Van life- where to start and how to make money on the road?

10th June 2022

This is THE ONE question that I get asked by far the most and it’s going to be a long post so be prepared!

I am not sure why but I was apprehensive to write about it for a while. Maybe because talking publicly about how you make money is quite daunting or perhaps taking the road less travelled when making big life decisions in your mid-30s carries both more responsibilities and more risks. I am not quite a spring chicken anymore and taking a leap of faith to live and travel in the van is a lot more stressful the older you are.

So, I have spent some time reflecting on things I have shared here and I felt there is an elephant in a room that I have been ignoring for long enough! For so many years, I was scratching my head thinking about how to make van life work without ever seeing a clear path or a set of steps I need to take to make this dream a reality. I want to give people advice and guidance and I think financial freedom when travelling full time is the most important aspect most of you will be considering.

Ok so let’s talk about a couple of strategies that you could explore. I will start with the most obvious one and probably the most common one too. It’s surprisingly straightforward- you turn the switch on a hardcore money-saving regime. You firstly save enough money to buy or convert a van and then have enough savings to keep you going long enough before having to go back. It’s really that simple.

Whilst this is a good plan if you want to travel short to medium term, it does mean that you will eventually have to come back a year or so later and restart your personal and professional life from where you left off. Now imagine if you caught the bug for all this van live malarkey and want to do it again?! You have no money left and the cycle of saving every penny starts again. Making this approach work long term is also becoming increasingly challenging as the inflation and cost of living everywhere are going up. Right now, I would recommend for a couple to have set aside £800-£1000 per month which will allow you to travel in comfort and have some money aside for unexpected expenses. If you are travelling for a year, you can see how these costs add up to a significant lump sum.

An alternative approach, which is a lot more sustainable is doing some work remotely whilst travelling. The dramatic rise of fully remote work opportunities has created an array of jobs across a lot of industries and it’s never been easier to find gigs whilst on the road. What’s more, a growing number of European companies are now allowing you to work fully remotely from anywhere in Europe making this an ideal job market for van lifers. I will jump into how I landed my current job whilst travelling shortly but first here is a financial background on how my husband and started van life.

When we started talking about van life in our late 20s, we both wanted to make sure a couple of principals were in place before agreeing to go for it. We didn’t want to pause our careers and instead continue to grow in our professional lives whilst travelling. We didn’t want to be in a position thinking that our money will eventually run out and instead have a sustainable source of income. And finally, we most certainly didn’t want to do it just for a year and then start over again.

With these principles in mind, everything was set in motion when after a lot of going back and forth, my husband’s company agreed for him to be a self-employed contractor working fully remotely. Secondly, we were very lucky to have bought our UK home in an area that has become popular over the last few years. When we decided to travel, we were in a strong position to rent out our house at a competitive rate. Unlike most people who buy their vans straight out, we decided it was more sensible to finance our motorhome. We didn’t need to spend time-saving money and with low-interest finance, it was an obvious choice which allowed us to pack things up and go travelling within 4 months. The money from our rent was enough to cover both mortgage and motorhome payments leaving us with a bigger savings fund for travelling.

I personally have been self-employed for a few years with a stable income from several Etsy stores. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to continue my product business on the road so I kept an open mind about what I would like to do next. I knew that something will come up but I didn’t feel the pressure since one of us already had a job. That’s when I came across an ad for Otta.

Otta is a real hidden gem amongst job boards. Its focus is on advertising roles with European start-up companies and the vast majority of them are offering fully remote work. They have a great approach to job adverts with detailed bios about each company, visible salaries and a slick job matching tool. This is a fantastic website if you are on the road and you are looking for a temporary or permanent role to fund your travelling.

I have registered for job alerts and with my background in marketing and social media, I have started to get some job matches until I came across a role with my current company. Long story short- I have landed a fully remote role being completely open that I live in a van and travel across Europe. Don’t worry if you feel I am rushing to the end I think this is becoming a very long post so I will write more about landing a job with a start-up and the whole application process in the near future.

There are no rules to how to do the van life and I guess you need to find a way that works just for you. For us, we wanted to start van life but also to continue to be financially independent. We didn’t want to go back to square one a year later so it was really important to continue to grow our skills and don’t put our long term goals on hold. Yes, having to work whilst travelling has come with some sacrifices. We had to compromise on some aspects of van life but we still get to experience this amazing lifestyle in new places every week.

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