|Because money doesn't grow on trees...not even in the Caribbean.|
And therein lies the conundrum: How to break free but not break the bank?
We were honored to speak briefly at Strictly Sail on this very subject during a seminar given by our friends Paul and Sheryl Shard of Distant Shores and it inspired me to write more in-depth on this subject. While we do not have the answers or the magic formula, we have met quite a few people in our travels who are making their dreams work for them so I thought I would share what we have learned with you.
To give you a little background, Scott and I were very lucky to be able to sustain our dream of living on a boat and cruising the Caribbean while still bringing in a regular income. Scott, who is nothing if not determined, set his eyes on getting his captain's license a couple years ago and with a lot of hard work and even more luck (and a nice dose of serendipity thrown in for good measure), he landed a job as a relief captain on a 100 foot schooner for Island Windjammers, an American company based in Grenada (it's not common to go right to a captain's position after getting your license - but IWJ took a risk on Scott and it paid off). He worked one month every three months and because living on a boat is significantly cheaper than living on land, we made more than enough money to live on and then some. It was great.
Now, however, things have changed for us (what with operation "family supersize" and all) and we will have not one, but three young children with us. One child is easy to handle as a single parent (or at least do-able) - but three? Game changer. The prospect of being alone on the boat for a month at a time as a single mom of three girls is not realistic (or safe) so we are currently exploring other avenues. We will keep you posted on this front.
So what are some of the ways people make money while living their dreams? Let's take a look...Keep in mind, the pros and cons I list are off the top of my head - if you have experience with making money any of these methods and have something to detract or add, we would love to hear your thoughts in our comments. I have included links to cruisers (most of whom are personal friends) who are actually making money these methods as well, and I encourage you to check out their sites to learn more. It is also important to note that many of these ways are not providing an actual "living" but merely "supplementing" the cruising kitty and adding a few bucks here and there. But a drop in the bucket is better than nothing right? Read on...
- Writing: I am listing this one first as it seems to be the #1 way people think they will earn money while cruising. While you certainly can make money writing articles for sailing magazines and such, you should also be realistic that you are probably not going to make a lot of money. The writing world is very, very competitive and cruising is a very niche market with only so many publications so there isn't a ton of opportunity. There are very few people who can actually sustain the cruising lifestyle with their writing, though it can be a way to supplement and make a few bucks here and there if you have talent. Fatty Goodlander, one of the most successful and prolific cruising writers out there today, writes four hours every single day. He's written a bunch of books and thousands of articles and makes no bones about the fact that they do not make a lot of money and live on the cheap (very happily, I might add).
- Pros: You can do it anywhere, inspiration is everywhere, almost zero startup cost/investment.
- Cons: Very competitive, pay out is small, time commitment is significant, reliable internet is necessary from time to time.
- Example: The infamous Fatty Goodlander
- Pros: You can do what you know, you have infrastructure on the home front, good money.
- Cons: You will rely on strong internet connection (many wifi hotspots in anchorages around the Caribbean are not strong enough to support Skype calls, FYI and are often painfully slow), and as such, you might be a slave to places with good wifi or have to rely on going ashore to connect. Running a business remotely is not easy and requires significant organization and a reliable team on the "home front."
- Example: Our friends Tasha and Ryan of Turf to Surf
- Pros: Freedom of making your itinerary (you can cruise where you want), you are your own boss, you get to share your lifestyle with others which can be refreshing.
- Cons: Sharing your home with strangers, very competitive, slave to a schedule, incredibly hard work when passengers are aboard (you cook three meals a day, clean, and look after them), guests can be great or awful and you have to live on top of them for days or possibly weeks at a time. I repeat: this is very hard work - long days, long hours. You are in charge of paying for maintenance and repairs, insurance costs are high.
- Example: John and Amanda Neal of Mahina Expeditions
- Pros: Good pay, you're still living on a boat in the islands, you get to share what you love with others, someone else is usually in charge of the booking, someone else is usually paying the maintenance/repair bills.
- Cons: Very grueling work schedule, very competitive, you are at the mercy of your boss/charter company, you do not cruise for you, but for others, very hard work (again, cooking, cleaning, boat maintenance), you are in the service industry and might have to deal with unruly guests. You are married to the boat you work on so personal free time is compromised. This type of work is probably not a possibility for cruising families. You also need the requisite licenses to do this (captain's license, STCW, etc.) which, again, are a significant financial investment.
- Example: Our friends Mike and Rebecca of Zero to Cruising
- Pros: You can pick and chose what jobs you take, you get to sail other people's boats and someone else is footing the bill.
- Cons: Very competitive and not easy to get your name out there. This is also risky business as you are sailing other people's boats and are therefore at the mercy of their maintenance and gear or lack there of (we once met a delivery captain who was supposed to take a boat from Florida to the VI's but refused based on the state of the vessel). You often must adhere to strict schedules and deadlines which means sometimes sailing in less than ideal (or downright awful) conditions. Significant time away from family. You will often need to bring along at least one other paid crew member, which will cut into your earnings a bit.
- Example: Our friend Christopher (and family) of Wandering Dolphin
- Pros: Good money, you are your own boss, working with like-minded folks in an world you know and love (boating/cruising), you can be a traveling salesmen and your audience is all around you.
- Cons: You are still running a business and this takes a lot of time and commitment. You will probably need a person or team of people on land to help distribute and/or run customer service for you. Depending on your business you must make a significant investment upfront to get it up and running. You will still need to be "connected" a lot to fill orders, answer questions and ensure customers are happy.
- Example: Rich from s/v Third Day, owner of Cruise RO Water and Power, Paul and Sheryl Shard of Distant Shores, Mark and Liesbet, creators and distributors of The Wirie wifi booster
- Pros: Less rigorous work schedule, usually there is a little flexibility involved, decent pay.
- Cons: Difficult to find this work, time away from family, pauses in your own cruising for weeks or months on end, cruising on a deadline to ensure you get to your place of work.
- Example: Scott of Windtraveler (yeah, that's us!)
- Pros: Can make some decent money and when you have the right formula (properties, partners, tenants), this can work very well for the vagabond lifestyle.
- Cons: Lots of investment up front, must have a reliable partner or management company to work with, at the mercy of tenants, risky business if tenants are unreliable or unruly, stressful being a landlord, requires semi-frequent returns to the home-front to check up and maintain properties.
- Pros: If you enjoy blogging, this is very fun and rewarding. You get to chronicle your adventure and help others embark on theirs, you make great relationships with other bloggers. Check out my post Tips for Cruising Bloggers to learn more.
- Cons: Very competitive, financial gain nominal unless you have a LOT of traffic, requires many hours of work and time in front of the computer to do it well and be successful (I spend between 2-4 hours on this blog a day.) Takes a very long time (months or years) to ramp up and get a big audience, also relies on decent internet connection regularly.
- Example: Friends Behan of s/v Totem who blogs for bucks on Sailfeed, and Carolyn of The Boat Galley
- Pros: Easy to set up and get started. Possible high reward.
- Cons: Need some money to start up, signifiant risk involved, requires reliable internet regularly to check positions and manage portfolio.
- Example: Pat and Ali Schulte of Bumfuzzle
- Pros: You are in control of your income and the hours you work. Can make decent money if your skill is in demand.
- Cons: Competitive, hard to find work, typically a feast or famine sort of gig, requires a lot of self promotion and possibly lots of time on the computer, oftentimes require reliable internet connection.
- Example: Taru Tuomi, amazing freelance photographer of World Tour Stories, Mercedes Villa Lopez, freelance graphic designer cruising the South Pacific
- Pros: Nice work life balance. Very sustainable if you find the right situation.
- Cons: You have to constantly take your boat in and out of commission, you must pay to store your boat somewhere as well as pay for some sort of "home base" on land, not easy to find jobs that are conducive to this type of schedule but they do exist (seasonal jobs probably offer the best bet).
- Example: Our former buddy boat George from Earthling Sailor
- Pros: You stop and really get to know a place, you make money as you need and cruise freely the rest of the time.
- Cons: Very difficult to find, requires you to stop cruising for significant lengths of time, possibly need to move off the boat and onto a land base for a while.
- Example: Our good friends Eben and Genevieve of Necesse who are currently working in the Dominican Republic
- Pros: You can do this from any anchorage anywhere you are, you will meet lots of other cruisers, your "clients" are literally all around you.
- Cons: Working "under the table" for cash in a foreign country might pose legal issues, cruisers - as a rule - are a pretty cheap group and might not be willing to pay for your services, must creatively advertise and market yourself.
- Pros: You can create art that you love, arts and crafts are a great way to pass time on a boat, can possibly sell your crafts to fellow cruisers while underway but you can also reach a wider audience with online storefronts like those mentioned above.
- Cons: You must carry supplies enough to meet the demand, shipping items from far-flung places might get tricky, you might need to have a partner on the home front to help manage orders if you can't manage it from afar, requires reliable internet, must have decent marketing skills to get the word out there as the craft market is pretty saturated.
- Example: Former cruising buddy and nature artist Lara of Forest and Fin and friend and jewelry designer Melody of Maggie&Millie, Chris DiCroche - singer and songwriter of MondoVacilando.
Other informative posts by fellow bloggers on this same subject:
Earning Money While Cruising: Lessons from the Pros (we contributed to this one)
Making Money While Cruising from our friends Paul and Sheryl at Distant Shores
Wireless Ideology a website dedicated to interviews with "Digital Nomads" (see our interview here)
Do you currently make money any of these ways? I would love to hear your thoughts on the pros and cons and realities of it! Do you make money a different way? How have you made your dream work for you? Please share in the comments with any tips, tricks and insights.