Earning income as a van dweller
This section is aimed mainly at people who plan to move around a lot, making it impossible to maintain a traditional employment. While the mobile lifestyle makes the classic 9-to-5 job difficult, it can also open up opportunities that weren’t available when you were anchored to one plot of land.
You are already a business
Any time you sell goods or services, you are engaging in business as a sole proprietor. In other words, you are already a business, even if you have never filled out a form to register as such. The key to a successful business is to search inside yourself and identify what it is that you can do better than at least some of the competition, and then motivating yourself to get out there and do it.
Although you’re technically already a business, it’s often a good idea to work under a more formal business structure. If you’re doing work where a small mistake can lead to big liabilities or where you’re borrowing money for capital, you should look into bonding, insurance, and starting a limited liability company. These measures can protect you from spending the rest of your life paying out to someone who pulled you into their vendetta.
There exists an ideal business plan suited for each individual in the world. What is yours? We will discuss just a few possibilities to help you start brainstorming.
Writing and digital publishing
Create a website or blog. It is possible to host a website for free if you are resourceful. At the time of this writing, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon all offer free tiers of service for sites with a low volume of traffic. Developing and hosting a website is beyond the scope of this guide, but it is something to consider if you are so inclined.
As a way to distinguish your work from the vast multitude of blogs out there, consider compiling the best parts into a book and self-publishing (or signing with a traditional publisher if you can). Amazon’s CreateSpace and a company called Lulu are two popular options for self-publishing. Keep in mind that readers are not likely to just stumble upon your book without significant marketing effort on your part.
Online freelance work
There are a few freelance sites where you may find remote work that pays reasonably well. Most of the work is posted by small businesses or individuals looking for article writing, data entry, graphic design, software development, or other work that can be done remotely on a computer.
The drawback to online freelancing is that the “employers” are typically on a tight budget and often not very tactful in making demands far beyond what their budget justifies. Some are downright scammers. Some assume that you are a scammer and treat you as such. What you want to do is gradually build connections with a few (but more than one!) honest and reliable clients to work with on a regular basis.
Producing and monetizing videos
Create YouTube videos that qualify for monetization. The most important thing here is to avoid using copyrighted material of any kind. If you create a video with 100% original content, and it is entertaining or valuable enough to inspire viewers to share, YouTube will provide a small supplemental income that tends to grow over time.
Unfortunately, producing video is also a bit of a lottery. The personal investment is higher than, say, writing, and you may have to publish a lot of videos before one attracts enough attention to pay for the time it took you to create it. The nice thing is that your first popular video leads to subscribers and a larger audience for your future videos.
A number of van dwellers create “vlog” channels to share tips about their lifestyle and document their adventures. It seems to be hit-or-miss as to whether this is a good subject to build a following. The videos that are most likely to go viral seem to be either extremely funny or awe-inspiring, so that’s where to aim.
Gigs on Craigslist and Mechanical Turk
Watch Craigslist for jobs and gigs. Consider posting an ad for services that you can offer in the area where you will be traveling. Craigslist seems to work best for people with very broad and adaptable skills like “traveling handyman” or “muscles for hire”.
Amazon’s runs a site called Mechanical Turk that can provide a small amount of income in a pinch. People working on Mechanical Turk are usually very lucky to come close to the federal minimum wage. Expect to make half that or even less. Still, it can be enough to put food in your belly and fuel in your tank when no other options are available.
It can take time to get your Mechanical Turk account set up and verified. If you think there’s a chance that you will use it in the future, set it up now so you won’t have to jump through those hoops when you may be less prepared.
Arbitrage means taking advantage of imblances within a market or between two markets. For example, you may find an item selling for less than it’s worth to buyers just a hundred miles away or at a very short time in the future. Even if you rely on another source of income, it’s always good to keep an eye open for arbitrage opportunities. When conditions are right, it’s like finding money on the sidewalk.
When you’re driving through rural towns, plan ahead and see if you will be passing a flea market or perhaps an estate auction. Sometimes you can pick up items to sell in wealthier markets for a nice profit. Also check Craigslist and similar sites for locals selling items that you known you can resell when you reach a larger city.
Remember that for this to be considered arbitrage, you have to be able to profit nearly immediately with close to 100% certainty (such as already having a buyer before you begin). Otherwise, you’re speculating or peddling. There’s nothing wrong with those, but you approach them with a different mindset.
Use downtime effectively
During times when you’re not actively earning an income, you can use your time to work on projects forming a foundation to build upon in the future. Use the time to get your name out there to potential clients or offer your services as charity work that you can show to a future client.
Always have a plan for how you will use your downtime. If you don’t have a plan, then making the plan is an effective use of that time.
More in this series:
- Which vehicles are most suitable for living
- Finding overnight parking anywhere
- Cooling off in the summer
- Warming up in the winter
- Insulating your vehicle from heat and cold
- Effective habits for safe van dwelling
- Getting a restful night of sleep
- Earning income as a van dweller
- Maintaining connectivity anywhere
- Preparing for the move
- Preparing meals on the road
- Staying clean when water is scarce
- Supplying electricity to your dwelling
- Receiving mail and official documents
- Essential maintenance for your vehicle
- Adding your personal touch