Make Money and Travel – RV Geeks
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, proves where there is a will, there is a way.
Meet John & Peter. They are known to most (and us) as the RV Geeks. We first got to know these guys over some of their helpful DIY you tube videos and email chats. Then a couple of months ago we had the pleasure of spending some time with them in their new home country of Canada. While spending time with these guys they shared a lot of their back story with us and of course how they have managed to travel, make money and live the full time RV life for 10 years now.
Back in April of 2003 these two sold everything, bought an RV (even though neither of them had ever been in one) and hit the road full time. The original idea was to live off savings while they found a new place to settle down. After realizing that they’ve taken a liking to full-timing, they had to figure out how to earn a mobile living, something neither of them had ever done before. (sound familiar to any of you?)
Peter was diagnosed with Cancer at the young age of 37, only two months after meeting John, and they decided change was on the horizon. Six years later another cancer scare made them realize “how short life might actually be after all”. Now after Ten Years of Full-Timing and Peter’s 17th year in remission, these guys have a full blown case of Sedentary Lifeaphobia! So, without further ado, here is how the RV Geeks make money and travel.
Describe your working situation and what line of work you’re in; If you have multiple streams of income that fund your lifestyle, tell us what they are.
Have you always had this job? At what point did you realize that you could bring in enough income to continually fund a location independent lifestyle?
Because we never intended to work while traveling, the way we earn our living now didn’t originate directly from any previous job that either one of us ever had. Our dilemma was that we wanted to continue full-timing, but neither of our backgrounds seemed to lend themselves to a mobile work life. This revelation also came about 7 years ago, before mobile communication and connectivity were as ubiquitous as they are today (for example, the first iPhone was still more than a year away).
We spent a winter in Arizona brainstorming about what we could do to earn a living to stay mobile. We literally made a list of all of our combined skills, experience and talents, some of which had never earned us a penny: creative writing, computers & technology, photography, sales & marketing, teaching, project management and our newfound knowledge of RV parks and campgrounds.
With John teaching himself to code in HTML and CSS, and the two of us working together on the artistic side of things (which neither of us has any background or natural talent in), we started a business designing websites for RV parks & campgrounds. RVgeeks.net was born.
To expand our customer base, we also began designing websites for other businesses, including a real estate developer, a consulting firm, a heating & air conditioning supplier and several paving contractors. We realized that some people might balk at the idea of hiring a couple of nomadic bums in a camper, especially someone they’re hiring long-distance. So we branded our “non-RV” alter ego: Arresting Development, an homage to our goal of creating compelling designs.
When required for a job, we’ve also designed logos, business cards, letterhead, rack cards and tri-fold brochures. As neither of us is a graphic artist, we do not make print work a primary part of our business, but it adds yet another profit center. We also designed a tradeshow display booth for one RV park, and even did the transom lettering for a customer’s yacht!
Three years ago, we invited friends to take a 10-day road trip through southern Utah with us. They fell in love with RVing and bought their own rig the following year. When the inevitable newbie questions arose, we were of course the perfect source of RVing expertise, and were happy to oblige (how handy that they bought the same year Newmar that we have). lol
Instead of telling our friends how to dump their tanks or sanitize their fresh water system, we decided to show them, by making How To videos and uploading them to YouTube. It occurred to us that lots of newer RVers might like to see the same information, so instead of speaking directly to our friends, we made the videos more generic. Now, two years and more than 70 videos later, we have one of the most popular RV-related channels on YouTube, producing steady passive AdSense income from an average of 6,000 to 8,000 views each day.
In addition, we sell images of the beautiful places we’ve visited on Dreamstime, a stock photography website, and have joined both the Amazon and eBay affiliate programs, all earning more passive income. Although we earn a commission for sales of items we mention in our videos, the integrity of our brand and our channel is far more important to us than the small revenue we see from Amazon or eBay, so we only feature products we have used and genuinely love.
Our latest project is a new effort to produce passive income as well. After the birth of a dear friend’s grandchild last year, we shot a photo of the baby that they just loved. So we printed, framed and presented them with the picture. Then it occurred to us that a great photo of a new baby… or anything else people are passionate about… might be shared in another way… on a customized T-shirt or sweatshirt. And so the idea for BabyLoveShirts.com was… born (sorry). lol
If someone can proudly share their love for a baby, how about their dog or cat? Or a photo of a honeymoon or special vacation? Or… their RV? 😉 Or anything else people are enthusiastic or passionate about. And so came PuppyLoveShirts.com, KittyLoveShirts.com, PhotoLoveShirts.com and RVLoveShirts.com, plus the umbrella under which they all reside: YourLoveShirts.com. Each website has the same functionality, but is targeted to a different demographic for marketing purposes.
RVLoveShirts.com was a natural for us to publicize first, as we already have a built-in YouTube audience for all things RV-related. There will be more over time, as we market each website appropriately (KittyLoveShirts promoted in Cat Fancy magazine?).
How many hours do you put in a week and what does a typical workday look like for you?
Our hours can vary a lot. When you’re self-employed doing project work, you have to make hay while the sun shines. When we’re really busy, we sometimes work the better part of 12 hours in a day, six or seven days a week. If anything, we’ve been too busy recently, and are currently accepting non-RV park work only from current customers.
When we’re not busy, we relax without guilt – hiking, canoeing or whatever else we’re in the mood for, sometimes not working much for days at a time. The freedom to recreate on weekdays is definitely one of the perks.
If you are willing to say, what is the average yearly salary for someone in your line of work? How long did it take for you to start earning a comfortable/typical living for this line of work? If you don’t feel comfortable giving numbers tell us, are you scraping by, are you able to put money in savings and pay your bills or are you raking it in?
We’ve been in the black for the past couple of years, and would be more so if not for the aforementioned turning down of non-RV park work. We’d love to earn more, but we derive our quality of life not only from providing a service that we can be justly proud of, and from the ability to pay our bills, but to live where and how we choose. Once we earn enough to pay the bills, everything beyond that is our choice. We walked away from 6-figure salaries to earn zero, so obviously money is not what motivates us. Our attempt to focus on passive income isn’t designed to make us rich (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but to allow us the freedom to do what makes us happy, even if that thing isn’t “working.”
Besides earning a living, keeping expenses under control is key to making our way of life possible. Avoiding excessive spending allows us to earn less, and therefore work less (i.e. play more). It also fits well with our desire for a lighter footprint and better health. Planning shorter routes between destinations and staying longer in each place saves diesel fuel, and monthly stays are a great bargain compared with nightly or weekly rates. We’ve also stayed at customers’ parks when appropriate. Preparing our own meals, which we do about 95% of the time, saves on food costs, while enabling us to control exactly what we’re eating. Taking a hike or a paddle in our canoe is free recreation with many obvious benefits compared to sitting in a movie theater.
We don’t limit ourselves unnecessarily, but find that less expensive or free alternatives are often preferable in many ways, with the added bonus of helping to keep us in the black.
What are the most essential pieces of equipment or programs you need for working while traveling?
We are definitely major, unashamed Apple fanboys. We’re on our third consecutive MacBook Pro, and just ordered a fourth (the hot new one just released!) to replace our Mac Pro. We have an iPad and a tethered iPhone 4S, which we’re about to upgrade to a 5S. We also have twin Apple Airport Extreme base stations and an Apple TV too (which has nothing to do with earning a living, LOL!).
Like many RVers, we’ve stayed connected to the internet through a variety of methods. For years our mainstay was our DataStorm HughesNet satellite dish, which we installed on our then-new RV 8 years ago. Our primary reason for that choice was our frequent travel to very remote areas with no cell signal, and the generally mediocre cellular data service available at that time. We kept using the dish for many years after 3G (and then 4G) became more widespread, faster and reliable, mostly because we were resistant to having a $5,500 investment become a glorified resting spot for migrating birds.
Then two years ago, the availability of a tethered iPhone improved things a lot, allowing us to work while rolling down the highway. We were late adopters, since we could have had a MiFi device years earlier. But continued occasional travel to remote areas, and the aforementioned aversion to supplying an overpriced bird perch, kept us in the satellite world.
Thanks to a recent bit of gentle prodding by some dear friends (you know who you are Jason & Nikki), we’re stowing the dish and have just ordered a Millenicom device. It will provide 20GB/month of mobile internet access for the same price as our slower (and more data-restricted) dish. Our new tethered iPhone 5S will provide back-up and additional access as needed.
Of course, we also make use of RV park Wi-Fi when it’s available.
Our early YouTube videos were shot on a Sanyo Xacti camcorder. More recently, we’ve upgraded our Canon EOS 50D (still photography only) to an EOS 7D, allowing us to shoot much higher quality HD video.
As far as software tools, John uses TextWrangler, CSSEdit, Realmac Software’s Rapidweaver and Adobe Dreamweaver (under protest). Although Rapidweaver is designed to allow theme-based website creation, John codes largely from scratch within it, allowing him to set up a development environment that Peter (the non-coder) can work in. This allows both to share website assembly duties (Peter does the writing and the photo work). In addition, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are our primary programs for preparing content for use within our websites. We use iMovie to create all of our YouTube videos.
Who are your clients? Do you find them or do they find you and how? What is your rejection rate? How many clients do you pitch to finally win over one? You don’t have tell us who your clients are directly, just how you go about getting the work.
With no portfolio or experience at first, we targeted our most likely customers by studying the Trailer Life and Woodalls campground directories. We looked for parks that had a paid ad in the books, but no website. That meant they understood the value of advertising, and could afford it, but had yet to make the leap into the 21st century. We literally drove in, introduced ourselves and usually got the job on the spot, because by that time, every park that didn’t have a website knew that they should. It was an easy sell, and we rapidly had a portfolio.
Our initial business model was “we’ll come to your park, shoot all the photos and design your website on site.” We actually drove 500 to 700 miles (one way in the wrong direction) to do a couple of early jobs. We only get 7 mpg, and even though diesel wasn’t as expensive back then, it doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that one call from Florida when we were in Oregon could bankrupt us!
We’ve since changed our business model. Customers upload their photos to our server and we use Photoshop to make up for any lack of photography skills on their part. We have them send lots of photos so that we have enough to choose from.
Other than our own website, it’s been years since we made any attempt to locate new customers. All of our work comes from four sources: someone who saw our name and link at the bottom of a website they loved, organic searches, repeat business and direct referrals / word of mouth. We’ve worked hard to create effective, well-optimized, quality marketing for our customers, and we’ve reaped the benefits of that work.
YouTube, Amazon, eBay and our stock photography income are all passive, requiring no further effort to earn continuing income once a video or image is uploaded. Our “customers” find us organically.
Our new shirt business will require some active marketing efforts to get the word out… at least until we become a household name and everyone has their own YourLoveShirts product! 😉
What are the best things about working while traveling? Those things that make you think wow; I really am living the dream.
(1) Since ours was a storybook case of love at first site, and all we’ve ever wanted is to be together (we never fight and are each other’s best and truest friends), being able to travel and experience fantastic places together is what our life is all about. Earning enough to allow that is priceless.
(2) Owning our own virtual business, with the ability to work from anywhere, allows us to make our own schedule, including an average of one overseas trip each year. We spent a month in Italy, Greece and Turkey with most of our customers not even realizing we were abroad. We were even able to take care of requested website updates via the ship-board Wi-Fi while sipping drinks in the lounge as we cruised up the Volga River in a remote section of Russia. Technology is good. ;D
What are the most frustrating things about working while traveling? Any ways you’ve found to avoid or cope with this frustration?
Even with all our technology, getting online can still be a challenge. Parking in the forest (trees blocking dish) or in remote areas (no cell signal) or in a park with poor or no Wi-Fi can be a hassle. We don’t care for working in a coffee shop (we don’t drink it much), so we’re looking forward to our new Millenicom device to provide better access. It uses the Verizon network, while our iPhone uses AT&T (which, despite what we’ve read, has been absolutely terrific for us for many years), so we’re hoping that network diversity will keep us more solidly connected.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice about starting in this line of work, what would it be?
We’ve labored over this question, and can’t think of anything specific. The best thing we did was not wait to start our business until our backs were against the wall financially. This allowed us time to grow and hone our abilities. We started slowly and organically, learning and improving as we went. Our pricing was modest at first to match our work. Over time we’ve increased our rates as our skill, confidence and workload have grown.
One thing we definitely wish we had started doing sooner was YouTube. And we also wish we’d started using a tripod earlier (it’s still difficult to hold a camera and a screwdriver on a ladder though). lol
THE FANTASY JOB
What is one of the most creative ways you’ve heard of someone funding a location independent lifestyle? The one that made you wish you had thought of it first!
When we first started brainstorming about earning a mobile living, one of the very first things that came up was based on my (peter) experience both driving tour buses and as Safety & Training Manager for a large metropolitan transportation company. I also have experience driving tractor-trailers and was even licensed for double & triple trailers.
Our idea was to give personalized driving instruction in an RV owner’s own rig as we traveled. I’ve personally conducted and overseen the training of about 700-800 professional motor coach operators (in New York City). So it’s second nature for me to teach people to safely operate their own RVs, including advanced defensive driving and risk management techniques that would improve their operation of any vehicle, not just their RV.
Of course that business now exists in companies like RVBasicTraining and RVSchool. When we saw that this was being done by others, I immediately thought “I should have done that when it first occurred to us!” I know I could still fall back on this type of work with ease if needed to augment our income. Plus it would be rewarding, fun and nostalgic for me all at the same time. 🙂 We like having a fall-back (besides “Wal-Mart Greeter”) if our current income should require a boost. lol
Hope you found this helpful and it’s got your wheels a spinnin’ on how you can make money and travel! If so, please leave the RV Geeks or us a comment below. We love hearing from you. You can also check out the RV Geeks on their website, watch some of their famous you tube channel videos and of course see what rvloveshirts.com is all about!
Now it’s your turn to think outside the box. There’s no set of guidelines and anything is possible. Of course, some jobs are naturally easier to perform remotely such as webmasters, software developers, writers, and bloggers. While doctors, teachers and firemen will have to do some creative thinking, there is always a possibility.