Nate Murphy is a rock climbing and van life YouTuber from the UK. He has been travelling for three years and tends to base his travel destinations around good climbing areas throughout the world.
When I was preparing for the trip I told myself that I would give it three years, try to work out a way to make money as I travelled or just go back to the UK and work on a new start-up. I made YouTube videos for fun – the idea of making money from it was there, but I did not really consider it very realistic. I had some viral success and I have been pushing it from there.
In a way, I am a crappy YouTuber – I never set-out to become one so it is sometimes difficult for me to really work hard at it (hence I am bringing on a small team to help this process).
The Sick Climbing product I created came out of fulfilling a need I had while travelling and training. I set a goal to take the product to market, which is exactly what I did.
It took one year and four months to be breaking even on my costs, this could have happened faster if that was the main aim. After 2 years and 8 months on the road my savings were the same as the day I left. This felt pretty good.
That said, even though I do literally everything I want my costs remain pretty low.
This year I spent a month in Spain, a month in Thailand, two months in Yosemite (California), a summers season in the French Alps, another Yosemite season, a month in New Mexico and finally a couple more months in Asia) and on average probably spent about $1500 a month.
Some months for example; van life in Spain, might cost $500 and others, where there are a lot of flights, or kit for big-wall climbing are more expensive. I do tend to buy some expensive things for making videos or music – but these are still relatively in-expensive and I see them as assets, I can always sell them if I wish.
Sources of Income
I have built (and am building) a variety of revenue channels with the aim to not just ‘survive’ but do financially well while I travel.
The key ways I am currently making money are as follows:
My YouTube channel
through Ad-revenue this delivers enough (plus some) to live on but the revenue does depend on the time of year and I would not want to wholly rely on something which is at the whims of YouTube algorithm’s or in space that is increasingly crowded on YouTube (Van life)
as a semi-pro climber I earn some money (and free gear I would otherwise have to pay for) through promoting the brands I work with through my social media channels. This is an area I am looking to develop in the coming year.
I aim to develop long-term relationships with brands delivering not only exposure but also directly attributable sales if possible; with clothing/some climbing gear.
this is a product and clothing brand that I created in late 2017. I designed a unique finger training product and I sell that directly through my website; the aim this year is to get toward selling an average of one a day. I am a little way off that; however I have barely started pushing the product.
I have forged myself as an expert in converting vans into campers and this fits well into the van life & adventure theme of my channel. Ebook sales do not constitute a significant income but it has proven to be a relatively reliable additional revenue stream – mostly driven by the 10 – 20,000 views a day on the YouTube channel.
I have a base of long-term clients whom I have worked with since the start of my first business ten years ago – mostly these are clients I liked and I did not want to drop them. For them I do the odd bit of design work. It is not something I seek but it perhaps covers 1/3rd of my annual living costs without a lot of actual work and at any-rate covers all my hosting, accounting and other general company costs.
2018 is going to be an interesting year for me. I have hired two people to travel and work with me full time and will have responsibilities to help me work on the above (and some new projects). It will help me focus on the other climbing and creative goals I am working toward.
Actually it varies drastically from month-to-month. Some times I barely do any work for two months so I can focus on big climbing objectives or simply because I feel like I want to mostly do personal projects that matter to me rather than things that are more geared around making money.
Some months I do ‘work’ hard or long hours, like when I did the RnD for the Sick Climbing product in New Mexico I worked 10 hours a day for about a month; it was worth it though and I really enjoyed the process.
It is hard to determine what is ‘work’. Pretty much, if it is too much like ‘work’, I try not to do it. I have my ‘projects’ – things that I really want to do and as they do not tend to have a money-making focus I do not count them as work. At the same time I am generally pretty busy!
The stuff that feels like work is often editing less creative videos, consulting work, life-admin or stuff which is specifically for money – my hope is that by hiring a team I can reduce the amount of work I do.
My main challenge is myself. I tend to take on too many projects – in a way it means I work optimally but at the same time it can be a bit much. I could have a much easier life if I just did things that made money and did not bother with all the time-intensive projects that don’t – but it was to do these other things that inspired me to hit the road in the first place.
The second most challenging part of my work is good Internet access for uploading content. I travel through different countries all the time and uploading large video files can be a real pain – especially in remote areas.
Tips & Recommendations
If you want to live the van life you need to be strategic. Think where you are now financially or commitment-wise and work out how you can get to a place that can give you a decent financial runway, perhaps even build some revenue channels before you leave. I mean, the best time to do work for yourself is while someone else is paying you
It is definitey easier to have cash for a year or two in the bank to take the stress out of having to make money immediately and getting sucked into the low-earning paths-of-least-resistance. Other than that, be patient and work consistently toward your goal – like everything it is a process, if you keep moving along the process you will get to where you want to go.
Also, the worst-case scenario is that you go broke and get a job.