This is part one of a two-part series about making a living on the road. First, we’ll look at various means of funding a nomadic lifestyle. In part two, we’ll detail how much money you’ll need … the cold hard costs.
The mountains call for some, and the open road for others. And for climbers, the two call together.
Many dream of a nomadic climbing lifestyle but when it comes to the realities of making it happen — namely, how to fund it — the feasibility gets murky.
Having lived on the road for three years (two in a ProMaster van and one in a Subaru hatchback), the most common question was:
“How do you make it work? Financially … tell me about the dollars!”
In this post, I share the most common approaches to funding a nomadic lifestyle based on my observations meeting hundreds of van, truck, car, and even cave dwellers over the years.
A common misconception is that everyone living on the road is riding an inheritance, taking all steps to avoid what most of us would deem a ‘real job’ and basking in the delights of an easy life. While there is a dose of truth — and trust fund kids do make up a portion of those on the road— the vast majority of nomads I’ve met legitimately fund their travels with a wide range of work engagements.
How dirtbaggers are making a living on the road
Let’s begin with the obvious: those that fund their travels with a sum of money passed down through the family. I’ve heard many climbers scoff at inheritors over the years, but they overlook the often unfortunate circumstances leading to such a situation. Most inheritors I’ve met fund their travels as a result of a parent’s death. Alex Honnold, for example, openly discusses his father’s early passing and the life insurance policy that funded his initial days of dirtbagging.
Among those who receive money from a parent’s passing, I’ve noticed an acute understanding of the shortness of life and the importance of living to the fullest. One inheritor friend of mine assured me that his father wouldn’t want him to spend the money in any way but to live his dream.
These are possibly the largest demographic of traveling climbers. Depending on location, seasonal workers often consist of wilderness firefighters, ski instructors, and trimmers in the now-legal cannabis industry. I’ve also met fisherman, merchant marines, carpenters, nurses, teachers, and accountants that have managed to arrange a schedule where significant portions of the year are taken off from work and dedicated to climbing-based travel.
To be a creator requires significant talent. These are the nomads fueling the content we consume on YouTube, in climbing magazines, and on sites like this one. Creators often fall into one of the following categories: photographers, filmmakers, and writers. They earn funds through the sale and/or licensing of their creative works to brands and publications. Sponsorships also play an important role. Jimmy Chin began as a lowly dirtbag climbing photographer and progressed into one of the world’s most respected outdoor filmmakers — even winning an Oscar!
Remember that you can get started by submitting content to Moja Gear. Several past contributors began here before later getting published by the likes of Rock & Ice and Alpinist.
This was my path to three years on the road. Not confident in myself as a creator, in 2014 I co-founded this site, Moja Gear, with Natalie Siddique. While a community-based climbing website isn’t a path to riches, it did fund several years of open road travels. I’ve also met climbing hold makers, custom climbing shoe makers, chalk bag makers, salve makers, and more. Running a profitable small business is hard, but with grit and a creative approach, it might be your means to funding your desired lifestyle.
There’s some overlap here with creators, but I consider freelancers those existing outside of the climbing space and working for business clients. These commonly include graphic designers, developers, and social media consultants. One Chick Travels began her adventures by running social media channels for a handful of small businesses. You might also consider websites like Upwork, which connect talented freelancers with businesses in need.
Staying employed while living at crags is a delicate dance to balance. But I’ve met a handful of remote employees making a comfortable living while working and living off the grid. This typically requires rigid scheduling and you’ll be constrained to locations where you can power up a cellular hotspot or work from a coffee shop or library. I’ve met remote employees working in customer support, software development, and sales.
The possibilities for making a living on the road are vast, but they do require a creative approach. Erik Gordon sold coffee at crags to fund his travels and the small van operation expanded into opening a coffee shop in Boulder, Colorado. One gentleman I met, Alexis Beaudet-Roy of Quebec, works with the circus, which offers a gas allowance to get to new locations. Of course, climbing destinations have become natural detours. Finally, if you’re really crushing it on the rock and manage to promote and carry yourself well, you could even become a professional climber. But that’s hard … really hard. Good luck!