Get paid to travel the world. Seems like a pipe dream. Because right now? You only get two weeks a year.
Two weeks. If you’re like most Americans working at a 9-5, that’s how much time is “designated” as your own — to travel, to “staycation,” to live the life the way you want it. But, if you work hard and stay at your job for longer than five years, you might be lucky enough to get three weeks or more.
That’s some kinda bullshit, amirite?
But you tell yourself that it’s what you have to do. Because your day job? It pays the bills, it’s steady and secure (but not nearly as secure as you might think), and the whole health insurance situation here in America (especially if you have kids) makes the struggle very real and very necessary.
But even if you have credit card debt, dependents, and no clue as to what you’d do other than clock in and out five days a week, it’s likely that if you’re reading Travelstoked, you hear the world softly whispering “come with me” into your ear. You long for something more. You feel your inner adventurer dying to scream out an enthusiastic “OMW!”
Those That Have Come Before You
There are endless ways you can make money on the road, and it doesn’t have to mean creating and running a travel blog like Dave and Deb over at The Planet D, an award-winning travel journal that documents the couple’s journey from production paupers to travel junkies. These two found themselves burnt out after working 14-hour days, their energy depleted, and always daydreaming of their next vacation. So they set off to build the life they wanted.
Same story for Matt Karsten at Expert Vagabond — working as a photographer in Miami wasn’t cutting it, so he sold all his belongings and started traveling the world. He wasn’t rich, but “becoming wealthy with new experiences” was his mission.
Nomadic Matt is probably one of the most successful I-quit-my-job-to-travel-the-world stories, ever, since his experiences fueled a New York Times best selling book called How to Travel The World on $50 a Day (one that you should probably read right now).
And there are hundreds, if not millions more stories like theirs, so your dream of becoming a globe-wondering nomad isn’t totally out of the question. In fact, the internet and technology are making it more and more accessible every single day. Just ask Jill and Josh Stanton of Screw The Nine to Five — they ditched everyone and everything they knew in Toronto three years ago and moved to Thailand. Living on the cheap and focusing on building their online business, they now make six figures a year and can live anywhere they please as long as there’s wifi.
So how do you join the ranks of these success stories and turn your life from a hamster wheel to a never-ending flood of new experiences? Let’s dive in.
Before You Begin
Now, before you hand in your notice, there are a few things you gotta do first. Take it from the experts referenced above — this is not a snap decision you can make overnight. Just like planning any trip, there’s prep work involved so get your patience and expectations in check. We’ve spoken to, and researched dozens of travel bloggers, digital nomads, and adventure photographers, we found that most of them have six pieces of advice in common that led to their success. Read, learn, and follow their example below.
- Downsize your life. Before you do anything cray (like, say, flip your boss the bird first thing tomorrow A.M.), you’ll want to have a hard, deep and real convo with yourself about your current situation. You may enjoy making it rain at the club and splurging on leisurely lunches, but if you want to pick up your life and shove it into a (high quality) backpack for an extended amount of time, you’ll want to become frigidly frugal. A power penny pincher. Debbie Downsize, if you will. Only live with what you need and nothing more. For example, you could get rid of that $100 a month cable subscription and get real friendly with Netflix. Sell your car and get a bike. Make coffee and cook at home instead of going out. Get a roommate. You could also start to get ahead with travel points and miles to bring the price tag down on travel. Chris Guillebeau has an amazing course on travel hacking that can significantly reduce your travel costs. One of the students got to Hawaii from the mainland for $11 bucks!
- Have a savings buffer. Take all that dough you’re not spending on extras and put it into a savings account. Reduce your monthly bills, put yourself on a skin tight budget, and divert any extra income to that savings account, then mentally post a sign on it that says DO NOT TOUCH, YO. That savings will be your cushion for when you do finally say sayonara to your day job to have a wild, torrid affair with the rest of the world.
- Discover What you’re good at. Spoiler alert: I’m not going to be listing “travel blogger” as a way to make money on the road. It takes a long time to build up authority and traffic, and if you’re not a writer or photographer, well, then your dreams of blogging about your adventures paying your way to your next destination are out of reach. For now. Travel blogging is a killer way to engage with people, build a tribe, and help you hone your skills so you absolutely should do it, just don’t expect to earn an income to support your lifestyle. Instead, identify a few skills that you’re damn good at and either create a business out of them (consulting is a good way to get started), or find contract or temporary jobs that you can do in various locations. The entire list we have below won’t be for everyone, but it’ll give you a good idea of where to get started to get your foot in the door. Or, out the door as it were.
- Test the waters. Now that you’ve identified some skills that could make you some cash, start getting comfortable with the temps. Are you a social media manager at your current job? Start consulting for small businesses on the side. If you’re a high school football coach, start selling your playbooks online, like Shane Sams of FlippedLifestyle did. He made five to six figures doing that in his first two years of business. Insane, right? Are you a budding adventure photographer who wants to be Chris Burkard when you grow up? Take some classes to up your game and start selling your prints online.
- Do your research. Read blogs, articles, and magazines about everyone else’s experiences. You may have a pretty rose-tinted view on what life will be like for you on the road, but reality can be very different. Look for success stories, read about how they did it, what worked and what didn’t, and the things they’d do differently. Learn and set your expectations accordingly; The idea of vagabonding full time sounds exotic and sexy now, but it may not actually be your cup of tea in the morning light of reality.
- Relocate. No one said you had to stay in America — or wherever you are — in order to travel. If you have a sizable savings buffer (in this case, size does matter, people) and/or have started making side money online, consider relocating somewhere less expensive to maximize your returns. It doesn’t even have to be in your country. And don’t worry if you can’t speak the native tongue — there are way cheaper (and better, IMO) options for learning a language fast.
Get Paid to Travel
Ready to sink your teeth into the list? I’ve curated the list of jobs based on what I’ve seen to be the most successful (none of those bullshit “couchsurf” options will be found here — we want long-lasting and sustainable income for adults), and broken them out into a few categories for your browsing pleasure:
- Low Risk Moneymakers — These are jobs that offer contract, part-time, or full-time work and a bit of stability if you’re just getting started in the globetrotting game.
- Making Your Own Money — These are gigs you can create yourself, but somewhat rely on your own particular set of skills to build and promote, and/or can be seen as a side income.
- Nomad Lifestylers — These are the businesses or jobs that you’ll need time to build up over the course of 12 months or more prior to throwing up deuces to your day job. They also rely heavily on your own particular set of skills, but also require high amounts of focus, organization, and hustle.
Low Risk Moneymakers
- Flight attendant — Bet you saw this one coming, right? The pros of this job are that you get to see the world, but a lot of the time it’ll be from out the cabin windows. Flight attendants get to visit some really amazing places, but typically get just a few days to explore the regions.
- Work on a cruise ship — If you’re not bothered by the recent bacteria outbreaks on boats, and can live with being in tight quarters with lots of people, then working on a cruise ship might be perfect for you. Not only do cruise ship employees typically have insanely low expenses, but you can take extended time off because of all the money you’ll be saving on room, board, and food.
- English teacher — Almost any english-speaker can become an english teacher abroad (with the right qualifications) and make a really nice living from doing it. Bonus: use your new, temporary home as basecamp to explore the world around you!
Make Your Own Money
- Sell Your Photos Online — If you snap pics, it’s easy to set up your own SmugMug site and start pimping yourself out as an adventure photographer, but it’s another thing to actually be a really great adventure photographer worthy of charging hundreds per print. That’s why this will take a little more effort on your part to increase your skills (consider some affordable online photography classes — it’s worthy of the investment since it’ll help you make more later) and set up your site.
- Freelancer — Are you a writer, designer, or virtual assistant? Start freelancing yourself out in your spare time to get the hang of things, get some clients under your belt, and start making a solid side income before you step out. Not only will this help you sell yourself later (with some positive testimonials), but you’ll be able to keep up the practice anywhere there’s a wifi connection.
- Fitness instructor — There are people out there that work as traveling yoga instructors. It’s what dreams (and movies starring Julia Roberts) are made of.
- Personal chef — If you land yourself a sweet sugar daddy (or mommy, we’re EOO here) that frequently travels the world, you could tap that by being a personal chef. Or you could just advertise yourself as a personal chef in whatever country you land in and land some contract gigs. Either way, you’re combining your passion for cooking local and seasonal foods in new places. Kinda can’t beat that.
- Tour guide — Sites like Intrepid Travel hire english-speaking tour gides that have a unique interest and knowledge in destination countries. If you have an interest in sharing your #funfacts with vacationers around the globe, this is a solid and reliable option for you if you do a bangarang job and get positive feedback from your group.
- Medical billing — True story: my mom once worked as a medical biller. She worked from home (or anywhere) and got an upper five figure income for working anywhere from three to five hours a day. All she had to do was take some online training and start busking for clients. Some of her friends made over $100,000 a year doing this for small medical firms. Not bad.
- Digital Nomad — A digital nomad runs their business from anywhere, and their business is typically their main source of income. They are their own boss. They make the rules. It’s a personal dream of mine, but in order to make it work, you’ll need drive, passion, and consistency. Building your own online business isn’t easy, but you can make it work with some sweat equity. Here are a few examples of successful businesses I’ve seen:
- Business consultant or coach
- Virtual assistant
- Drop shipping
- Digital products / education
- Social media consultant
- Marketing manager
- Email marketing
- Content strategy
- Blogging services
- Literally, the possibilities are endless.
- Travel Writer — If you’ve got some writing chops, you could pitch yourself (and your stories) to magazines, publications, and books to be a full-time travel writer. Now, this will take some time because you’ll need to establish yourself, find contact info for the publication, write an awesome pitch letter, and sell your story through. Skills are definitely needed, but at anywhere from $0.10 – $1.00 or more per word, you could make a nice income from simply sharing your stories. If this sounds interesting, here’s some tips to get you started:
- Get familiar with the magazine’s style and content. You probably won’t find much luck pitching a rockclimbing story to Cosmopolitan. Unless the rocks are diamonds.
- Plan ahead. Print publications close their issues three to four months in advance so if you have a winter travel story you want to pitch, start sending it out in July or August.
- Have some copywriting skills. Take some classes on copywriting so you can hone your voice and tone and match it to the publications you pitch. Keeping a blog helps with this, too.
- Pitch publications before you go. If you’ve been published in print or on notable websites, you could try to pitch a story you want to write before you go. If accepted, your travel expenses could be negotiated in your fee. Winning!
- Copycheck! Don’t forget to check the copy on all your emails and story pitches. The very last thing you want to do is embarass yourself with grammatical and punctuation mistakes as a writer.
- Musician — You don’t need to be uber famous to travel the world and do what you love. Joining a touring band will get you far. I personally have a lot of musician friends and while a few of them are better known than others, they’ve all had tour dates in Japan, Brazil, Norway, all throughout Europe, and even Dubai. You’ll need to know people to get into the bands that are farther along in their careers to tour, but if your goal is to travel (versus being a headliner) than a band member is a pretty wicked job to have. Granted, you’ll likely be in a stinky, sweaty van most of the time, but the views will be killer.
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