#Vanlife: Ways of Monetizing on the Road
There's a lot of speculation out there about how people like us have done what we've done. More specifically how we've financed our lifestyle. Everything from "they must get paid by brands loads of money to travel" to "they're just trust fund babies living off of their parents".
And haha! Don't we wish everything was that cut and dry.
At this point, we've heard it all. But would like to set the record straight about how we got to where we are now, as well as other ways that people we've met along the way monetize.
And no, we don't really care what the "haters" think. This post isn't really about that. It's really just to engage and have more of an open conversation about this stuff, because it goes so unaddressed and because maybe you're looking for a place to start ideating.
Note: Of the methods listed below, most people that we met along the way used more than one of these to make money. These are also not in any specific order of profitability by any means. More in order of commonality based on the people that we've met. There are also job methods here that we haven't had direct experience with, so if you're curious about one of them, try to seek out a person who has done that thing and try to pick their brain specifically.
We know it's not really what people want to hear, since they romanticize the idea of being able to remotely work (not that it's impossible, see #4) or get paid to road trip, but this just what we did. This is just what worked for us. We saved. And we're glad we did, because were able to really get out there and enjoy and learn and not stress too much. But again, this was our choice and we're not pushing it on anyone. It's certainly a risk.
If you're unfamiliar with the two of us, we both worked in tech-related jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area, where together we were paying roughly $3000 a month from our checks to live in a drafty (but nice) apartment in one of the cushier city neighborhoods. With a roommate.
We grew pretty tired of this, paying an arm + leg, and it was just one of our motivations for moving into the van (the other of course being, exploring). So we both started saving (Richmond had already saved quite a bit, being about five years older than me). We budgeted everything out and by the time we left on our trip, we had both saved around $20,000 for the year. We budgeted for a year because we also never intended to live in a van forever. Just wanted to see where it went and take it from there.
But we're really glad we did this, and we're back to job-hunting once again. Because we have goals to live tiny/off-the-grid on a small piece of land somewhere, hopefully in a place more accessible to the outdoors, whether in a van or not. And unfortunately for us all, money/stability is really the only way to make these dreams happen!
#2 Seasonal work + saving
This is a great option that we've seen friends doing. Especially if you're really committed to being outside and want to live very minimally, seasonal work might be the best bet for you. That way, you can work hard for a reasonable amount of time and then play hard when you're done. Then repeat. Win-win!
#3 Brand advertising
Yes, we have tried this. We did a bit of it over 6 months ago now. But in our own lives (no judgements here), we found it to be...
1) Unsustainable. There isn't a whole lot of money in that banana stand, unless you really just want to have every post be sponsored. Again, we're not trying to project, it just wasn't for us because we wanted to be more focused on our life, not the stuff we have. If we're tagging brands in photos these days, we aren't getting paid cash money for it.
2) Stressful. Again, for us, it just became too much of a time suck. Spending lots of time emailing back and forth with sometimes inadequate response from brands. Spending time making sure the posts got out. That's just not what our trip was about, so we quickly stopped after making a bit of money. We preferred to be more intentional about the ways that finance our lives, so we decided to separate those things to bring you more helpful content.
We've met others who do it more successfully and gracefully than us and do a great job. Yet it's still pretty obvious when you see it. And we've still heard that it's not a sustainable amount by any means. But it's something, at least!
Sometimes, people are being paid by post in lump sums, others are being paid by commission (as in they get a "referral fee" that's usually not super high).
Again, this is all possible, but it's also the exception not the rule. If you're moving into a van and this is your plan for making money, think long and hard about that. You should have a solid strategy, have a really good angle, and be willing to work really hard for it, because a lot of people live in vans. A lot of people have chosen this lifestyle and blog about it now. We'll be the first to admit we're not really special! The market is hugely flooded and time is running out.
#4 Odd jobs
We've also met others who have struck up odd jobs from town to town. This is definitely tough, and also insecure. You never know how long it's going to take you to find a job in a new place. Because job markets vary significantly from place to place. Keep that in mind if you want to go this route. But maybe it fits your lifestyle and personality better to earn this way! All of this is up to you.
#5 Mobile service jobs
...like photography, video, tech repair, coffee shop, garment repair, etc. These can be transferrable. You can go from town to town and offer services like this and usually find work. Tourism fits nicely in here. We've definitely met some people that do this kind of work freelance, through their blogging endeavors.
You could even have a traveling shop of some kind, who knows. If you get creative, you may be able to find something out there that's unique.
Again, it's not the highest paying nor the most secure, but it's certainly doable if you wanted to take the risk and also be able to spend more time outside!
#6 Sales rep jobs
We've heard of some of these, and outdoor companies especially could find a lot of value here. If you're willing to be an advocate for a company on the road and you're a great salesperson, this may be the perfect job for you! Just start scouring the internet to see what you can find. Usually brands will probably want you to be a good storyteller and enthusiast in a particular area though (e.g. outdoors) so make sure that it's something you're ready to prove you're up for. An online presence is obviously going to be the thing they look at first.
#7 Working hard to create passive income
We've met some who have worked extremely hard creating small business (take Carteo Handmade by @ourhomeonwheels for example). They did a great job building up a business, passing it off, and still making money because they put in all of the hard work up front. Now they can reap the rewards. And it's genius how they pulled that off! They've shared that it provides them with the majority of their income, which is huge.
So, if you have this kind of setup, more power to you!
#8 Remote work
This refers only to jobs that are open to you working remotely on the computer (butt-in-chair time). We've done a bit of this, and it's really tough, unless you have some kind of tricked out hotspot setup that you or your company is paying big bucks for. Really, you need good Wi-fi, so most likely you'll spend a ton of time in cafes. Or maybe you have a baller data plan! That works too.
But here's a quote about remote work from another #vanlifer in the recent New Yorker article entitled "#Vanlife, the Bohemian Social-Media Movement" that really stuck out to us:
"I was working anywhere from fifteen to forty hours a week, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you’re driving around and having all that motion, and what I guess you could call the stress of vanlife—not knowing where you’re going to sleep that night—the anxiety was still there...”
“We could never really go deep into national parks or national forests, because I had to always be on call.”
All this being said, it really depends on how much you're moving around. If you're in one place most of the time and have a good nightly situation, it could work out smoothly. It's up to you if it's really worth it to save money in the long run.
We've decided to pursue it ourselves at this point, having acknowledged that we can't do it as "nomads" (too tough to constantly be looking for internet) but can do it if we're posted up in one city, which we plan to do. But more on that soon.
These aren't the only ways...
We're not experts, nor are we trying to preach. Just trying to brainstorm and start a conversation. If you know of something else that's lucrative when it comes to work on the road, please share it with us and everyone else!
Add-on: We wrote that book...
You might remember that another way that we specifically have made some money was by writing a book about our build to help others. It was and still is all donation based. If you have a similar setup, or can write a book that helps others and make a bit of money to sustain yourself, that's a cool option to pursue too. Just know that it's not a stable source of income, and that overall it's more for the greater good than profit. Because some people believe that things like that should be free. And we're going to let you make that choice!