“How do you make money on the road?” is one of the most commonly asked questions us vanlifers get.
It’s also one of those questions that hold people back from hitting the road. “How will I make money?” is a valid concern for anyone considering vanlife. You need to pay for gas, food, repairs, park fees, and myriad other van life costs, but the question still stands… how?
A lot of the advice you read out there centers around digital nomad jobs. But not everyone has the ability or even the desire to work these types of jobs, and they are far from the only options out there.
For this post, I’ve compiled a list of jobs that you can do on the road. And a big focus of this list is non-digital nomad jobs that you can work while living in your van.
An important disclaimer here is that every single job on this list is a profession of a real life person living in their van, and when appropriate, I will link to them so you can see first hand how they make it work.
Working from the road looks different for everyone, so don’t let one person’s journey discourage you from finding the job or lifestyle that works for you. It requires a certain amount of creativity, yes, but there are way more options for a mobile life than most people realize.
Being a vendor is a brilliant solution to making money on the road. You can make your product in a shop or while traveling, and then set out a sign and sell your wares. Cash in hand is easy to come by when you’ve always got product. And if you run out? Grab an email address and send the buyer a follow up email when you’ve got more.
My favorite part about this solution is that the possibilities are nearly endless for what you can sell. So get creative!
Below are just a few things you can make and/or sell out of your van.
There are several excellent examples of this online. A few of my favorites are: Bri Bol who travels in a trailer and makes stunning jewelry. And Carteo Handmade, which is run by the lovely couple and their adorable daughter who are behind Our Home on Wheels. The biggest drawback to their business model are the shipping costs and time.
Art is one of those great things you can sell from anywhere. Many artists I know travel from festival to festival, selling art as they go. Others will do commissioned pieces over time from individual buyers. One of my friends, Oma, makes art from her van and sells stickers at coffee shops and climbing stores. She also does art shows at local galleries. Another vandwelling artist I know, Lyn Sweet, paints murals and sells prints online all while traveling in a van.
Van Build Out Business
Strangely, a lot of people who spend their time living in vans also make their money building vans. Drawbacks of this include needing a space to build a van, and having the skills to build one in the first place. But the best way to get started is to build out your own van.
Probably my favorite vendors I’ve met on the road are the folks from Carabiner Coffee, who spend a lot of time traveling the country and selling coffee. They’ve even got a few friends who travel and sell coffee for them.
This model appeals to me so much because it’s simple and charming. Who doesn’t want a home brewed cup of coffee?
Another crew of people I’ve run into in the wild are the folks from First Ascent Instant Coffee. I’ve seen them at several parking lots and campgrounds making coffee and giving it away for a small donation. It’s best to run these schemes in the morning.
I don’t know his name or I would link to him here, but there is a man who travels around Joshua Tree, CA, and Index, WA selling handmade T-shirts. He has his own screen printing kit and he buys T-shirts in bulk from Goodwill thrift stores. He prints his own designs on the shirts and sells them for $5-$30 depending on the item. The day I bought a tank top from him, there were at least 5 or 6 other people that made purchases as well.
Buying and reselling
This is only a good business model if you have some capital upfront to invest. My friend Ben is the KING of buying and reselling. One season in his van he made thousands of dollars off sites like poshmark and craigslist. He is an extremely scrappy and resourceful person. To this day I still find him diving through dumpsters, wading through Goodwill outlets, and hunting online for the best deals. Since I’ve known him he’s come up with valuable items ranging from designer clothes to expensive kitchenware. We all know someone who is really good at this, I am not one of those people. But Ben has absolutely nailed it.
You can make money on the road even if you have nothing physical to sell. Do you have a skill? The world needs haircuts, yoga and music just as much as they need art and coffee. Many people bridge the gap between gas and food with services they can provide.
Traveling Physical Therapy
I once met a traveling physical therapist who was offering massage and PT advice to the climbers she was climbing with. It’s a brilliant model because climbers are always hurting, so she often had her work cut out for her. Another option is offering massage therapy at festivals, farmers markets, or pretty much anywhere people gather in groups. Charge by the minute, the half hour, or whatever you’d like, and you’ve got gas money or more.
My favorite pamphlet I ever saw was in a parking lot in Squamish, British Columbia. A woman was offering a $5 donation yoga class every morning at 7am in the campground. She made enough money for food and gas for her trip, and she got to do a whole bunch of yoga.
An enduring classic way to make money from the road. Musicians travel from venue to venue playing shows and make money selling t-shirts and CD’s on the side. It’s a great way to travel, make money, and have fun doing it.
Yep. It’s the one everyone jokes about. Trust me, I’ve heard all the jokes and almost none of them are funny. This is a real way for people to make money. From Patreon to Onlyfans, people are gainfully employed making their own hours and setting their own incomes while traveling.
One of my friends spent a summer stripping in Portland. She made over $900 in two days and spent the rest of the week living out of her car and climbing. She often worked for 3-7 days out of the month, and then spent the remainder of her time traveling and exploring.
Seasonal jobs are abundant and perfect for vanlife enthusiasts. While you can’t usually work and live out of the van at the same time, the ‘work for 6 months, play for 6 months’ thing is a schedule that usually works out really well for van peeps.
It’s also worth noting that seasonal work allows for a more sustainable vanlife. Having a place to root and call your own is a pleasant foil to the unrestricted freedom of living in a van. Also, depending on the job, you may qualify for unemployment during your ‘off season’. Talk to your employer about what the terms of your job are when looking around.
The position ‘travel nurse’ is thrown around a lot in the climbing world. It’s a popular position for climbers to take since the schedule is flexible and you still make decent money.
Travel Nurses are full-on went-to-school-and-everything nurses, but they work on a contract basis with hospitals. They’ll work for a few weeks at one hospital, and then have loads of time off until they land their next contract. The position pays well and the time off is desirable. If you are hoping to travel more and live in your van, this is a good option to consider.
While not technically seasonal work, it is worth mentioning the two months a year that teachers get off. A few of my old climbing partners were teachers, and they would spend two months each summer climbing and living out of their vehicles. They also had off for Christmas, spring break and other school holidays.
Of course, being a teacher isn’t easy, and a lot of teachers work over the holidays, but it is a good job to keep in mind if vanlife is something you want to do long term.
This is a very wide-ranging option as every single Doctor will have different priorities, a different relationship with their hospital, and so forth. A good friend of mine works in a hospital in San Francisco for 1 week out of the month, and spends the rest of his time in Portland or on the road. He calls it ‘extended weekend warrioring’ since his time is super flexible. I have a another friend who is an ER doctor in Canada. They generally have a different set up than we do in the US, but she takes off a few months each year to travel and then heads back to work.
Environmental Field Work
This is kind of a blanket name for a lot of different jobs. This can include trail work, sawyer work (cutting down trees), ecological monitoring (gathering data on plants), pesticide spraying (removing invasive species), water monitoring, fish monitoring, and much more.
There are many different organizations that run programs like these. The most common are Americorps and each state’s Conservation Corps. These are programs designed to get young people into the field to do hard work, which also benefit each state’s conservation efforts. Here’s a full list of state conservation corps.
If working hard in the woods is your thing, you might consider being a wildland firefighter. This will vary depending on the state, but most states have a seasonal Wildland Firefighter position. You have to undergo a significant training and vetting process, but the schedule allows for an ‘on season’ and an ‘off season’.
Every year, public and private campgrounds all over the country hire camp hosts to help welcome campers and run the campground. In exchange, they get a free place to park and wages for hours worked. This can be a great way to post up for a few months, spend time in an area, and make a little money for your next stint of adventuring.
Park Service Employee / Concessionnaire Employee
A lot of my friends are Park Service employees or concessionnaire employees. The Park Service folks work for the park itself doing ranger work, custodial work, or taking park entrance fees. Concessionnaire employees work for the company that provides food and lodging for the park.
Almost all National Parks have an on season and an off season. This means that both the Park Service and the concessionnaire will hire folks seasonally. You can have a job during the on season, and then get furloughed each year during the off season. It’s a great way to have job security and a ton of free time to travel in your van!
Search and Rescue (SAR)
Often related to National or State Parks, search and rescue is a crucial part of rescue operations in wild environments. Many SAR teams are 100% volunteer and do not receive pay, however, the larger national parks like Yosemite do pay their staff. Do some research on SAR teams around the country if this is a job that interests you.
Tourist Town Service Job
Another great option for seasonal work: the service industry in seasonal towns! When business is booming in a ski town during winter, bars, coffee shops, restaurants and even retail are dying for more help. Katie, a good friend who’s been making it work in her van for nearly 5 years now, is a bartender in Lander. She works during their high season, and then spends the rest of the year hanging out and rock climbing out of her home on wheels.
Hiking guides, climbing guides, and ski/snowboard instructors typically have a limited work season. Working at a resort or with a local guiding company can be a really excellent way to make money during one season, and then take time off to travel in your off season. It’s really common for climbers who climb all year to take a few months to guide, same with skiers or snowboarders. If you’re sure you wont get sick of your sport, this could be a really good option.
Seasonal Farm Work
Every farmer needs farm hands! There is always something to do on a farm. From pulling weeds to digging irrigation ditches, to mending fences, to gathering eggs… the list is endless. If you have a love for working with your hands and staying outside, then farming is for you. The fall sugar beet harvest is a really common one for nomads to travel to.
After cannabis is harvested in the fall, it needs to be manually trimmed to be ‘prettied up’ for sale. Getting a seasonal trimming job is especially common for those of us who live near the Pacific Northwest (PNW) area, since there is a lot of cannabis grown in that region.
Trimming is a boring and tedious job that pays really well and only requires a few months of your time. Plus you have to (get to?) spend a lot of time around weed. This is either your dream come true or something you could care less about. Either way, it’s a great way to make money seasonally.
Lifestyle jobs are jobs that require travel as a part of your job. This category might seem a bit out there for many of us, but I’ve met a lot of people who make these jobs work.
I know it sounds slightly unattainable, but if you’re particularly good at a sport you might consider working to get sponsorships. They don’t pay a lot, but most pro athletes I know make enough to pay for gas and get their gear paid for. Brittany Goris is a good example of this. She lives full time in her van and travels around climbing.
For the outdoorsy and leadership prone among us, NOLS is a great resource for remote and seasonal work.
Ski Lift Operators
This has its own category since there isn’t much else like it. Ski bums have been doing this for decades. If you want to ski or snowboard a lot, and only want to work during the winters, then work a ski lift!
I once met a lovely couple in Yosemite who were Cirque Du Soleil performers. They lived half the year on the road with their crew, and half the year in a van. It worked for them. You can check out their beautiful Instagram account here.
I had to include some resources for digital nomads. There’s a lot of information out there already, but I wanted to compile a list of jobs for those of us who do choose to pursue the #digitalnomad life. There are many options for digital nomad work, from freelancing to remote jobs to running your own business. All you need is an internet connection and you’re good to go!
Probably the number one job out there for vanlife peeps is photographer. Travel photography is a perennial option, and sports photographers can make a decent amount of money photographing professional athletes.
It seems to me the biggest obstacle to overcome in the photography world is just finding a niche and getting people to buy your photos. However, having the ability to travel and live anywhere you want is super helpful when looking to source content.
This is me! I am a writer by trade. And I am not the only vanlifer out there making money while writing. Chris Van Leuven is a prominent climber and writer who has been writing for magazines and more for years. Writing can be anything from writing blog posts for companies, writing monthly newsletters on a contract basis, writing articles for magazines, or writing books.
My favorite traveling writer I know is Kevin Devaney, an itinerant poet who sits on street corners writing poetry on the spot. It’s wonderful, and he makes enough money to pay for gas!
Designer or Developer
Graphic design, web design, web development, and more. These types of jobs can be entirely computer-based and translate really well to freelancing or working remote for a company/agency. If you have these skills already, you’re well on your way to building a remote income.
If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, you might consider starting your own website. This is how Gnomad Home makes money on the road, and there are a lot of digital nomads out there doing the same thing. And no, your website does not have to be about vanlife – it can be about anything that interests you!
It’s getting more and more common for large companies to have their employees work remotely, especially after COVID showed that having remote employees is more than possible. There are many types of jobs that can be done remotely, from customer service to web design to software development and more.
Chris Trainor lives in his van and write code for a Silicon Valley giant. They don’t need him to come into the office, but they do need him to work. He gets his job done using a wifi hotspot and then plays in the desert whenever he likes.
These days there are tons of remote positions available, so you can just get out and apply for one. Or if you currently work for a company, ask about how you could turn your job remote. It’s more feasible than you might think.
Working from the road is more attainable than ever before. Companies are going remote, individuals are starting their own businesses, consulting and contracting is more popular than ever, and taking up temporary or seasonal work seems to be the norm for a lot of people. Working and making money from the road is possible for you. You may just have to get a little bit creative.
A few thoughts on working from the road. I’ve been working and traveling for three years now, and while it’s been rewarding and comforting to have an income while pursuing my travel passions, it’s also difficult to balance work and travel.
It only took me three years to realize that working full time while on the road was stressing me out. Now, I try my best to work then play. Having a separation of work and play is helpful for mental clarity, stress levels, and overall sanity.
But, as shown above, there are tons of people who are making it work, with a variety of different work situations. If you’re motivated to live this lifestyle, you just need to get out there and make it work!