog as well, which is discoverysessions.io and I write digital nomad guides to different cities, talking about the different pros and cons of each place, neighborhood guides, you know, best time to go, things like that. And the good thing about having your own blog as well is you can just write whatever you want, whenever you want.
You don’t have to adhere to the style guide. But ultimately if there’s one takeaway from this, if you want travel writing as your freedom job, because I’m all about finding a freedom job, or a freedom career– a freedom business– because that’s my main goal in life, is to have my freedom. It’s not impossible. It’s easier to start than you think.
Absolutely and you know that’s for me. I’m also a writer and that’s how I ended up getting writing jobs, through my blogs and doing guest posting, guest articles on other websites that are reputable. You know, you can do it and like Rosie had mentioned, you just take a few examples. I think they need like three to five examples and if you have a blog that’s pretty easy to do.
And yeah, you know as long as you’re a decent writer they’re going to see that and I love that, we’re promoting this and neither one of us went to school as an English major. So you don’t need to go to school for this. You just need to show them that you can actually write and write well and know their audience. And, you know, have that type of language that they can use that’s going to attract their audience as well.
I did not study journalism. I studied brand communication and culture for my masters. And business management and marketing for my undergrad. So nothing to do with journalism at all.
Absolutely. So yes, you can do this if you love writing or if you just enjoy it and you don’t mind it, it can definitely be a job that could acquire you that freedom lifestyle that you want or, you know, aspire to have.
So Rosie, let’s fast forward to maybe 30 to 40 years from now. And you’re looking back at your life. What Legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?
I love that question. 30 years, we don’t think of ourselves as old people, huh? Interesting. 30, 40 years, I don’t know. Will I be a person that dyes my hair? I haven’t thought about that. Well, that’s a very interesting question, thank you for asking it. I want to be remembered, even today. I want to be that person today, I think I want to be that person in 5 years, 10 years, 15 years.
I want to be a person that’s passionate, that enjoys life, and then, makes a difference to people and in whatever way I kind of the way that I like to make a difference is inspiring people, entertaining, informing. I’d say even like with my friends, it’s something that I always like to do, like inspire people. If someone feels down I like inspiring them to feel better. If someone feels lost, I like to inspire them too. You know, I’m on a different path to look at things to find a bit of clarity. I want to be a person that is known for being passionate and I want to be able to say that I lived my life, my way, which I think I can definitely say right now.
Love that, and you’ve already started. You’re helping other people do it. So that’s definitely a legacy that you can be proud of and then, you know, your family, friends will remember you. Which I love.
Rosie, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate you. If our listeners want to learn more about you, where can they find you?
If they want to find out more about me, they can go to my digital nomad lifestyle blog, DiscoverySessions.io.
I post digital nomad guides, interviews with people who are also designing their lives in interesting ways, which, I guess are sort of unconventional jobs. Anybody who wants to effortlessly run their life and work anywhere can also book Discovery Sessions with me where, you know, I can talk you through it. How I work for me, how you can get started.
And if anybody wants to find my writing portfolio, you can find that at RosieBell.net. You can see everything I have written for these different publications, from Cosmopolitan where I wrote about hiding your Instagram likes as a travel hack to giving up dating for a year and traveling the world and you can find all of that at discoverysessions.io my blog and rosiebell.net for my writing portfolio.
Love it. Thanks, Rosie! We really appreciate it!
Thank you so much for having me.
Thanks, Debbie, have a great day!
Listen to Rosie’s extended interview where she talks about how to design your life around freedom.
What you’ll find:
In this episode, Rosie talks about how you too can design your life around freedom.