This is my beginners guide to how YOU might make passive income while traveling in your van, using a travel blog or YouTube channel.
Has this subject been done to death? Maybe. But there are also plenty of people who are wondering how this works but don’t know where to start. Maybe they are older (like me) and being a “digital nomad” is a completely alien concept.
There is a lot of conflicting and inaccurate information out there, so let me try to clear some of it up and get you started. I may not have the largest or prettiest travel blog out there, but it makes enough money to cover my travels and that’s something. My earnings are verifiable and I do just that on YouTube (not the regular OdysseyCamper channel, the special one here).
Note that the term “digital nomad” means different things to different people. In this post I’ll be talking about creating a passive income with a travel blog or YouTube channel. However, being a digital nomad can also mean performing more conventional work as a freelancer. If you are interested in making money this way, or with physical work while traveling, check out this post instead.
(Warning, random thoughts ahead. This article is under construction (Jan 2019) but I thought I would make it available in case anyone was interested in watching it develop. I will add more information along the way.)
This article is written for beginners. It talks about how some travel bloggers and YouTubers make money through their travel and RV blogs. It is meant as an overview for those that are completely unfamiliar with the concepts. If you are already an expert, you don’t need to convince me of that. I’m just trying to save people some time, by providing some good information sources they can start with. In many ways, this is a “what I’ve learned so far” post. If you know nothing, then I’m ahead of you and you will learn a lot here.
I’ve already discussed how I personally make money on the road and you can read about it in this post. My businesses make money for me and they do so more efficiently that I could make money using the methods below. That means I’m not relying on “monetizing my blog” or selling you anything. However, I do use some of the methods to make this website self-sustaining and to cover some travel cost. It costs about $25/mo to keep the site up, so if I can defray some of the costs, so much the better. It also lets me run occasional giveaways for camping equipment (follow @odysseycamper on Facebook and subscribe to our updates on the right >>>>>
OK, so as I mentioned at the end of my other money post, there are a few common methods that people use to make money from their travel blogs. How they do it is generally some combination of the following:
Affiliate Income (including Amazon)
Advertising (direct or with Google Adsense)
In the scope of this discussion, I want to talk about bloggers and vloggers who are NOT professional marketers. By professional marketers, I mean those who are creating content which specifically teaches marketing techniques (that they often charge for), or those that are selling dreams about “making money while traveling full-time in an RV”. I’d also include those portraying a glamorous “van life”, that are more interested in selling you something than actually traveling. If this is you, fine (though I’d pick a subject with broader appeal than vandwelling, if you want a good chance at success).
Instead, I’m writing for the person whose primary interest is writing about their travels, or making videos and they would like to defray the cost by monetizing their efforts. The vast majority of us are NOT specialized in marketing and will never approach the earnings of a full-time affiliate marketer, but there IS some low-hanging fruit. I suppose I could learn it in time, but my day job makes a decent amount of money and I already know how to do THAT.
There are, of course, many authentic travel bloggers that have taught themselves the marketing aspects and turned their adventures into a profitable franchise, so I must take care to not disparage them. The Wynns are a good example of this (https://www.gonewiththewynns.com/) and typical of the breed. They have some affiliate links and a LOT of views on YouTube. Their content is professionally done (by them) and it shows.
In fact, I think I’ll use the Wynns as an example of what CAN be accomplished on YouTube, because they are a good benchmark of what you could probably achieve with some time and practice. So, the first way we’ll try to make some cash is with YouTube.
Start a YouTube Channel!
Have you heard of YouTube 😉
Maybe you’re an occasional viewer, or you subscribe and follow your favorite “content producers” (buzzword–a content producer is anyone that writes, films, or records media “content” that will be consumed by others). If you do, you have no doubt seen the advertisements that run on YouTube (unless you are using an ad blocker). The advertising is sold to a buyer by Google and it’s how YouTube producers make money. They can choose to “monetize” their channel and have some limited control over the style and placement of ads. They cannot (at the time of this writing) choose specific advertisers. They can, however, limit certain types of ads that would be inappropriate for their audience.
At one time, you could start earning ad revenue on YouTube, with your first video. As of this writing, YouTube NOW requires 1000 subscribers, 10,000 views, and 4000 viewing hours before paying a penny to the video producer. You also need to achieve this within a year and then SUSTAIN the viewership. They claim this is to ensure you are not making beheading videos or something that might get shown in conjunction with say, an advertisement for Target. Maybe, but they also screwed a lot of quality content producers and demonetized many channels that had already reached the monetization threshold. Those people then had to reach the new benchmarks to be remonetized. A side effect was that Google could stop paying these producers who were bringing people to the YouTube site. This is a hot topic among those who rely on YouTube for income, but I think there are two main points you should take away:
- A lot of the stories you hear about YouTube income are from before the changes.
- Don’t put all your eggs into one form of digital income basket.
I personally got to experience being at the mercy of Google when I started my YouTube channel. First, they raised the number of views required for monetization, then when I met that level they kept my account “in review” for 2 months (it’s supposed to take a week or two). Then I was informed that they had changed the rules and I now needed 1000 subscribers. Jeez, I was just trying to run an experiment to show that YouTube is probably not a great way for most people to earn a living and it took me 10 months before I could start seeing the pennies trickle in. Finally, in August of 2018 the channel was monetized. You can check out the OdysseyCamper YouTube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/odysseycamper
My video skills are admittedly at the amateur level but show that it IS possible to do this with a limited amount of skill. You should have no problem duplicating the level of my videos with some simple editing software. I use Camtasia for PC, but only because I already have it for my day job. You can use something less expensive or even edit on your phone, with decent results.
If you want to see what the OdysseyCamper YouTube Channel earns, I have a sub-channel to show you. It’s separate from my main YouTube channel because hey, most people won’t care about it. But if you are curious, you can check it out here:
If we rank the quality of videos on a scale of 1-10, most travel vloggers fall between 2 and 8. I’d put myself at a 3. Getting back to the Wynns (gonewiththewynns.com), I’d rate them at a solid 8 in this space. Check out their YouTube channel and you’ll see what I mean (https://www.youtube.com/user/gonewiththewynns)
That is what I think the average person could accomplish IF they want to put the time and money into learning the skills and buying decent cameras. However, even the Wynns had to start somewhere. If you look at their first videos you’ll see a couple who obviously had some media skills, but whose videos had sound and lighting issues and were not that engaging:
That was 2011. Fast Forward to 2018…
Obviously, they’ve polished their skills and editing over the years.
I chose the Wynns as an example because they’ve reached the level of something you might see produced for the Travel Channel. It shows why you should not be intimidated by the quality of videos some people produce. Everyone has to start somewhere and some people actually prefer a coarse or rough video, because it feels more authentic. You probably have your own favorite travel bloggers that range from amateur to professional. So how much do these people earn?
If you want to see what the Wynns earn on their YouTube channel, you can look them up on SocialBlade.com. Social Blade lets you look up the potential earnings of any YouTuber. Look at the high end of the estimated range and figure about 75% (multiply by .75) of that number.
Here’s a short video that shows the earnings from some popular RV and van YouTube channels, including Bob Wells, a well known vandweller.
If you are willing to put in as much work as Bob, cranking out multiple videos each week (or day!), you have a shot at a decent income. But look at the earnings from the other popular channels in that video. Some of them make REALLY GOOD videos. You’ll have to be at least that good to approach their earnings (note that the general feedback in the comments is that real earnings are about 25% lower than the high numbers that are shown on SocialBlade).
When you hear about annual or lifetime earnings, it’s worth noting here that many of these people got started before Google changed their search algorithms, making it much harder to rank for competitive keywords (see, I know a tiny bit about it). Or, they made a lot of money from YouTube, before Google screwed over their content producers, by changing the rules (see above).
The YouTube algorithm is also constantly changing and there is good evidence that the ONLY thing it currently focuses on is watch time. It tries to predict which videos you are likely to watch for the longest period of time. But don’t take my word for it:
This means that you won’t be able to use the same formula that those who have had past success have used. It’s one of the reasons you see content creators going for longer play videos. Google wants you to watch as many ads as possible and so it leads you to that material, rather than related material that might be more useful.
To start your own YouTube channel, go to YouTube.com and “sign in” in the top right corner. You will then have the option to upload your video (the little camera next to the sign in button).
If, after reaching 1000 subscribers on YouTube, you decide to show ads and “monetize” your channel, look in the Creator Studio “settings” options. There is no point in taking space here to show you exactly how to do it because Google is always changing things around. However, there are lots of YouTube videos to show you how 😉
Likewise, I won’t get into things like promoting your channel or keywords and descriptions (how search engines find your videos) at this time. There is plenty of information on the web and I don’t want to confuse you if you are just getting started. Make videos, then go back and learn the rest.
A thought on the “travel” YouTube idea itself. A popular concept in blogging is to develop a niche and then focus on that. The idea is to chase the long tail of search terms. In other words, instead of targeting “RV Travel” you target “Traveling New Zealand in a VW microbus camper” which helps a specific group of people to find you, rather than competing with ALL the “RV Travel” sites. That seems to be a solid concept for a blog, however, I don’t agree that this is the best strategy on YouTube. If you niche down too narrowly, you won’t get enough viewers to achieve (or sustain) monetization.
If your ONLY goal is to make money from your YouTube channel, the better strategy would be a wide appeal. Hence, the proverbial cat videos, or girls in bikinis. I’m not being sexist here, it’s just a fact that we guys will pick the thumbnail with the bikini over the one with the middle-aged fat dude….every time. However, if you do something like Dave2D Vlogs does with making humorous videos that talk about van life, other groups of people will watch just for the humor, which broadens your viewer base. You can check out Dave2D Vlogs here (warning, a lot of you won’t find him funny, but I do).
OK, I warned you that this is a work in progress. Here’s where it starts to fall apart because everything below this line is still in the works. It’s just random thoughts and placekeepers, but you can read them if you want…
A second way to earn money with a travel blog is with an affiliate program. You’ve no doubt stumbled upon this method if you’ve ever read an online product review. The idea is that the writer or influencer reviews the product and puts a small piece of code on their site, which generates a link for the product. If you click on the link, you generally pay no more for the product, but the owner of the site gets a commision. This can be a substantial income if you are what is known as an “influencer”. Pick your favorite Mommy with a blog, or chef and you are probably going to find affiliate links. I wouldn’t call myself an “influencer” but I do use links from the Amazon affilate program on this blog. They look like this:
Some affiliate programs require a minimum number of page views per month, so when you are just starting, the Amazon program is the easiest to implement. All you need is an Amazon account, then search “Amazon Affiliate Program” to get signed up.
Don’t advertise anything you haven’t personally used or believe it. The ONLY Amazon links I have on my blog are items I use and believe it. The web is already littered with sites that review expensive cameras and electronics that the author doesn’t use. I believe in being authentic from a moral standpoint, but it’s also good business. The first time someone asks a question that you answer incorrectly (because you didn’t actually use the item, you just linked it for the $) you’ll lose the credibility and trust earned with your readers. I also don’t talk about “big ticket” items, because I dont’ want to be any part of someone’s $1000 purchase. I’m happy to stay out of it.
Note, if you find yourself in any kind of arrangement where someone sends you a product to review or talk about, you MUST note that you received compensation in the form of product or payment. That’s an FTC rule and if you violate it, some troll is going to report you. It’s only a matter of time.
Have you ever heard of e-begging? It’s where you put up a go-fund-me page, or some other way to collect money, to support your lifestyle. When I say “e-begging” I don’t mean where you are trying to help a family whose kid has cancer, I mean soliciting money so you can have more ease in your life. It’s not unlike panhandling and people do it all the time. “Hey man, our van broke down in Mexico and we’re trying to raise money for a new engine.” To which I say, “what the hell did you go to Mexico for if you didn’t have any money?” Some people have no shame. However, there are many reasons you might WANT to support someone and the Patreon system is a popular way for the sponsor and recipient to trade value for value. For example:
- The person is an artist and you want access to their music, video, art, comedy, etc.
- You think the person is engaged in a noble cause and want to help
- You get some entertainment value from their blog or YouTube channel and want to throw them a few bones.
I can think of other reasons you might want to be a patron of the arts and support somebody and I’m sure you can too. If it’s an exchange of value for value, it’s not begging. I actually have a Patreon account and there might be some links to it left on this site. I really set it up so I could sponsor other people (like the guy who makes the music I use in my YouTube videos), but it’s possible for someone to donate to me if they want to help keep the blog going. However, I’m doing the blog either way, so I don’t beg for anyone to sponsor me. I
I don’t think Patreon is the right formula for me, but if you are an artist (as many travelers are) it could be right for you.
Do you see those banner ads that appear throughout every blog and news site? They look a little like this:
That’s an advertisement that was generated in Google Adsense. I try to limit them to two per page, so they don’t get obnoxious and interfere with your reading experience. Also, I have no control over the ad content. It is likely driven by all the places Google tracked you to and is customized for you. If you click the ad (or even see it) this blog earns a few cents.
Google Adsense is the easiest to get going if you want to generate some income from advertising. It doesn’t amount to much unless you have a LOT of readers (you can see how little by watching my earnings videos on YouTube), but it covers about 50% of the monthly hosting charge for this website.
There are other advertising programs out there, but many of them require a high number of monthly page views. By “high” I mean a LOT more than the 5000/mo that come to this site. Also, a lot of them have questionable content (“this one trick can save CA residents, thousands!”) that makes your site look spammy. I don’t want to do that to my readers, but if you look at almost any major news site, you’ll see this crap. It’s another way to make money.
So there are three basic ways to generate passive income while traveling, but to do them, you have to take one step first:
Start a Blog!
A blog will serve as the “hub” for your passive income strategy and it’s where you will put your content. Although you can technically start a YouTube channel on its own, I think a better strategy for beginners is to cross-link articles to YouTube (as I’ve done on this page). It lets the reader know where to find your material and it can’t get wiped out when YouTube or Facebook decides to change their algorithm.
You may have heard of “digital sharecropping” which is a reference to the sharecroppers of old who subsistence farmed on someone else’s property. Without the opportunity to realize the full profit from farming, they were kept in poverty. When the landowner changed his mind, he could turn them out on a whim. When you put all of your content on someone else’s platform, they can destroy your income with a simple change of the algorithm, as Google has done repeatedly to YouTube creators. The situation is getting worse as private companies like Facebook crack down on what they consider inappropriate speech. Beheading videos; OK. Using the words “tranny problems” to refer to your van transmission; 3-day suspension. It’s just a byproduct of them trying to “tune the user experience”. Use social media to spread the good word about your work, but do NOT depend on them as your sole content platform.
Like most things, what you get out is proportional to the effort you put in. A successful blog that creates a full-time travel income takes a lot of time and effort. I’d estimate you are looking at 6 months before your income approaches minimum wage, based on the time required. Do it because you LIKE to write, or you like to keep your family and friends up to date on your travels. Monetize it if you want, using one of the methods above, but don’t count on being successful. You should have a “Plan B”. Some people are very successful at blogging but there is a lot to learn when it comes to traffic and search engine optimization (the web is littered with SEO stuff, so enough said on that subject). I personally think that if you are the type of person that has a lot of social media followers, is outgoing, and has some unique or popular perspective, you’ll do quite well. Introverts will have a tougher go of it.
You’ll get back what you are willing to put in, time-wise. Although this blog earns a little bit of money ($150/mo when I started writing this) it’s not a get rich quick scheme and you should consider other ways you might earn a living on the road. I’m not saying you CAN’T make money this way, I’m only saying that for the time spent, it wouldn’t be worth it for ME to be a full-time blogger. But if you put the time into it, I’m positive you can earn SOME money at it. My advice is, be yourself, be honest, and avoid politics and religion 😉
BlueHost offers cheap hosting and an easy to use interface. If you search “set up a wordpress site on BlueHost” you’ll find lots of videos on how to get started. Incidentally, this is an “affiliate link”, one of the mentioned ways you can make money off of your blog. If you follow the link and buy something, it costs you the same but I will get a few bones to keep this site running.
Once you get your “blog” set up, I’d strongly suggest you focus on good content before monetizing it. You can do both in parallel, but you are going to get distracted setting up ads, before there is anything there that people will tolerate ads to consume.
Everything Else You Need to Learn
Prepare yourself, you are about to go down a rabbit hole of “content creation”, “SEO” and other new sciences. The younger you are, typically, the easier it will be. However, there are some things you need to know when you start blogging. For now, I’m just going to put up some links for you. SO much has been written on the subject that once you learn a couple basic concepts, you’ll be able to quickly search for information. First, you need to understand what a keyword is, along with the long tail concept (this post is for beginners, remember) and some other topics. Below are links to short articles that will “get your feet wet” and then you can go on to search out more detailed information.
There is a LOT of information out there concerning finding the right keywords that your reader is using. It’s important. However, in the beginning, just focus on a topic and use some of the words that you think your reader would be searching for. This is a marathon to get your blog noticed and you will add better material as you grow in sophistication.
Keywords and the long tail concept are important to keep you focused on the topic you are writing about. They used to be a LOT more important in helping search engines find your blog, but content and context have become more important at Google’s search algorithm becomes more sophisticated.
In short, forget everything you heard about gaming the search engines (you will fail) and focus on writing creating interesting content that your user will find useful. Seek to help before asking for something from your audience.
In my experimenting, I’ve found a few reliable sources for information, should you decide to pursue passive income through a blog or other content platform. A good podcast (and website) for beginners is Smart Passive Income by Pat Flynn.
Pat covers a lot of topics including setting up a website, running a podcast, developing digital products, and affiliate marketing. His site is a good place to start your journey down the rabbit hole.
If you’d like to learn about using social media to promote your blog, check out Amy Porterfield. I do not run Facebook Ads because my I don’t want to create a giant that I can’t keep pace with. However, it’s a great way to get the word out. Be advised that attempting Facebook ads or Google Ad Words without a very good understanding, is a great way to lose money. In fact, I think it’s a more efficient way to go broke than the Blackjack table. But do it right and you can reach a HUGE audience.
Amy is an expert on Facebook marketing and developing online courses. She also has a good, free podcast that will introduce you to Facebook Ads and other programs. Browse through a couple and after you use the free information, you might want to check out her course.
Note: These people are PROFESSIONAL INTERNET MARKETERS. They are looking to sell you a product. The product, in this case, is an online course, or downloadable information. They also know what they are talking about and I suggest them because they do a good job of relaying information in a clear and easy to understand format. But make no mistake, they are trying to convince you that “you too can earn your own income without working a regular job” and you can…but only if you are willing to WORK for it. So, if you decide to take the plunge, they can get you up to speed a lot faster than you could on your own. If you are not ready to put all of your efforts into something like this, hold on to your money. You can still learn a LOT from them, without signing up for their courses.
Remember that making money is only filling your travel battery. Before setting off on the road, you need to address the draining of the battery. Eliminate debt and reduce expenses first and it will be a lot easier to make enough money to survive.
Hopefully this “beginner’s course to making money from a travel blog” saves you some time. I’ll add things to this post over time, but if you learn everything I’ve written above, your knowledge will quickly surpass what you can read here.
I wish you success!
Darren at Odyssey Camper