Making Money on the Road

Very few people make money selling on eBay; it’s a side income at best, if you can find the right things to sell at a margin that covers the eBay fees, PayPal fees, and the shipping costs.

When eBay first started just about every buyer paid for the cost of shipping the item and that was the accepted way. In recent times, eBay has pushed sellers to offer free shipping as part of the deal. They did it by changing the feedback rules and consequently how that feedback impacts someone’s seller rating.

If you offer free shipping then the section of the feedback form where the buyer rates on shipping is grayed out so even if you were late mailing out the package you can’t be dinged. If you charge, then you can be rated on all aspects of shipping so if the Post Office kicks your parcel across the floor, you take the hit. You could argue that it’s easier to just pack out the cost of the item but eBay sabotages you on that one too. They give the buyer a very easy option to search by the lowest price including shipping.

The bottom line is that if you have a sought after product that you can purchase in quantity and then buy low and sell high, making money on eBay is reasonable proposition. On the other hand, if you’re poking around in thrift stores looking for something to sell on eBay, then occasionally you might get lucky but for the most part you’re just racking up eBay fees in the hope of making a couple of bucks.

Freelance writing is another moneymaking idea that is beyond the scope of most people. There are websites out there that offer freelance work and they all work on the same principle of bringing two parties together and then taking a cut of the action. Typically, someone posts an ad looking for a writer to work on his or her project. At that point, writers submit a proposal along with samples of their work.

Once a proposal is chosen, work begins and then when completed, the writer is paid. It’s a good solid system but the reality is that someone in America is competing for the same job with a writer from a developing country who is happy to work cheap. I’m talking two dollars for an original article of several thousand words. The quality may be different but to the majority of clients who are just looking for cheap filler for their websites, it is perfectly acceptable. Bottom line is that the chances of reliably making enough money each month to cover your expenses are very slim.

Try an online search and you will come up with a bunch of sites happy to tell you the secrets of making money on the road. The most common suggestion (and the one everybody seems to get all excited about) is workamping. There are some very good books on the subject and it’s a bit of a buzzword in the RV community. It’s also known as camp hosting and has become a very popular way of staffing both private and government campgrounds.

In plain terms, this means volunteering your services in exchange for a campsite. It’s actually quite a bizarre concept because you are in effect giving away something of value (your labor) for something of little value (your campsite). If you’re staying in a high end park with all the amenities laid on then it’s probably not a bad deal but only if you would normally stay in that type of park and pay those rates. On the other hand, if you’re working for the Bureau of Land Management, Forestry Service, Army Corp of Engineers or any other government entity then it’s a lousy arrangement.

It may seem like easy work on the surface but it is just that: work. The government agency that employs you will assign mandatory times that you must be onsite and if there’s a ticket booth, they give you a shift when that station must be open and set duties like emptying trash, cleaning the campground facilities and making security rounds. The door of your motorhome will be the only point of contact for campers when they want to complain about a noisy neighbor or a dog straying into their campsite and they will not hesitate to knock on it anytime they feel that there is a problem. The Bottom line is that despite what you read on some of these sites, camp hosting is a job. In a smaller campground, it may only be a part-time job but at the end of the day, it is still a job and if you’re selling your labor then you should be receiving something in return.

Many of the government campgrounds have seasonal camp hosts, sites typically run around eight to ten dollars a night and that is effectively how much you are getting paid for your duties as camp host. If you are a couple then that rate is only half, as you will both contribute to the job in some way. To each his own, but I think the average person is worth a little more than that especially when you are working for well-funded government departments that pay their regular workers handsomely.

Some agencies will occasionally pay a small stipend to cover expenses like propane etc. but because you are actually incurring those expenses, it’s in one hand and out the other. A few days of paid work per month would easily provide the same income as a whole month of camp hosting so unless you have a yearning to spend an entire season in your all-time favorite campground, then hosting is probably not the wisest way to spend your time. This may not be the most popular opinion on the RV scene but it is an honest one.

There's a number of good books on the subject so I would suggest reading a little before you take the plunge. You should read my book (of course) but also take a look at others. You can never have enough ideas.

Now that all the negatives are out of the way, let’s look at the positives. There are ways to make money while you travel but like with all things when it comes to full-time RV living, you have to be realistic. The first thing that needs to happen before anything else can be discussed is you need to have a clear idea of your budget and just how much money you will actually need to live each month.

If you’re driving a big old motorhome then chances are you have a thirty-five gallon gas tank and your average fuel economy numbers will be in the range of seven to eight miles per gallon. In other words, thirty-five gallons of gas will get you approximately two hundred and fifty miles down the road and set you back close to a hundred bucks if gas prices are high. The math is the same or similar for a pickup truck towing a travel trailer. For most full-timers, there’s no rush to be somewhere so even though it might seem expensive, it’s easy to budget for fuel.

Fuel costs are all relative to the miles that you’re doing so that managing your expenses and keeping within your gas budget, even in a thirsty motorhome is an easy thing to do. Your other expenses like food, personal items, and all the other things that you would typically buy, are similar to what you would have anywhere else.

Many people really enjoy picking up clothing bargains at thrift stores they find along the way so that can keep expenses down and food doesn’t have to be expensive unless you eat out a lot. Because you’re travelling, you are no longer restricted to the same old stores and can usually find some good deals just by looking around. Take advantage of store loyalty cards and collect as many as you can so that you can hit the sales that they have with prices exclusively for cardholders. Truck stop chains like Pilot and Flying J also have loyalty cards especially for RV owners. They build up points that can be useful for all kinds of things and they give you discounts on things like fuel and propane.

Once you’ve figured out your expenses then you can come up with a plan to bring in some income. The easiest way of course, in plain terms, is to get a job. I know that sounds like a contradiction because you’ve just quit the one that you already had! What I mean is something that’s not high pressure, possibly a seasonal position or anything that’s casual in nature because the last thing you want to do is to compromise your lifestyle by chaining yourself to a desk. That’s exactly what you left behind so keep it back in the past where it belongs.

When you’re living in your RV, the bills are virtually non-existent so even a minimum wage job provides you with an opportunity to save a bunch of money in a very short time and don’t forget the taxes that accrue giving you a nice little nest egg to look forward to when tax time comes around. Larger cities offer a range of retail jobs, hotel positions, and other types of employment with a high turnover. The same cities also offer an abundance of boondocking opportunities.

A few months of work will keep you going for the rest of the year. It doesn’t have to be a big commitment, keep it casual and spend your days off strolling around town seeing the sights or soaking up the sun at the local beach. There’s something liberating about working at a job and knowing that it’s on your terms and that the date of departure is already marked on the calendar before you start. It’s all about you and not the boss for a change and it really can be quite refreshing.
If a taking a job for a few months of the year doesn’t appeal to you or your particular circumstances don’t allow it because of health or other issues, then consider doing some type of self-employment.

Once again, it doesn’t have to be complicated and you can do it in a way that does not conflict with your travelling lifestyle. When working for yourself while on the road, the same rules apply that come with taking a job in that you don’t need to bust your hump to make a million dollars. If you can put together a simple living and be happy while you’re doing it then you’re already enjoying the type of life that most people only dream.

Once you start thinking about a plan of action, you’ll find that there are so many ideas that come to mind. Every little town and all of the big cities have flea markets or swap meets for instance that rent cheaply to casual sellers. Craft items sell, unusual gifts, thrift store merchandise that you’ve picked up along the way. The great thing about flea market selling is that always one hundred percent on your terms because you do it when you feel like it or when you need money. Also, it’s one of those things that the more you visit, the more ideas you get from seeing what other people are doing and how they are making money by doing the same kind of things as you are.

If you’re selling secondhand items at the local flea market then despite what I said about eBay earlier, don’t give away something valuable that you could sell online for substantially more money. Flea market buyers won’t pay a premium for antique items for example but somebody on eBay, especially a collector, will be more than happy to give you what the item is actually worth. If you’re trying to make a living out of it then eBay is a dead loss but for the occasional item of value it can be a way to make some a little bit more than what you normally would. Once you’ve made the sale, mail it out from any Post Office that you happen to be passing.

Another way of generating money is to check the local Craigslist postings under Gigs. There is always a bunch of people looking for someone to work for cash doing something small. It might be a car repair if you have the skills to do that, bearing in mind that they’re not looking for a master mechanic or a warranty, if they were then they would be at the local shop and be paying a hundred bucks an hour. All they want is someone who can install the alternator that they bought from the parts store or a similar type of job. You also find plenty of handyman jobs, lawn mowing, writing and creative sort of gigs, and pretty much anything you can imagine that will earn you a couple of dollars on the same day that you answer the ad.

Craigslist is also a fantastic resource if you want to post an ad yourself. The beauty of the internet is that nobody knows that you're just down the road in your RV when they call and there are so many things that people want doing and are prepared to pay someone to do it for them.

The bottom line of is that you don’t have to be limited in what you do and more importantly, your income doesn’t need to come from all one source. What really matters is that you wrap your income earning activities around your RV lifestyle and does not interfere, largely, with the life that you have chosen to lead.