We’ve recently kicked off a 6-week trip in our van, the longest one we’ve taken yet. Between being part-time van lifers and all of the other travel we manage to do, I know a lot of folks wonder…how the heck can we afford that?
Neither of us are trust funders. We didn’t inherit a gold mine from a long-lost uncle. We didn’t win the lottery or invest exceptionally well in the stock market (or at all, for that matter!). Like many folks, we have a mortgage and a car payment. So how do we pull it off?
There are a LOT of ways to make money while living in a van and traveling. Chances are you know about some of them, but I’m willing to bet there are many you haven’t thought of, either. I’ll share what we do to earn an income, and also share what other folks do as well.
The Power of Mindset
My goal in this post is not to show you how you can you earn an income while traveling, or to teach you the details. My aim is rather to open your eyes to opportunities and help you see there are lots of creative ways to accomplish living a less-than-conventional, wildly fulfilling, adventurous life.
If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I am a huge believer in the power of the mind and the role it plays in creating our realities. Simply changing your thoughts from “We can’t do that” or “I can’t figure that out”, to “what if we could do that?” or “maybe I can figure this out” can be extremely powerful.
Allowing yourself to believe in possibility opens up your world. Five years ago, I was still in a traditional 9-5 job with just two weeks of PTO per year, and a boss I had to report to each day. I wasn’t very happy, but I believed that there was more out there. I believed that I could transform my life into something better, more meaningful, and more fun.
And wouldn’t you know it? Five years have passed and I couldn’t have even dreamed up my current reality – it’s amazing! I’m living proof that when you open up to dreams, and turn off your limiting beliefs of “I can’t have that life”, magic really does happen.
How We Do It
As of this writing (July 2019), we currently have three sources of income while we are living in the van:
- My online design business
- We rent our primary home on AirBnB and VRBO
- Brian’s salary as a college professor
Now, I know what you may be thinking – we have a freakin’ salary to support us while Brian is on summer break. In full transparency, it’s a solid but modest salary for the area that we live in. It’s 9 months of pay spread out over 12 months. BUT – we could absolutely still live on the road without it. We save a lot, we go out to eat, we buy a lot of organic groceries, and Brian has an – ahem – gear addiction: “oh yeah babe, we definitely need that new carbon fiber SUP paddle, stat!”.
The bottom line is that these are all luxuries that are NOT essential to living in a van or traveling the world. It can completely be done on WAY less…I recently read a blog post about a couple that manages to do it on just $1,800 a month. Crazy, right?
So, on to the less conventional ways of earning an income while we travel…
Renting Our Home Out on AirBnB and VRBO
Our home base is a popular mountain destination in Colorado, but don’t think that just because your home isn’t in a resort area, it can’t be done. If you do a search on AirBnB, you’ll see that almost every teeny tiny town (and major city of course) has homes and apartments for rent. More and more folks are trading in hotel stays for the comforts of a home, whether they’re traveling on business or heading out on a family vacation.
Logistically, setting up your primary home to be short term rental friendly does take some work and planning. Each time we leave, we spend at least a solid two days putting our personal belongings away into storage (clothing, food, gear we aren’t traveling with, and anything that has sentimental value and/or can’t be replaced). And then there is the cleaning – I’m anal about it being spic and span for guests, so I’ve either got an additional day blocked on my calendar to get the task done, or we pay a cleaning company to take care of it for us.
Probably the most common question we get from friends is – how are we so comfortable letting strangers sleep in our beds, cook in our kitchen, and enjoy our home like it was their own? I will admit the first season we did it, I was a little nervous. But almost all our guests have been wonderful and very respectful.
The trade-off is that renting our home allows us to travel the world and have additional income to do things that make our trips extra special – a house is just a thing, but we get to have experiences that make our lives richer. And our home isn’t sitting empty for weeks on end; it’s being used and loved and enjoyed. People are making memories in it, and although we rarely meet our guests, it feels like an honor to be a small part of that.
I could probably write a whole blog post on how to rent your primary home out on a short-term basis, but there are lots of good resources out there already. Before you dive into renting though, make sure you research your local short-term rental rules – every town is unique, so do your homework.
My Online Design Business
Chances are if you’re reading this, you might know a little bit about what I do for a living. But you may not know about how I’ve intentionally structured my business so that it lets me not only travel several months out of each year, but work less while I’m doing so.
While my background is in graphic design, my business is not your average design business. I don’t design logos, websites, or anything else that requires extensive project management (aka time). I sell products that I’ve designed and that can be personalized with just a few minutes’ work per order. The products are then printed by my trusted production partners, who brand my packaging and ship everything for me. This model is called drop shipping, and there are many entrepreneurs with all kinds of businesses doing similar things.
While I don’t make as much money per order as I would if I printed everything myself, it’s easily scalable. I can sell 50 camping mugs in a day, without having to hire help or buy more equipment. It frees up a lot of time for me to work on other things, and lets me work from anywhere, at any hour of the day. And when we’re traveling, I can sometimes work as little as 5-10 hours a week – that frees up a lot of time to go explore and play (and work ON the business when we’re home, instead of “in” it).
There was a time when I wasn’t totally comfortable sharing exactly how I run my business. I’d created a story in my head that people wouldn’t want to buy my work if I didn’t print it myself. But what I’ve learned over time is that doing something I don’t enjoy (i.e. printing) isn’t being authentic to myself. How am I supposed to live a life I’m 100% in love with if I’m not in alignment with my work? You can read more about how I shifted my story (and my business model) in this blog post.
Internet on the Road
How exactly do I work from the road? The biggest thing that gives me the freedom to work from anywhere is an AT&T unlimited data plan. As long as I have a 4G, 5G, or LTE cell signal, I can tether my laptop to my phone and work from just about anywhere. I’ve worked from the passenger seat of the van while Brian drives, I’ve worked from ski area parking lots, picnic benches in national forests – you name it. I’m currently writing this post from a town plaza in Ketchum, Idaho, while Brian is fly fishing!
Of course there are coffee shops, libraries, cafes, community centers, and other places with free wifi, and I do use those places too. But I love being able to work from the van (or just outside it), especially if we have a big day of highway driving ahead of us.
How Other Van Lifers and Full-Time Travelers Make Money on the Road
So far I’ve only discussed a couple of ideas on how to make money from the road. The reality though is that there are hundreds of possibilities. A lot of them are entrepreneurial, but there are lots of ways to work for a traditional employer while traveling as well.
Here’s a list to get you started. We don’t personally do any of these to earn an income (at least at the time of this writing!), so I can’t comment on them, but I hope they at least get your creative juices flowing if you’re interested in living a more nomadic lifestyle:
Online Business Ideas:
- Travel Blogging/Vlogging
- Affiliate Marketing
- Freelance Writing
- Freelance Photography
- Selling Online Courses
- Coaching (Life Coaching, Weight Loss Coaching, Career Coaching, etc)
“Traditional” Jobs You Can Do From Anywhere:
(or bargain with your boss to do remotely some or all of the time)
- Graphic Design
- Web Development
- Computer Programming
- App Development
- Virtual Assistant
- IT Support
- Copywriter / Content editor
- Video editor
- Online Marketing
- Social Media Marketing
Other Travel Jobs:
- Travel Nursing
- Travel Yoga Instructor
- Travel Massage Therapist
- Travel Wedding Photographer (if you haven’t heard of the Hearnes, you MUST check them out! Their work is incredible)
- English Teacher (abroad or online)
- Language Translator
Temporary Work Ideas for Nomads:
- Work on a farm or a vineyard
- Work in a hostel
- Work as a tour guide
- Work as an au pair
- House sit or pet sit
Places to Get More Ideas and Inspiration:
- The Smart Passive Income Podcast with Pat Flynn
- The Mind Your Business Podcast with James Wedmore
- Van Life Reddit
- Digital Nomad Reddit
Other Awesome Blog Posts By Full-Time Travelers:
- “Make Money Traveling – How to Support a Digital Nomad Lifestyle” – Joe Russo, WereTheRussos.com
- “40 Best Travel Jobs to Make Money Traveling the World” – Matthew Karsten, ExpertVagabond.com
- Make Money & Travel, GoneWithTheWynns.com
Have any more ideas to add to the list? Have any questions about working while traveling, or how to make money living in a van? Hit me up in the comments!