Lifestyle Travel Tips Van Life

5 Ways I Earn A Remote Income & You Can Too

Girl in Van Working on laptop  with Dogs

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 traveling. Since I traveled so much for work, I started a travel blog as a hobby back in 2013.

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 program, so that they don’t have to manage their partners internally. For example, REI uses AvantLink.

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 including: REI, World Nomads, Skyscanner, Lonely Planet, DJI Global, Hostelworld, LuminAid, Ruffwear and more.

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 and I also enlisted a company who can help me get more views on my videos as Its hard to make money on youtube without paying for views in today’s day due to the billions of videos on it. Now my YouTube videos have ads in them, and I get paid per view 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 and van conversion videos. Before I started making videos about van life, my channel consisted of a handful of travel videos that barely got any views. My two most popular van life videos– Van Tour: Self-Converted Ford Transit Camper Van & Van Life As A Solo Female blew up overnight and earned me the majority of my almost 18,000 YouTube Channel Subscriptions, which allowed me to monetize my channel.

My best advice, is to choose a very specific niche of something you are passionate about and start making videos for fun. You don’t need to have the best camera equipment or editing skills to get started, your videos and channel can evolve as you do.

I personally started out editing on iMovie and since upgraded to Final Cut Pro, and here’s the camera equipment I use.

Sunny Lenarduzzi 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.

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 and Max and Lee are great examples of people killing it on Patreon. The Nomadic Movement publishes a patron only travel documentary series that I highly recommend becoming a patron of for just $1/month, and Max and Lee simply give their patrons early access to their YouTube videos.


4. Brand Partnerships

Brand Partnerships and sponsorships can range from getting free products to getting an all-expenses-covered and paid vacation in exchange for promoting a product or place on your social media. You basically create digital content (e.g. photos, videos, and compelling captions) for direct and indirect marketing on your own social media platforms and/or the brand’s social media platforms. Here is an example of an indirect marketing campaign I did with LuminAid for their Solar Lantern.

As with affiliate marketing, I highly recommend only accepting partnerships with brands and products you like and use yourself. Otherwise, your content will come off as spammy, and you risk losing the audience that you worked hard to build.

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 this I have about 3.3K Instragram followers, however my YouTube audience of 17.5K+ subscribers has helped give me leverage when I send a company a partnership proposal.

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 in the beginning). Then as you gain a larger following, you can negotiate for more money.

I also recommend not 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 is unparralled.

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.

Now, my main ongoing client is LeeAnni Eco. I started out as a brand ambassador for their eco-friendly skincare products, and we worked well together, so they offered me a job as the social media manager/content creator for their YouTube and Instagram. This is why it’s so important to be picky about who you work with, because a strong brand partnership can evolve into a more sustainable business relationship.

Finally, I was able to work as the Communications Director for my mom’s local political campaign in 2018 and will do that again in 2020. I designed and managed the campaign website, created content and managed campaign newsletters, social media posts, signs and media advertisements, produced and edited campaign videos, and managed communications with institutional endorsements and other stakeholders. 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.

When initally creating my blog, World of Wanderlust’s: How to Start A Travel Blog was a wealth of information! Nomadic Matt is also a good resource for beginning bloggers.

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 website, so that you don’t have to do as much tweaking and editing to get that perfect look.

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.

Load WordPress Sites in as fast as 37ms!

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 my time.

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 income, because I’m a firm believer in the power of fake it until you make it 🙂

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“, because I felt that it encompassed all the work I am doing (and want to do) and translated to more industries. So find something that suits you and your work, and don’t sell yourself short!

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. VIPKID is one of many companies that allows you to teach Chinese children English through short one-on-one classes. However, it requires its teachers to have a minimum of a Bachelors degree and a reliable internet connection. My cousin wrote a guest post about how she earns a remote income through VIPKID, which allows her and her husband to travel full-time.


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 anna@spintheglobeproject.com.

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Anna French

Anna is an optimist with pessimistic tendencies who enjoys making a short story long, her coffee black, and watching Friends re-runs. These days you can catch her in her natural habitats wandering through forest roads in her van or hiking to a waterfall.

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Adra Anderson says:

    Thanks for the tips! Nice article “fake till you make it” is definitely the only way to get ahead in life when pursuing any kind of business.

    1. Avatar
      Anna French says:

      Glad you liked the article..and yes, fake it until you make it is an entrepreneurial motto to live by 🙂

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