Make Money While Traveling

You can not only save money while you travel but also make money to help off-set the cost. This might not be a realistic option for everybody but it is worth looking in to it.  Here are a few ideas, some things we tried, some we didn’t.

Renting your Home

saving while traveling
Renting out your house/apartment can be a source of income during your sabbatical

The most obvious way to make money while traveling is renting your home. Both during our 6 month sabbatical and a one-year stay in Europe more recently, we rented our house. Since our mortgage is lower than the rent we got, renting our house made us money. This is a lot easier if you own your house/apartment than if you are renting yourself.  Your rental agreement might prohibit subletting.

For renting you home you have two basic options:

  1. Find a renter for the house for the entire/most of the time you are away or
  2. Rent on a per day/week basis

Both options have become a lot easier with a slew of short and long-term rental services available online.

For both our sabbatical and our year abroad we choose option 1, because we wanted somebody who viewed our home as their (albeit temporary) home and treated it accordingly. We just felt better about renting our home to a family than to a succession of short-term renters.

We rented the house furnished, in one case to a visiting professor from abroad and his family who were only too happy to not have to buy furniture. For our year in Germany we found a young doctor on a 1 year rotation and his family, who were glad to have a house with garden rather than a small apartment.

Whether option 1 or 2 is the right one for you only you can decide. Depending on the desirability of your home and the location you might be able to make a lot more money with a short term rental arrangement but the risk is also higher.

I hired a agent to help me find renters but ended up firing her and doing it myself.  This way I saved money and was sure I got the renters I wanted.

When thinking about your income opportunity associated with the house keep in mind:

  • If you rent by the week/day don’t assume 100% occupancy, that hardly ever happens. 50-70% depending on location is more realistic. Go to a few websites and see how much similar places in your area fetch and have a look at the online vacancies calendars to get an impression of the occupancy rate.
  • Unless you have family and friends who handle management of the house while you are gone you’ll need to hire a manager, esp. for short term rentals. You need to have somebody there to hand over the keys and explain the house rules and to be the contact person.  Even with our long term renters we had a point person in case of a busted heating system or the non-functioning light switch. You really don’t want to be dealing with an emergency from half a world away. Check the Resources Page for companies offering such management services.
  • Even if you rent our place furnished you’ll need (and want) to take your personal items out. We were lucky to be able to store them in a friend’s spare bedroom for the entire time. If you don’t have friends with lots of extra space you’ll likely end up renting a storage unit.
  • Do not underestimate the time it takes to get your personal belongings packed up. Allow enough time and start with off-season clothing, rarely used items and other non-essentials. You can do that weeks if not months in advance. The kid’s bedroom and toys go last. That way you preserve the comfortable and familiar environment for as long as possible.
  • Expect some upfront investment in things like a couple of sets of bed lines and towels, a cheap set of dishes and cutlery so you can put the nice expensive stuff in storage.
  • Make a house guide well in advance for your renters. Here you list the major information, e.g. where the water boiler is, where the circuit breakers are, the names and phone numbers of the manager and/or a handyman, plumber/electrician/etc. I found it much easier to keep a log and write things down when I thought of them instead of sitting down and trying to remember everything at once.
  • Talk to your renters about keeping whatever domestic help you have.  We insisted in both cases that they use our gardener who comes once a week for like 45 minutes to clean up and make sure the garden doesn’t turn into a piece of dessert. We gave them a choice about the cleaning lady.
  • For long-term renters: ideally meet them in person before, introduce them to the neighbors, show them the house, get an impression yourself.
  • Start making peace with the idea that you’ll come back and find some things changed. After our sabbatical my dishes, glasses, pots and pans were rearranged. Apparently the renters didn’t like my system. That’s fine, you can always put things back if that is important to you.
  • Start making peace with another idea: things will break, there will be a smudge on the wall and the floor might be scraped. The expensive piece of antique French porcelain you inherited from your grandma: put it in storage.  The delicate lead crystal wine glasses: likewise.  You can buy perfectly nice and usable glasses, porcelain etc. for little money and rest easier.
Make Money While Traveling
Put the fancy stuff in storage and rest easier.

Depending on your situation you might be able to start making money off you house even before. Do you have a spare bedroom you can rent out a few days a month or an in-law apartment that is used as a storage unit? Having a renter or paying guest in your house might not be your first choice but again – depending on where you live, you might be able to make extra cash for your sabbatical.

Create A Passive Income Stream

The Internet offers a lot of possibilities to make a passive income from a website, eBook, blog, or YouTube channel. Admittedly that is way more easily said than done, is certainly not an option for everybody, and takes significant time to set up and promote. Having said that, people do it successfully every day and if you have some specialized knowledge that you make available as an eBook, or are have a blog or vlog that could create an income via affiliate marketing or advertising – start thinking about that possibility early and implementing it long before you leave. Depending on where you spend you sabbatical a few hundred bucks per month can be a very helpful addition to your budget.

Renting Your Car

Temporary renters from abroad tend to come without a car and might be happy to rent yours.  A word of caution here: your car insurance might not allow for that.  We inquired with ours whether we could add our renter to our car insurance. Rather than giving us an answer, they just canceled our insurance, no forewarning or further question asked. The explanation was lame at best and came down to: even if we said we just inquired they assumed we would let the renter drive in violation of the policy and canceled pre-emptively.  We had a hell of a hassle to get car insurance back.  In the end, I sold my car to the renter for the agreed upon “rental” amount and after the sabbatical was up, he gifted it back to me.  It was a hassle and I am not sure I’d do it again, but it netted the living expenses for approx. 4 weeks in Mexico.

These days there are services that help you rent your car to strangers.  I haven’t used any of them and so I can’t speak from experience (I am not sure anyone would want to rent that 1996 Camry anyway). The Resources page contains links to the largest ones.

Please keep in mind that the whole rental process, including handing over the keys and cleaning needs to be outsourced and that will likely cost you part of the money you make.

If you live in a city with constant parking issues and have a dedicated parking spot you can rent that out. Your renter would be the logical choice to ask first but you can also just rent the parking space.

Other Ways to Make Money

Here are some additional ideas that might work for you:

  • There are services that let you rent out bikes and equipment but that seems too much to handle from far away for too little money but that also depends on the situation.
  • Depending on your job, you might be able to do some work remotely. A friend of mine did contract marketing work while touring the US. Translations, programming, writing, graphic design and probably a whole host of other jobs can be done from afar if you have the skills and are willing to dedicate the time. Links to websites dedicated to gig and other short-term/temporary/contract work can be found on the Resource page.
  • As a photographer you can try and make some money on microstock sites. I did that for a while. I still have accounts open with the major sites and derive a (very) small income from that. It was fun, but it is also quite a bit work and the requirement to upload model releases for all people pictured makes it hard to do in a foreign country (I did travel with releases in three languages but ended up not bothering). The Resource page has some links to such sites.

For us renting the house was by far the biggest ticket item in terms of making money while traveling.  It wasn’t always stress-free but netted us a good deal of money helping with our budget.  I also rested easier knowing that the house wasn’t unoccupied for months at a time.  Though we live in a nice neighborhood with lovely neighbors that kept an eye on our property a long-term empty house is an invitation of trouble.

Depending on your circumstances and job you might come up with different and novel ways to make money.  If you do so, I would love to hear about it.