How do People Make a Living on the Road?

how do people make a living on the road

When my boyfriend and I were first seriously considering making the leap to full-time skoolie travel in 2017, the biggest question mark in our minds involved how to make a living on the road. At the time, I was working at the front desk of a physical therapy office and Aaron was delivering pizzas for Domino’s in downtown Seattle — not exactly jobs that we could take on the road.

Fast forward to now, and we have been supporting ourselves in various ways for over two years of full-time travel. We’ve also met tons of friends on the road who have come up with ingenious ways to make money. One of the best parts of living on the road is that most of your bills are eliminated or greatly reduced, so you don’t have to make as much money to live comfortably.

In this article, I’ve compiled 15 practical ways to make ends meet while traveling. Spoiler alert: you don’t have to have a trust fund, be an Instagram influencer, or have thousands of YouTube subscribers to afford this lifestyle! 

15 ways people make a living on the road:

1. Telecommute

If you love your current job, ask your boss if you can work remotely. If that’s not possible, look for full-time or part-time jobs in your field that do allow remote work — just set your job search parameters to include “remote.” Set yourself up for success by making the transitions in phases.

For example, don’t try to make the switch to remote work and hit the road full-time on the same day. Give yourself some time to adjust to remote work before you hit the road or vice versa. 

I spoke with my friend Lindsey (@a_bus_named_sue) about her experience telecommuting:

“I work full-time in digital advertising for a company that is completely remote. I studied this field in college and always have had a job in advertising. Before I went remote, I worked at a few different agencies in Boston for about five years. Once Leo and I decided that we wanted to live on the road, I researched remote-only jobs and started at my current company over a year ago.

So I started working remotely even before we bought a bus! Working full time on the road has been a fulfilling experience because I still get to do what I’m passionate about while living a life that I want to live.”

Lindsey telecommuting from her skoolie
Lindsey has such a cozy office space in her skoolie! (photo: @a_bus_named_sue)

2. Freelance Work

Freelance work is super popular among full-time travelers. You can do almost anything on a freelance basis, including writing, editing, photography, graphic design, being a personal assistant, marketing, etc. Some excellent resources for freelance work include job platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, and Behance.

I have primarily supported myself over the last two years by working as a freelance writer and editor. I created an Upwork account before the idea of converting a bus even occurred to me, just as a way to supplement my income. I’m extremely glad I did, because it can take quite a while to gain traction, win contracts, and build up a stellar reputation. 

At first, I relied on a combination of savings from before we moved into the bus, income from freelancing, and seasonal work on the road (which I’ll cover in the next section), but at this point, I am able to completely support myself with my freelance work.

I am proud of myself for achieving this, because while I went to college and earned a bachelor’s degree, it was in Fine Arts and I had no official training or professional experience writing.

3. Seasonal Work

I did seasonal lifeguard work at a country club
It was only a little bit weird being 5-10 years older than all of the other lifeguards 🙂 Plus, I got a killer tan.

Another option is to pick up seasonal work while you are traveling. There is seasonal work available throughout the year, although winter and summer provide the most options. Seasonal jobs are widely varied as well, including things like firefighting, working at ski resorts, and summer recreation positions like lifeguarding and concessions.

As I mentioned above, I also worked a seasonal position in the summer of 2019, lifeguarding at a country club in Boulder, Colorado.

Lifeguards always seem to be in high demand, and I worked in aquatics (lifeguarding, teaching swim lessons, and eventually managing a pool) from early high school until a year after college so I had lots of experience.

So, we picked an area where we wanted to spend a few months, I found a country club, and I got hired over the phone. Aaron also got a seasonal job at a brewery, and we continued to live in our bus so we could put the majority of our earnings into savings to fund later travels.

Leo (the other half of @a_bus_named_sue) shared his seasonal work experience:

“I typically work as a seasonal wildland firefighter, so Lindsey and I can be stationary in the summers and travel during the winters. I chose this field of work because I’m outdoors all day and it also gives me time to travel in the offseason.”

(photo: @leoodood)

4. Farm Work

Farm work can be seasonal for things like harvesting, but there is work to be done year-round. Cole and Monica (@buslifepossible) are currently working on a farm and they gave me the scoop:

We found jobs at a farm in Washington through a friend of a friend. Our current job duties include trimming (lots of trimming) and prepping the fields for planting the outdoor grow. Once everything is planted we’ll help with maintaining the fields until it’s time to harvest in October. It has been really fun to learn about the growing process and see the behind-the-scenes of the operation.

During the winter we lucked out by landing a position managing a Christmas tree lot in southern Arizona.

It was hard work but the benefits of parking at our place of work and being in town made life easier. What I love most about bus life are the random opportunities that present themselves to you that maybe wouldn’t be feasible for folks that live in a home. We have really enjoyed our experiences working odd jobs on the road!”

(photo: @buslifepossible)

You can find farm work on traditional platforms like Indeed, or PickYourOwn.org has a great list of resource sites to find work near you.

5. Healthcare Travel Contracts

If you work in a healthcare profession, you may be able to take your skills on the road with a travel contract. I spoke with Kelly and Thomas (@roamingwilsons) about their experiences with travel contract work:

“Prior to living full-time in our bus, Thomas and I (Kelly) were both working full-time jobs in the healthcare field. Thomas is an occupational therapist and worked at a hospital. I am a social worker and worked in an outpatient therapy setting providing mental health therapy to children, teens, and adults.

As we began looking into bus life and how we would make money from the road, we learned about travel healthcare jobs. Neither of us had worked travel contracts previously but we were able to connect with a travel agency and a recruiter assisted in helping us find a job. Jobs are available throughout the US from AK to HI.

If you can be flexible in where you can work it is easy to land a travel contract, but you can be as picky as you wish to a certain location or work setting. You do need to be licensed in each respective state that you may plan to work in, but the travel company will reimburse those costs if you land a contract in that state. 

Recently, Thomas accepted his first occupational therapy contract in California. These contracts are usually 13 weeks but can vary, and the hours are usually full-time. The process went smoothly and the contracts allow you to make more money due to their need to fill positions.

(photo: @roamingwilsons)

There are many different agencies you can work with and they provide money for rent, food, and travel expenses when you accept a position. The travel company will also provide you with housing, but since we travel with our bus, we are able to take the housing stipend and make additional money if we can park somewhere more affordable.

After the contract in California was over, we planned to travel, but due to travel restrictions, we decided to look for another work contract. I (Kelly) recently accepted a social work contract back in my home state, Arkansas, and Thomas will also work while there. We feel fortunate that our careers prior to bus life were able to be transitioned and adapted to our dream of living on the road.”

6. Split The Year

Some jobs necessitate that you are in one place for a good chunk of the year, like if you have started a business where you live. In that case, you probably don’t want to abandon all your hard work, so it might make the most sense to spend a portion of the year running your business and the rest of your time traveling.

This arrangement still gives the freedom of full-time travel for several months of the year, while offering the stability of a home base and allowing you to reap the benefits of your business.

7. Street Performing

Street performing is how my boyfriend Aaron (@suitcase_drummer) earned all of his money on the road until we stopped in Boulder for the summer. He is an amazing drummer and has been playing for around 20 years (before we hit the road he played professionally with the Seattle Seahawks Blue Thunder Drumline), so he built his own suitcase travel drumset and plays it on the streets in big cities for tips.

While it’s certainly hit or miss depending on foot traffic, local regulations, and the weather, he has been quite successful overall.

Aaron earns most of his money by street performing
Always having a good time.

If you have a talent that you can perform on the street and aren’t afraid to put on a show, this can be a great way to make money. It can be anything, from dancing to music to magic tricks. Be sure to check and follow local laws — there are often rules about using amplification, how close you can be to businesses, and so forth.

8. Be A YouTuber

I know I said at the beginning of this article that you don’t have to be a YouTube star to travel full-time, but that’s not to say that you can’t! If you love filming and editing, ad revenue from YouTube videos can add up quickly. However, since it’s not a guaranteed income and the amount often varies widely from month to month, many YouTubers have multiple streams of income.

9. Start A Blog

While there is a lot of work required to start a successful blog, the end result can be incredibly rewarding. There are blog owners out there who earn seven figures a year from ad revenue, affiliate marketing, and product sales. If you are passionate about a topic and love sharing your thoughts, tips, and advice with others, blogging can be a fulfilling and financially rewarding endeavor.

10. Sell Physical Products

For all the makers out there, you can certainly sell your wares on the road to earn an income. Smaller products like jewelry, artwork, and so forth tend to be easier in a logistical sense since space is always limited while traveling. You can sell your creations at farmers’ markets, at skoolie and van life events, or online through platforms like Etsy or your own digital store.

Carley (@flatoutcarley) makes beautiful hand-crafted leather goods in a miniature studio space onboard her bus conversion (@flatouttravellers), and here’s what she said about her experience:

I started working with leather for the first time about five months after moving into the bus. I love working with something so raw and creating it into a practical, lifelong accessory. Traveling can become so busy and distracting that I have to make the time to work in my studio. I love taking inspiration from the places I travel and translating them into my work.”

Carley makes leather goods
Such a talented craftswoman! (photo: @flatoutcarley)

You can check out her available pieces on her website, flatoutleatherco.com.

11. Amazon CamperForce

Retail giant Amazon has a ‘workcamping’ program called CamperForce designed specifically for RVers and full-time travelers. The program provides short-term warehouse jobs with some swanky benefits like campsite reimbursement (up to $550 a month), a weekly pay schedule with potential for overtime pay, an assignment completion bonus, medical and prescription coverage after 90 days, and a 401(k) program.

12. Campground Hosting

If you don’t mind settling down in one place for a while, working as a campground host is another great option. Mandi (@followyourfernweh) shared her experience hosting:

Being a campground host is a great way to stretch your travel budget. I’ve been a host at state parks in Colorado and California, with duties ranging from selling firewood and cleaning bathrooms to helping out in a nature center and taking care of a large garden and chickens. Being stationary for 3-6 months gives me a chance to really explore an area in depth and even become part of the community.

While it can be annoying to tell the same campers eight times to please put their dog on a leash, enforcing rules and regulations helps everyone enjoy the parks safely and responsibly. Rangers are always there to back you up, if needed. I also have a remote job that keeps gas in the tank, so I’ve opted for host positions without pay, but a free site is provided.

Many campgrounds have an hourly wage and discounted sites — just have to do a little digging to find the situation that is right for you!”

Mandi works as a campground host
Such a chill set-up! (photo: @followyourfernweh)

13. Rent Out Your Home

If you own a home, you can rent it out while you are traveling which can potentially cover the mortgage payments, or if you can charge more or have already paid it off, you will have a nice passive income to fund your traveling, and a house to return to should you ever wish to do so. 

You can rent it out as a long-term rental which tends to be more hands-off, or as a short-term rental (on AirBnB for instance), which requires more management and marketing work but can also net you more money if it’s fully booked out. Either way, you will most likely need to hire someone local to serve as a property manager to address maintenance needs and/or clean between guests or renters.

14. Craigslist Gigs

If you are just looking to make a quick buck, check out the gigs page on Craigslist for your area. There are always one-time jobs available like repping a product at an event, participating in a paid research study (college towns are great for these), modeling, photography/videography, doing handiwork or landscaping, DJing, working booths at farmers markets, etc.

It can be a task to sort through the scammy postings but every once in a while you can find gems.

15. Teach Lessons

If you are an expert at something and enjoy teaching, you can teach virtual or in-person lessons on platforms like takelessons.com. This can be slightly tricky since you will need a good enough internet connection to facilitate video chatting or you will need to be in one place long enough to build a viable client base, but private instruction can be incredibly lucrative.

In fact, Aaron used to teach drum lessons through takelessons.com as a side gig when we were still living in Seattle.

Another potential platform to check out is VIPKid, where you can virtually teach English as a second language to children in China. With both of these platforms, you can set your own availability and schedule, so you can work as little or as much as you want.

No matter what your skill set is, there is a way to make money while traveling. Whether you want to work full-time, part-time, or whenever you feel like it, it just takes some creativity and dedication to get started making a living on the road!

 

Read more:

Can You Live Full Time in a Truck Camper?

Saving for Vanlife (How Much You’ll Need)

How Much Do You Get Paid As a Ski Instructor?

How Much Do Mountain Guides Make?

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