I will never forget the moment when it dawned on me, that I was nearly out of money. I had been traveling for over a year, didn’t have a job, and I had slowly drained my savings to three figures.
I had already made a lot of (what some people might consider insane) sacrifices to extend my travels for as long as possible. I had sold my car and every piece of furniture I owned. I had lived on a shoestring and deprived myself of luxuries. I had done work trade, couch surfing, and all of the usual backpacker rights of passage.
But what I still hadn’t done, was figure out a way to make money.
What I still hadn’t done, was figure out a way to financially sustain my life of travel.
Ten coconuts, five yoga classes, and one plane ticket away from dead broke, I came up with a plan. I’d earn a living online.
It started out small. I wrote articles about Costa Rica for a real estate company for $25 a piece. The pay seemed pitiful, but I could manage to write one an hour. If I wrote two a day, I’d meet my monthly budget with extra to save. I quickly discovered how possible, and easy, it was to earn enough money online to fund my travels, and work less in an entire month than I used to work in a week back in the states.
As time went on, I got bigger paying jobs. I contacted dozens of travel websites, pitched plenty of editors, responded to ads on job boards, and eventually I had gigs paying as much as $500 for an article. It wasn’t always easy, but as long as I hustled to get work, I made enough to pay for my travels.
Freelance writing alone funded six months of travel in Southeast Asia for me. I recall one month in Laos where I worked 10 hours, made $1500 through freelance writing, and only spent $750. I had enough money to save, and enough time to devote myself to my real passions: travel and writing my blog.
But let’s be realistic here. The thing with freelance work, is that it’s never guaranteed. I’ve written for companies who suddenly went out of business. I’ve been slammed with work and then had nothing the next month. More often than not, I’ve waited months before I even got paid.
So I learned to diversify. I started offering social media services to small businesses, designing websites, and creating custom travel itineraries. I looked into all of the possible ways I could earn an income online, and I experimented with as many as I could.
It took some work, but way less than a typical 9 to 5 job. While working as a freelancer online, I had the time to backpack in twenty different countries, to maintain and grow a successful travel blog, to become a certified yoga teacher, and to write my first eBook.
Earning an income online was the first step that enabled me to continue my dream of traveling, and to start building a business that fulfills me.
So, how does my story apply to you?
If you want to quit your job and sustain a life of travel, you can’t live on savings forever. Eventually the money will run out and you’ll find yourself back home, trying to save all over again. Or, you’ll bounce around volunteering from place to place, living on a shoestring, and eventually get burned out.
Many people I meet on the road have chosen to focus on careers that they can do while traveling. Working on cruise ships, teaching English abroad, and teaching yoga are all great examples that I highly encourage people to try. However, they typically require working for someone else, in a set location, for a set period of time.
For true, lasting, freedom to travel when and where you want, and the time to focus on your true purpose, you need to create a source of income that flows no matter where you are.
When you’re getting started, don’t worry if this revenue stream doesn’t feel like your true calling. The key is to find something that doesn’t take a lot of time, but earns you enough money to travel and explore. It should support you, but give you the space to start building a business that does align with your passion.
Here’s my best advice for how to earn a living from anywhere in the world.
Offer Online Services
This is the easiest and most straightforward method for making money while traveling. The opportunities here are as vast as your imagination. A good starting point is to consider what skills you already have and see how you can take them online. Here are some possibilities:
Note: I highly recommend creating a simple website to feature some samples of your work and information about your services. Having this will make it much easier for you to get hired. I used my travel blog as my portfolio, and once I had written for different companies, I shared links to the most reputable ones in my pitch.
Most native English speakers are proficient enough at writing to be able to get gigs online. You don’t need a journalism or writing background. If you wrote high school or college term papers, you’re able to do this. The writing gigs may not pay a lot at first, but they add up. Even if you only make $20 for an article that takes you an hour, you can write two a day and be within your travel budget. The most I’ve ever earned for a freelance article was a 350 word piece for Marie Claire that paid $700.
I recommend first scouring job boards for freelance writing opportunities in industries that you’re interested in. The more knowledgeable you are on that particular subject, the easier it’s going to be for you to pitch article ideas and the faster you’ll be able to write them. Popular sites for freelance writers include:
Upwork (formerly oDesk)
Craigslist (check the “gigs” section in major cities)
You can also look up all different websites in your industry of interest, and look to see if they hire writers. Usually in the footer you’ll find a link that says “write for us” or something similar. You can also Google the name of the company along with “freelance writing.” If you’re interested in travel writing specifically, look into:
For more opportunities for freelance travel writing, check out Websites That Pay for Travel Writing and 50 Travel Magazines That Want to Publish Your Writing.
For general writing gigs, not specific to travel, check out this article.
Do you have design or tech skills? For this specialized work, people are willing to pay a lot. You don’t have to know much, even understanding how to set up a basic WordPress site is considered technical expertise to some clients. Put the word out to your friends on Facebook, contact small business owners who don’t have websites yet, and check out web design/development job boards. Just like with freelance writing, you’ll find jobs on Elance, Upwork, and in the Craigslist “technical” gigs section in major cities. Check out this article for more advice on landing web design gigs online.
If you take nice photos, consider selling your work online. To get started you can sign up with Getty Images, Shutterstock, iStock Photo, Etsy, and Flickr. For some basic guidelines in knowing how to sell your photography online, read this article: How to Sell Photographs Online.
Also, check out this article for more options on where to sell your work: Top 10 Sites That Sell Photos Online
If you understand Search Engine Optimization, Social Media Marketing, or Advertising, why not offer marketing consulting to small business owners? Again, put the word out among business owners you know, contact strangers, and check out listings on online job boards.
Do you currently work in a service-based industry? Is there a way that you can take that skillset online? If you’re a lawyer or a doctor or a nurse, see if you can do transcriptions online. If you do any kind of consulting, therapy, or coaching, do Skype sessions with your clients. Focus on the possibilities and the opportunities will appear.
Ask Your Boss to Work Remotely
Oh ya, you can do that too. If you currently work a desk job, why not explore the option with your employer for working remotely? I’ve met people all over the world doing this. You do have less flexibility than when you’re a freelancer, but it’s a lot less scary to take the jump. If you can learn to work more efficiently, there’s no reason why you can’t cut down on your work time tremendously.
Build a Product and Sell It
One of the best ways to earn money from anywhere is by creating something once, and then selling as much of it as possible. This definitely takes some investment and is less straightforward than doing online freelance work, but it has much higher income potential for less working hours.
There are many possibilities for products you can create and sell online, however today I’m going to focus exclusively on products that do not require shipping like eBooks and e-programs.
Think about what you already know, what needs exist, and how you can serve them. Instead of constantly answering people’s questions by creating a service, can you create a sellable product that achieves the same end?
Do some market research by asking people who fit your target demographic, setting up an online survey, or even posting a question on your Facebook timeline. See if there is in fact a demand for the product that you’re considering creating. The key is to find where there is a pain point and create a product that solves it.
Once you have your product, set up a basic website where you can sell it. I recommend getting a basic hosting plan with Blue Host, using WordPress Software, and if you’re selling an eBook, use e-Junkie.
Where you advertise your product depends on your target customer. Some options include Google Adwords, Facebook Advertising, and websites related to your product. I’ve had the most success with Facebook ads, which can be very inexpensive and highly targeted.
If you’re serious about creating a product and earning passive income from it, I highly recommend that you read The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris, which devotes an entire chapter to helping you do it!
Create Passive or Residual Income Streams
Creating and selling a product can become a passive income stream, but it’s not the only way. Network marketing is also a great way, as long as you’re selling something you believe in. Granted, Network marketing can feel a bit like being part of a pyramid scheme. The way it works is that you earn residual income from people who you’ve signed up to be sellers as part of your network.
However if it’s a product you feel passionately about, I see no problem with it. I have friends who earn passive income through selling essential oils, enough to travel for extended periods, thanks to network marketing. If you’re interested in signing up yourself, I recommend Young Living Essential Oils. It works like this: sign up for a wholesale account, start using the oils, fall in love with them, share them with friends and family, get three people to sign up for wholesale accounts and get $150, earn residual income on orders placed by anyone who signs up through you, anyone who signs up through them, and on and on. Get more info on getting started with essential oils here.
Other ways of earning passive or residual income include investing in properties that you can lease, investing in businesses and earning royalties, and creating a business that operates without you. I know people who travel exclusively from the income they earn by renting their apartment through Air BnB. I also know people who have invested in yoga studios, bars, and restaurants, which are managed by others. Two of my friends invested in a bar with a friend who manages it, and they earn tens of thousands of dollars a month without needing to be there.
Get creative, think about your unique skills, and create offerings that minimize the actual hours it takes you to earn income. Most importantly, remember, there are so many ways to break out of the nine to five, and still pay the bills.