I now call myself a nomadic digital storyteller, but it took me over a year to figure out how to earn a remote income. Since I finally cracked the code on how to make enough money to sustain my dream life and become location independent, I figured I’d share how I do it for anyone dreaming about becoming a digital nomad with no clue where to start.
This post is broken down into three parts:
- 5 ways I make a remote income
- How to start a travel blog (the foundation of my remote income)
- Advice for starting an online business
Let’s get some things out of the way first though. I think it’s extremely important to acknowledge up front that I began this journey from a place of some privilege. No, I don’t have rich parents or a boyfriend who pay for my travels, but I did graduate college without student debt thanks to my mom’s 30+ years of military service, which gave me the GI Bill that paid for my tuition. I also had the luxury of moving back in with my mom temporarily and rent-free while I initially converted my van into my home and bartended to save up money for van life, and again when I had my van remodeled.
Also, keep in mind that van life has allowed me to drastically lower my cost of living. Therefore, I don’t need to make as much money as I used to in my old “traditional” lifestyle in order to afford rent and utilities.
Before my current remote income jobs and vanlife, I worked for over 5 years in international development and used these 10 Travel Hacks to afford
This blog, ended up becoming the foundation of my remote income. I now consider Spin the Globe Project an ethical adventure travel and lifestyle business, rather than a travel blog. That distinction became important to me as I transitioned from blogging as a hobby to monetizing my website and social media platforms as my main source of income in 2018.
My journey to a remote income came with a lot of trial and error, but in the end, I managed to build a lifestyle I love through carving out spaces for myself on the internet and learning how to leverage my newfound skills. So without further ado, here is exactly where my money comes from.
5 Ways I Earn A Remote Income
1. Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing put simply, is an advertising partnership with a brand. It is the most effective when you partner with companies that you already use and love. That way, when you advertise their products, you are making an honest recommendation to your followers.
This was the first way I started to make money online, and it is a great way to make passive income once you get everything set up.
How Affiliate Marketing Works
You apply to a company’s affiliate marketing program, and if they accept your application, you get access to a dashboard of links and banners to start marketing their products on your social media platforms, website or blog. Some companies use a third party affiliate marketing
The company then uses “tracking codes” in affiliate links to ensure that you get credit for your recommendations. Basically, when someone purchases an item after clicking on one of your links, you make a small commission.
I started by partnering with Amazon, and have since branched out to a partnership portfolio
I place relevant product and brand links around my website pages, in blog posts, and on my YouTube video descriptions. I also created a Shop, a Van Conversion Kit a Zero Waste Kit and an Ethical Beauty & Hygiene Kit in which I showcase products (with affiliate links) that I use and trust.
The more traffic your website or social platforms have, and how effectively you place your affiliate links will determine how much money you make.
2. YouTube Ads
In early 2018, I gained enough followers to monetize my YouTube channel through YouTube’s Partner Program. Now my YouTube videos have ads in them, and I get paid by Google AdSense.
For a YouTube channel to be eligible for monetization, it needs to meet the following minimum requirements:
- 1,000 subscribers
- 4,000 hours of watch time within the past 12 months
I’m not an expert on YouTube or videography by any means, but I think I got lucky with my niche of solo female van life videos. Before I started making videos about van life, my channel consisted of a handful of travel videos that barely got any views. My three most popular YouTube videos– Van Tour: Self-Converted Ford Transit Camper Van, Van Life As A Solo Female & Solo Female Van Life: Living on the Road Full-Time blew up overnight and each now has over half a million views, and earned me the majority of my 33,400+ YouTube channel subscriptions.
I personally started out editing on iMovie and since upgraded to Final Cut Pro, and here’s the camera equipment I use.
I also use Skillshare to learn filming and editing techniques from professionals in the industry. Skillshare is an online learning community with thousands of classes in design, business, tech, and more. Get 2 FREE months of premium Skillshare classes for yourself!
Finally, I highly recommend Sunny Lenarduzzi. She is a great resource for how to make YouTube videos and how to grow your channel!
3. Crowdfunding on Patreon
Patreon is a crowd-funding platform that allows people to directly support creators they believe in through monthly financial pledges. Whether you’re a professional content creator or an aspiring writer, photographer, videographer, comedian, or musician- Patreon is an incredible platform to build an engaged audience and make money while doing it!
I started my Patreon Page in order to help fund the production of a travel documentary I filmed last summer in Central America called “The Giving Journey.” I was able to pay for the majority of my camera equipment and other production expenses for the documentary thanks to my incredible Patrons! Some of them have even stuck around to support me while I edit and complete the documentary. Now I use my Patreon account more generally to build a community that supports my adventure travel and van life content.
Some YouTubers that I’ve met while traveling, have switched or expanded to publishing their videos on Patreon, because it is more straight forward than the secret payment formula for YouTube ads, and it is a direct and more rewarding way to connect with your fans.
The platform allows you to build your own “tiers” with different incentives (e.g. postcards, special access to videos, Q+As, etc) for fans to choose how much they want to pledge. The Nomadic Movement is a great example of people killing it on Patreon. The Nomadic Movement began by publishing a patron-only travel documentary series that I highly recommend becoming a patron of for just $1/month, and now they are sharing their journey building a tiny house community in Panama.
4. Sponsorships & Partnerships
Brand Partnerships and sponsorships can range from getting free products to getting an all-expenses-covered vacation to a paid contract for promoting a product, service or place on your social media. You basically create digital content (e.g. photos, videos, compelling captions) for direct and indirect marketing campaigns on your own social media platforms and/or the brand’s social media platforms. Here is an example of an indirect photo marketing campaign I did with LuminAid for their Solar Lantern on Instagram and a sample of a direct ad for Skillshare I integrated into one of my YouTube videos about Making Money on the Road (From minute 3:28 to 4:32).
As with affiliate marketing, I highly recommend only accepting partnerships with brands and products you like and
Most online resources told me that you can’t reach out to companies and brands for partnerships until you have over 10,000 social media followers. However, companies started to reach out to me on Instagram when I had only 2,000 followers, so I chose to ignore the 10K follower rule and began reaching out to brands I wanted to partner with early on.
At the time of writing
The key to making money off partnerships and sponsorships is to know your value. Remember you are creating original marketing content for a company and advertising that product to your audience (these are both separate and valuable services they would traditionally have to pay an “industry professional” for). Therefore, I recommend requesting monetary compensation in addition to the “free” product you are going to promote (even early on in your content creator career). Then as you gain a larger following, you can negotiate for more money. You can find multiple resources online that suggest how much money to request based on your following size.
I also recommend not just accepting ANY partnership that gets offered to you when you are first starting your blog or social media influencing career. I personally made this mistake a few times thinking it would help build my portfolio. In the end, those partnerships were more work than they were worth.
5. Freelance Webdesign, Content Creation, Communications, & Social Media Management
If you already have an online or remote skill (e.g. graphic designer, photographer, etc.) or if you are growing your audience as a social media influencer or blogger- freelance work can be a nice income when you find a client that is the right fit. Finding jobs can be tricky at first, but the flexibility and freedom that freelance work offers
I started out finding clients here and there for one-off photography, writing, and web design jobs. Typically my clients were people that followed my blog or one of my social media channels and reached out to me online, and others I networked with in person and handed a business card to.
My most long-term client was
Finally, I was able to work as the Communications Director for my mom’s local political campaign in 2018 and did that again in 2020. I designed and managed the campaign website, created content and managed campaign newsletters, social media posts, print/digital advertisements, produced and edited campaign videos, and managed endorsements and press. This freelance job (which was semi-remote) afforded me the majority of the money I used for my van remodel.
While you probably don’t have a parent who is a political candidate who can hire you for a remote job, my freelance communication role illustrates how you can use your newfound content creation and social media skills that you’ll hone while blogging to market yourself for other freelance jobs. These skills will be especially appealing to startups and mom and pop shops that don’t necessarily need someone with years of experience in this area and won’t require you to work in an office with regular hours.
How To Start A Travel Blog
(The Foundation Of My Remote Income)
As mentioned earlier, my hobby travel blog ended up becoming the foundation for my remote income success. I started blogging mostly as a way to update friends and family of my travels and didn’t start attempting to monetize my blog as a business until late 2017 after I had quit my NYC job, bought a van and hit the road.
I personally purchased my domain through GoDaddy, use Cloudways as my website host, and edit and run my blog through WordPress. This setup costs about $130/year and is my “rent” for my online business
I also use a theme called Blossom Feminine Pro ($49/year), which basically determines the layout and style of my website. Blossom has free themes as well, and there are a ton of other free WordPress themes out there. My advice is to find a theme that looks most like the layout you envision for your
If you are trying to start a website or a blog as a business, I recommend choosing WordPress.org and finding a third party host, rather than wordpress.com because it offers more room for growth and monetization (Here is a longer explanation of the differences between the two platforms). All this talk of domains, hosts, and editing platforms will make more sense if you read the two articles about starting a blog by World of Wanderlust and Nomadic Matt mentioned above.
After a lot of trial and error, I eventually paid for Nomadic Matt’s Superstar Blogging: The Business of Travel Blogging and Wired Creatives: How to Create a Meaningful Personal Brand tutorial courses. Nomadic Matt is one of the most successful travel bloggers in the world and The Business of Travel Blogging course is only $250 (affordable compared to most out there). Both courses provided me with useful tips, but neither really offered information that I couldn’t get for free elsewhere online (admittedly with extensive and time-consuming googling).
That being said, you will probably find a paid blogging course helpful if you are in a hurry, want one-on-one mentorship, direct and simplified step by step lessons, and access to blogger group chats (great for networking with other bloggers). If you do choose to take a course, I recommend investing early on and saving yourself a headache, these courses would have been much more valuable to me had I taken them when I first started out and they probably would have saved me from making mistakes and wasting
Finally, if you choose to get into blogging as your means of remote income, you should learn about SEO and harness its power early on. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and its how you get free organic traffic on your website by making your pages and posts search engine friendly. If you end up starting your blog on WordPress, I highly recommend downloading the plugin “Yoast SEO.” It will ease the process of SEO, and its free features will guide you through it page by page and post by post.
When you’re ready to learn more, here is a free extensive Beginners Guide to SEO (by MOZ).
I also found these two free resources helpful in my own process of enhancing my blog: World of Wanderlust’s: 29 Ways to Get More Traffic On Your Blog and Nomadic Matt’s: 9 Ways to Become A Successful Travel Blogger.
The bottom line is that making money from blogging is A LOT of work (especially in the beginning), it involves a lot of hustling, and you will probably need to combine it with a few other means of remote income to live off of, and you will need to master SEO and affiliate marketing to become successful.
Advice For Earning A Remote Income
Fake it until you make it
My quick advice for finding freelance clients and brand partnerships is to start by making business cards (I use Vista Print to make mine). Then create a “press kit” that advertises your skillset (feel free to use mine as a template). It also helps to make a PDF version of your press kit to send in proposal emails. No matter what stage you are at growing your online business, these two tools make you look professional and legit. I made my business cards before I even managed to make an
I also recommend choosing a job title you can grow into. I started calling myself a “digital storyteller” instead of a “travel blogger” and “content creator
Finally, hand your business cards out to everyone who will take one, and network, network, network. Start with telling your friends and family about your new online business, because chances are you will get freelance work by word of mouth.
Do a work exchange while growing your online business
For those impatient entrepreneurs interested in traveling immediately, WWOOF (an organic farm work exchange) is one way that I managed to grow my following and build my online business while already living on the road. WorkAway is another work exchange network that could allow you the freedom to make an online business while traveling. Both networks connect you with a host that provides food and accommodation at your worksite- eliminating the need to pay for rent and utilities, gas, and groceries (typically your biggest monthly expenses). In exchange for room and board, you are only expected to work about 20 hours a week, leaving plenty of time to build a website and social media content on the side.
Alternative remote job possibility (for qualified applicants)
One more remote income job option is to teach English online.
I recognize that these options may not all be possible for everyone, but I hope this gives you a good starting place.
If you have any questions about the things I discuss, please leave it in a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.