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“When I’m old and dying, I plan to look back on my life and say ‘wow, that was an adventure,’ not ‘wow, I sure felt safe.’”
—Tom Preston-Werner, Github co-founder
Alyssa and I run our own business. It feels weird saying that, because we didn’t start it up like most people start a business. We didn’t come up with the name of a business, hire a designer for a logo, build a business website, and do all of those standard things you do when first getting started. Instead, we decided that we wanted to travel full-time in an RV and we would need to build up a business around that lifestyle.
Is this the best way to start a business? Eh, probably not. The added stress of travel and lack of a supportive community on the road doesn’t help the low odds of success when it comes to starting any business. But, I would argue with unlimited access to knowledge and connectivity of the internet there has never been a better time to start a remote business.
Plus, nothing gets me more excited about the prospect of building a wildly successful company that I can run from our RV while exploring America.
Right now we’re joining the part of our generation that’s proving we don’t have to be held to conventional methods when building a business. We can build lean, remote teams, spend less on marketing dollars, and in the end, crush our competition who is still stuck doing “business as usual”.[bctt tweet=”We’re joining the part of our generation that’s proving we don’t have to be held to conventional methods or stick with “business as usual”.” username=”heathpadgett”]
The past two years have been a process of figuring out exactly what it looks like to do that. We’ve had to figure out how much it costs to travel full-time, how long we like to spend in different parts of the country, how can we best work together as a team, what kind of work/clients do we want to pursue, and last year even had to sacrifice a few our travel plans so we could hustle on paying off student debt.
At this point in time, we have a few different businesses on the road. There’s Campground Booking, my software start-up. There’s Padgett Creative, our catch-all LLC to cover all of our creative work like blogging, podcasting, and our production business. We film videos for entrepreneurs and small businesses around the country.
We started small with one $800 client in September of 2014. Through referrals and our personal brand here on HeathandAlyssa.com, we’ve grown our income 10X all from our RV.
I wrote today’s blog to outline how I and other people earn a full-time income while traveling full-time.
This post doesn’t go into a lot of detail on exactly how people succeed in these types of business, it’s more of an overview of the businesses we’ve seen people start while traveling and a few resources/links to help nudge you in the right direction.
10 Business Ideas for Full-Time RVers
1. Video production
I have to start with this business because this is what Alyssa and I do from the road. For the past nearly four years we’ve worked with clients all over the country producing videos for them (see work here). Our niche is producing videos for people who are creating online courses, although we’ve also made a documentary, promo videos, speaking reels, and shot for TedX and other large conferences. We recently started marketing our skills to higher-end campgrounds as a way to save on lodging costs while traveling.
Why this business makes sense:
We travel with our film equipment and can drive our RV to wherever our clients are going to be. For the past year, much of our travel has been structured around working with clients in different parts of the country and visiting cool places along the way.
Barriers to entry:
- Learning basic video production skills
- Buying a basic camera package to get started (which can be very pricey!)
Learning curve before you can monetize this skill:
It took us 9 months from first picking up a camera to getting our first paid client. That was filming 3-4 days per week, volunteering our services for free at events to network, reading articles and how-to videos, and messing up a lot.
Resources and places to learn:
- WesWages.com (This guy taught us more than anyone else about producing quality video)
- Lynda.com – Courses on: Final Cut X, Adobe Premiere, Lightroom, and others.
- Vimeo’s Video School
- Wistia’s learning center
2. Software/App Development
This is one of the more difficult arenas to tap into if you’re not already tech savvy, but a popular option nonetheless. I’ve interviewed several people who have started some kind of software or app business that they can run from the road.
Why this business makes sense:
Software and app businesses are probably the most ideal remote businesses. There is so much automation that takes place, you are free to devote yourself to enjoying your travels, creating new products, or improving the one you’ve already built.
Barriers to entry:
- A lot of time and dedication to learn development
- You might need a LOT of computer screens, as you can see above
Free resources to learn development:
Kevin Holesh was doing freelance web and app development for years until he built his first successful iPhone app called Moment (It’s free and tracks how often you use your phone). Kevin’s app has been downloaded over 2.5 million times, been featured all over national media, and supports him and his wife Mandy to travel full-time in their 5th wheel RV. Listen to his full story on episode 10 of the RVE podcast.
More podcast episodes for developers:
- RVE 73: How to Know If Your Business Idea is Any Good with Ryan Quinn
- RVE 40: How David Blackmon Built a WordPress Theme Company from His RV
3. Etsy Shop
Running a physical product business from the road is not something I would have typically put on this list. But after I interviewed Kyle & Olivia of Drivin n Vibin who run their Etsy shop right out of their Casita trailer, I changed my mind. They have a bin of around 2,000 paper products that are easily transportable and lightweight. They find new products in small towns across the country and are able to ship products to customers while traveling full-time.
The benefit of starting an Etsy Shop vs. Software development (or something more technical):
The learning curve is much lower for starting an Etsy store vs. learning how to code and develop an app. However, competition is almost the same. For every Etsy shop that succeeds, thousands barely make any money. According to statistics found on this Etsy forum, there are around half a million Etsy stores out there.
Skills you’d need to learn:
- How to find your own unique niche in Etsy
- How to take good product photos
- The best way to price your products
- Various other skills like customer service, how to create an intriguing brand, and managing profit margins
- And of course, how to craft and design whatever product(s) you’ll be selling!
Want to learn more about how to start a business on the road? My ebook, The RV Entrepreneur, was inspired by the people mentioned in this blog post. Click here to learn more about how full-time RVers are starting and growing their own business on the road.
Podcast episode suggestions for crafters:
- RVE 72: Should You Pay Off Debt Before You Start Traveling? with photographer and jewelry maker, Mandy Holesh
- RVE 56: Meet the Couple Who is Painting Across America with The Greetings Tour
- RVE 05: Building a Business on Etsy: How This Casita Couple Works 2 Hours Per Week and Brings in $2,000/month
4. Adventure (or Regular) Photography
The Holcombe family (above) works with companies like GoPro, Jackson Kayaks, and Winnebago and they do it all from their Winnebago View RV. They started their photography business in a local studio in Boulder, CO and then transferred their life into living on the road just a couple of years ago.
Why did they take their business on the road?
When they owned a local photography studio they were always flying their wedding and portrait clients out to beautiful, national parks. They decided that instead of simply flying out to national parks, they would try to spend all of their time traveling to parks and just have their clients meet them there. So far, it’s worked out extremely well and their business has actually grown once on the road.
Why this business makes sense?
If you want your niche to be in adventure-related photography, it makes a lot of sense for you to take your business on the road. However, we’ve met a surprising number of wedding photographers who have hit the road full-time. Most of their clients are still in one location, so they have to fly back and forth sometimes to their RV… but it works for them while they are trying to build out a more national presence.
A few great resources for learning photography:
Podcast episode suggestions for photographers:
- RVE 72: Should You Pay Off Debt Before You Start Traveling? with photographer and jewelry maker, Mandy Holesh
- RVE 57: Being a Creative on The Road: Motivation, Selling Photos, and Not Giving Up with photographer, Joe Hendricks
- RVE 12: How Kathy and Peter Holcombe Get Paid to Take Epic Photos
- RVE 29: How to Start an Outdoor Photography Business with Josh and Shelley Hartman
5. Virtual Assistant
Since we hit the road over two years ago, we’ve met several people who worked from their RVs as virtual assistants. Being a virtual assistant could mean a number of different things. To sum up this kind of work, you execute any tasks for select clients that can be outsourced. Emails, copywriting, social media, invoices, and the list goes on and on.
Why this business makes sense?
Virtual assistants literally have the word virtual in the title, which gives VAs the opportunity to move around freely while traveling. Depending on your type of client, you may have to be a little more accessible within business hours, but that’s up to the way you structure your business. Once you succeed at building up your own clientele for your VA business, you could even hire additional VAs to cover new clients and remove yourself from some of the day-to-day work.
On episode #8 of the RVE podcast I interviewed a woman named Bryanna who has built up her own successful VA business while traveling the country with her husband AND their four kids. This is a business she actually started while they were already traveling full-time.
The best resource we’ve found for VAs:
How to Start a Virtual Business: A course by the above-mentioned Bryanna Royal. In her course, Bryanna teaches you the best processes for finding your first client, what tools you’ll need to get the job done, and how to network to keep your business running on the road. There are over 30 lessons in this jam-packed course, plus a ton of bonus material like:
- Top 10 Tax Mistakes New Small Business Owners Make
- 5 Keys To Successfully Branding Your Business
- How To Start A Website
- Why You Need A Mastermind
- Top Tips From Current Entrepreneurs Who Are Traveling Full Time
You can check out more on Bryanna’s course here. (use discount code RVE50 to get $50 off)
Tips for starting your own VA business:
- Invest a small amount of money in learning from someone who has already done it, like Bryanna’s course on starting a virtual business.
- Write down what areas you can provide value for a potential client. Are you a good writer? Are you good at administrative tasks like email or invoices? Do you like spreadsheets? Do you love research and doing lead generation? All of these are great skills that many business owners or executives would love to have in a virtual assistant. Make sure to keep a record of these skills so you know what your pitch can be when finding new clients.
- For your first client, pitch them on a free 30-day trial of your skills. You need to learn how to actually do the job of being a VA, plus you need referrals or testimonials from previous clients. Be upfront with a prospective client that you’re still learning and that you want to prove yourself over a free 30-day period. If all works well, they can continue your services on a paid monthly basis. (I know many people who have tried this approach and they are almost always compensated for their “free trial” period.)
6. Building a profitable blog, Youtube Channel, or podcast
I think one of the biggest misconceptions among people who hit the road full-time is that they’ll be able to successfully monetize their blog or channel. This is something a lot of people have done, but it’s also something that takes a considerable amount of time.
Benefits to building a profitable blog, podcast, or YouTube channel:
- It’s front-loaded work, or what some people call “passive income”. This means you do a ton of work upfront and then create streams of income that work for you while you don’t have to be literally working.
- It’s a great tool for connecting with people or building community while you’re on the road.
- It builds up your writing and communication skills.
Barriers to getting started:
- Learning how to build a basic blogging site (for free or paid). Here’s a quick tutorial on how to set on up.
- Honing your craft of writing and storytelling.
- Picking a subject matter that can be monetized over time through ad revenue, ebooks, courses, sponsors, or affiliate income.
- Building a ton of trust with your readers.
- Understanding and developing knowledge of email marketing and how to leverage email lists.
- Understanding the different streams of blogging income and which one is right for you.
A few different ways to make money from a blog, podcast, or Youtube Channel:
A few resources on building profitable blogs, Youtube Channels, and podcasts:
- How Michelle Makes $25k/month blogging
- Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing – the best course we’ve seen for anyone who wants to make money through affiliates
- RVE 47: Less Junk, More Journey on Building 40k Youtube Fans in Less Than a Year
- RVE 58: How to Start and Monetize a YouTube Channel from Scratch
7. CPA, Bookkeeping, and Accounting
This isn’t at all the kind of a business I imagined you could take remote. But Adam Nubern is a full-time, nomadic CPA that works with clients while him and his wife travel in their Casita trailer. (Heck, right now he’s road-tripping across Europe!)
These types of jobs are great for anyone who is great with numbers and organization.
- Here’s an article on how to become a CPA.
- Conversation on Quora about becoming a remote CPA
- Handling Taxes as an RV Entrepreneur: Interview with Adam Nubern
8. Content Strategist
A content strategist is like social media marketing and blogging on steroids. This is something we’ve done with multiple clients, including companies like Winnebago and Outdoorsy. Duties range from writing blog posts to scheduling social media posts to creating a content calendar. For Outdoorsy, we recently assembled a team of bloggers, built a system for on-boarding writers and processing posts, and created a three-month content schedule for them to help them grow their online presence.
If you enjoy writing, editing, or social media, content strategists are in high demand with many companies and a great freelance gig. Since there are many different facets of content strategy, here’s a quick breakdown of how pay works for these skills:
- Guest blogging or freelance writing: $25-$250/post
- Social media marketing: $250-$1k/month
- Content management: $500-$5,000/month
Content strategist is a good catch-all term for any kind of content creation you do for a company, though it isn’t always referred to that way. Cees & Madison of Ourvie take amazing photos for companies like Chaco’s, but their relationship is set up more like a sponsorship than a freelance client. Listen to our interview with them on how to find this type of partnership with great companies.
Resources to learn more and help you get started:
- 5 Ways to Break Into Content Strategy
- Quora thread on how to become a content strategist
- RVE 23: Podcast interview with Mark Cuda on how he got started as a content strategist
- RVE 31: How Jeremy and Stephanie from RVFTA Became Professional Content Creators
- RVE 28: Mike Wendland from Roadtreking.com And His Transition from Journalist to Travel Writer
9. WordPress Support
Over 75 million websites are powered by WordPress. Of those 75 million, many need assistance in keeping their WordPress site running smoothly and efficiently. I know this well, considering how many times we’ve crashed our site.
Barriers for getting started:
- Need to actually know how to run WP sites (making this a more tech-centric job)
- Learning how to outsource and manage contracts (more on this below)
Jill is a solo female RVer who started a service-based business where she provides WordPress support packages for businesses who need help managing their site. Managing one website can be a full-time job, which means Jill is a pro at outsourcing the many aspects of web support.
A few resources on building a WP support company:
- RVE 0017: Jill Sessa Talks Travel Advice for Solo Female RVers and Running a Service-Based Business
- RVE 0055: Redefining Rules for Success and Finding Your Flow with Jill Sessa (Part 2)
- This well-researched article on how to become a top WordPress developer.
- RVE 0040: How David Blackmon Built a WordPress Theme Company from His RV
10. Amazon FBA
Amazon is one of those companies that is notorious for being great for RVers. They even have their own “Camper Force” where they hire seasonal employees who live in RVs.
There’s a few different things you do with Amazon and they all have semi-confusing names so let’s break it down:
FBA: This means “fulfillment by Amazon” and is where you send your products to Amazon, they store them, and ship them once they are ordered!
Drop Shipping: This is where someone else ships packages for you, typically a company. i.e. If we wanted to sell RV-related t-shirts, we would have a drop shipping company that would store the inventory and ship whenever orders came in. (Yes, this is similar to FBA, but just not executed by Amazon here)
Retail Arbitrage: Retail arbitrage is buying products for a low cost from places like stores or flea markets and flipping them on Amazon for a profit.
The above terms usually go hand in hand. My friend Kelsey buys children’s toys when they are sale and then sells them for a profit on Amazon. And Jason from episode 48 of the podcast says this of his FBA business, “This business if great for RVers because you can bring in good income and you don’t have to hold inventory. You can travel from place to place looking for product and then ship from anywhere. It’s a completely location-free business.”
This is a great side-hustle for anyone who is looking to learn something new and wants to try something with few barriers to entry. Amazon has great in-depth articles on how to get all of this set-up.
- Amazon Services website
- Touring Freedom’s Amazon Resources List
- How to Get Started in Drop Shipping Products Online (From Your RV)
- Building an Amazon FBA Business from Your RV
This is a list that continues to grow the more time Alyssa and I spend on the road. Every week we meet another person who has started some kind of business they are running from their RV. (For more ideas on how to make money on the road, check out our weekly podcast.)
I’m a big believer that one of the best parts of running a remote business is the quality of life. Alyssa and I have made this intentional decision to build a business around our life, traveling and working together as a team. Could we make more money by starting a business in one central location? Possibly, but that doesn’t excite me like the former option.
I want to travel, see the world, and build a successful company.
Have any questions about working on the road? Drop a comment below. I’ll respond to all of them. Also, if you’re running some kind of remote business I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for taking the time to read.