Without a doubt, the most common question I get once people know about my long-term travel is, "How can you afford to travel the world?"
Five years ago I wrote a long article to answer how you can afford to travel the world (which is worth re-reading).
I won't repeat myself. Instead, I'll get more personal and reveal 9 ways that I make money nowadays. You can use these same ways. I'll end with 3 ways that I don't make money but might work for you. Together, you'll have a dozen ways to make money as a nomad. Pick your favorites.
9 ways I make money
1. Sell books
Although this is at the top of the list, don't think it's the number one way to make money as a nomad. Sure, we've all heard the amazing stories of Indie authors who make millions on Amazon, but they are one in 10,000. Don't bank on that. Even if you write an amazing book, that's not enough. More important than a book is good marketing.
The NY Times reported that ebook sales are stalling. The Observer argues that they're not. Regardless, for most Indie authors, ebooks bring in more revenue than physical books. That's true in my case.
Some nomads just write an ebook. That's certainly a good option if you prefer simplicity, but with LightningSource and CreateSpace, there's no reason you shouldn't offer a physical book option. You should also consider PublishDrive, Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Pronoun.
Just remember: there are three steps to making money on books:
- Writing it (harder than you think)
- Publishing it (hard if you go with a traditional publisher and it's rarely worth it, which is why I suggest self-publishing for most first-time authors)
- Promoting it (much hard than you think)
The promotion takes the most time and is the most challenging aspect, so before writing a book, come up with a marketing plan for the book. My books give me money every month. It's not much, but I appreciate every dollar.
2. Sell audiobooks
If you're writing a book, it's a no-brainer to make it an audiobook too. The number one reason to do the audiobook is that you'll catch typos along the way. Therefore, after finishing your book, do the audiobook immediately, before your book gets published.
Unfortunately, I didn't follow my own advice with The Hidden Europe. So a few typos sneaked in.
I did do an audiobook for Hike Your Own Hike, but I recorded it at a low bitrate that was too low, according to Audible, so I can't put it there. Argh! And I lost the original recording. So I may have to do redo it.
Don't expect much money off your audiobook. The main reason to do it is to check your book for typos.
3. Write freelance articles
If writing a book is too daunting (yes, it's good to feel daunted about it), then consider becoming a freelance writer. Most magazines and newspapers accept freelance submissions. I've made $1 per word, which is a good deal if you find it. Start small and work your way up.
My friend, Rachel Stern, is a journalist who started off humbly freelancing at a variety of periodicals. She even wrote many articles for the Huffington Post for free. With persistence, she's landed a correspondent position at the prestigious Christian Science Monitor.
Buy the Writer's Market for a reference manual of all the major periodicals, their freelance requirements, and what they pay.
4. Sell videos
I have little experience in this area but I know that Vimeo and other websites let you sell your videos. Once again, it's doubt that you'll make much money, so do it because you love to do it. Ask yourself, "Would I do this if I knew only 10 people will buy it?" If the answer is yes, then go for it; otherwise, rethink your marketing or pick another way to make money.
5. Sell ads on website
I sell ads on my website, but I could do a lot more. Be careful, though. Google penalizes websites that sell do-follow links. On the other hand, no-follow links generate far less interest from advertisers.
Don't expect to hit a gold mine. To make significant money selling ads, you need significant traffic. To get significant traffic, you need to devote a significant amount of your time. Therefore, once again, unless you're passionate about developing your website, don't bother.
6. Public speaking
Up until 2013, most of my public speaking engagements were free. I've changed my policy since then and I've made some money. Obviously, I hope to make more when I return the USA and promote The Unseen Africa.
Like most of these suggestions, it's a slow way to make money. You have to give speeches for free for a few years before you can make some money. And even then, it's small money, most of the time. Moreover, even professional speakers should give free speeches once in a while, just like I did for TEDx.
Are you an expert in something? You can find newbies who need coaching in your area of expertise. That could be in learning Arabic or doing physical training. I coach people in achieving their goals and planning their lives. With Skype and Google Hangouts, you can coach people all over the world.
8. Trade stocks (or other liquid investments)
When I worked in Silicon Valley and Microsoft, I saved a lot of money because I lived like a monk. Instead of just keeping it in the bank, I invested it. I made three lucky moves. I bought a lot of stock in 2002 (about a year after the stock market crash), sold a third of it in 2007 (right before the 2008 crash), went all-in in 2009 at the bottom of the market. Those three moves grew my portfolio substantially.
Experts say "don't try to time the market," but I try anyway. I trade only a couple of times a year, but when I do, I make big moves.
Although you can make money with stocks, there are other liquid investments that could work for you, such as bonds and even bitcoin.
Like most endeavors, don't go all-in. Start small and work your way up.
9. Stake in a company
I invested in Best Luxury Safaris in Tanzania. It's too early to tell if it will succeed, but I'm optimistic that it will produce a revenue stream.
I discourage you from taking a stake in a company unless you really know what you're doing. Stocks, especially ETFs, are a much safer route. Experts warn against putting all your money in one company stock, yet that's what you're effectively doing when you bet big in a small company. Also, small companies suck up cash, so it's rarely much of an income stream. Finally, it's hard to get your investment out since it's not liquid. Be careful about going down this path.
3 ways to make money as a nomad that I do not use, but might work for you
10. Sell ads for your podcast
A few years ago I did nine episodes for my WanderLearn podcast, and then I let it die. Podcasts take a lot of time. However, if you manage to stick with it and you build an audience (there's that marketing thing again), then you can sell ads.
Podcasts take a lot of time. However, if you manage to stick with it and you build an audience (there's that marketing thing again), then you can sell ads.
One day I hope to resurrect my WanderLearn podcast, but I think I'll wait until 2020 to do that. Uploading podcasts and managing all that is a pain when you're in Africa.
Like writing books, don't do podcasts for the money. Do them because you love to do them for free (same goes for writing).
11. Day Trading
It's similar to the "trade stocks" idea above, but it's far more demanding of your time. When I say, "trade stocks," I mean buy and hold. I trade just a few times per year. A day trader will trade throughout the day, every day.
Although I've met people who make money like this, I dislike staring at a screen all day just to trade stocks. I prefer staring at a screen to make videos or books.
Moreover, with high-frequency trading and artificial intelligence, I'm skeptical about the half-life of the 21st-century human day trader.
11. Online gambling
Some people play the latest Microgaming games on the go. One example is Red Flush online casino. However, there are so many others. A friend of mine has made thousands of dollars playing poker.
This is out of my league. I prefer trading stocks, which some people consider gambling, but at least I feel like it's a bit less random. Still, if you're super clever and you enjoy gambling, then consider this risky route.
Instead of considering online gambling a money-maker, think of it as an entertainment expense. You can spend money to go see a play, musical, or museum and you know there's no way you'll make money with such entertainment. I prefer thinking of gambling the same way. Set aside how much you plan to lose and ask yourself, "If I lose all this, will I still feel I enjoyed the experience?" If yes, then go for it. If you end up beating the odds and making money, then that's the cherry on top!
Whether you're curious about my financial life or would like to get a bit more financial freedom, I hope this personal article has helped you, whether you're a nomad or not.
Moreover, I hope my biggest takeaway is clear: focus on activities that you naturally enjoy, even if the money is terrible. It's better to do that than to chase money because even if you "fail" to make money, you still had a good time.
If you're interested in nomads, you might also want to read my article, "Are Nomads Running Away From Something?"