Living and traveling the world in a campervan is a dream for many. But figuring out how to finance travel is often the biggest obstacle that holds people back from pursuing it.
It’s no wonder that questions like “How do you afford to travel?” is something that we get asked daily.
A couple of years ago we packed all of our belongings and set out to drive across two continents in our self-converted Promaster campervan. We spent nearly 2 years on the road traveling through 14 different countries without having 9-5 jobs or returning home to make more money.
So how did we do it? In this post, I’ll shed some light on how to make money living in a van – from our personal experience.
Keep in mind that not everyone’s journey will be the same and there are tons of different avenues available for making money on the road.
While getting paid to travel the world was an unfamiliar concept just a few years ago, travel blogging is my full-time job now and this blog post covers exactly how.
Before we dive into the details, I do want to point out that when we first started living in our campervan, we didn’t make any money. Zero. All of our expenses were paid completely by our personal savings accounts.
If you can figure out a way to make money before you start traveling full time, it will make your journey so much more enjoyable and stress-free!
Our original 6-month travel budget for Mexico was only $50 a day (for two people) so we ended up skipping out on a lot of cool activities in the name of our budget.
Gas, food, toiletries, entrance fees to attractions…it all adds up. Quick. While traveling in a van is certainly cheaper than paying rent, there are still plenty of fixed costs associated with living in a van that we couldn’t bring down no matter how much we tried.
On average, we spent around $2,200 per month traveling down the Pan American Highway. If we had to do it again, I would start looking into alternative income sources well before setting out on the road.
Read More: Van Life – How Much Does It REALLY Cost?
Things To Consider
One of the hardest parts about making money while living in a van is switching your mindset from working a 9-5 job to working for yourself.
Before we left our jobs to travel full time, I worked as an accountant and financial analyst. I was used to set deadlines and following the lead of my bosses. Now I had to think completely for myself and BE the boss! That can sometimes feel like a lot of pressure and will require you to think outside of the box. But then again, van life in itself is a non-conventional way to travel.
Tip: One of the best books that I’ve read on this subject is The E-Myth Revisited that covers tips for how to start your own small business and help change your mindset from being an employee to owning & building a successful business.
Without a 9-5 job, you won’t have the stability of a certain income every month. Now it was up to me to figure out how to make money (while also traveling full time).
It can be very frustrating and there are no guarantees. There is no direct straight path and information about this subject can be hard to find or not exist at all. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
After 5 years of trial and error, I now am at a comfortable point where I make a steady passive income from this blog that covers my travels, monthly expenses and have money left over to save or reinvest in my business. Yes, it took a while to get here but it’s about the same time as going to college, finishing an internship, and slowly making your way up a 9-5 job.
The good part about working for yourself is that you don’t have a salary cap. What holds me back is only myself and how much I’m willing to learn & put into it.
So let’s dive into details and different ways to make money living in a van. Here’s the good, the bad, and everything in between!
The biggest source of income for me right now is ad revenue from my blog. I’ve been running ads on my blog Fun Life Crisis for a couple of years and it’s grown into a great source of passive income.
When I first started looking into ways to monetize this blog, I tried out Google Ads. We didn’t know how to optimize the ad placement and after a year of running Google Ads, we made around $50. Not enough to cover travel expenses by any means.
Then I read income reports by Living The Dream and Practical Wanderlust travel blogs and they both mentioned an ad management company called Mediavine. Mediavine is a full-service ad management company that will place ads on your website in optimized locations to make the most money for you.
At the time I had a decent amount of traffic but I needed 25,000 monthly sessions before I could be considered for their network. So, I worked hard on promoting existing blog posts on my social media channels (especially Pinterest) along with publishing new content.
Speaking of social media, be sure to follow our Instagram page @funlifecrisis for more travel inspo!
Within a short time, I reached the minimum requirement (which now I believe is 50,000 monthly sessions) and applied to Mediavine. By the second month of acceptance, I made $1300 in ad revenue and it felt incredible. It was the push I needed to keep going and now I am at a point where Mediavine ads bring in around $5000 per month. Not too bad!
The best part about Mediavine is that they are so easy to work with and take care of everything. There is some initial setup but it’s been easy cruising since then!
If you have a blog with a decent readership, I can’t recommend Mediavine enough. Or if you’re thinking about getting into blogging, start now and you’ll get there before you know it!
Affiliate marketing is another great stream of revenue for bloggers.
Affiliate marketing means adding links on your blog to items that you suggest and if someone buys it, you get a small percentage of that sale as a commission. This is a great option for passive income because once you build that link once, it stays there forever and can bring in sales over time (as long as the product doesn’t get removed or the program doesn’t get shut down – yes, I’m talking about you Airbnb).
With affiliate marketing, you don’t need to have a big audience to start making money from it.
My latest blog California Wanderland is less than a year old but I already started making affiliate sales from this blog.
Some of my best affiliate programs are Amazon, REI, Booking.com, Get Your Guide, Viator and VRBO. I’m still pretty new at affiliate marketing and figuring it out, but now I’m at a point where I make around $1000 in affiliate commissions per month.
Amazon is by far one of the most popular and successful affiliate programs out there because everyone uses Amazon, but unfortunately, they lowered many of their commission categories this year to as low as 1%. On average, you can expect anywhere from 1% to 10% commission for affiliate programs like these.
The links that perform the best are genuine and honest about the products that we use and like. On the other hand, placing a generic banner has never really worked for us. Sometimes the links that I least expect perform the best because I don’t try “too hard” to sell an item.
Building blog posts around ads and affiliate links is a steady way to make income and it doesn’t require you to work every day.
One week I may work 60+ hours and publish multiple articles and the next week I might go off the grid in the mountains. The best part about passive income streams is that they bring in income every day of the week, even during weekends and Holidays.
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If you have a decent amount of traffic or following, you can also collaborate with companies on sponsored posts. For me, these collaborations range anywhere from $300-$4000 depending on how many deliverables are expected.
I only collaborate with companies that I truly believe in, trust, and use myself before I would suggest the products to my audience. Staying true and authentic to my readers is my priority. I’ve passed on plenty of paid partnerships because I just didn’t think it was something my audience would find useful or sounded spammy.
Sponsored posts can also be a lot of work so price yourself accordingly.
Account for costs like traveling to locations, gas, food, campsites, entrance fees, possibly buying new outfits and spending days (if not weeks) of putting together the material. Keep in mind that making money from sponsorships is NOT a passive income stream. This can be quite challenging to do when you’re living in a van and don’t have a permanent address for companies and brands to ship items to.
A couple of years ago at the peak of Instagram, I was doing sponsored posts regularly for major brands, hotels, and tourism boards through my account @vagablonde_laura. Then one day my Instagram account was hacked and deleted and the sponsored gigs stopped overnight. Literally.
It was pretty devastating to me at the time especially since it took years for me to build that audience but it eventually led me to invest more time into other projects (like this blog) that I see as more as a long-term goal.
Social media can be so lucrative and relying on someone else’s platform is always a risky business. And you never know when a new platform like Tik Tok will pop up that companies see as more “worthy” of investing into ditching the previously established social media platforms.
With changing algorithms, updates, Facebook’s push for paid advertisement, and newly implemented privacy laws I see an overall drop in engagement on platforms like Instagram. And let’s be real, engagement is the biggest metric on how companies measure their return on investment on sponsored posts.
Occasionally I will get emails asking if my images are up for sale. Receiving those emails are the best because you don’t have to do much work to make money (unless you need to put together a lot of samples before the client picks which images they like or you need to keep making edits – in which case price yourself accordingly).
I’ve sold my photos to magazines, books, companies and other parties that are looking to outsource images. It saves them money from having to organize expensive photoshoots by outsourcing existing images from my social media channels or blog posts so it’s a win-win.
Typically, when selling rights to my images I will charge anywhere from $200 for a small magazine print to $1500 for a full license.
But to sell licenses for images, the buyers expect the photos to be of high quality. Aka your small beginner camera might not cut it. Eventually, I had to upgrade from my beginner-friendly Sony a5100 camera to the full-frame Sony a7II camera and a travel tripod to create high-quality images.
Many companies use social media to find and outsource photographers for product shoots or special events. Your Instagram page can serve as a portfolio and if your style aligns with what a company is looking for, they may hire you as a freelance photographer to capture images for product launches, websites, and their social media channels.
This is something that I did a lot when I first started traveling and getting into photography. I knew very little of what I was doing but that naïve attitude also had no limits.
I would reach out to many companies that I liked and asked if they are interested in working with me. I didn’t have a big following at the time so I offered to take product photos and built long-term relationships.
With freelance photography you often have to juggle multiple tasks like scouting locations, styling, taking the photos, modeling, and editing the images after.
While these gigs didn’t always pay that well, it was enough for me to keep doing it at the time. Now I don’t focus on this aspect anymore because it was a lot of work for sometimes little payoff but it’s a great way to get started and work on your outreach and photography skills at the same time.
If you converted your own campervan, you already have a great skill that you can put to use. While building out vans is not a passive monthly job and requires a lot of sweat equity, it is a great way to make money.
Not everyone has the knowledge or time to build their vans so many people outsource their builds from companies or individuals. For example, van life couple @courtandnate started their van life journey by sharing tips on Tik Tok (they have 1.8 Million Tik Tok followers now!) that led them to build a van for a client.
If you’re not ready to commit to an entire van build at once, you can also find a smaller niche that is often overlooked. Last year we built several van roof racks and sold Promaster roof brackets to people that were interested in how we built ours.
You can also sell an online guide or e-book on how to build vans. Our DIY Promaster campervan build guide is still one of the most visited pages on our blog!
Other ways to earn money while traveling in a van.
There are so many creative ways to make money while living and traveling in a van. Here are some examples from people that have inspired me over the years. While I haven’t personally tried these methods out myself, I am looking into some of these options to diversity my income for the future.
Often YouTube is one of the first things that van lifers will try out to make money when they’re setting out on their journey, especially when traveling to unique or sought-after places. Many van life YouTube channels have become very popular in the past few years and can potentially bring in a steady income.
Some of my favorite van life YouTube channels are:
- Kombi Life. This is a great channel to follow if you’re thinking about traveling the PanAmerican Highway.
- Eamon & Bec. Eamon & Bec have been doing van life videos for years and have proven themselves to be experts in this field. Plus, they’re the cutest travel couple ever!
- Jennelle Eliana. Jenelle has one of the biggest van life YouTube channels out there. Her videos are entertaining, full of humor and personality yet also so genuine. She’s a total badass van life babe.
- Vanwives. Their channel is only one year old but these girls have been putting out a ton of great content from traveling in Mexico to tips on how to build a rustic DIY campervan.
So how much does YouTube pay? I don’t have a YouTube channel but according to this article by Influencer Marketing Hub on average YouTube pays $3-$5 per 1000 video views.
With this rate, you need to be producing a lot of highly viewed content to get consistent income. Some YouTube channels never take off and some go viral immediately. It’s a risk that you gotta be willing to take when working in the creative field.
Patreon is a great way to support your favorite travelers but not many creatives take advantage of this option. I don’t have a Patreon account but know of other talented entertainers that have Patreon accounts as one of their main sources of income.
Patreon is a monthly membership that people can pay to support artists in the creative field directly. The memberships usually start at $5 per month and go up from there. Typically, the artists will provide something in exchange for the membership like videos, podcasts, editing tips, or behind the scene access.
Provide A Service
If you have a special skill that is often sought out, there are many ways to trade that skill for income.
We met a couple at a campsite in Lake Bacalar, Mexico that did chores in exchange for a free stay at the campground. On top of that, the husband was a professional tattoo artist and would set up an area where people could come and get small tattoos done for money. While we were just lazily lounging on the beach, over a few days they had acquired quite a large client base and made enough money to keep traveling. Talk about creativity!
But you certainly don’t need to start doing tattoos to make a little bit of side income. Maybe you have other skills that you can put to use.
Upwork is a great website where you can post your skills for remote work and outsource clients.
We recently hired an SEO expert through Upwork to help us with our website because it’s something that we wanted to improve, but we didn’t have the knowledge or time to do it ourselves. With Upwork, you can work as a freelance writer, administrator, social media expert, designer, and many other jobs.
Sell A Physical Product
Maybe you are more interested in starting a company that sells physical products. One of my favorite couples that I follow @reneeroaming and @matthewhahnel spent 7 months living in a campervan while traveling to every single National Park in America.
After finishing up their trip they wrote a book Roaming America covering all of the parks that they visited. I’ve been following their adventures for years and their photography, visuals, and storytelling is some of the most inspiring out there!
If you’re into outdoor photography, selling prints is one of the best ways to make money, especially around the holidays when people are looking for personalized gifts to give to their loved ones.
Christian Schaffer is a solo female traveler that lives in a van and has an incredible print store. I love her editing style that focuses on soft pastel colors- so dreamy!
During our Pan American road trip, we met a van life couple on a beach in Mexico and ended camping and hanging out with them for several days. During that time the girl, Jamie, was making beautiful macrame pieces and she just seemed to really enjoy it.
Now she’s turned her passion into an Etsy store FengShuiMacrame with over 470 sales and 5-star reviews. It’s always so inspiring to see people making an income doing something that they truly love!
Many of us have had jobs that require us to go into an office but could be done remotely. When I worked in the accounting field, I could have as easily worked from home but at the time remote work wasn’t as widely accepted as it is now.
During our road trip in Central and South America, we met other van life travelers that worked remotely for companies in the US.
You can always try to pitch your boss the idea of remote work on a trial basis and if it works out, go remote full time.
The downside of working a 9-5 job remotely is that you will always need to find reliable internet…which can be hard when you’re living in a van. And you may not be able to move around as much. But before you ditch your job to travel in a van full time, it’s a great idea to see if you can incorporate your current gig into this lifestyle.
Looking for more van life inspiration? Here are a few of our other popular van life blog posts that you may like:
- Travel Blog Salary: How I Made $10,000 This Month
- 85 Van Life Essentials That You Should Be Packing
- 4 Best Outdoor Showers For Van Life
- 10 Things You Should Know Before Living In A Van
- 15 Traveling Tips For Van Life Couples
Interested in how I capture amazing photos on my trips? Here is the camera gear that I use to create my photos:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (to eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for nature shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Sony Camera Charger Set
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
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