When we left our New York City home in April 2017 to travel full time around the U.S., we knew we wanted to work toward having as many streams of income as possible. We’d been used to making money in a traditional way: full-time, salaried jobs. Our plan for making money on the road was to work freelance, but as any freelancer knows, that kind of work is often feast-or-famine.
Our income still varies widely month to month, but there are a few stable sources of cashflow that keep our bigger bills (health and car insurance) covered, and ensure we have something to fall back on in an emergency.
Here’s what our income streams look like:
- We own our home in NYC and have been renting it out since we left. The rent covers the mortgage and utilities of the home, with enough left over to cover our health insurance.
- Before leaving home, we saved enough cash to cover the cost of buying and building out our shuttle bus so we wouldn’t go into debt to do it.
- For several years, we’ve been investing whatever money we could into commodities trading. Investments can be risky, but we found a trader we trust and put stop-gaps in place to make it a bit safer; the ROI is high enough to keep the remainder of our savings growing, and in an emergency, we can access that money to cover gaps in our income.
- We’ve shied away from paid partnerships with companies that would monetize our travels, but a few times on our trip, we’ve teamed up with someone who can provide us a comped service (bush flights in Alaska, helicopter rides in Hawaii) in exchange for making content about our experience. We’ve done photo, video and website work for these companies in exchange for their services, and it gives us a chance to have experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be in our budget.
- David sells his photography online and has licensed some of his photos from our trip for use by other companies.
- The bread and butter of our income is David’s freelance work. He worked as a graphic designer in New York, so he has connections from that job as well as from people who were in his program in college. He’s gotten some jobs from a service called Upwork, but the majority of his clients came from networking with people he already knows. We built a small, separate office space for him in the back of our bus, so he has an isolated place to go and focus on work.
While some of our income is passive, David’s freelance work sometimes requires him to put in long hours. Generally I put our two kids to bed at night and David starts work in the early evening, putting in 4-5 hours before he goes to bed each night. When he’s up against a deadline, we stop wherever we are and he dedicates a few days or weeks to work to get on top of things. Because he’s a rockstar and handles so much of his work at night, and because our schedule with kids requires us to turn in early anyway, it doesn’t usually conflict with our daytime adventuring.
During these times, my job is mostly to be mom. I used to teach writing at a university, but when we moved to NYC, I became a full-time stay-at-home-mom. I still write and occasionally publish, but my work doesn’t really make any money, so I haven’t included it as a source of income ;). Maybe someday!
Some of the challenges David faces with work:
- Internet access. David’s work necessitates that we have access to the Internet. We upgraded our phone plans to unlimited data, and we use data hot spots to run our computers. This works great when we have good phone service, so we try to camp in places that do. This often means we’re camping in a Walmart parking lot instead of remote BLM land.
- We take a ton of photos of our travels, and while we try to stay on top of them so we can update our blog and social media, it takes a lot of time getting everything organized, choosing photos to edit, and editing them. Usually one of David’s work nights per week will be spent just doing personal photos.
Our money-making methods aren’t terribly romantic—we’re not getting paid to travel the world or making lucrative partnerships with companies to stage their products into our pictures. We know a lot of people who start a nomadic lifestyle hoping to turn it into a job with sponsorships and compensated travel. We’ve always been wary of that kind of work—we didn’t want to change anything about our trip to make it more appealing to advertisers or followers. The focus of our trip is on local, U.S.-based travel, and we’ve loved knowing that when we share pictures of our favorite spots in the national parks, they are destinations that most of the people following along on our trip can feasibly visit. Public lands are usually inexpensive to access and most Americans have an National Park Service site within a day’s drive. We always want to keep our trip relatable and accessible.
We feel extremely lucky/blessed/privileged to be able to do this trip. We’re never going to pretend like we can afford to travel because we pack our own lunches or we saved our pocket change or anything. Frugality is awesome and played a big part in saving up for our trip, but we were lucky to be doing well enough that we could feasibly save. We know many people don’t have enough to make ends meet, let alone save up to buy a bus and invest extra income. We fully recognize that we’ve been incredibly fortunate in our lives, with college scholarships, money-wise parents who taught us about investing, good jobs that allowed us to save, etc. There are so many ways to make full-time road life work, and we love how creative the van life community is in figuring out ways to make money from the road, but we also think it’s really important to recognize that we’re all very fortunate to be able to choose this lifestyle! We count our blessings a lot and hope this info. helps other families think through how they could make a dream happen :).