Make yourself financially bulletproof on the road: get these skill sets.
A long time ago the world reached an agreement on how people would standardize the exchange of goods and services. Perhaps finding cowry shells, beads, and sacks of grain to cumbersome and inter-culturally impermeable to use for representing value in extensive trade networks, people decided that they would simplify their lives and institute or adopt the concept of money.
If you want to travel the world you need money, to get money you need to work. The best preparation for long term or perpetual world travel has nothing to do with gear or guidebooks, but is to equip yourself with the skills and resources to make money on the road. If you can earn a living while traveling you never have to go home, you have the linchpin of world travel.
More on Vagabond Journey: Top 10 Self-Employment Travel Jobs
It is my opinion that if you have three travel soluble professions that you have mastery of, at least one stream of online income, and one ready to go strategy for making money in the streets, you can travel anywhere on the planet and earn a living.
The skill set of world travel
- 3 professions that can be done abroad or on the road.
- At least one online stream of income
- One business or performance art that can be done in the street
Having at least three professions that can be done abroad/ while traveling, including both formal jobs and self-employment as well as AFK and formal online work, means that you have the option to roll into a town or city and come up with work when you need it. When you know that you can always just land a job teaching English, build a small import/ export operation, get a gig doing quality control, or set up your massage table, head out to farm country, get work with a translation/ interpretation firm, etc . . . the fear of going broke on the road subsides.
Shortlist of Work Abroad and Travel Jobs
- Teach English
- Archaeology Fieldwork
- Travel writing
- Restaurant Work
- Fisheries work
- Tour guiding
- General manual labor
- Work in hotels and hostels
- Consulting – various types
- HTML/ PHP Coding
- Massage therapy
Recommended story: Get The Lowdown On Working Abroad
Streams of Informal Online Income
The more streams of informal online income that you have the better, of course, but have at least one before setting out traveling. I believe that it would be a good move to evaluate the absolute minimum amount of money that you need to travel, and find a way to make that money online. For as long as this income source lasts you will essentially have a financial safety net.
Shortlist of online location independent work
- Sell on Amazon
- Do gigs on Elance/ Odesk
- Become a Youtube partner and upload videos
- Blog (this is an incredibly difficult and unlikely way to make a living)
- Set up a website around a highly monetize-able topic
- Write ebooks
- Do social media for other sites
- Technical writing
- Service journalism
- Coding/ web development
Never discount street work when traveling. This is any type of work that can be done informally in the streets, and ranges from performance art to vending goods. This is one of the most popular ways for long term travelers to make a living, so always keep at least one street work strategy ready to go. It is always possible that you find yourself in a place where formal employment is unavailable or pays too little at a time when your online income is lacking. You’re going to need to do something else in this situation, and if you’re prepared you can generally always run a street gig — local laws permitting.
But you have to be smart about it. If you’re in a place like Mexico, where there are a zillion grubby looking hippies vying to juggle at just about every busy intersection, this may not be the best show to try shipping. The same goes for being a street vendor: the last thing the world needs is another traveler lazing around in the streets trying to sell the same jewelry that every other traveler down the strip is selling. If you see it in the streets, it’s been done, think of something new.
Fresh street acts/ products bank good money. I knew one guy in the south of Mexico who made a surprising amount of money selling handmade soap in the street. Yes, he sold soap. He set up along a street that would often have well over 50 itinerant street vendors lined up in a row, and he would be the one making money. He was able to do this because he was selling something completely different in a virtual monoculture. 49 of the other vendors were trying to sell the same hippie jewelry to people who were apparently interested in buying handmade soap.
Shortlist of Street Work
- Sell baked goods/ food/ juice
- Make and sell artisan goods
- Offer a unique/ interesting service
In point, when getting ready to begin traveling don’t just focus on making and saving money, but also start cultivate the skills and knowledge that you’re going to need to earn a living on the road so you can cut the leash connecting you to home and keep traveling.
Even if you have a steady online business set up or a good formal location independent gig, be sure to have a string of backup plans ready, as pretty much any job or business can go belly up at almost any time. As I covered in a previous article, many professions and independent travel businesses require a period of time to get rolling: you’re not going to be able to start them up over night.
So be prepared. Be sure to have credentials and experience in three professions, at least one continuous stream of online income, and something that you can do in the streets, and you will find yourself financially bulletproof anywhere in the world.
Read more: Vagabond Journey’s Independent Travel Work Archive
My travel work skill set
I have to admit that my complete travel work skill set has become a little rusty over the past three years or so. My online work has taken up a disproportional amount of my time and effort, but I still have a list of other jobs that I could do and micro-businesses that I could start up if the blogging well ever dried up.
- Archaeology – I did this work for eight seasons in three countries and nearly 20 US states. The pay is not very high, relatively speaking, but it is very good for a traveler, and, as you are on the road almost constantly, you get a per diem allowance.
- English teaching – I’m fully qualified to teach English and have done it before, though will only do it as a last resort.
- Journalism – My majors in university were anthropology and journalism, and upon graduating I took the first tentative steps towards taking the conventional route into the latter profession. Then I stopped short at the door, turned around, and bolted. I realized that working for myself and publishing on my own web properties would be a more enjoyable and fulfilling line of work. I’m not sure if I was brave or cowardly, but the fact of the matter is that I have the creds and skill set to engage this profession a little more formally.
- Hostel/ hotel work – No experience is really needed to do this work other than an even temperament and, depending on the location, a knowledge of the local language. This is truly monkey work, but it has come in pretty handy for me at junctures in my travels through Eastern Europe and Central America.
- Farming – Physical ability and experience do help when landing farm work on the road. It seems to be a daydream among travelers to work on farms around the USA and/ or Europe, and it can be done — well, if you can compete with Latin American, African, and Eastern European laborers. I’m not talking about easy-going, idealistic WWOOF volunteer gigs here, but real work-your-ass-off 14 hours per day, 7 days a week farming dirges. I’ve done this from time to time and I only recommend it if you enjoy hard, dirty, outdoors work.
- Blogging – I make my living blogging. I do not recommend anyone to try to emulate me in this regard. I do this work because I enjoy it, even though the hours are long and the pay is extremely low.
- Youtube – I’m making more and more money uploading videos to Youtube.
- Selling on Amazon – I’m starting up a new venture where I will have travel gear that I design manufactured in China that I will primarily sell through Amazon. Also, I will start selling other products through their Fulfillment by Amazon program.
I have a couple rather strange strategies for earning money in the streets in the bag, though I’ve not needed them. I will disclose what they are if I ever need to actually do them.
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About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3657 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Astoria, New York
September 17, 2013, 11:17 am
Thank you for sharing, Wade! This is great information.
September 18, 2013, 3:52 am
Well, I am afraid I may need to bounce back home soon, or at least to an English or Spanish speaking region.
My websites are nowhere near ready in terms of completeness or advertisement structure, and as you say, making a living out of blogging or travel writing is nearly a full time endeavor that barely breaks even in profit.
I have worked in hostels, mostly in exchange for food and a bed, but never found one willing to pay me. I will visit the hostels in the city and give it a last shot.
Additionally, I am waiting on a couple oDesk clients that interviewed me and said they would send a test job soon, upon a full time permanent working from home role. That would be sweet.
Well, whatever happens, i think i need to re-read this article and improve my skill set in years to come to avoid the dreaded return home with my tail between my legs becoming a common occurrence.
My coffee barista skills are hampered by the fact that my command of the Bulgarian language is still too poor to take an order.
Whatever, I made my savings last almost twice what I originally calculated, in part thanks to many of your tips. You also had part in the inspiration for cycling across Europe this summer.
I guess it is not the end of the world to go back in a cubicle for a year. After all, most people I meet in Europe actually dream of being in a place like my country. But before bouncing back outside of it I think I will prepare better: working hard on making mobile apps (travel related, that i can go and maintain and update from the road), learning another language (German and Russian would be good gateways into countries I am interested in). However, next time I will travel just like I did this time: just a few milestones, but in-between I would just go wherever the wind blows: recommendations from fellow travelers and locals, weather status, availability of work or free accommodation, etc. I think this flexibility is what made my one-year budget last almost two.
If I just get this oDesk gig, or a job that pays at all, I will stay in Bulgaria and make it my center of operations for travelling in Europe and Middle East. The eventual accession of Bulgaria into the Schengen Agreement means that having a residence visa, or even better: becoming a citizen, would open most of Europe for travel and work, with practically no exit dates. All of this in a country that is actually much cheaper to live in than Costa Rica, with reasonably good social security, safe streets, friendly and helpful people, and one of the best cuisines in Europe.
September 18, 2013, 7:45 am
Working = slavery, be it offline or online. Independent automatic income is the ONLY way. Everything you do for others = work for food = slavery. Everything you do on building a stream of autoincome = way to freedom. Ciao!
September 22, 2013, 9:00 am
I’d add on handyman skills to the skill set. That means being able to do repairs around the house like minor electrical, plumbing and carpentry.
In a 3rd world country you can’t compete against the locals but I do know of a two different situations in two different countries where an American has been able to make decent money under the radar with handyman work for expats.
Why? If you travel a lot you find that good workmanship leaves something to be desired at times. When wealthier expats need something done, they want it done right and they want the person they are hiring to understand them.
September 23, 2013, 8:33 am
Being an expat living in South America, I know that you are exactly right… I own a home and land here and always need something done that I just don’t have the time/tools/expertise to do myself… I do have a local guy that works with me but many times the work is sub-par… I would love to hire a someone that knows how to do it right.
- September 23, 2013, 8:33 am
October 9, 2013, 4:19 pm
Great information. You are giving the kind of information and advice on this site that is really helpful and sounds workable. I agree that blogging is not a great way to make money online, but how do you make money uploading videos to youtube? I’d appreciate more information on that.
Thanks for a helpful article.
Author, Dealing with the Dragon
January 7, 2014, 9:12 pm
Great tips on making a living by working online. On the subject of selling a unique good and how you knew a guy in Mexico who sold home made soup. Can it fail based on attitude? If there is an online blogger who does sell home made products but is always negative towards customers do you think that blogger would make any or little money at all?