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Independent Baked Goods Micro Business to Travel the World
SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico- Rebbecca can be found sitting in the streets of Mexico with a large tray of heart shaped, chocolate topped, oatmeal cookies, brownies, and truffles sitting in front of her. She sells these baked goods to make up her bean money to travel through Mexico and Central America. From a few hours of work each day, Rebbecca is able to live on the road for as long as she wants and enjoy doing so. Rebbecca is a hallmark example of how a traveler can continue moving through the world endlessly on only a little imagination, elbow grease, and an iron clad thriftiness: Rebbecca makes her money on the road, she is a traveler.
I had the privilege of watching, albeit from afar, this travel business take off. Rebbecca and I share some mutual friends in San Cristobal, and I remember sitting up at the bar of a coffee house when she triumphantly strode through the doors announcing to everyone that she had completely sold out her first batch of cookies.
She was in business.
A month later, Rebecca’s street side baked goods vending business is in full swing, and it is not uncommon to see her sitting in the streets of downtown San Cristobal with an arch of people around her eating cookies. Rebecca now lives and travels completely off of the proceeds from this business, she can stay in Mexico or travel elsewhere for as long as she wants to.
I ran into Rebecca last week in a coffee house and hamstrung her into giving me an interview. After she figured out why I wanted to ask her questions about her cookies, she joyfully complied. We sat on a couch with her styrofoam cooler of cookies and baking supplies on the floor in front of us, and I began asking questions:
“How did you get the idea to start baking cookies and selling them in the street?” I asked.
She told me that she originally got this idea from some friends that she had in San Francisco, and then launched into a tale about a kid who ran an independent micro-business doing CSAs of food that he scavenged from around the city.
“Really, he was able to find enough food to box up and sell to people on a regular basis?” I responded, very impressed.
“I think there was a limit to how many people he could sell them to,” Rebbecca replied realistically, and then added that she learned how to make truffles while selling in an underground market in San Francisco.
“Why do you start this business, what made you want to start selling baked goods?” I followed up, and Rebbecca replied:
“When I get to the point where I don’t want to go home and I need money, I realize that I am going to have to do something.”
I had just received the quintessential response of a traveler: to travel, you need money; to continue traveling perpetually, you need a way to make money on the road. Rebbecca now meets all of her travel and living expenses from her baked goods business, and even claims that her profits roughly equal her expenditures: she is bringing in double the money that she pays out.
She is currently selling heart shaped banana oatmeal cookies, chocolate truffles, and brownies in the street and makes about 100 to 150 pesos — $8 to $12 — each night. This is not a lot of money, but Rebbecca keeps her living expenses low. When I asked her about how much she pays for accommodation a month, she just gave me a sly smile, “Right now, I am dog sitting at a ladies house,” and before that she paid 100 pesos to set up her tent at a friend’s traveler home for a week. In addition to running her business to make money, Rebbecca also takes creative measures to live rent free or very cheaply.
This point is essential: to successfully live and travel off of an independent micro business in most of the world, you need to come up with additional strategies to live cheaply. This means trading work for free accommodation, this means cooking your own food, this means taking the cheapest transportation between places as possible. As we were doing this interview, Rebbecca was concurrently making arrangements for a hitchhiking trip to Oaxaca for Day of the Dead.
I then asked Rebbecca how many hours a day she works, and she replied that she she does not work every day but when she does it is generally for a five to eight hour shift. From 2PM to 4PM she bakes, from 4 PM to 7PM she sells in the streets — but on days where she buys supplies, Rebecca’s working time can soar up to eight hours. “Catching people at the right moment is important,” she added as she explained why she choose her working hours, and implied that she approached her selling times through adept calculation.
Although Rebbecca states that she often works a full day, she was quick to add that a lot of time that she is “working” she is also hanging out with friends — having fun in the streets. I can vouch for this, as Rebbecca often has a crowd of people hovering around her as she selling her baked goods. So the word “work” often needs to be applied lightly here, as Rebecca’s case, as it is for many other travelers who run independent micro businesses, work is often mixed with recreation into an occupation that is not only sustainable but also enjoyable.
But Rebbecca admitted that she does not know if she can run her baking business everywhere. San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico is set up perfectly for working travelers to stay for a few months, sell their wares, ply their trades, and profit. Rebbecca said that she did not know if she could run this type of business in a place where there were less travelers and tourists.
Equipment and ingredients for independent baking business
An oven and a coffee grinder to process the cocoa are the two biggest pieces of equipment that Rebbecca needs for her business, and, it is my impression, the rest of what she uses was borrowed or purchased cheaply. As I peered into the cheap styrofoam cooler that she keep her wares in, I spotted a couple disposable baking pans, some plastic bags, and a few Tupperware containers.
As far as ingredients go, Rebbecca says that cocoa is the most expensive, and that she pays a little over a dollar for a kilo of oats, and gets her bananas for free by asking fruit and vegetable vendors in the markets for their unsaleable bananas. The rest is just standard baking ingredients which sell cheap.
What do you need to start a baked goods travel business
- An oven- It is not really possible to travel with an oven that is adequate enough to run a gainful baked goods business with, so it is of vital importance to live in a place that has an oven, or know someone who will allow you to use theirs.
- Location- It is not going to do you too good selling baked goods on the side of a highway going into Los Angeles, so location is a big factor in whether a street side baked goods business will flourish. If doing this type of business, make sure that you chose destinations where there are people in the streets and you can find a comfortable place to set up. Pedestrian only streets in high tourist traffic cities are often good.
- Population- Chose places where there is a general population of people who are willing and able to purchase your baked goods. In point, you probably won’t get too much business selling 75 cent cookies in a country where people live on under a dollar a day. Look for places in countries that are on the backpacker road, places that have a large influx of independent tourists and travelers who would be willing to give you business.
- Local laws- An independent baked goods business would not last too long in the streets of many cities in countries that have strict food vending laws, like the USA. If you have it in mind to start a traveling baked goods business, scout out locations for other people plying a similar trade. Are there other people selling baked and cooked foods independently in the streets? If so, then you may be in a good place to open up shop; if not, you may want to go elsewhere or start a different type of travel business.
- Travel slow- If you intend to only be in a place for a few days, setting up for a baked goods business would probably be more trouble than it is worth. To run this type of independent business, you need to travel slow: plan on staying places for 2 to 3 months each.
- Cost of business- Make sure that you scout out the markets of the place you propose to start a baked goods business in and know that you can make a profit. Do the math before buying ingredients and getting started. Generally, baking supplies sell cheap everywhere, but be sure that you are making items that stand to earn you the most money. In point, fancy baked goods with lots of frills which cost you more money to buy will probably not make you as much money in the end as making the cheapest cookies possible.
- Sell cheap, but not too cheap- Aim, as Rebbecca does, to make a profit which at leasts matches your expenditures: if you put $20 into a batch of baked goods, price accordingly so that you bring in $40. Sell cheap, but always remember to make a profit, as this is a business.
In all, running a baked goods micro-business is an adequate way to make up the money to cover living expenses when traveling if done in proper circumstances. This is a business strategy that does not seem as if it can be done at every stop, but it does seem to be a good skill for a traveler to keep in their bag: when the time is right, go out in the street and sell your baked goods.
By Rebecca’s own admission, she is not going to get rich from selling her cookies in the street, and she is, likewise, not even able to save much of her earnings. But Rebbecca is meeting the costs of her living and traveling expenses, and this is all a traveler needs to do in order to perpetually travel the world.