Whether you are roaming the world by van, by boat, bike or just with your trusty rucksack going from place to place, you sooner or later have to figure out how to make some money on the road. This is how I do it.
For my approach you do not need more than a trusty laptop and a decent internet connection, let it be a local WiFi or a mobile data plan. Now I am aware that some of you nomads source your jobs locally, working in bars, on farms and as seasonal fishermen, but I want to focus on digital work as this is what I am most familiar with.
Once underway and getting familiar with the nomad and travel life it will soon dawn upon you that life is much easier with an income. It does not have to be much as you probably shed off a lot of weight from your previous life, but also a lot of safety nets and I can tell you that there is nothing worse than constantly counting coins even though you feel very comfortable with little comfort in general, but pasta with ketchup every day will lose its excitement pretty quick.
Let’s start with the best possible income option. The passive one. Income that is generated without having to do anything while travelling or ones that are rather low maintenance are always preferred and a great way to fill your pockets or generate a little income on the side. You should try to get as many of them lined up as possible. While pursuing the nomad lifestyle, flexibility is key and any hour you are not spending in front of your laptop is time to explore and travel.
But what generates passive income? Well, the classic would be drop shipping. You’ll open markets for other businesses with a simple online-shop and other than maintaining a portfolio, the site runs itself as your business partner takes care of the whole fulfillment. It’s nothing I have personally dabbed into yet but a remotely similar business would be my spreadshirt shop. I designed a few graphics for print and created an online shop via spreadshirt where I sell some nautical themed apparel and merchandise. Spreadshirt takes care of the fulfillment and I get a small cut for the designs. That I did almost 2 years ago and due to lack of variety, it might be a small, but also very welcome regular income.
Every once in a while, I get a few orders in and the next month I’ll have some money in my pocket. Others who are putting much more work in live comfortable from that income stream alone! So think about those options, it’s the least interfering with your travel plans.
Become a freelancer! No prior work experience necessary! That seems like a bold statement and goes contrary to any jobs you might have had before, but not all freelancers are professionals in their field, high octane digital nomad programmers, coders and designers. You just have to find the right customers and suddenly there is work for everyone
I come from a background as market analyst, product researcher and portfolio manager in a big pharmaceutical company and so far my work as a freelancer had little to nothing to do with my prior work experience. I usually hunt for simple and easy tasks where I can keep up a high level of flexibility, like one-off jobs, jobs with a deadline or other things I can just do in between. Those jobs are often simple translations from English to German or I’ll help a foreign start-up or company to find data on German websites. This is called Lead Generation or market research but more often than not it’s just a few evenings of google and clicking yourself through websites and arranging your findings nicely in Excel.
Those jobs you can find on well-known platforms like Fiverr, Freelancer or Upwork. The latter I find working best for me as I can actively chase jobs I like in contrast to setting up a profile and hope someone picks me, with no reviews, over the indian guy who works for 4 $/hr. On Upwork I found it much easier to get decent paid jobs in the 10 to 20$/hr range as someone looking for no experience jobs.
But you should figure out what works best for you. And please, just give it a try even though you are no keyboard monkey by birth.
Everyone can write a book! And everyone can write. All you need is determination, stubbornness and time. Most of the books are never going to be written because of doubt and mind games in your head. “There are so many books from people traveling and leaving their old lives behind, why should anyone be interested in mine?” is not a valid argument.
The very reason why you heard so much about those other books is because they were written. And who says your story does not connect better with your audience than the others? I in fact have several books in my boat library of other sailors, other liveaboards and some are even in the 4th edition and originally published in 1980, talking about passive income!
It surely takes a lot of efforts as I can tell you first hand right now, even in my native language German. I am about 180 pages in, but it is also a lot of fun! And what I am trying to convey now, that there are in fact people who are interested in YOUR story, and can get inspired by reading about YOUR way, I had to be told for a long time before I realised that there is truth in it. And I can say, it is a lot of fun going down memory lane and learning a lot about myself while writing it.
First, there is your own social media presence, on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, your Blog or TikTok. Whatever you feel most comfortable with, this is your home base and it is an important place that should be well maintained and constantly fed with new content. But that alone does not give you many opportunities, you must reach out further. My latest and surely most profitable job as a freelancer I got in a Facebook group about sailing, just because I was active and fast enough to spot it and these opportunities you want to grab, and if only for the connection with other likeminded people.
You might live the nomad life and enjoy the solitary and celebrate your breakout from social conventions but there is still a large community who wants to do or does exactly what you are doing. And it’s not just cold blooded marketing and analytics of potential engagers, it’s a group who is most willing to help you and learn from you, a community that sticks together. You should not force your content on everyone who cannot defend themselves, spam it in every group or forum you find, but engage yourself and grow organically.
Social media as such is much more than hoping to become an influencer when you think about it as networking, similar to LinkedIn. At one point you can utilize your resources and also give something back, maybe even in the form of workshops for future nomads, mavericks, vanlifer and liveaboards.
And that’s a good segue way to my last way of generating income. Through support and donations. I never forced my PayPal & Co on anyone but here and there some people are willing to support me on my journey or just like what I post and write. A PayPal.Me or ko-fi or even patreon can get you that occasional surprise money you are very grateful for.
Keep an open mind! Do not tell yourself that you cannot do digital work cause you are not good with computers. It’s not just writing where determination and time will get you places and makes you learn new things. Maybe even a little graphic design with Illustrator or Photoshop? A simple design printed on a shirt can get you some income.
And I think the most important point I tried to make is that you should branch out, bet on multiple horses, passive incomes, active and flexible freelance jobs, and we have not even touched the options for nomads who already have some capital to invest. Crypto seemed the obvious for a while, but investing in stocks and real estate and housing development projects can also be very lucrative. I am myself constantly on the lookout to find my passions and then thinking about the possibilities and trust me, I had many ideas, from selling paintings in the street, joining a band with my violin and selling engraved whiskey glasses.
Sometimes you have to throw your ideas at a wall and see what sticks and I encourage you to be optimistic and try things out, the options are as vast as the sea.