We are living the dream…life on our own terms. Making a living with no fixed office and the freedom to live and work from wherever we like. You can do it too!
This Make Money and Travel series exists as a source of inspiration. By sharing examples of real people around the world, making money from anywhere and living the lifestyle they want. To us it proves, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
We figured if we were going to start this open, honest and hopefully helpful series, we better start with ourselves. So, here we go.
We’re Jason and Nikki Wynn and we are the keepers of this website. In 2010 we sold everything, packed up our two cats and bought a home on wheels. The concept was simple: no matter where our adventures took us, we were never far from home. Now, we’re always on the move and travel from place to place in an effort to wear out our adventurous soles.
The first question we always get when we tell people this is “how can you afford to do that?” The answer is simple, we live and work just like everyone else. Ok, maybe not just like everyone else. We’re photographers, videographers, and writers. If you’re interested in all the details that come along with our jobs and what it all takes…read on!
I feel like the first thing I should say is that neither of us come from rich families or are independently wealthy (which is always the first assumption). Nothing has been handed to us on a silver spoon. We’re simply hard working entrepreneurs who are not afraid of a little risk.
People looking for excuses not to live their dreams (obviously not you, or you wouldn’t be here) don’t like to hear this but here it goes: You don’t have to be rich to live like you are.
I, Nikki, am the one writing. Considering I am sort of interviewing myself, I may write in 3rd person or 1st person. If it gets a little confusing, I’ll blame it on my small town education. 😉
*This article was updated in 2016
Before hitting the road, Jason was a professional photographer and I was a makeup artist in Dallas, Texas. We both worked in commercial/advertising so naturally we looked to those same skills to fund our new mobile lifestyle. We quickly realized there was a need for affordable, yet quality video/photography services in the travel/tourism industry and we’ve been filling that need ever since.
Over time we found other ways making money as well. We have the photo/video services, our GWTW (Gone With The Wynns) website and freelance writing.
Photo/Video Services: From tourism boards, to adventure companies, to campgrounds, we create experiential and promotional videos and photographs for their needs. This has been our main source of income while traveling full-time on the road. Sometimes we would share the project on our website as well but most of the time we simply give them the final videos just like any production company.
GWTW Website: When we started Gone With The Wynns it was our way to share the journey with friends and family. So, it really blew our minds when other people started tuning in and joining in on the conversations. Turns out, there are a lot of people who wanted to live a similar lifestyle.
That realization prompted us to put more effort into our videos, photos and articles. We tried to be helpful, give insight and go the extra mile to help all those wanting to know more about our lifestyle and how we made it work. As everything has grown and progressed…so has the time, effort and expenses to keep it all going. What started out as just our personal creative space has turned into a full time job.
We never dreamed our website would be a way for us to earn an income. So, it wasn’t until year 2 or 3 that we really started trying. The first time we ever turned on that monetize button was on our Camping at Wal-Mart Video. Even still, making money writing/blogging/vlogging on our own site can be incredibly hit or miss.
Freelance Writing: We also make a little income from writing the occasional article for various publications/websites. This seems to be the natural thing for anyone with a blog to do. Why? For us, and I think may others, we found ourselves writing all the time because of our blog and we had an unintended writing portfolio through the blog. We started reaching out to online publications and print magazines within our niche and slowly over time…we started picking up writing jobs. Then eventually, the publications started reaching out to us.
Photo/Video Services: We can easily put in between 16-20 hours a week scouting/filming/photographing. Being out and about capturing the moments is the fun part of our job and receiving positive comments from clients is the rewarding part. Depending on what we are capturing we meet new and interesting people and see places we otherwise would have never known about, or bothered to see.
The endless hours in front of the computer make up the remainder of our work time, and this part is indeed a “job”. We can easily spend 25-30 hours editing one video. The editing and business side of things its still enjoyable but its certainly not near as fun as the capturing. We know people in our industry that really love the editing portion much more than the capturing…so its all personal preference. If we could afford it, we would hire an editor. But that would cause our pricing to go up a lot as well and then we wouldn’t be the affordable choice anymore. Some days we go right for the computer as soon as we wake up (around 7am), we may never make it out of our pj’s and once we are officially cross eyed, we will finally shut everything down (around 11pm) and go to bed promising ourselves tomorrow we’re going to get out and exercise!
GWTW Website: We love documenting our lifestyle…it’s our passion project. Because we love it…we find we dwindle away into the wee hours working on our website, articles, photos, videos, social media, email requests and the list goes on.
Capturing, writing and editing, especially if you publish a good solid post a week and interact with your readers, is extremely time consuming. These days we can easily put in 30 – 40 hours a week into our blog/social media/answering reader emails and comments. In the first couple of years it was half that, maybe a quarter of that. Writing quality content takes time. We’re not natural writers but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a story or information worth sharing so we keep at it and remind ourselves to proofread as many times as possible before hitting that publish button.
It can take us anywhere from 3-6 hours to write a post. If its a helpful or technical post it can often take 6-8 hours. Editing photos to go with each post can add another 1-3 hours per post, it just depends on how many photos we took and what the lighting looked like at the time of capture. If there is a video to go with it, it becomes a much bigger investment. Most of our videos take anywhere from 10-24 hours of computer time from start to finish. Now, we don’t have a clue as to how much time we actually spend filming. It’s a lot but it’s what we consider the fun part. On filming days we’re pumped full of energy and that’s why we’re often full of smiles even if we’re talking about composting toilets.
Then there is the time spent on answering emails/comments/social media. In the first year or two it took around 3-5 hours a week. These days our viewership and engagement is a lot higher across the board so its more like 2-3 hours per day. It’s hard to gauge as it’s something we do throughout the day. It’s also very enjoyable interacting with people so the time can fly by in a blink of an eye. Sometimes, I have to set a timer to keep myself in check. We want to answer every question but sometimes we have to shut-er-down before we can get to them all…then it can turn into a snowball effect which is daunting to say the least. The hardest thing about a passion project is the fact that there is no off button. It’s your baby.
Another time consuming portion of our website can be the back end website maintenance. We’re not website pros by any stretch of the imagination. We’re creatives and we have fun with tech…but that is as far as it goes. Our website is a self-hosted wordpress site. Fixing glitches, updating pages, adding new features, updating existing features, curating our travel store, etc. It all adds up quick and often times just gets pushed back. We try to keep it all fresh and keep up with the ever evolving world of technology but it can be a challenge not to be outdated before you are even finished these days. I honestly don’t know how many hours total we spend on this kind of stuff.
This past year it became so intensive we had to hire a website manager (chris at rtwlabs.com) to simply monitor, fix glitches, keep themes and plugins up to date and make sure our site wasn’t crashing or being hacked every other day. It’s made a big difference and it saves us time and piece of mind. It’s well worth the monthly fee. Now, I probably spend about 3-6 hours a month on back end website stuff. Which I don’t think is too bad at all.
Freelance Writing: We take on jobs very sporadically as they come. Sometimes I will have 3-4 articles in one month due and other times it will be 3 months before I take on another. Articles vary anywhere from 400 – 1200 words and take anywhere from 3 – 10 hours to complete. The big thing here is professionalism. Again, I am not a natural writer and my grammar and spelling can be atrocious. So, I probably take much longer than what I consider to be a real writer. I just so happen to have a unique set of experiences and knowledge because of those experiences and that is what I typically write about.
The Overall Business: Lastly there’s the business end that involves scanning receipts, communicating with our bookkeeper, dealing with the devilish QuickBooks and quarterly check ins with the CPA. This is only a small portion of our monthly work, but trust me Jason hates every minute of it…and I love to watch him sit and cuss at the scanner and the bookkeeping software. 🙂
Photo/Video: The average yearly salary for a photographer or videographer can vary widely. When we had our studio in Dallas we would easily earn 6 figures and lived very comfortably. We worked hard to build our businesses and worked some crazy odd hours at times and almost every weekend. Once we had a solid business foundation and reputation for quality work built up, we relaxed a little.
Building a reputation for quality work in one area was relatively easy compared to traveling the country expecting the same reputation to follow you around. We have yet to make the same earnings we did while stationary. For us it really boils down to two options:
- If we are willing to move quickly, the pay can be lucrative because we can stick to a firm schedule and book lots of jobs in advance. We’d be working full-time and on the move when we’re not filming or editing. But working at a pace this fast and hectic…we may as well have stayed in Dallas and just took long weekend trips to explore.
- If we want to take time to enjoy each location and book jobs on the fly with a flexible and spontaneous schedule we usually just make enough money to pay the bills. Thankfully when we’re living off the grid we can save a lot of money and there’s not that I gotta work now sorta pressure. See our post: costs of living on the road to get an idea of what our personal expenses are.
The most difficult part is figuring out an hourly rate or daily rate. What worked in Dallas, TX where we came highly recommended doesn’t work in Bend, OR where nobody knows us and we’re cold calling an adventure outfitter for a white water trip. Our rates are at least 50% less in our travelling life than they were in our previous sedentary lives. We try and stick to basic 10 hour day rates and work each job estimate based off of time invested per project. Our day rate could be $0 if its something we really want to do and are willing to barter and trade services. Other times it could be one project that takes a week but pays for a month of living. It’s all over the map.
GWTW Website: Bloggers and vloggers are a dime a dozen these days. Very few bloggers make any money, much less good money. It most certainly can be done, but these days if you want to make it, you have to stand out from the masses. Even then, the big question is always…how do we want to monetize our passion project. What can we feel good about?
We’ve deliberated, debated and tested out several ways. As our website and you tube channel have grown, so have our expenses to keep it all up…which really starts to put on the pressure for the website and you tube channel to bring in at least enough money to pay for itself. Here are some of the ways we’ve found to offset the costs and potentially compensate ourselves for our efforts:
- Ads – We hate ads but sometimes, like this time, they are a necessary evil. So we added one simple google generated ad to our videos and website. Sadly, everyone else hates ads too. With the popularity of ad blocker, our minimal revenue has been cut and cut again like a week old turkey after Thanksgiving.
- Collaborations / Sponsorship – We really don’t like the word sponsor as its wildly misunderstood and misused by many. We have had some in-kind sponsorship’s over the years (where a product is given to you in exchange for being attributed as donated or sponsored) but we have not had a true sponsorship where a company simply pays you to do what ever it is you do in exchange for being attributed as your sponsor. What we have done is some great (some not so great) collaborations. We’ve worked with companies over the years like Go Power who will help fund an informational video/post about solar. These types of collaborations take a lot of time invested in relationship building, pitching and in the end we still come out not making as much as our photo/video jobs. The other problem with these types of jobs is the assumed corporate sell out label that some viewers now put on us. Regardless of how helpful the information was, how honest and clear we were with our disclaimers or anything else. We do still collaborate with a very select few companies if we really really love the product, love the company and feel its something our viewers will really want to know about.
- Our Store – We created Our Gear Store to easily organize and share all of our favorite gear. Surprisingly, some of you actually go out of your way to shop through it, even though its a bit of a pain to navigate (we are aware and we are sorry…we are going to try and fix it soon).
- Amazon – Shopping through Our Amazon link (along with a few other affiliate links) has by far become our number one source of passive income. It’s not enough to cover all the expenses but it makes a very helpful dent. If you’re reading our blog and you see a hyperlink to a product it might take you to Amazon. Once you’re on Amazon, that product and anything you add to your cart while that same window is open, we get a small affiliate commission on the purchase. The key is you have to purchase within 24 hours of clicking from our website or we get nothing. It’s a standard and fair referral fee system. We think this is great because Amazon carries everything, they often have the least expensive pricing and they ship free 2 day with Prime which is huge for the ever moving traveler like us. This has helped tremendously and we’re eternally grateful for people that go out of their way to click from our site because they found an article or video helpful. As I said earlier, it’s still not enough to fund the site and all our production expenses but it sure helps. If you’re thinking about adding Affiliate links to your site don’t expect it to take off right away, it took us a couple years to make a commission worth writing about.
- Tip Jar – After much deliberation we eventually added a small tip jar. We didn’t make a big deal about it…but it’s there and a few people stumble upon it and give us a tip here and there (which really fills our hearts just as much if not more than our pockets). What’s neat is we’re not promoting it, people just feel like they’ve gained insight or maybe we’ve helped save them money on something, whatever it is they follow that little link and share the love. You are Awesome.
- Patreon – Recently, we kept getting suggestions that Patreon would be a much better platform to help support the site. After much more deliberation and research (we’ve been talking about Patreon for over a year)…we totally agree! We were on the fence after seeing so many people get called ebeggers (another word I hate) lazy people who need to get a real job and other not so nice things. We’re just starting Patreon so I can’t say how we will fair with it. But I can say we like Patreon because it is all about us creating something worthy of supporting (helpful, entertaining, inspirational…) and in return rewarding supporters with special access and insight. Seems like if you have a core group of people who find value in what you create, I think you can be successful. As for those who want to call us an ebegger for going this route…well, you clearly have no idea how much work it all truly is and obviously don’t see a value in what we create. That’s ok, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.
Freelance Writing: We can make anywhere from $200 – $1000 per article to write content for other publications, but only when we find time to pitch an original idea and it’s accepted. Finding good paying ($500-$750) writing jobs these days are super slim, require a lot of pitching and in turn they expect a well researched article. Some publications will still pay for quality articles but most want cheap filler content with “click bait” titles and only want to pay $50 – $150. For us, it just doesn’t feel worth it. We’re not interested in associating our names with unhelpful and click bait content, we’d rather focus on writing a quality article for our own website than take $100 for writing something we don’t care about.
Overall we’ve always found that making money by providing a quality service, skill or product is always doable, no matter if you are on the road or stationary. Find a need and fill it. Create something that matters and that you can feel good about. Then, it’s more than just a means to make money…it’s a mission and a passion project in one.
At least that is the way we feel about our website. Gone With The Wynns has become our passion project and one we have been slowly pouring more of ourselves into every year. We’re hoping 2016 is the year we can ditch the distracting side projects and truly make it our full time job.
Our most essential work tools are our laptop computers, cell phones and our camera gear. All of our cameras and equipment used are listed out here: http://www.gonewiththewynns.com/best-travel-camera-video-photography
We also rely VERY HEAVILY on the internet. Here’s how we stay connected while travelling: http://www.gonewiththewynns.com/mobile-internet
Photo/Video: We have worked with tourism boards, adventure companies, and campgrounds by providing video, photographs and articles. Sometimes a company or brand will contact us in need of our services but most of the time we are researching and pitching companies that we think fit our goals, lifestyle and clearly could benefit from our services. If we do our research well and come up with a good solid pitch, we rarely get turned down. We have about a 75% success rate. If we contact a company or town on the fly because we are going to be in the area, it’s more like a 25% – 50% success rate….and sometimes it’s just a trade because we really wanted to go on that _____(insert adventure here)_____.
GWTW Website: Growing a website or you tube channel isn’t something I know how to advise on. I am not even sure how we have gotten here ourselves. I would say create great content and they will come but that alone isn’t enough. I have friends like Ryan Van Duzer who create fun, entertaining and inspirational videos that don’t get even close to the views they deserve. As for us, with the addition of Patreon this year we hope we can focus our efforts 100% on our website so we can share the stories and adventures our audience really wants to know about and hope it continues to grow. Paid gigs are good, but they take away focus from the authentic stories that we feel really help and touch people the most. When we’re not side-tracked our “job” becomes even easier and our content even better.
Freelance Writing: Most of our freelance writing has been in the travel or RV category. So we reach out to or are contacted by various online and print publications within that niche. If we wanted to write for Yahoo, we would search for the editors email or twitter handle. LinkedIn can also be a great place to find contacts for publications and a good place to reach out about wanting to write for them. Be quick with your requests, get to the point and be persistent. If they didn’t respond to an email, try them on twitter, then on LinkedIn.
Travel – Each job is unique and we are always exploring something new and often times in a really beautiful location we would’ve never visited otherwise. If we’re not inspired by today’s job, tomorrows will be somewhere totally different, so there is always a light at the end of that tunnel. Every day isn’t perfect but most are special in one way or another. There are so many days we wake up or go to bed saying to each other, “how awesome is this”.
Forced Exploring – Our job is to capture experiences through still and moving pictures. So we have to dig to find what makes each person, place or thing unique and interesting. We have discovered some of the best destinations and people through our work, and that’s what gets us excited and keeps us charged and ready for the next gig.
Inspiring Others – The biggest reward we get is from our web site. Its the thankful comments and emails that remind us of what an incredibly unique life we lead. It’s hard to describe just how humbling it is to know we have inspired someone to take that big trip, make a major change in their life, or saved them a ton of money simply by sharing what we’ve learned.
IRS Write Offs – Because we both owned our own companies in Dallas, before leaving on our RV adventure, we decided to incorporate and it’s worked out very well as some of our travels and adventures are write-offs. We have a great CPA who helps us stay legit, within the laws, and with his help we can write off part of the depreciation of our RV (and now our sailboat), many of our food expenses, our campgrounds (& Marinas), fuel, insurance, cameras….well pretty much everything that is related to us making a living. It doesn’t make any of these things free by any stretch of the imagination but every little bit helps!
Travel – Packing up and moving along at a fast pace, not knowing if you will have cell service or internet, and having new distractions outside your door daily can make working on the move nearly impossible some days. Most of the time our work locations are where everyone else is drinking beer and on vacation…it’s insanely hard to resist the temptation to join in as we peer out our windows over the top of our computers. Add a slow wifi connection to the mix and the frustration quickly leads to a headache or drinking…which still eventually leads to a headache.
Computer Time – We spend a good portion of our time with our noses buried in computers, editing, writing and documenting the people and places instead of experiencing them. Yes, we are those people in the dark corner of the beautiful place working away while everyone else enjoys the day and assumes we don’t know how to disconnect from technology. I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me in that scenario and said “you will live without the internet, you should enjoy the moment”. Not realizing that I am not on vacation. I usually just smile and nod to avoid having to explain myself. That’s when it hurts the most. I am too busy working on my amazing life to share why I am working on my amazing life!?!
Negativity – When you become successful, people naturally want to hate, or assume that by the grace of some higher being your life is easier than theirs and you never had to work for anything. (note to self, someday share the backstory about how I was raised by my working class grandmother in a small farming community). We read every comment and the little negative jabs and blatant trolls eventually add up. We don’t talk about it, we don’t typically engage them and try to forget them as quickly as possible. Some days it’s easier than others. On the hard days, here is what we say to ourselves:
- We worked hard for everything we’ve earned in life.
- 95% of the comments are good so we can’t listen to the 5%
- If you’re feeling down talk to a friend and DO NOT engage the haters, its almost impossible to change their minds.
- When we see someone more successful than us it’s important to think about point #1 before judging their situation. As we often tell ourselves the sweet can’t be as sweet without the sour…and our life is pretty damn sweet!
If we could go back in time and give ourselves a few pointers, they would be:
- Develop your portfolio(s) and set up your website or blog and get some clients before you start travelling, I’m talking like a year before you hit the road. A solid collection of work examples is huge, luckily we were not starting from scratch and already had years of successful photography experience and it helped a lot. If you can’t show what it is you have to offer or what you can do, then why would anyone want to pay you to do it for them?
- Keep track of every minute spent on each project – it’ll help with properly estimating and pricing jobs later on down the road.
- Double the amount of time you think you need for a project. If you think you need 4 days, give yourself 8. You never know what obstacles will pop up. Rain, slow internet, RV breakdowns…so on and so on. And don’t forget to schedule in some time off!
- If blogging/vlogging as a business is something you are considering, think of what the product or service it is you are going to offer first. Then, don’t start next month or next year…start now! Consider yourself already behind.
- Document the change! Because we didn’t have a plan with Gone With the Wynns we never captured video of the buying process, the moving out of our 4000 sq. ft. downtown loft, our first RV trip, our first Breakdown…I could go on for hours about the stuff we could have filmed that would be pure gold now! We are trying to document it all with our new sailing adventures…and yes it’s a huge challenge and it’ll make everything take 2x as long. But its all worth it when you have a complete story with all the crap you wish you would have known in bold text.
The Fantasy Job
The dream job for us is the one Ansel Adams had. We would have loved nothing more than to be the first person commissioned to travel from National Park to National Park and capture the beauty of our amazing national treasures! That job has been done and is continuing to be done by everyone today through social media. It’s a very cool thing really to see a place from thousands of peoples perspectives. The internet is amazing!
Now it’s time for you to think outside the box and figure out how you can make money and travel. It’s a big ol’ world and it’s worth exploring as much of it as you can. There’s no set of guidelines and anything is possible. The internet has changed the world and most certainly our personal lives. New doors and options are opening up all the time. Get creative! Some jobs are naturally easier to perform remotely such as webmasters, software developers, and virtual assistants. While doctors, teachers and firemen will have to do some creative thinking, but where there is a will, there is always a way. Stay tuned and check out the other make money and travel stories for more ideas and inspiration.
If you would like to share your location independent lifestyle, tell us about it in the comments below and we’ll contact you to become a part of the series. Remember it’s all about inspiration, as simple as your job might be it could help inspire a major change in someone else’s or perhaps even a movement.
If you have any questions for us feel free to ask. As you may have seen throughout our site we’re pretty much an open book & we’re here to help when we can.