The International Writers Magazine: Travel Tips
Ten Unusual Ways to Make a Living on the Road
I’ve been on the road for 17 years now and people often ask me where I get all the money from, perhaps taking me for the son of a millionaire, a petty thief or maybe just a good liar.
The truth is the only limits to finding ways to make a living on the road are your imagination, courage and acumen. Here are ten ideas to get you started:
1. Make an Event: Three years ago I found my bank balance veering towards zero and so I came up with the idea of running a meditation retreat in the Sahara Desert. I spent the last of my cash on a well-designed website (www.roadjunkyretreat.com), roped in a couple of teachers and set about promoting the event on my social networks. It took some time to build but now the retreat is a fixture on the travel calendar.
You might consider making a retreat, a festival or a party in an equally exotic or surreal location - perhaps a hike through the Himalayas, a drummers’ gathering in the catacombs of Paris or a regular free skills-sharing party in a park where you make the money selling food and drinks.
All you need is a good idea, a cool location and a strong social network.
2. Playing Poker: You might think you have more chance of losing money with poker than winning but the fact is there are plenty of people out there with too much money and too little understanding of probability. If you can play a very tight game, folding often and only staying in on the best hands when you’re sure the others have nothing then an evening at the airport casino can be worthwhile.
You won't be a shark, just a bottom-feeder; this is about making some money not starring in your own private poker-movie. There are masses of poker literature available to download, so learn the game and start learning the odds.
All you need is a lot of patience, a steady nerve and to read up on strategy before you even go near a casino.
3. Selling Cheap Jewellery:
If there’s one thing that you can count on even during troubled economic times, it’s vanity. In most cultures it falls to women to adorn their appearance and a new ring or necklace can be a quick boost to self-esteem.
So much for the customers but what are you going to sell and where?
The key here is to sell a lot at low prices. You need to source something light, compact and cheap. For example, I sold bindies from India on the beaches of Mexico. Other friends of mine did well selling plastic rings in Rome that they bought from a Chinese wholesale shop around the corner. Either way, you want something you can buy for pennies and sell for 1 or 2 bucks a time.
You can set up shop on a cardboard box outside a Metro station, on a blanket at festivals or just walk around with them in crowded shopping streets and ply your wares - and your charm.
All you need is a cheap product, a good sales patter and a population with money in their pockets.
4. Become a Fixer:
If you’re good with languages and want to base yourself abroad in one city in particular you can become an effective middleman by arranging apartments, tickets to sporting events and translation for backpackers and tourists.
For instance, I set up www.anythinginrio.com, advertising myself as a custom tour guide and arranged hotel rooms for small groups, took them out to samba shows and arranged security for photo sessions in the favelas.
All you need is a good command of the local language, good contacts and a website the inspires trust.
5. Street Shows:
You might not consider yourself a juggler, magician or performer but in truth most street shows have little to do with skill. The key is to build up a crowd, turn them into an audience with a series of corny jokes, get them cheering and whooping (which in turn attracts more people) and then end your act with one reasonably impressive trick.
Yes, you need one trick - but spend a month trying to throw an egg high up in the air and catch it in your mouth and you’ll have it.
All you need is a good build-up, a trick and the courage to put out your hat for money at the end. It wouldn’t hurt to follow some acts around for a while, too, to study their technique.
6. Make Desserts/Bread
One of the joys of travel is eating the local cuisine but after some time on the road travelers hunger for home comforts; if you can bake good, wholemeal bread, apple pie or shortcake, you’ll be able to sell out in half an hour outside the nearest hostel.
All you need is an oven, a stream of backpackers and an internet connection to follow a recipe.
A good pair of hands can always make a living. You can give sessions on hostel beds, set up a chair in the park, or walk into offices to relieve the shoulders of the IT workers there. It might help to take a course so that you know what you’re doing, but few people will complain about about 10 euros for a fifteen minute massage. Do ten a day and you’ll be hopping continents within a week,
All you need are a good pair of hands, some nice massage oil and a good appearance.
8. Postcard service:
Remember the days when people used to write postcards, then buy a stamp and walk down to a postbox to send it? Of course you don’t - not if you’re under 20. Email and then Facebook became the de facto way to stay in touch because of convenience more than anything else but nothing is quite the same as a handwritten missive.
That's where you come in: you approach travelers and tourists with your pre-bought, tasteful postcards with the stamp already on them - they write their message, fill in the address and pay you something to take it to the post box.
All you need is good taste in postcards, a pen and a face that inspires trust.
9. Sell drinks:
Ask an economist for an example of an inelastic good (one whose demand is impervious to price) and chances are he’ll mention alcohol. Bars and convenience stores have the market sewn up in civilised areas but on the beach or at festivals you can make very good money by selling drinks, especially if you go for the novelty angle such as vodka jellies or Irish coffees with whipped cream.
All you need is a little start-up capital, patience to deal with drunks and the discipline not to drink all the profits.
10. Make movies:
If you can handle a camera and edit what you make into something that looks at least semi-professional then you can make money with promotional films. Ok, I can’t do it but my ten-year-old cousin can. Armed with a small portfolio of your films, you approach the managers of restaurants, shops, bars, bands etc and offer to make them a promotional video trailer.
All you need is a small video camera, a laptop good enough to process the film and a good sales technique.
© Tom Thumb - TT is a traveller and event organiser. www.roadjunkyretreat.com
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