Musings & Whatnot · Van Life

How I Earn Money On The Road – Fails and Successes

I’ve been recovering from a simple gallbladder removal surgery that turned out to be more complicated than expected. I’m doing well, it’s just taking longer than I wanted to get to my new (pain-free) normal.

During my recovery there hasn’t been much in terms of my usual adventures so I thought I’d share a bit about my nomadic money making adventures.

There are many ways to earn money while living in a van, RV or while on the road but I’m not here to cover all the possibilities. I’m simply here to share my own story, explain what’s worked for me, what hasn’t and why.

Heads Up… I earn commission on purchases made through links in this post.

Index…

Click a link to quickly jump to the various sections in this post:

My Non-negotiable Priority When Looking For Work…

The number one thing I need to consider is my Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS). Working in toxic-to-me places is absolutely NOT an option.

My job was eliminated in August 2015 but, during the last 5 years of my employment, they allowed mme to work from home because of my MCS.  

Anywhere in public or dealing with people in person has the potential to make me very sick. 

  • People tend to be laced with toxic perfume, body sprays, hair products, hand lotion, hand sanitizer, deodorant, laundry fumes from their clothing, shower gel and more.
  • Public places (indoor and outdoor) tend to be contaminated with toxic-to-me cleaning products, air fresheners, pesticides, herbicides or any number of toxin-filled fumes and substances.

The typical work-camping options that many Nomad’s engage in are not an option for me. Most of these jobs include working with or around people, cleaning with toxic cleaning products or involve other toxic-to-me tasks.   

My Finances When I First Hit The Road… 

I hit the road in October 2015 (shortly after my job of 30 years was eliminated and moved overseas).

Initially, I lived on severance and savings. It was fun to take a break, travel and enjoy the sights while I adjusted to unemployment and learn the ins-and-outs of my new nomadic lifestyle.

About 10 months after going nomad I decided to find ways to earn money from the road so I could continue traveling and keep some of my savings in the bank.

I scoured the internet for work from home jobs. There are lots out there and I applied to more than I can count.

Unfortunately, these jobs aren’t as easy to get as one would think. There are so many other people trying to get these jobs that most applicants are left in the dust. Many of these jobs also pay less than expected (or less than the job is worth).

Sadly, I wasn’t able to secure a J.O.B. nor was I able to keep my savings account built up.

Keep Moving Forward - No Matter What

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Selling On Ebay…

Flashback to 2006… 

I began selling items on Ebay back in 2006. I sold personal items from around the house and it was a great way to get rid of my crap and recoup some of the money I’d spent on those items. 

Flash forward to 2016… 

Around mid-2016, I decided I may as well try selling on Ebay again although, this time, I would do it as a business.

I started selling on Ebay while living and traveling in my itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, 68 square foot cozy little home on wheels.

As a Reseller on Ebay I was responsible for everything. I had find, list and store inventory; store and maintain a printer, printing supplies and all my shipping supplies; handle Customer service and all other business related items.

Storing all my business paraphernalia in the van was tricky but, somehow, I managed.

Accessing The Internet Was A Problem…

The laptop I had back then was an energy hog and I rarely used it. To circumvent this issue, I figured out how to use my phone in lieu of my laptop.  

I was able to run my Ebay business solely from my phone. I took pictures, listed the items on Ebay, communicated with Customer’s and printed shipping labels using my phone.

But it wasn’t long before I learned I had to stay in places where I had a decent cell signal.

I could no longer spend time where there was less than a 4g cell signal. Anything less than 4g meant I had no, very slow or undependable access to the internet. I was often unable to see if Customer’s were contacting me or if something sold.   Without adequate internet access it can be very difficult to manage my Ebay business.

I did my best to stay where there was 4g service – even though it didn’t jive with how I liked to travel.

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Getting To The Post Office Was A Challenge…

My best sales always happened when I was in the middle of the desert or somewhere in the boonies… many miles from the Post Office.

In order to provide good Customer Service it’s important to mail packages within the time frame specified on the Ebay listing.

I mailed packages every weekday morning. But I often lost money on mileage just driving to and from the Post Office.

Selling On Amazon FBA…

In the process of selling on Ebay I came across something called Amazon FBA. The FBA stands for Fulfilled By Amazon. 

This sounded like it would work better than Ebay so I added it to the mix (continuing to sell a little on Ebay, when I could).

What Amazon FBA entails is….

  • I find products to sell on Amazon
  • I list my products on Amazon
  • I package and label my products according to Amazon’s requirements
  • I ship my items to Amazon
  • Amazon stocks and stores my products (charging me a storage fee)
  • Amazon fulfills the Customer’s order (charging me a fulfillment fee). 
  • Amazon takes their cut and I get the leftovers

Amazon FBA has more fees than Ebay but, if you think about it, I was paying to have Amazon handle some of my business tasks for me.    

In the 7-8 months that I sold on Amazon, they banned many products (because people were sending in fakes) and raised their fees 4 times.   

These changes meant that my product choices were narrowed down AND I had to find more stuff to sell in order to make a decent profit after all the fees were deducted.

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Storing Everything In My Van…

Although Amazon stored my products in their warehouses I still had to store my products in the van until I could get them prepped and shipped to Amazon.

I also had to store the product prep supplies, a laser barcode printer, a barcode scanner and shipping supplies used for sending my products to Amazon.

This was in addition to my Ebay inventory, Inkjet printer, printing supplies and shipping supplies used to ship products to my Customer’s.

Finding Products To Sell On Ebay & Amazon… I followed a couple YouTube channels to learn what kind of products to look for.

To find products to resell, I scoured the clearance isle at big box stores (like Walmart), went to garage sales, estate sales and spent time weeding through mounds of items at thrift stores.   

Most of my products came from thrift stores but, once in a while, I’d hit the jackpot at a Walmart where I’d find $1 – $2 clearance items that I was able to sell for $40 or more.

Why I Quit Selling On Ebay and Amazon FBA…

Living in my van did wonders for my MCS. My health improved to a point where I felt almost normal (well, I think I felt normal – I really don’t know what normal feels like so it’s just a guess).

What I do know is… I felt like I could do more and I was having fewer reactions. It was easier to control the reactions and it was a great feeling.

When you have a chronic illness (like MCS) and you reach a point where you feel like a normal person… you kinda forget that you’re actually NOT normal.

I enjoy being able to go to stores now (it wasn’t always the case). But, I still have to limit my time there and spending so much time in stores looking for stuff to sell on Ebay and Amazon was making me very sick (again).

Garage sales were no exception. Where there are people there are toxins and other potentially toxic-to-me hazards.

I once had an altercation with an air freshener that someone had in their garage. It was one of those things that spewed out a toxic scented mist every few minutes and it just happened to spew as I was standing under it 😵

I sold on Ebay and Amazon for almost 8 months before connecting the dots and realizing what was making me sick.

My health was more important than making money as a Reseller and the decision to quit was an easy one.

In early 2017 I left my Reseller business behind and pushed forward in search of new opportunities.

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Finding Other Money Making Opportunities…

By early 2018 I had several money making projects in the works but I wasn’t seeing any results.

I was focusing a little bit on a lot of things and nothing was getting the attention it deserved. So, I decided to narrow it down and pick something I enjoy doing and let the rest fall to the wayside.

Originally, I tried focusing on just one business but I tend to get bored (yep, I’m a different duck!).

To combat boredom, I added another business that I can rotate in to the mix.

And… I started to see results!

Here’s the scoop on what I’m currently doing to earn money…

I Took An Early Pension…

This isn’t a business but it’s what I’ve been living on since October 2017 so I feel it should be mentioned. 

My Ebay and Amazon FBA efforts proved to be fruitless and, eventually, my savings account ran dry (even though I heavily rationed my money).

I was originally planning on taking my pension at age 55 but when I ran out of money I had to consider my options.

After carefully weighing the pros-and-cons, I took my pension a little earlier than planned.

Wondering how I could take my pension before age 55?… The Company I worked for did away with pensions long ago but some of us were grandfathered in. I don’t remember why but, for some reason, we were allowed to take our pension at any age. 

My pension is small but it’s a steady income that pays the bills, puts a little food on the table and fills the gas tank.

Regardless of when I took my pension it wouldn’t have been much and I would need to supplement it if I wanted to do anything above and beyond the basic necessities of life.

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I Create Niche Websites…

I have prior experience with building websites so, in December 2017, I started a niche website.

A niche website is just a small website about a specific topic (like living in a van, RVing, how to make widgets, etc).  

My plan was to spend 2 – 3 months building the site and move on to building another niche site.  I published my first 2 posts the week before Christmas. Three days later people were already visiting my website!

The day after Christmas I got very sick and was out of commission for quite a while. I was unable to publish any posts during this time. This illness is most likely the cause of severe hearing loss in my right ear (if you like, you can read more about it here).

To make a long story short… I was feeling better by February but, in mid-February, Dad got seriously ill and I chose to become his Caregiver.

I’ve been able to work on the site here and there but it’s by no means where I want it to be.   

On the other hand, as undone as my website is, it’s actually earning a little money and I have no doubt that, if I continue to build it, the earnings will grow.  

I may do more niche websites in the future but I need to focus on getting this one done first.  

How I Earn Money From A Website…

There are a multitude of ingenious and creative ways to earn money from a website. I’m currently using a couple of the more traditional methods.   

Advertisements 

Advertiser’s pay me to display their ads on my website.

In a nutshell, the earnings are based on how many visitors come to my website.

Affiliate Programs 

Online businesses like Ebay, Amazon, Share-A-Sale, Etsy (and many others) offer what they call an Affiliate Program where Affiliates can promote products and earn a commission, fee or flat rate.

In short, I find a business who’s products I want to promote and I sign up for their affiliate program. Some businesses require you to be approved (with specific guidelines) while others approve you automatically.

Each business has their own guidelines and requirements so it’s necessary to read the fine print for each business.

Once I become an Affiliate, I add links (on my website) to the Affiliate Partner’s website or to individual products on their website. I use special links called “affiliate links”.

An affiliate link is a link with a special code that tells the Affiliate Partner the Customer came from my website. The affiliate link also tracks anything the Customer buys and that’s how the Affiliate Partner knows what to pay me.  The only information the Affiliate Partner gives me is how many links were clicked, which products were purchased and how much I’ve earned. I never know any personally identifying information about the Customer.    

Here’s an example of how it works (using BrandX as my Affiliate Partner)…

  • I put my BrandX affiliate links on my website. 
  • Someone clicks my link which takes them to the BrandX website.
  • If they make a purchase, BrandX handles the Customer transaction from start to finish. 
  • BrandX pays me a percentage of the sale or a referral fee for referring the Customer to them through my website.

With the Affiliate Program business model I don’t have to find, store, prep or ship products… I don’t have to deal with Customers or handle any Customer Service…. I don’t need to have an internet connection when the Customer makes the purchase… the entire transaction is handled by the Affiliate Partner… and I make money.

My job is simply to refer the Customer to the Affiliate Partner’s website through my affiliate link.

I may have ads and affiliate links here on SimplyConnie.com but this is my personal blog – not my niche site. 

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I Publish Journals…

Earlier this year I began publishing journals on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and I’m already seeing results!

KDP is Amazon’s ebook / book publishing unit for self-publishing Authors.   What KDP entails is…

  • I create the book interior and design a cover. 
  • I upload my interior and cover to my KDP account.
  • I add the book information (title, description, price, etc).
  • My KDP book shows up on Amazon (and other platforms).
  • Someone purchases my book.
  • Amazon prints my book and fulfills the order.
  • Amazon handles all Customer service.
  • Amazon pays me a royalty.  

I’m not fond of some of my first journals but I’m sure that’s normal and I’ll get better as time goes on.

To give you an idea, here are a couple of my best selling journals:

Note: These are not Amazon Best Sellers… they are simply MY current best sellers. 

KDP Update August 2020… 

As I prepare to hit the road I realize that KDP may not have been a good choice for me.

When I’m on the road I use my phone as a hotspot to get internet access on my laptop. The process of uploading a book may be more than my hotspot can handle.

Some Nomads go to Starbucks (or somewhere similar) to use the wifi for uploads but, for me, that’s not a viable option.  

Back in 2016 I wanted to do something with my travel photographs so I started a Zazzle store.   

This began as something fun to do with my photos but, much to my surprise, people began buying my designs.  

So… I’ve turned Zazzle into a business.     What Zazzle Print On Demand entails is…

  • I create a design (or use a photograph). 
  • I upload my design to any of Zazzle’s numerous products. 
  • I add the information (title, description, royalty, etc).
  • My design shows up on Zazzle.
  • Someone purchases a product with my design on it. 
  • Zazzle prints my design on the product and fulfills the order.
  • Zazzle handles all Customer service.
  • Zazzle pays me a royalty.  

My Simply Connie store is strictly for my travel photographs but I wanted to do more. So, I started another Zazzle store where I sell my non-photograph designs.   

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Have You Noticed The Difference?…  

There are some startling differences between my old business (as a Reseller on Ebay and Amazon) and my new business (where I basically create and upload content to the internet).

With this business model:

  • I don’t have to store and maintain printers, scanners and shipping supplies
  • I don’t have to spend time in stores or garage sales to find inventory
  • I don’t have to store inventory or spend money to buy it
  • I don’t have to prep and ship products
  • I’m not losing money on mileage
  • I don’t have to deal with Customers
  • I can be without internet or cell signal without worrying what’s going on with my business
  • I earn money whether I have internet or not

I need internet in order to build my business but I can be without internet or take time off without having to wonder if a Customer needs me or worrying if something needs to be shipped.

I just took a few weeks off while recovering from surgery. I didn’t have to worry about Customer’s trying to contact me, I didn’t have to fulfill orders but I still earned money! 

With this business model, my business expenses are low and the bookkeeping is much more simplified.

But best of all… my business is MCS friendly 😊 

How I Market My Business…

I have prior experience with marketing (social media, email marketing, paid advertising, etc) and I found traditional marketing to be time-consuming and stressful. It’s also a money siphon – quickly sucking your money right down the drain with little or no reward. 

I no longer do any traditional marketing… although, if the mood strikes, I may occasionally add a pin on Pinterest.

Instead of spending countless (often unnecessary) hours and money on traditional marketing efforts, I simply focus on creating quality content with relevant keywords so people find my content (products and website) organically.

Organically = Letting people find my stuff through the search engines (like Google) rather than through paid marketing efforts.

The so-called drawback of letting things happen organically is it can take longer for people to find my stuff (I need to wait for my content to rank on Google, Bing and other search engines).

The benefit of focusing on organic traffic is it’s free and I don’t have to continuously pay to advertise or spend time marketing in an attempt to direct people to my content. 

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How Much Time I Spend On My Business…

At the present time my priority is being Dad’s Caregiver.

Between the daily routine, doctor appointments and things that need to be done on the fly I typically have about 6 – 10 hours a week to focus on my online business.

That may not seem like much but it’s what I’ve got to work with.

Some weeks I don’t have much time at all but other weeks I have more time than expected. I simply do what I can, when I can while balancing my other responsibilities.

If I had more time to spend on my business I’m positive it would grow faster.

But I’m not looking to spend my days working. At this point in my life, my goal is to spend more time living and less time working.

So, maybe 6 – 10 hours a week (average) is a good plan and Working Smarter, Not Harder is the way to go.

Final Thoughts…

Ebay and Amazon may be viable ways for some people to earn money while on the road. But, due to my MCS, this option didn’t work for me. So, I switched gears and found an alternative.

My current streams of income come from: 

  • Pension
  • Affiliate Marketing (website)
  • Advertisements (website)
  • Print On Demand (Zazzle)

These are not get rich quick schemes. They take time and effort to build.

It’s still early in the game but I’m definitely seeing results.

I need to keep moving forward so… until I hit the lottery jackpot the plan is to keep building my business, increase my earning potential, rebuild my savings and supplement my pension so I can travel more freely (once I hit the road, again).

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