The #1 vanlife question I get asked is: How do you make money on the road?

This is a tricky question to answer because we all have such complex career paths that have involved years of crappy jobs, random opportunities, lessons learned, risks taken, and unique career goals and dreams.  To learn what I do for work, watch my YouTube video about my work history and how I fund my vanlife travels.  For a long time I didn’t think hearing my career path would be useful to anyone.  But, as I’ve researched remote work more over the past months, I’ve begun to realize that learning about the specific paths of many individuals can actually be quite helpful.  It shows you the variety of ways to do the same thing: work remotely, and the random little details about another person’s professional life might just click with the right person reading it and help guide them on their own unique path.

This article is part of a series about remote work options, resources, and ideas.  I wanted to focus on the stories of the career paths of five professionals who all work remotely in a variety of different fields.  None of the individuals in this specific article are #vanlifers or full-time travelers, they mostly live in one city and work from home or from local coffeeshops.  I wanted to focus on non-vanlifers for this first feature because a lot of vanlifers eventually make money “vanlifing”– whether it be by affiliate marketing, sponsored content on Instagram, selling workshops, or otherwise.  Each of the individuals in this feature have remote careers unrelated to the Instagram #vanlife world, which I think it helpful for someone considering how to transition to a remote career.

Let’s jump right into it:

Elena Meredith, Literary Publicist @elenameredith

Elena Meredith has been working in literary publicity since 2010, most recently with PR by the Book. She works with authors and publishers to secure media placements for their forthcoming books. Her clients have included Patagonia, DK, Andrews McMeel Publishing, and Insight Editions. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, baby girl, and dog.

What is your educational background?

I have a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from the University of Tampa. I had always been interested in writing as a career, and started off pursuing a degree in journalism at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Then, after digging my car out of two feet of snow one frigid January day, I transferred out of J-school, packed up my car and moved to Florida (my first escape from winter).

What are the jobs you’ve had before this one?

While at the University of Tampa, I worked as a research assistant to author and poet Enid Shomer, while she was writing The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, a fictional account of Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert exploring Egypt in 1850. One of my professors recommended me for the job. That work sent deep me into the library stacks, looking for books with illustrations of women’s undergarments from the mid-19th century.

Then, after college, I worked two-and-a-half too many years at a hotel in downtown Minneapolis. In retrospect, customer service jobs are probably the best preparation you can have for a career in PR—you learn a lot about how to de-escalate a situation and how to keep people happy.

My next role was as the in-house publicist for Free Spirit Publishing, a children’s educational publisher in Minneapolis. That was my lucky break. I’d interviewed for an editorial assistant role that went to someone else, but the president of the company took a shining to me and plopped me in the empty seat of their publicist, who’d just left. I think I asked my new boss on my first day, “So, what exactly does a publicist do?” She must’ve been horrified.

In 2013, it snowed in mid-May in Minneapolis. My CaliFloridian husband called it quits, and we moved to Austin, Texas—my second escape from the snow. PR by the Book happened to have a position open for a publicist, and the owners hired me after I sent in my resume and met them briefly at Starbucks.

What does the day-to-day look like for your job (emails, phone calls, research, writing code)?

I’m typically working on around six books at a time. Publishing has two seasons, Spring and Fall. In PR, you work a season ahead, so in September, I’m starting on books that are coming out in March and April.

Working in PR is 99% communication, and the majority of my day is spent on email: communicating with authors and publishers about their books, pitching stories to media, getting materials (i.e., excerpts and photos) over to editors and producers for booked pieces, and reassuring authors that yes, people are interested in their book and all their hard work is about to pay off.

I try to pitch media in the morning as much as possible, then I can spend the “quieter” times in the afternoon writing press materials and building my media contact lists for each book. I spend a fair amount of time on the phone with my authors.

I work from home and can work from anywhere, though it’s hard to be off the grid in this job, since so much of it is on deadline. Despite working months in advance, there is always a rush of last-minute requests from a media outlet the day before an interview or a story goes to print.

How did you get the job you currently have?

Publishing is a fairly small industry, and very tight-knit. The majority of publishers are based in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Nashville, Boston and Minneapolis, though remote jobs are becoming more common in this industry. Austin doesn’t have many large publishers, so I was lucky to find a job with one of the two literary PR firms in town. Austin has a great literary community—the Texas Book Festival in the fall is spectacular, and BookPeople is one of my favorite bookstores in the country.

Working in publishing is often glamorized in movies and TV shows (hello, Eden from “The Affair”) but, in reality, it’s more akin to working for a non-profit. The budgets are small, and most of us are busting our butts because we believe in the power of books to open minds.

My passion is working on books on environmental issues. I just wrapped up a campaign for Patagonia for Swell, an awesome memoir from surfer Liz Clark. Liz has been living on her sailboat in the South Pacific for the past decade—her story is one of adventure, but at the core, it’s about how we can leave a smaller footprint on the planet through our daily lifestyle.

What are your career goals?

I am currently taking a “Norwegian maternity leave” to be home with my 3-month-old daughter. Next year, I plan to freelance and am hoping to do some writing, too.

This year, my goal was to “divorce my desk.” I know we’re all tied to our laptops and phones, but after five years of conducting most of my work via email, I’m craving more face-to-face time with people. I’ve worked with a number of surfers and climbers, and I get jealous some days gazing at their amazing photos of a life spent outdoors. (Then, I remember I have no surfing or climbing skills, but I know books, and my role is invaluable in getting the word out.)

I think a lot of people who are living the #vanlife found themselves craving that sense of connection with the great outdoors and other people. Social media allows us to build amazing connections all over the world—but the real joy is in meeting those people face-to-face!

It’s doubtful I’ll be moving our little family into a van anytime soon, but this year you can find me hiking the trails of Austin, cooking Paleo meals and doing mommy-and-me yoga.

Rebekah Epstein, Media Relations Entrepreneur @bekahepstein

Rebekah Epstein is the founder of fifteen media, a boutique PR firm specializing in media relations. Since 2011, she has been a valuable asset to more than 40 PR firms across the country working behind the scenes to get more media placements for their clients. In addition, Rebekah helps small businesses get the media they deserve through DIY PR workshops and one-on-one trainings. Her clients have gained exposure and credibility with media features in Forbes, Health, Refinery 29, Everyday Health, Men’s Health and many more.  In addition to traditional PR work, Rebekah speaks at national conferences about DIY PR, freelancing, and entrepreneurship. She has been a regular contributor on these topics in Mavenly + Co, Fast Company, Entrepreneur and Huffington Post.

What is your educational background?

I graduated from NYU with a degree in Media, Culture, and Communication. Yup, I have no idea what that means either, and really don’t know what kinds of jobs it prepares you for if I am being honest. Having a degree is important, but the internships I did during college were more critical in terms of learning what PR is and how to do it. I know, I wouldn’t be doing what I am today without those internships.

What are the jobs you’ve had before this one?

I started fifteen media right out of college…by accident. I was looking for a full-time job, but it was taking forever to find one, so I started doing freelance PR work. I am happy to say that eight years later, I am still doing the same thing. I never thought it would end up this way, but I am tremendously grateful that it did.
Throughout high school and college, I had a bunch of food service and retail jobs. I worked at places such as Rainforest Cafe, Coldstone Creamery and a local BBQ fast food chain called, Bill Millers. Then, I worked as a sales associate at Gap for many years, on and off. I can honestly say that I loved working at Gap; to this day it is still one of my favorite jobs ever. These jobs taught me how to deal with people in all different situations.

What does the day-to-day look like for your job (emails, phone calls, research, writing code)?

My day-to-day schedule has me spending a lot of time in front of my computer, which is probably the part of my job I like the least. On a typical day, I usually work from around 9 AM – 5 PM. I spend most of my time researching media contacts to pitch my clients to, then followed by actually writing the pitch and sending it out. A lot of my time also goes to organizing and scheduling media interviews for the people I work with.
That is a pretty standard day when I am sitting in front of my computer. I also have a good amount of meetings/phone calls each week. If I am doing in-person meetings, I try to schedule them all on the same day.

How did you get the job you currently have?

I already touched on this in a previous question, but I will go into more detail. When I graduated from college, I was still living in NYC. I originally planned to find a full-time PR job somewhere; I was applying and going to interviews. On the same job posting sites that I would look for jobs to apply to, I would also notice part-time freelance jobs. I decided to apply to those too because I figured that some kind of job was better than nothing. I started taking on these freelance jobs. The first job I got was doing PR for a DVD on parenting. After that worked out, I started looking for similar opportunities. Pretty soon, I had 40+ hours of work a week; only it was with multiple companies, not just one.

What are your career goals?

My current goal is to create a passive stream of income. I would love to create something where I can still make money, but not be glued to my computer all the time. I have started to do this in small ways, such as creating an online DIY PR course that people can just download. I hope to do more of that.

 

Peter Griffin, Traffic Consultant @godricgriffin
The details of Peter’s career path are not as fleshed out as the above two profiles, but Peter’s path is interesting because he transitioned from working at a desk job to working remotely.  His computer-based career field is a good fit for remote work options:
I’m a Paid traffic consultant and I’ve been remote for like 5 years.  Before being remote I did the same work, but in a job.  I could basically do it from anywhere that has internet, but being near US timezones is way better.  I generally like working remotely. I love the freedom, but I miss some of the structure, energy and culture of an coworkers (kind of).

My advice on how to get started: just do it.  Upwork is a great resource to find remote work options.  The book that inspired me the most is The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss.

Callista Carlson, Mortgage Loan Processor @califit512
I’ve been a mortgage loan processor remotely for 3.5 years.  I’ve been in the industry for 15 years and was able to convince my employer to work from home. I can work from anywhere as long as I have good internet and my set up . I do like my job but it is high stress and not much free time during the business day and necessary to have 2 monitors etc not easy to do just from a laptop.  As a loan processor it is not common to typically work remote most go to the office.  My only advice is if working remote you must be self motivated and able to stay the course.

 

 
Lauren Throne, Attorney
I am the Program Development Manager for a nonprofit that is trying to grow nationally. I do grant writing and program development, as well as regulatory work dealing with the federal government. I have worked remotely for 3.5 years. I have been in nonprofit and government work most of my career, I got some experience as a grant writer, and pitched myself as an asset to my boss. He created a part time position for me, lightly based on the idea that if we wont some of the grants I applied for, there would be more work. We did win a bunch of the grants, so I was able to write myself into them as a program manager. I can do this job from anywhere that the time change isn’t too extreme. I try to be on call during the 8-5 Mountain time, where they are located, so that gets tougher if I am on the west coast or trying to do any international travel. I spend A LOT of time on the phone. I also have to travel to Denver for staff meeting quarterly, and go to conferences. It is helpful to have client meetings, but I can plan those in advance and make a bunch of meetings in one week. I do like my job, but I am tired of working remotely. I don’t live a van life, and I am very extroverted. Being along all day or working from a coffeeshop is getting old. I miss being on a team, and getting some inspiration from working with other people. I wish I had at least one local project to work on so there was some accountability of meetings or in person exchanges throughout the week. I think grant or proposal writing would be easy to do remotely. I would recommend finding an agency with a long history of proposals, so you have a lot of templates to use when putting grants together. It is very deadline oriented, which probably allows for the flexibility you would want for vanlife. You are going to need phone and internet access though — you can’t really go off the grid and still get things submitted.

 

Are you in the process of transitioning to remote work?  Share your experience in the comments below!

- Vacay Vans
Vacay Vans author Vacay Vans
Vacay Vans is the brainchild of Lisa Miriam Jacobs, a lawyer, LEED sustainable interior designer, alternative lifestyle enthusiast, and storyteller. Lisa lives and travels solo full-time in her 2012 Nissan NV2500 converted camper van named Freebird.

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