Remote jobs for Campervan travelers don’t have to be digital
This post is part of our series on remote jobs for van life.
Most “earn from the road” articles and posts (including ours) focus on digital or online work.
The dream of remote work consists of earning a living from anywhere, without the constraints of a job that requires your physical presence.y
Such workers are often referred to as “Digital Nomads”.
But not everyone is cut out to spend all day at the computer.
For some people, whether working in a van, a coffee shop or an office, the keyboard represents a proverbial boat anchor that’s as constraining as life in an office cubicle sandwiched by a long commute.
And even those steeped in the digital nomad lifestyle may find some physical, in-person work to be a refreshing change to a sedentary life of key clicking.
So I’ll provide tips for recognizing and growing skills that are less about screen time and more about leveraging physical skills to earn a living in the context of short term locations.
And to make sure those in-person skills actually generate income, I’ll dig into how to get the word out to bring in new, and even repeat business.
Table of Contents
Everyone is busy and needs help with something
In every town in nearly every part of the world, someone is willing to pay for just about every task imaginable.
That computer engineer pulling down 120k doesn’t know the first thing about rebuilding his crumbling cedar fence and his 60 hour plus commitment to his boss doesn’t allow him the time to figure it out.
When the dentists finally gets an afternoon free from his 80 hour per week schedule, he can’t find his golf clubs in his own garage because it’s in extreme need of organizing.
The mom holding down a corporate gig, the single dad with three kids and two dogs, the restaurant owner, the office manager…
They all have more money than time and they need your help for a day or for two weeks or for the summer season.
Alternatives to computer work
I believe that nearly any skill can translate to temporary and short term work.
While some skills lend themselves to very short term stays, others will require a bit more commitment and creative planning.
Suggestions for non digital, remote jobs you can do while traveling in your Campervan
- Carpentry, furniture repair and refinishing
- Home repair and remodel
- Interior design
- House painting, faux finishing
- Tree pruning, landscaping, lawn mowing, horticulture
- Farm labor, picking fruits and vegetables
- Computer hardware repair and installation
- Retail (brick and mortar) business consulting
- Food service: Bar tending, barista, table waiting, catering
- Personal chef
- Dog walking, pet sitting
- House cleaning
- Organization: Home, garage, office, business
- Personal assistant, personal shopper
- Photography, video creation
- Security guard, bouncer
- Art and crafts, leather work
- Workshops and classes: Self defense, dance, art, yoga, cooking, finance
Some of these might seem like a stretch at first.
It’s not lost of me that many of them require tools and materials that would take up too much space in your van.
Did you know that many catering companies rent church kitchens to produce their food? That’s the extreme end of what’s available to rent.
Tool rental is big business. So much so that Lowe’s and Home Depot both have tool rental departments.
Of course any homeowner is going to have cleaning gear and the small local farmer won’t need you to bring your own wheel barrel.
So, before you jump on the negativity train, consider my friend, Pete.
Retired builder turned Vanlifer gives back, gets paid
Pete is an experienced builder who spends winters traveling through California and the Southwest in his Campervan.
He carries his hand tools, belt and a few crucial power tools like his skill saw and drill and rents or borrows what he doesn’t have.
A few years back, he helped an elderly couple who needed a wheelchair ramp for their home in the Sacramento area.
He did the work for the cost of materials. He did a great job. Even though the old couple were poor, they had lots of good friends.
Now he gets phone calls all year for paying work from people in that area.
When he’s in town, he accepts a carefully chosen job or two, or not, depending on his needs.
He also does a bit of volunteer work now and then for folks in need.
The one thing this Campervan dweller missed about owning a home
Susan was happy to let go of her home to live and travel in her campervan.
She did not miss paying high property taxes, doing home maintenance, and being physically and financially tethered to one place all the time.
But she did miss one aspect of owning a home: She loved to garden.
She loved getting her hands in the dirt, pulling weeds, pruning, harvesting vegetables, growing flowers, the tools… All of it.
She started noticing garden plots in every town she visited. Call it garden envy.
She also noticed how many of them were neglected. She realized that on nearly every block of every neighborhood there were untended flower and vegetable beds.
Now she offers garden maintenance as a service.
Any town she wants to spend a few weeks in, she posts flyers in garden and hardware stores, gets to know the shop owners, runs some ads in the Gigs section on Craigslist…
People are busy and they need help, so she gets plenty of calls and emails.
Since she’s an avid skier, and there’s little or no gardening work in the winter, Susan takes the winters off and moves to higher ground to spend her days on the slopes and in the back country.
How to turn pro in any field
“But, I’m not a professional”
You don’t need a PHD to be well paid for walking dogs, or for a multitude of other tasks that people pay good money for.
Of course you’ll need to have a reasonable level of expertise and experience, but you’ll be surprised how quickly this can be developed and converted to income.
We’ve all looked up how-to videos on Youtube, but that’s just the tip of the online learning iceberg.
There’s no shortage of resources for learning and improving any skill.
Resources for learning remote job skills
If you’re willing to learn and build a resume through persistence and trial and error, you can become a pro in a reasonable period of time.
For example, you may not have years of dog walking or other pet related experience, but it you love animals and you’re willing to learn and build a resume through persistence and trial and error, you can become a pro in a reasonable period of time.
Develop skills that are in reasonably high demand, and can be marketed and delivered in a reasonable period of time.
- Linkdin Learning
- Khan Academy
- Topic specific channels and sites like This Old House, Epicurious…
- Forums for every imaginable topic where people will answer questions and share resources
- Facebook groups
Combine skills for remote van life job flexibility
Maybe you’re a great cook with office management skills.
Or you’re an ace organizer who loves to garden.
Since getting short term work while on the road can be a challenge, you might want to diversify your efforts by promoting yourself in more than one arena.
There’s nothing wrong with running Craigslist Gigs for both garage organization and personal chef, in an area you’ll be visiting soon.
This income diversity approach can also be a stepping stone to transitioning from one field to another.
For example, maybe you’ve tended enough bar for one lifetime and really want to be a personal chef.
You can make yourself available to pubs and catering companies as a temp bar tender while getting the word out abut your personal chef business.
Computers, a necessary evil
Even if you’re already a full pro and don’t need any training, you’ll need to get the word out and (as you’ll see below) the web is one of the best ways to make that happen.
If you’re a total Luddite and the digital world a totally foreign land for you, I strongly suggest that you join the 21st century and start learning immediately.
Fortunately, there are lots of resources for doing so.
Resources for learning to use a computer
Most towns and cities have a variety of cheap or even free basic computer training.
Some resources for getting started with computers
- Libraries often provide free computer training
- Community centers
- Senior centers
- Community colleges
Take some time to get comfortable enough to use email, a web browser, a word processor, Youtube, craigslist… It will change your life for the better.
On the other hand, if you’re willing to go meet people in person, knock on doors, hang fliers… you may find success without the use of a computer.
Do what you love? Approach with caution
We all have experience, hobbies and passions that can translate to paid work.
It’s important to understand how doing those hobbies for fun is different from doing them for money.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before considering turning a passion into a job.
Most important question: What’s the primary task?
Picture someone who loves to fish. A good remote job for them might be to offer fishing guide services on popular rivers or lakes.
Perfect for someone who loves to fish, right?
Not so fast.
One of the great things about fishing is solitude.
One of the primary tasks of being a fishing guide is managing groups of people. The opposite of solitude.
A friend of mine opened a yarn shop because she loved to knit. Turns out there’s almost no knitting involved in running a yarn shop.
She hated marketing and hiring and managing and doing paperwork.
Many building contractors quickly tire of finding new clients, doing paperwork… After all, they often get into the business because they love to build things.
But successful contractors WRITE CONTRACTS. They also do marketing and hire sub contractors and other tasks that lead to great business. But none of that involves building.
On the other hand
A few weeks a year of working as a fishing guide may not be the worst thing for our fishing enthusiast.
A builder who’s not ready to retire completely can exercise her passion by doing some deck building or handy-person work in a town she loves to visit in her campervan.
A yoga practitioner doesn’t have to open a studio. They can teach some classes in community centers in a town near some great ski slopes or mountain biking trails.
How to promote your remote work skills and services
As mentioned above, my friend Pete tends to have a carpentry job or two waiting for him when he arrives in his favorite area.
He landed this referral business through a senior center, by being generous and doing great work.
Face to face interactions will always be the best way to get work.
Consider our gardener, Susan.
She goes in to garden centers and talks to the staff, letting them know that she’s available.
You can also distribute flyers and then field calls for the next time you’ll be in that area.
But it can be more effective to seek people in need of your service before you land in a new area.
How to look for remote work before you arrive in a new town.
- Just open Craigslist.org and search for the area you’re headed to. Open the “Gigs” section and do a search for the services you provide
- Join Meetup, Facebook groups and forums where the people who need your services can be found and answer questions asked by people in those groups
- Call local organizations or companies in your field and let them know you’re available for some temp work
- You can make a living as a vanlifer without spending all day at a computer
- Everyone needs help
- There are many physical, non-digital remote job options
- You don’t have to be an expert to get started
- There are some great, free resources for acquiring remote work skills.
- You’ll do better if you can use a computer for self promo and other tasks
- Maybe do what you love, maybe not
- Get good at self promotion
- Find work before arriving in a new area
Thanks for reading. Please comment
Let me know about your remote work life.
Ask questions and I’ll do my best to answer, or find the answer for you.