Make Money While Doing Nothing

Disclaimer: making money for nothing is actually impossible, unless you win the lottery, have extremely wealthy and generous parents, or discover a money tree.  If any of these is the case, I suggest you go someplace like this, as sustainable vagabonding won’t be a problem for you.

For the rest of us proles, travel costs money, and money has to be earned. But what if you could get all of your work out of the way before you leave, or in focused bursts along the way? What I’m talking about here is passive income, or money that comes into your bank account every month without requiring any serious time investment on your behalf.

This kind of income is different from many of the options I suggested in my last post on money. The key to generating passive income is to generate intellectual property, that you can then collect royalties from. Royalties are key, as that means you get a small amount of money every time someone buys a copy of your property. A magazine article, for instance, doesn’t generate passive income, since most article writers are paid a flat fee on publication. A book, on the other hand, would generate royalties.

But enough theory, let’s talk implementation. Here are some ideas you can begin to look into in order to set up your own passive income scheme:

Stock Photography

If you have a decent camera (you’ll at least need a DSLR, like the Canon T1i) and a basic talent for composition, lighting, and the like, you can sign up as a stock photograph seller. The biggest site I know of that accepts most photographers is iStockPhoto. You’ll have to fill out a basic application, including submitting a few sample shots, and you’ll hear back from them in a few days.

Travel photography is a great sell, but only if you get new locations (that are in high demand) or popular locations from new angles. Stock photography takes a different kind of eye than art or journalistic photography, as your photos will most likely be used in ads or on websites. Isolated images of famous landmarks from interesting angles make a good buy, as do clear images isolated against plain backgrounds, as these lend themselves well to post-purchase manipulation. People are an excellent subject, but you’ll need a model release form for all of your subjects.

The best-selling images are those that are creative, clearly shot, and which present a clear message. One example that was quite popular (and sold thousands of copies) on iStockPhoto a few months back was a photo of tiny tree held between two cupped hands. The creative concept, portraying a popular theme (the green movement), was a recipe for success.

I’ve so far only dabbled in stock photography, but you can see my portfolio of available travel images here.

Stock Video

This is something I’ve not done at all, as I only recently acquired a camera with HD video capability and am just now getting around to using it. But, stock video sells well, generally on the same sites as stock photography. If film is more your style, it might well be worth looking into.

Writing a Book

Don’t be afraid to dream big. If you take a trip that’s awesome enough and interesting enough that people keep asking you to write something about it, take a shot. From what I hear on the publishing grapevines, having a popular travel blog is a major factor in getting published in today’s travel market. If you decide to go the standard route of signing on with a publishing house, you’re going to need a literary agent. To get a literary agent, you’re going to need a very solid project plan, and if you’ve got a few chapters, all the better. It’s also very helpful to have some publishing credits under your belt for this one, so try submitting some articles to magazines and websites before going for the big one. Once you’re ready to find an agent, buy a copy of Writer’s Market, a brick of a book that has everything from magazine markets to book publishers to contests to agents. Don’t get your hopes up, though–finding an agent is notoriously difficult, and getting a publisher to read your work without having an agent is next to impossible.


For most of the twentieth century, self-publishing rarely went beyond the infamous vanity presses, where you paid a lot of money just to see your name in print and to be able to hand your magnum opus to your friends or the local bookstore. Thanks to the internet and internet-based reading platforms like the Amazon Kindle, though, self-publishing is once again becoming a viable business option.

Though it probably won’t be worth it to make a print run of your unpublished book, it might well be worth the time it would take to format it for the Kindle marketplace. You can get more on that at Amazon’s site, here. This is something I haven’t personally tried, but I may test it out within the next few months. If I do, I’ll let you know how it goes, and shamelessly ask you to buy a copy of whatever it is I’m selling.

Blog Advertising

If you’re a decent writer and have interesting enough travels, you might be able to write a travel blog and, if it becomes popular enough, monetize it. Once you set up your blog (I recommend using WordPress), your first step is to install Google Analytics. Once you have some interesting content, start advertising — post on forums (with your blog linked in your signature), offer to exchange links with other blogs, and exchange guest posts. Start a Twitter account. Set up a Facebook page for your blog.

It will take a while to build up traffic, but doesn’t entail as much work as some writers suggest. I highly recommend Tim Ferris’ advice on this topic, over at Four Hour Workweek. Once you’ve built a high traffic blog, it’s time to start getting into the ad-selling business. Google Adsense is probably the most popular tool for this topic, but there are plenty others. I’ll recommend again Nomadic Matt’s advice on monetizing your blog.

Other Income-Generating Websites

Of course, a travel blog isn’t your only option when it comes to making money from web content. You may want to keep your travel blog relatively pure of advertising, and set up some other sites instead. In that case, pick something people will want to keep coming back to, like a useful skill or useful information. For instance, aside from Good and Lost, I run a site that has free Photoshop tutorials (and will, ideally, make me money from advertising) and a webcomic called Red Revolt, which has yet to generate enough traffic for any kind of real monetization.

Software Design

If you’re a programmer, you can probably make money online while traveling anyway. But why work, when you can play? Make a good enough software product, and provide intermittent maintenance, and you can generate passive income through sales. My own work is done mostly for the iPhone, and includes apps like Zombie Roadkill and Big Bad Flower. Look for Kung Fu Master, from Big Bad Brush, coming out soon. I’m also working on a travel budget app for the iPhone, which, never fear, will be advertised extensively on this blog. My latest project, Disoriented, just came out a few days ago, and it’s on sale now — so if you’d like to support a poor traveler, buy it for $1 and leave a nice rating!

I’m sure there are other ways out there to generate passive income. What are some you’ve tried or heard of?

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