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Travel Money: Why Passive Income Is Essential For Travelers

Building the mountain.

Typing on laptop
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ASTORIA, NYC- Passive income saved me over the past year. This is not ideal — living off of passive income shouldn’t be by design until you’re old enough to throw in the towel — but it works.

Last year, I pulled in $25,000 from VagabondJourney.com. My earnings from everything else? $12,000.

This is a dramatic drop from previous years, where my active to passive income ratio is a little closer to 2:1. I’d make $25,000 from writing articles, working on film projects, and giving talks and a cool ten grand from VBJ. But now it’s swung two-to-one in the opposite direction.

The reason for this? I spent much of last year working on a book and some personal film endeavors — projects that demand a lot of time for no pay. There were also reasons related to my domestic setup: the first half of the year I was based in Prague, where I was taking care of my kids while my wife went to school, then we moved to NYC where a full two months were wiped out while finding an apartment and settling in. When the dust settled, I only had three months where I could freely travel and do my work …

My active income for last year was shot. $12,000. $1,000 per month. I was once able to travel on $12,000 a year — I would work for three months and travel free the rest of the time — but now things have changed. I’m more focused on the P/L of travel: How much money can each trip make? How profitable is each project? The act of moving around the world has become a business model of sorts. This is a very different way of viewing travel.

I was able to remain financially solvent last year because of passive income — work that I performed in the past that continues paying me today. In simpler terms, my kid project saved the day.

That’s humbling in a way.

In another way it shows me the value of passive income — the value of doing work or making investments that will pay you in perpetuity.

This differs from active income, which is work or an investment that’s one and done: you put in the labor or lay down the cash, get paid, and get out.

The ideal travel finance strategy should be 50/50 active and passive income. You work and make money wherever you can to pay for living expense … and any extra you invest into passive income streams.

Ideally, I wouldn’t touch my passive income — I would just keep re-investing it and watch it compound. In this way it becomes kind of a game: each day you add a little more to it and watch it grow. You hand right back whatever it gives you. Each blog post, each dividend stock, each book adds a little more to what will ultimately become a mountain … that you can one day sit upon and not have to do anything all day.

Filed under: Make Money, Make Money for Travel, Vagabond Journey Updates

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3623 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: Astoria, New York

14 comments… add one

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  • Anonymous Bucharest September 22, 2020, 8:04 pm

    The travel writing is at a halt. So hard to come up with new or interesting things. Such a disproportionate amount of articles on money. Travel writing seems dead. Its been a long time since I read something engaging on your blog. Paradoxically the one blog I used to find uninteresting that of Tony Wheeler seems to keep up with exciting snippets now and then. And Dark Tourism blog that’s probably the only major travel blog that still holds the spark and excitement of discovery, valuable insights and information not available elsewhere, which brought me to travel blogs and travel in the first place. I know its not easy to produce relevant content and youve done more than most already going back to this blog origins.

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    • VBJ September 23, 2020, 9:40 am

      Apologies that I haven’t been entertaining you … on this blog that you pay $0.00 for.

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  • Peter Brown September 23, 2020, 9:10 am

    Thanks for this article, I find it very interesting how travelers support themselves. You provided amounts, I have friends who adhere to the FI/RE principles and travel perpetually maintaining a similar life style.

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    • VBJ September 23, 2020, 9:46 am

      Thank you. I agree, financing travel is one of the great games of the profession. Some of the greatest pieces of travel literature were fundamentally books about making money while traveling. The daily game of coming up with enough resources to keep going adds an element of conflict to the story, which keeps things interesting. Without that you only have martinis on the beach and adventure props.

      I agree that the FI/RE way is probably a better way to go than what I did. The pandemic really shook up my travel financing strategies and shown me how feeble they were. I’m kind of backtracking and rebuilding now. More on this to come.

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      • Jack September 24, 2020, 4:20 pm

        Oh for sure. If you are not a trust fund baby and you want to travel long term, you need a way to earn money on the road. Teaching is one way(but I wonder about that future in a pandemic world), but there are many others like writing and programming and busking and you name it.

        What I find funny is all the travelers who write about ways to earn money travel writing but are traveling on their trust fund plus a little they make from selling ebooks.

        Years ago(think 2006 or so), I saw an ad online for a site called gotbaht.com or something like that. It was a guy trying to sell an ebook about the ways to earn money while living on a beach in Thailand. I don’t know how much the guy earned from it, but for the heck of it, I registered the site getpesos.com. I still have that site and someday I should actually do something with it.

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        • VBJ October 1, 2020, 10:27 am

          “What I find funny is all the travelers who write about ways to earn money travel writing but are traveling on their trust fund plus a little they make from selling ebooks.”

          That’s true. Once you’ve been in this business for a while you can pretty accurately gauge the value of webpages, and many of their numbers don’t really add up. The value of a webpage is low, low, low. They only have value once you have thousands and thousands of pages stack on top of each other and have generated power throughout the site as a whole.

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  • Rob September 23, 2020, 12:54 pm

    “Each blog post, each dividend stock, each book adds a little more to what will ultimately become a mountain … that you can one day sit upon and not have to do anything all day.”

    When you get to that point maybe you can spend your time sitting in different bars in interesting places talking to people and listening to their stories!

    Humor aside, your viewpoint, writing ability and unsold opinions are a huge thing in my world today! Very hard to find….

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    • VBJ September 23, 2020, 3:48 pm

      Thanks Rob! Very much appreciated.

      Yeah, you’re right … I guess that’s kind of what I do anyway. Dammit, I thought I had something to work towards haha.

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  • Jack September 24, 2020, 11:46 am

    I’m going to disagree because that is what I do. 🙂

    Your VJ income isn’t passive. It’s active income. You still work on it regularly and you have the hosting to pay for, but it’s more than that. Every article you wrote on this site and every thing you have done in the past to promote this site was active work. It’s just work you weren’t paid for at the time…you are getting the payment now.

    Back when I first starting making sites that could actually make money, I needed to motivate myself. I knew that that work I was doing today isn’t something I would be paid for today. I knew it would take months or years to see the total payout. I knew that articles I wrote would be found through search engines for years to come. I tried to come up with a reasonable expectation of how much each article I wrote would make and then decide if I would write for myself or write for someone else or both.

    Of course the benefit of writing for someone else is that my income for the work is received today(or the next payday). The downside is that what I receive is what I receive and there is nothing more. If I put it on my own sites then I’d make no money today and when the income started coming in, it would be pennies or nickels or dimes a day, but that change would add up over time.

    It’s all in the numbers and what I did to justify the work I was doing. I don’t think I could have done all I did if I didn’t have a number on what I was going to earn for writing up an article or doing some web development work.

    And you can call your income passive or call it active income….it’s income you were making when you were living in the cheapest places you could find just to be able to continue traveling and writing your stories. You just didn’t have access to the income you were making then until more recently.

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    • VBJ October 1, 2020, 10:25 am

      Hello Jack,

      “I’m going to disagree because that is what I do.”

      Excellent. And I will present a rebuttal, as that’s what I do 🙂

      I categorize it as passive income as it’s work that’s performed that I get paid in perpetuity for, rather than a one off payment or a payment at a specified future date. Once each page is published it’s done. I don’t have to work on it anymore and it will bring in small amounts of income indefinitely. Also, at this point, I earn income from the site whether I work on it or not. I work on it because I want to build its power to generate more passive income in the future.

      “I tried to come up with a reasonable expectation of how much each article I wrote would make and then decide if I would write for myself or write for someone else or both.”

      That’s is the question. If you write it for someone else then you get paid a relatively large amount right away. If you write it for yourself you can make small amounts of money in perpetuity. I usually do both. That’s really the core of how I finance my operations — I write for many different sources rather than just one so I can use the same travels, research, interviews, etc for multiple stories in multiple mediums that can generate revenue.

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      • Jack October 1, 2020, 3:58 pm

        I get that your definition is better and probably more accurate lol but I just have that damn IRS definition of passive earnings in my mind…..once you work for the IRS, you always work for the IRS lol

        I think the real key is in how we define it so that it helps us optimize how we divide up our time and into what vehicles we put that time. If you are just starting out, it’s important to have more present income(active?) but also work on future(passive?) income. I think at a future point, that weighting can change as more of your current income is from work done in the past. If you are well capitalized(are of any of us well capitalized? lol) then you aren’t as concerned with having present income and can focus on future(passive?) income.

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        • VBJ October 2, 2020, 3:53 pm

          “I think the real key is in how we define it so that it helps us optimize how we divide up our time and into what vehicles we put that time.”

          Exactly. While it seems a little superficial, having those definitions has really helped me to devise a broad income generating strategy. I am now very conscious of when I’m working for active income and when I’m working for passive income, and I use those incomes very differently. Active income I try to use for daily expenses. Passive income I try to re-invest so that it grows into more passive income for the future.

          “If you are just starting out, it’s important to have more present income(active?) but also work on future(passive?) income. I think at a future point, that weighting can change as more of your current income is from work done in the past. If you are well capitalized(are of any of us well capitalized? lol) then you aren’t as concerned with having present income and can focus on future(passive?) income.”

          Exactly. I believe dividing your work 75% active and 25% passive is ultimately the way to go. The beautiful part of this is, as you mention, that the earnings should gradually skew more and more passive as time goes on. Ultimately, I’d like my earnings to be 25% active and 75% passive — the exact inverse of how I divide my work.

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  • Trevor Warman September 27, 2020, 6:19 am

    So this is what i hope to achieve with my efforts now so i can have a tiny income when my cash runs out.. i hate spending what i have on extended stays… my freedom went down the drain… along with my dreams and blog traffic…

    At least i had fun for the last 2 posts from Albania! :))

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    • VBJ October 1, 2020, 10:45 am

      Definitely, man, it would help you not have to head back home every couple of years … or at least put off the inevitability for a while. And it makes you feel real cool to sit around on the beach, drinking a beer, and being like, “I’m being paid for this heheehe.”

      Yes, a good passive income strategy would take care of those low-spend extended stays. Then you can use your active income for onward travel.

      One thing that extended stays are good for is building relationships and diver deeper into the place you’re in. It usually turns up some better stories.

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