One of the challenging parts of living on the road is finding employment and income. If you already work from home or if you’ve been freelancing then you’re golden. But if you’re used to working for an employer then you have some planning and work ahead of you.
I’ve been traveling full-time in one form or another since 2010, and during that time I’ve earned most of my income by doing freelance web design and search engine optimization work. I learned how to do a lot of this work on my own, but I also (obviously) have an interest in building web sites, web design, photography and tech.
While learning to code and build websites isn’t the easiest way to get started, it is one good way to make a living as a full-time RVer. I’m able to charge a good hourly rate and work from anywhere that has phone and internet access.
Working on the road also requires discipline, time management & organization skills, people skills, networking and good fundamental knowledge of your subject. I hope my experience, thoughts, and insights help you create and/or navigate a freelance or work from home gig of your own.
- My Education
- On to California
- 2008 – I Begin Freelancing
- 2010-2018 – Full-Time Living and Working from the Road
- Lessons Learned From 11 Years of Freelance Work
- Things to Consider About Working From the Road
- My Essential Work Gear
- Freelancing Ideas For You
I went through high school right as computers were going mainstream. Students carried Texas Instruments Scientific Calculators in place of smart phones when I was a Senior in High School, but we did have a computer with a CD-ROM drive in the Library.
So I didn’t grow up in the age of the ubiquitous computer and smart phone. At least nothing like kids growing up today. On the plus side, I did learn how to type (on a typewriter!). And this turned out to be very useful.
I went to a year of college (Northeastern U) in pursuit of a BS in Biochemistry. Working in labs that are full of stinky chemicals all day is not my thing. It was good that I figured this out quickly, and I dropped out after the first year. The next year was spent looking for purpose and direction, and during that time I met Kathy.
On to California
I moved to California in 1998 and found that fast typing and decent phone skills got me a job at an office. It was easy to find employment in California and I worked at several different companies and learned all the computer skills I could.
Ultimately I landed the Marketing Manager job at a mid-size etailer. I’d taken some photoshop classes and had a good feel for ad layout and copywriting, and the company owner gave me a shot at the position. I was good at it, and I had the job for 6 years. During that time I learned how to code, and as marketing manager I learned all about search engine optimization.
Working online forces me to regularly (daily) educate myself as things update and change often. I like learning new things – plus there are advantages to staying on top of the latest web design trends and search engine optimization strategies, so this works for me. Keep it in mind if you plan to work online.
2008 – I Begin Freelancing
The company I worked for was a casualty of the 2008 recession, and I found myself unemployed. Working for a company has never been my thing, so I decided to begin freelancing. I had some good contacts and referrals, and after building a website (https://richkent.com) I set about building a portfolio.
This was a challenging time. I’d had the foresight to sell the (very) expensive house we owned just before the recession. However the apartment we rented was still very expensive. It takes a little while to build up clients as a freelancer. I made a point of asking all of my clients for referrals, and that helped a lot.
2010-2018 – Full-Time Living and Working from the Road
I started this website back in 2010 to document our travels around the United States and North America. At the time we’d done the math and realized it would be cheaper to live in an RV and travel than to continue living in Southern California. We were both burned out on all the traffic and the people and we were ready for a change, so we sold most of our stuff and headed out on the road.
Initially we traveled in a Honda Element. We visited family, rented rooms, and camped around the country. This was a very difficult way to live, and after doing this for 2 years we knew we needed to change. Kathy really wanted us to try RVing and after some research I agreed that it was the way to go.
Working from the RV turned out to be a good fit for me. I love that my office gets a brand new view every week or two – and my day hikes are regularly refreshed as well. It’s a nice way to work and live – as long as you’re ok working primarily on your own and through phone and email.
Lessons Learned From 11 Years of Freelance Work
- Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. If you’re doing it right, you’re going to hear lots of ‘no’ – and that’s how you get a sprinkling of ‘yes’.
- Always do outstanding work. There is always room for GREAT in this world, and great work is the best way to get customer referrals.
- Get things done in a timely fashion. Stick to deadlines and your clients will trust and respect you.
- Repeat customers and customer referrals are the life blood of a freelancer. Time spent looking for work is time unpaid.
- Charge a reasonable rate for your time. Also, when you charge a little bit more you tend to get a better caliber client.
- Treat clients that pay invoices quickly like gold. That’s a sign of respect both ways.
- Build other sources of income. A youtube channel or a blog is a great and relatively straightforward way to build a side income. For example, this website makes me a small side income from Amazon referrals.
- Don’t let clients use or abuse you. People will take as much as you’re willing to give them, so it’s important to set boundaries.
- Be careful with clients who ask you to work for less (or free). Your time is valuable and clients who don’t respect your time can be a drain on your resources. That said, I think it’s important to volunteer your time when you can afford to – and to trade time with others when it’s equitable for you both.
Things to Consider About Working From the Road
You Can’t Really Work From Anywhere if You Need Internet
As I discuss in my how to stay connected to the internet in your RV article, you can’t always get a good 4G or even 3G signal in some of the most desirable places to camp – such as many National Parks and Monuments. That said, if you use Verizon Wireless and a cell phone signal booster, you can work from most places with 4G internet speed.
I find my weBoost signal booster to be a critical piece of equipment. I’ve had it bring mid 3G speed up to full 4G – and get 3G signal where there was no internet at all. It’s made it possible to stay in a lot of campsites that wouldn’t work for me otherwise. The cradle booster is a good start – but the full Drive RV kit works even better.
Make Sure You Have a Good Desk, Chair, and Work Space
One of the easiest ways to make sure you always have a desk is to get a decent lap desk. I’m tall, so I use my lap desk on tables and other surfaces to raise my laptop to a better working height for me.
Even with a lap desk, it’s still really important that you have a comfortable chair in which to work. As anyone who’s worked an office job in an uncomfortable chair will tell you, it’s very hard on your back and your body.
When working in the RV I alternate between working on the couch and in the dinette. Neither is really a great solution, and I regret not replacing the dinette with a more traditional desk. If you work a desk job, I recommend adding a desk to your rig.
Travel Days and Work Days Don’t Usually Mix
I had a vision of travel days broken up by working in the RV at rest stops. Very quickly I realized the problems with this idea. Our RV is far more useful and more comfortable when it’s setup and plugged in at a campground. Rest stops can be hot and stink like fumes. No power means no A/C. It’s not ideal.
Also, on travel days I like to see the sights and try to get to our destination well before dinner time. Taking time out for work can lead to driving at night and setting up camp in the dark. Again, it’s not ideal.
I found it best if I always traveled on a Sunday and always camped for at least a week at a time. This had a huge impact on the way I worked and traveled, so it’s something to keep in mind. Maybe you’ll be able to work and travel differently – but you may not want to. Travel days are stressful enough in my experience.
Freelance Work Has Ebbs and Flows
At least in my experience there is some seasonality to freelance work. Things tend to get slow during the holidays and the summer, and very busy in the spring and the fall.
Therefore budgeting and savings are a must. It can be tempting to stay at nicer RV campground resorts and to eat out more when you’re bringing in more cash – but if you don’t save for when things get slow you may find yourself boondocking on BLM land and eating noodles to get by during the lean months.
It’s Hard to Focus on Work When There’s So Much to See and Do!
One of the things about living a traveling lifestyle is that you’re traveling. That means there are always new things to see and new places to explore. This is a great problem to have!
However maintaining the discipline to work when all those new places, sights, and sounds are calling to you is not easy – trust me! I plan time during the week to get out and explore, and then I make a point of taking my weekends off. We tend to travel on weekends, but I reserve our ‘off’ weekends strictly for getting outside and exploring.
My Essential Work Gear
Lap Top Computer
Far and away my most essential piece of equipment is my Macbook Pro. Yes, Macbooks are more expensive than PC laptops, but in my experience they work better and last much longer. My first Macbook lasted me nearly 8 years and still works. Kathy’s Dell Laptop died at less than 3 years. Yes, this is anecdotal – but I’ve heard similar stories from many other people.
Also, the Magic Trackpad on the MBP is the greatest thing ever. I used to use a mouse, but no more. Using gestures on the Magic Trackpad has saved my hands – seriously.
The other piece of equipment I can’t live without is my Phone. I currently use a Google Pixel XL2 and I love it (stock Android ftw). I think iPhones are great too. Whatever phone you use, make sure you get a decent case. You can’t afford to break your phone hundreds of miles from the nearest Apple store.
My phone is both how I talk to clients as well as how I connect to the internet so it’s an essential piece of gear. I can use Kathy’s phone as a hotspot in an emergency – but it’s not a bad idea to have a jetpack device as a backup.
I use a Sony A6000 Camera to take most of the pictures on this website. Sony makes a great camera and I consider it an essential piece of gear. One of my favorite features is that I can transfer pictures from the camera to my smart phone on the spot to post to social media. It’s also compact and easy to bring anywhere – even with an extra lens.
Last but not least, I consider a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones an absolute must. RVs are small spaces and they can be rather loud. This is especially true when it’s raining or storming outside. Noise cancelling headphones allow you to take calls, or simply tune out outside noise so you can get some work done. I use Sony Headphones, but I’ve listed some other good options below.
Yes, I use more equipment than just those 4 things. As mentioned above, a lap desk is right on the edge of must-have gear for me as well. If you’re interested in other gear I use, let me know in the comments – otherwise that’s enough for now.
Fortunately it doesn’t take that much equipment to freelance successfully. There aren’t many businesses you can launch with less than $4,000 worth of gear, but this is one of them. Also, when you freelance your computer and work equipment are a tax writeoff. This helps to ease the price pain of some gear.
Freelancing Ideas For You
Freelance web design and SEO has made it possible for me to travel for 8+ years and see the world and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. There are many other Freelance opportunities available as we now live in a gig economy. Most of these jobs require computer knowledge, but some are much easier to get into than others.
- Writing and Copywriting – One of the original freelance occupations is still very much alive. You can write for publications or magazines if you’re good enough, or you can simply blog on your own website and focus on affiliate income like I do. There are also lots of companies that need help creating ads, brochures, and other print marketing material. Even in the age of video everything, there’s still lots of room for great writing.
- Blogging – It takes time to make money from blogging as it takes time to build up traffic and get a following. However when you travel full-time you live an interesting life, so it’s pretty easy to get followers. Turning those followers into income requires that you have good writing, good marketing, and good SEO skills. I’ve had some success with blogs in the past, including this one.
- Podcasting – Podcasting is simply recording your own internet radio show (of sorts). Podcasts are incredibly popular lately, with people like Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan making big bucks. To start a podcast you just need a computer, a microphone, an interesting subject and (maybe) a partner. I enjoy podcasts the most when they’re a back and forth discussion – your mileage may vary.
- Selling Arts and Crafts – You can try selling stuff in the campground, but you’ll likely have better luck on websites such as Etsy.com and Ebay.com. Etsy, Ebay, and sites like them have moved many artisans to selling online.
- Business Consulting – If you worked as a business executive in a past life, then consulting may be right for you. This requires a killer website and good contacts, but as a full-time traveler you can also go visit your clients and write off a lot of your travel. Win win.
- ‘Influencer’ – I hesitate to recommend becoming an influencer, but in 2019 it is very much a thing. And you, as a full-time traveler, live an enviable life that other people will want to follow on Facebook and Instagram – as long as you take outstanding photos. And you will take outstanding photos, because you travel to beautiful places and have a Sony A6000 Camera with you (right?).
- Video Content Creator – I started making videos myself, and even had a month where I made $300 from youtube. If I stuck with it I’m sure I’d make more, but I still get a check from Google every couple months. Why did I stop? Making videos is very computer resource intensive and a lot of work. Making good videos requires pretty pricey equipment. I decided to focus on other things.
There are many other ways to make a living from the road, including doing exactly what I do. If you really want to travel, then there’s a way for you to make an income while you’re doing it. Get creative, and don’t be afraid to take classes and learn something new.
I hope you found this article useful – until next time, Happy Trekking!