I now call myself a 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. Keep in mind that I have been working remotely, in some way or another for over 5 years now, and how that looks has evolved over time.
This post is broken down into two parts:
- 8 ways I have personally made a remote income (and one bonus remote job opportunity)
- 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 upfront that I began this journey from a place of privilege.
Contrary to comments on my social media, I don’t have a trust fund or rich parents or someone who pays 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 most of my university tuition. That being said, my husband has student loans, so they still impact me.
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 (back in the summer of 2017), then again when I had my van remodeled in early 2019, and finally during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Also, keep in mind that van life allowed me to dramatically lower my cost of living and save up for the small off-grid house that I am now based out of with my husband and dogs. Also, when I converted a van, everything about the lifestyle was much cheaper (especially the van itself), compared to post-pandemic van life/camper prices, I also eventually sold my original van for a great profit.
Therefore, I did (do) not need to make as much money as I used to in my old “traditional” urban lifestyles in order to afford rent, utilities, and other elements of city life that were generally much more expensive.
Finally, I want to acknowledge that as a white passing woman, my skin color has permitted me countless privileges that helped get me to where I am today.
Before my current remote income jobs, van life, and now off-grid house life, I worked for over 5 years in international development and used these 10 Cost-Saving Travel Hacks to afford
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. You can learn how to start your own blog here.
I now consider Spin the Globe Project an ethical adventure travel and alternative lifestyle business, rather than a 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 to get paid to work freelance gigs.
So without further ado, I’ll tell you exactly where my money comes from by sharing the following ways I have earned a remote income, and you can too.
8 Ways I Earn A Remote Income (& You Can Too)
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
Companies then use “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 and it doesn’t cost the person anything extra.
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, on my YouTube video descriptions, and on Instagram and other social media posts. 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 (YPP). Now my YouTube videos have ads in them, and I get paid by Google AdSense (YouTube’s parent company).
For a YouTube channel to be eligible for monetization, it needs to meet the following minimum requirements:
- 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time within the past 12 months OR
- 1,000 subscribers with 10 million valid public Shorts views in the last 90 days
I’m not an expert on YouTube or videography by any means, but I think my niche of solo female van life videos helped me initially grow my channel back in 2017/2018. 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 with over half a million views, and earned me the majority of the 35K+ YouTube channel subscriptions I had up until I started using YouTube Shorts in 2023.
Now thanks to YouTube Shorts (vertical videos under 60 seconds), I was able to quickly grow to 90K+ subscribers, since the platform appears to be prioritizing Shorts over long-form content at the moment. As of February of 2023, YouTube allows creators to monetize their shorts through in-feed ads. You can learn more about YouTube shorts monetization here.
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. However, now that I’m focusing on vertical videos to create content, I’m mostly filming on my iPhone.
I have also used 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!
Note: I have found YouTube to be the most effective way to make the most money online. BUT, it can also be very unreliable. So I personally wouldn’t depend on just this until you’ve grown a larger following and your videos are getting consistent views and engagement, which also helps you negotiate better YouTube brand partnerships/sponsorships.
3. Website Ads
In addition to allowing Google AdSense to place ads in my YouTube videos, I also use Google AdSense on my website too.
Since I was already using Google Adsense for YouTube, I just connected my website to my account and turned on “auto ads”, so Google automatically shows ads across my website wherever it determines that the best places are. I limited my “ad load” to 4 ads per page just to reduce the clutter and spamminess.
There are other platforms that bloggers use to profit from ads on their websites, but I just wanted to be able to manage all my ad earnings in one place and from one company (which makes things a little easier for reporting my income on my taxes and is less time consuming to manage).
Now I get paid for impressions (when someone sees one of the ads), then I get paid more if someone clicks an ad, and even more if someone purchases something from clicking one of the ads on my site.
This method only really works if you have a website or blog. Similar to affiliate marketing, you will make more money the more traffic your website gets.
Check out my post on How to Start a Blog, if you’re interested in this method.
4. 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 originally started my Patreon Page in order to help fund the production of a travel documentary series exploring ecotourism and volunteer tourism I filmed the summer of 2018 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!
Now, I use my Patreon account more generally to build a community that supports my adventure travel, van life, off-grid living and farmsteading content.
Many YouTubers that I’ve met while traveling, have switched or expanded to publishing their videos on Patreon, because it is more straightforward 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 financially pledge to support you.
The Nomadic Movement is a great example of a Patreon success story. The Nomadic Movement began by publishing a patron-only travel documentary series and now they are sharing their journey of building an off-grid tiny house community in Panama.
5. Sponsorships & Partnerships (on social media)
Brand Partnerships and sponsorships can range from getting free products, to getting an all-expenses-covered vacation, to getting a paid contract for promoting a product, service or place on your social media platforms. 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 video ad for Skillshare I integrated into one of my YouTube videos about Making Money on the Road (From minute 3:28 to 4:32). I’ve also done paid direct reviews of products, which you can typically charge more for than integrated ads.
As with affiliate marketing, I highly recommend only accepting partnerships with brands and products you like and
I’ve also done reviews for or promoted products, where I simply got the product for free in exchange for a review video. I only do this for things, I really want or need, so that my time and energy isn’t wasted just for “free” stuff. Here’s an example of a review video I made for Jackery power station and solar panels, in exchange for the products.
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
I also have brands reaching out to me on a regular basis to sponsor YouTube videos, blog posts and Instagram posts, and even more commonly they want to give me their product to make review videos. At this stage, I respond with my rates, and negotiate from there.
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 the audience that you have spent a long time cultivating and building trust with (these are both separate and valuable services that 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 via Google that suggest how much money to request based on your audience and engagement 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.
6. Guest Blog Posts & Sponsored Blog Posts
This is another type of partnership/sponsorship, but it is very unique and specific to having a blog, so I wanted to explain it sepeartely.
I don’t do this anymore, but when I first got into blogging I spent a lot of time reaching out to other larger blogs and offering to write guest posts on their blogs. Sometimes I would get paid for this service, either way, it helped me get some exposure in the beginning because in the posts, I’d link back to my own blog.
Once, my blog began to grow in traffic though, I started getting companies reaching out to me to publish sponsored posts on my blog.
How sponsored blog posts work
In some cases, a company will reach out to you and request that you write a blog post promoting their brand or product and they will pay you for it directly. This is really similar to creating sponsored content on social media.
Alternatively, I’ve had third-party companies who have a client (e.g. travel agencies, resorts, airlines, gear companies) reach out and offer to pay me to publish a post on my blog that they write and provide me with. The catch is that the blog post will have a few sponsored links pointing back to their client’s website. The nice thing about these is that they do all the hard work of writing the blog post that is relevant to your audience, and you can edit it as you see fit. The con is that it can come off as spammy if not done carefully, and if you aren’t picky about which types of companies you agree to do this for.
I took more of these deals early on, since it was easy money, but prefer not to do this anymore unless it’s a brand I really like and trust, because I would rather create my own content to make sure that my blog stays authentic.
Again, if you’re interested in blogging as a method of earning money online, check out my step by step guide on How to Start a Blog.
7. Reels on Instagram and TikTok Creator Fund
In July of 2021 Instagram launched their Reels Play Bonus Program, which offered people with business and creator accounts money for creating reels on Instagram. Reels are short vertical videos. Basically, Facebook/Meta (the owners of Instagram) paid me through Paypal each month, based on how many views I got on the reels I created within a given 30-day period from when I started a “bonus” cycle.
*Instagram unfortunately stopped the Reels Bonus Program in March of 2023, but they may bring it or something like it back. You can find out more on Instagram.
Despite the unpredictability of these payment programs on social media, I really prefer creating Instagram Reels as opposed to long-form YouTube videos, because the algorithm is forever shifting on these apps, but in 2022/2023 they seem to be prioritizing short vertical video content. It’s also so much less time consuming to make a short vertical video and use music directly from the app, than to edit a YouTube video and find copyright free music etc. For reference it usually takes me 8-24 hours to edit a standard 5+ min YouTube video (not including filming), and in contrast it only takes me 15-min to an hour to make a reel. It also feels a lot easier to get more views on Instagram Reels then Youtube at the moment. Plus, now with YouTube shorts and TikTok, I can recycle my vertical video content on 3 apps, and make money off of each app.
I also make money off the TikTok Creator Fund. I believe you need a minimum of 10K followers to join and you have to set your account to “personal” rather than “business” to be eligible to apply, which I was able to gain in just a month via 3 videos that I recycled from Instagram Reels. There are a few other ways to make money off your content on TikTok, and as I become more familiar with them, I’ll update this.
8. Freelance Work
If you already have an online or remote skill (e.g. writer, graphic or web designer, photographer, accountant etc.) or if you are growing your audience as a social media influencer or becoming a blogger- freelance work can be wonderful when you find a client that is the right fit.
Finding jobs/clients can be tricky at first, but gets easier overtime as you learn how to articulate your skills on your resume and in interviews. Plus, the flexibility and freedom that freelance work offers
I have found clients here and there for one-off jobs for web design, communications consulting, & social media content creation and management. 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.
I can’t express how powerful and effective the “word-of-mouth” method is for finding clients. So tell all your friends and family about your business plans, because chances are they know someone who needs your services.
One of my very first long-term clients was an eco-friendly lotion brand. They reached out to me on Instagram to be a brand ambassador for their skincare products, and we worked well together, so they offered me a job as the sole social media content creator for their YouTube and Instagram accounts (a brand ambassador of sorts), which lasted for about a year. This is why it’s so important to be picky about who you work
You can also use online networks like Upwork, Freelancer.com, and Fiverr to find freelance specific gigs and clients. But ultimately, you can just search job websites like Indeed and filter for “remote work”. The majority of my long-term jobs and all my long-term remote freelance contracts, I have found on Idealist. I particularly love Idealist.org because they are a job network for socially and eco-conscious people and organizations. You can also just search for “remote” jobs using their filters.
I was also able to work as the Communications Director for my mom’s legislative political campaigns in 2018 and 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 radio ads, and managed endorsements and press.
More recently, I’ve worked as a part-time remote Digital Community Manager and Social Media Manager and content creator for a few different non-profits. All roles that I found on Idealist.
My freelance communications and social media management roles illustrate how you can use your newfound content creation and social media skills that you’ll hone while blogging or creating content on your own social media, to market yourself for other freelance jobs. I don’t have a degree in communications, digital media, graphic or web design, videography, or marketing, yet I’ve managed to build up my resume in those areas with just the skills I’ve taught myself over the years.
These skills will be especially appealing to startups, smaller organizations, and mom and pop shops that don’t necessarily need someone with years of experience or a specific degree in this area, and won’t require you to work in an office with regular hours.
Even if you don’t want to do any of the freelance jobs I’ve mentioned and don’t have any specific skills or a degree that can be leveraged, you can do other things like be a virtual assistant, or search for “remote entry level” jobs on online job networks like LinkedIn, Indeed, or the freelance websites I mentioned above.
Now with the global pandemic and remote work becoming even more commonplace, this is an ideal time to find part-time and full-time remote job opportunities no matter your field or expertise (even non-freelance jobs with benefits).
*One quick note on freelance work (that I wish someone told me early on): make sure your rates are taking into consideration the fact that you will have to pay self-employment tax which is 15.3% of your income. All said and done, your taxes are approximately 30% of your income when you are self-employed. You can learn more at the IRS website, here.
After 5 years of freelance work, I finally got an LLC in 2022 for all my online businesses. I eventually intend to register it as an S-Corp to avoid the steep self-employment tax. But I am not an accountant, so I highly recommend you consult one to see what scenario is best for you.
9. Teach English Online*
Another remote income job option is to teach English online. There are several companies that allow you to teach English online to kids and adults around the globe. The pay can range from $15-25/hour and in most cases all you need is a laptop and a reliable internet connection.
Some companies just require their teachers to be native English speakers, but many have additional requirements of a Bachelor’s degree, tutoring or teaching experience and/or a TEFL certificate.
My cousin wrote a great guest post about how she earned a remote income through teaching English online with VIPKID, which allowed her and her husband to travel full-time for almost 2 years.
If you are interested in teaching English in person (which can be a great way to travel), I highly recommend reading my post on my own experience getting certified to teach English as a foreign language and then teaching English in Peru.
Advice For Earning A Remote Income & Growing an Online Business
Do a work exchange while growing your online business
For those impatient entrepreneurs interested in traveling immediately, do a work-exchange while growing your online business.
TrustedHouseSitters is a REALLY cool website/tool which allows you to travel on a budget by helping you find FREE accommodation in exchange for pet sitting! Essentially they give you the platform to find free & unique homestays around the world, in exchange for caring for adorable pets at your destination. You can get a membership for as cheap as $129/year (for UNLIMITED days of use). That’s literally the cost of one night of accommodation at an Airbnb or a hotel. Plus, they have membership plans with insurance and other travel perks like airport lounge passes.
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. You can read about my first WWOOFing experience in Oregon here.
WorkAway is another work exchange network that could allow you the freedom to make an online business while traveling.
Both WOOF and WorkAway connect you with a host that typically provides food and accommodation at your worksite- eliminating the need to pay for rent and utilities, gas, and groceries (typically your biggest monthly living expenses). In exchange for room and board, you are usually expected to work about 20 hours a week, leaving plenty of time to build a website and social media content on the side.
Fake it until you make it
My quick advice for finding freelance clients is to start by making business cards (I used Vista Print to make mine).
For brand partnerships, it really helps to create a press kit/media kit that advertises your skillset, demographics, stats, etc (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 or to respond with when brands ask you for your rates.
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
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.
Diversify your income streams
Like any good investment model will teach you, diversify, diversify, DIVERSIFY.
This is especially true for people trying to create an entire business online that is based on providing a service rather than a tangible product.
For me, I’m only able to afford my lifestyle by doing all of the above methods of earning a remote income. Therefore, if any income stream is not bringing me as much success at any given point, I have other means of making money.
I recognize that all these remote income options may not be possible for everyone, but I hope this gives you a good starting place.
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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.
Glad you liked the article..and yes, fake it until you make it is an entrepreneurial motto to live by 🙂
Watched your new van build twice now….been fighting frigerator delima, started with an Avant thru Homedepot, cheap dc unit but getting more than 7 months our of it became it’s issue, went thru 2 of those. So seeing your video on the Dometic sent me in a different direction: I am currently waiting on delivery of a Whynter Fm 85. That decision will require me to do a few detailed alterations, but I am building this for me so definitely worth it. Seeing your table definitely love that, it will be a part of my van. Be safe out there, and maybe we may see each other at some point.
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