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Travel Funds: 6 Real Ways to Make Money Online

Before I began working for myself in 2003, I lost many hours reading articles about how to make money online. Most were the same recycled list of tasks for sweatshop-level pay, or buying and reselling products, or trying to convince me to buy a course on how to make money online (red flag warning). And then there was advice like "become a digital marketing consultant". Now why didn't I think of that? Just become a highly skilled professional with special training in marketing! In short, this topic rarely produces more than clickbait and referral links. That's because it's one of the most popular affiliate marketing topics promoted by people who know that one of the easiest ways to make money online is to make it off you.

Disclaimer! I, too, want to make money off you, which is why this page contains referral links. I also want a credible reputation though, so I'm going to follow four conscionable criteria for suggestions to work from home: (1) you shouldn't have to pay anything (jobs pay you, not vice versa), (2) no dealing with physical merchandise, (3) each method on this page should include at least one website that doesn't require a degree, and (4) I'll still recommend a resource if it doesn't include a referral program (although many do). There are real ways to make money online without buying someone's "ultimate" training course. I've been self-employed for more than 15 years and my income has been earned entirely online without paying for information. I'm not rich, but my income is livable for my needs and enough to travel on a budget.

It's possible to learn how to make money online, but not how much to make. That part is up to you. It is up to your ability to be persistent and believe in your goal even if the work comes first and the money comes later. It's up to you to decide what is worth your time and what is not, and to recognize when it may not be working out. Opportunity is equal, success is not. Online income is a very mixed bag. Some work guarantees an hourly rate. Other times, working from home is like planting a field. You may toil for months until finally seeing a harvest.

Jar filled with money from different countries around the world.
Travel funds jar, one of several thousand stock photos I sell to fund my travels.

1. Sell images and videos through microstock websites

  • Passive income; media files sell indefinitely
  • No earning limit, but a lot of competition
  • Work from anywhere; ideal for travel

The primary method I've used for funding my travels is selling photos and 3D renders through microstock websites. Microstock photography, or micropayment photography, is a form of stock photography based on low-cost online transactions for photos produced by hobbyist or amateur photographers. It began as a market for photos, but has since expanded to include digital art, vector illustrations, 3D renders, videos, and music.

When I say the transactions are low cost, I do mean low. The commission earned for a sale may be as little as $0.25 USD for a subscription-based image sale. For less common single image sales the commission may be as much as a few dollars, and for certain extended license sales, which are rare, it may be $20 to $100 (emphasis on rare). You can expect the average commission to be less than a dollar. Some microstock websites have different commission tiers for contributors who reach certain sales thresholds, but the pay increase is minimal. If you want to make money online in this industry you'll need patience, quality, and quantity.

The advantages of microstock are passive income and retaining full ownership of your work, you only license the right for others to use it. In other words, the same file can be licensed and downloaded by an unlimited number of customers through an unlimited number of microstock websites. My best selling image of all time is a photo of the moon that has been licensed thousands of times on 7 different websites, totaling about $4,000 in sales since I originally uploaded it in 2010.

Making money online with stock photography is not as simple as uploading and waiting for a payout though. I also have images that have never earned a single cent. Commercial value, quality, and keywording all affect the likelihood of an image selling, but there's also an element of luck. A new image has a brief window to capture initial sales. If it does, it may secure a stable long-term ranking in the search results. If it doesn't, it will likely be buried in a library of millions of images and never seen again. The latter scenario has become more common over time as the number of contributors (and consequently submissions) has grown, while quality standards have subsequently declined.

How much you can earn in this industry varies wildly with your subject matter, keywording, and portfolio size. With about 4 thousand images on 7 websites, my monthly income figure is four digits. Feel free to glance through my Shutterstock portfolio for an idea of what sells and what kind of quality is expected. On that note, images do need to pass a quality inspection process in order to be added to the library and licensed. The general quality guidelines are good composition, proper exposure, sharp focus, correct white balance, and no sensor noise. It took me 3 months from buying my first DSLR camera to selling my first photos to become consistent in those areas, with just a few hours a week spent on it. Photos from high-end mobile phones are accepted as well, but you'll be more limited by the hardware.

For 3D renders, it's easier to control the quality, but the software learning curve still required a few months before I was selling images. Unlike with camera gear, however, my investment cost for 3D was zero. The open source Blender software is completely free and includes a lot of great tutorials. There's also a plethora of tutorials on YouTube from highly skilled Blender artists. My 3D renders have averaged roughly the same sales rate as my photos.

The 7 microstock websites I sell most of my work on, in order of largest amount of sales to smallest, are Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, iStock, 123RF, Dreamstime, Depositphotos, and Bigstock, with the first 3 accounting for about 80-85% of my sales. There are dozens of other websites too, but I personally don't find they are worth my time. However, for selling stock videos I would recommend Storyblocks and Pond5, in addition to Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, and iStock. Sales commissions for videos are generally much higher than for photos. The small number of videos I've uploaded in 1080p have averaged $47 USD per sale at Storyblocks, and $20-30 at the other places. 4k HD video commissions are even higher, but I have no 4k videos. All of these sites include PayPal as a payment option, which is perfect for me.

For keywording, some of these websites have their own built-in keyword tool to assist you. Or there is the excellent keyword tool from MicrostockGroup. Most microstock sites have an upper limit of 50 keywords per file, but relevancy is more important than quantity, so don't feel the need to push 50 keywords unless they are all relevant to your subject matter, or it could hurt your rankings a bit.

2. Build a website or blog with a strong niche (travel theme optional)

  • Passive income; your website is always online
  • Highest earning potential, but most responsibility
  • Work from anywhere; ideal for travel

I'm reluctant to recommend building a website to make money online since it requires potentially the most work of anything on this page, but it was my primary income for 12 years before taking photography seriously, so I can't neglect including it as a very legitimate option to be your own boss and work from home. The amount of work required to build a successful and profitable website cannot easily be overstated. Before launching my concept art website in 2003, I worked 12-16 hours a day for 7 months designing a layout, learning markup and styling languages, researching SEO, creating content, and marketing the site. And although nowadays you can instantly launch a website with modern content management systems like WordPress that alleviate most of the work for bloggers at the cost of giving up some creative control, the process of writing good, original content will always be time-devouring.

The revenue model for the vast majority of websites falls into either display advertising or affiliate marketing. Display advertising involves placing display ads – banner ads, video ads, and text ads – on web pages to earn revenue for views or clicks. Display ads usually pay on a CPM (cost per mille) basis. That is, the cost for one thousand impressions. An impression is registered each time an ad loads on a web page. A single display ad with a CPM of $0.30 USD appearing on a page that is viewed 10,000 times would theoretically earn 3 dollars. Although it would be safer to expect only half that after Adblock users, fill issues, and visitors from unmonetized geo-locations knock it down. It can take a lot of page views to make a living with display advertising. There are some ad networks that can achieve a CPM of $10 or more per page from multiple ad placements, but it is heavily dependent on your niche and audience demographics. It's much more common to see an average CPM of less than a dollar.

Display advertising is a good option when you just want to focus on creating content and you have a strategy to produce it quickly and consistently. There's generally no need to seek out display ad providers. Ad networks have access to audience data from services like Quantcast and will actively seek out new publishers to display their ads. I began receiving offers by email regularly once my traffic averaged about a thousand or so visitor sessions daily. Before then, something like AdSense will suffice.

The other common revenue model, affiliate marketing, involves promoting products or services from another business or merchant. You've probably come across links to Amazon products on other websites, or on this website if you've read my ultralight packing list page. Those are affiliate links. The Amazon Associates Program is one of the most well-known affiliate programs online, but there are many other companies that also have their own affiliate program. So many, in fact, that huge affiliate networks like Shareasale and Clickbank exist to help connect publishers (affiliate marketers) with these programs.

Affiliate marketers usually choose a specific product or service niche to focus on, like for example, a website dedicated to fashion advice for short men. They can then suggest or review products that might interest their readers. The more knowledgeable and honest you are about your niche, the easier it will be to recommend useful products to people who trust your opinion.

I really want to stress, websites are hard work. They can also be very rewarding though, and not just in a monetary sense. Seeing the success of something you built, having complete control, being able to work online from anywhere in the world, and interacting with visitors are some of the reasons I continue to invest my time in websites even after a major life setback when Google destroyed the traffic to my most successful site. If you have a lot of confidence in your content creation ability, know your niche inside and out, and have a solid long-term strategy, then a website can potentially be one of the most powerful ways to make money online, and a travel blog in particular can be an ideal companion to a life of globetrotting.

3. Teach English online as a second language

  • Hourly pay rate; hours aren't necessarily guaranteed
  • Stable income if you maintain an optimal schedule
  • Able to work as you travel, but must have fast internet

If you want an online job with the familiarity of an hourly wage, working for one company, and fairly stable work, then teaching English online is one of the better and more accessible options to make money online. Right now there are hundreds of thousands of Chinese students trying to learn English as a second language. Chinese parents are hopeful to enroll their kids in universities abroad, and there's more demand than supply for English teachers at cram schools in China. As a result, online learning has become increasingly popular to meet the demand. Dozens of companies are looking for native speakers to teach English online. Some of the big players include VIP Kid, DaDa, ALO7, Qkids, and gogokid, and there are many others like them.

The requirements for teachers are generally native English ability, a 4-year Bachelor's degree in any field (no-degree options below), reliable and fast internet, a cam and mic, and a quiet room. It's also often required that you be a natural citizen of the United States or Canada, although some accept the United Kingdom and Australia as well. TEFL certification and previous teaching experience are often listed as preferences, and may increase your starting pay, but it's common to be hired without them. Typical pay ranges from $14-25 USD per hour and may be based on your qualifications, application interview, and performance incentives, such as being on time or teaching a certain number of classes each month. The first month may be slow due to finding regular students and increasing your rating, but $1,000 to $3,000 a month is possible if you make yourself available during Beijing evening times.

There's no need to know any foreign languages to teach English online. The company will provide browser-based or software-based lessons for you to follow along with on-screen. There's also no need for lesson planning, although you may need several minutes of prep time when starting out. Classes may either be one-on-one or with a few students, the format varies from one company to another.

As part of the application process, many of these companies require that you record a class demo video first or partake in a live mock class with an adult who sits in for a student to test your ability. Be sure to check out sample videos on YouTube first for a clear idea of what qualities are sought in an English teacher. There's also videos with good tips from other teachers who have already aced the application process. In general, the ideal teacher is happy, patient, makes learning fun, uses total physical response (a lot of body language), and encourages students to talk and build confidence.

No degree or have a different nationality? There's a few less restrictive options to make money online teaching English. Have a look at Palfish, which also does one-on-one-classes. You have a choice between teaching kids using lessons provided by Palfish, or teaching adults, which involves free-form conversation. Again, there are helpful videos on YouTube about how to pass the application interview. The platform let's you set your own pay; the average is supposedly $10-18 per hour. It's a good idea to start lower than what you want and bump up your rate as your rating improves.

There's also Cambly and italki. These two are less structured and require more initiative on your part as you will mostly be helping people of all ages and nationalities practice their speaking skill through casual conversation, but the platforms are easier to be approved for and offer more flexibility for your schedule. Cambly pays $0.17 USD per minute, which would be a $10.20/hour equivalent if you could consistently keep people on the call for one hour blocks (you won't). A more realistic achievable rate is about $8 per hour.

italki, on the other hand, lets you set your own pay. You can apply to be a Professional Teacher or a Community Tutor. The former requires that you are an experienced teacher with a university degree in education, but the latter does not require a degree. Instead, Community Tutors are basically expected to be passionate about helping others learn a language. As you can imagine, the pay you are able to successfully ask for as a Community Tutor will be much less than a Professional Teacher – you can expect a rate that is similar to Cambly. It's relatively easy money though for what is essentially talking to someone and keeping the conversation going. italki accepts applications for a variety of languages in addition to English. See their current page for languages open for application.

4. Assess content for search results, maps, and social media

  • Hourly pay rate or paid per task
  • Income varies by project and allowable hours
  • Work only from country of application or be banned

There's an army of people who work from home around the clock to ensure that search engine results, online maps, and social media ads are accurate, relevant, and free of offensive or phallic imagery. Two of the primary contractors for these online jobs are Appen and Lionbridge. Both companies operate globally, but their available jobs in each country change periodically, so check back after some time if their recruitment page doesn't currently have anything for your region. Appen often employs through RaterLabs/Leapforce, which it bought out in 2017.

The type of work available through Appen and Lionbridge can be thought of as data quality assurance and largely falls into a few categories that they refer to as projects, such as comparing search results for relevancy, analyzing online map quality, rating social media ads, and flagging offensive or disturbing content in images and videos. You can set your own schedule, but each project has a minimum number of hours required for each week, as well as a restriction on maximum hours. It's possible, however, to apply for more than one project if you want to work more hours. It's also possible to work for both Appen and Lionbridge, but the projects must be different or your contract will be terminated. In other words, if you're working as an evaluator for Google search results at Appen, then you can safely apply to work as a rater for Facebook and Instagram ads at Lionbridge, as the end clients are different.

While the qualifications to apply for these companies is relatively low, the nature of the tasks can be technical. Because of that, applicants are required to study a lengthy document of guidelines and pass three tough online exams in order to be accepted. If you fail, you might be allowed a second opportunity. Pay depends on which project you work on. For example, raters are paid a fixed rate while map analysts are paid per task. Wages are dependant on the location an applicant is hired from and can range from $9.00 to $13.50 USD per hour in the United States and Europe, but much less in other countries.

Appen and Lionbridge are both legitimate companies for online jobs, but some caution may be in order if considering them for long-term income. A glance at the Glassdoor website reveals that sudden contract terminations due to not meeting "quality standards" are a common criticism by former workers, along with management communication issues. Some allege that they were suddenly fired with few details despite maintaining good quality scores. Among those who do hang onto their job and find a good rythm for it, the general consensus seems to be that it's a decent, if repetitious, way to make money online from the comfort of home.

5. Complete online tasks for microtasking marketplaces

  • Paid for each approved microtask
  • Income is wildly variable with your strategy
  • Work only from country of application or be banned

Crowdsourcing marketplaces are often utilized for completing simple and repetitive tasks, or microtasks, that are unsuitable for computers. Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) is perhaps the best known of these marketplaces. Via the Mturk platform, individuals or businesses (Requesters) post small tasks known as Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs), such as taking surveys, transcribing audio, finding information online, and writing product descriptions. Workers, known as Turkers, can complete HITs that interest them in exchange for the set monetary reward. Rewards and availability of HITs tend to favor those located in the United States. Elsewhere, not so much. Furthermore, Turkers outside the U.S. are limited to withdrawing earnings to an Amazon gift card balance, whereas American Turkers are eligible for Amazon Payments.

Even for Turkers located in the U.S., it takes a lot of trial and error, research, and practice to improve efficiency and figure out an optimal routine. While some have made it a full-time job, others find it difficult to surpass minimum wage, and many never figure out how to earn more than a few dollars an hour. Multiple factors affect the earnings potential with MTurk. Some HITs pay well, such as surveys. Others, like transcription, are rarely worthwhile. Amazon allows Requesters to pay as little as one cent for tasks, so there's a lot of junk to ignore. Since HITs are often posted by businesses, the most valuable HITs tend to appear during normal business hours. Improving your qualifications and approval rating can unlock access to more and potentially better work. Efficient use of hotkeys, using a mouse, utilizing browser scripts from Greasy Fork, and learning search engine commands/operators can all improve your speed.

The volume of work available through MTurk varies with the season, and fewer applicants are approved during slower months. If your application is rejected, it may be approved at a later date. Reddit has a good MTurk FAQ to help new Turkers get acquainted with the basics. Many successful Turkers recommend joining a good forum or two, such as MTurk Crowd or TurkerView to monitor the best daily HITs and learn new tips from others. Although most tasks on MTurk are simple and easy to complete, developing a strategy to maximize efficiency is what may determine whether it's worthwhile or a waste of time. If you're highly internet savvy and excel at optimizing tasks, or the type of person who loves min-maxing in online games, then you might find success on the MTurk platform.

Another option that is similar to MTurk is Clickworker. If you're located outside the United States, then Clickworker might be a better option since it issues payments internationally. However, it tends to have less work available and experience more dry spells.

6. Participate in online studies and surveys

  • Paid per completed study/survey
  • Supplemental income; varies greatly by demographic
  • Location dependent; participate only from country in your profile

Most survey websites I've tried are a terrible way to make money online, but there are a handful that can be winners if you match the right demographic. Respondent is the best I've found by far, with a fair percentage of studies paying $100 USD or more for 60 minutes. The majority of these consist of one-on-one interviews via webcam or phone, referred to as remote studies, in which you answer a series of questions for the agreed time duration. The platform's other projects include surveys, focus groups, and in-person studies. I've seen the time commitment range from 10 to 120 minutes, and the reward range from $10 to more than $700. The catch is of course qualifying for what can be a very selective demographic, which often involves being in a specific career field or possessing a certain skill set. However, with the pay being so high, even qualifying for a few studies a month is a nice supplemental income boost.

Screenshot of a surveys page on the Respondent website.
Example of some of the surveys available to me on Respondent.

Not all studies on Respondent are career-related. Quite a few simply want to query people about their opinions and experiences with different products and services. Examples of some of the studies I've seen on the site include interviewing car owners about their experiences, getting feedback from users booking airline tickets on a mobile app, gathering opinions on choice of beverages, talking to people who have used display ads to advertise their business, seeking input from people who use heavy-duty farming vehicles, polling users about their experience with a site or app, learning about people's lawn care habits, and asking people who buy athletic clothing to review a website to help make it more user friendly.

Respondent requires you to have a Facebook or LinkedIn account to sign up, with the latter being preferred by most study researchers. Your demographic information from these websites, in addition to preferences and areas of interest you choose on the Respondent site, will be used to match you with studies. Be sure to choose your interests carefully and make sure any employment information in your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles are accurate, as it may help your qualifications. Respondent is open to many countries, but in terms of quantity of available studies, there's definitely a clear preference among researchers for participants based in the United States.

To participate in a study, you first have to browse the projects on the site that are relevant to you and then submit a screener survey for each one that you are interested in. The screener can take a few minutes to complete. Researchers will then review the screeners and choose a selection of them for the paid study. Realistically, you probably won't be chosen more than 10% of the time, but if you are, it really pays off. Payments are processed and paid out in about one week's time and are issued through PayPal.

Another thing I like is Respondent's solid referral programs. If you see a specific project with a reward of $100 or more that a friend or co-worker might qualify for, you can refer them and earn $50 for their successful participation in the project. Additionally, there's a general referral program that pays $20 once a person you refer participates in any paid opportunity. See the referral policy for full details on both.

Want more choices? Another good one is User Interviews. The types of studies and reward amounts are very similar to Respondent, and conducted in the same ways. A downside for me, however, is that most of them are paid through Amazon gift cards. One solution to swap the gift card for cash is to sell it on eBay. In fact, you may even get more than the face value for it since in some countries an Amazon gift card is the only way to purchase from Amazon without a credit card. Still, it's an extra hurdle if you have a preference for cash.

A third choice is Prolific. It's based in the United Kingdom, so it may have more surveys available for people outside the U.S. Prolific allows you to complete an "about you" page with a lot of detailed questions that it uses to pre-screen you for surveys so you won't be kicked out. The earning potential is considerably less than Respondent and User Interviews, as the surveys pay only a few pounds or less. They tend to be relatively short though, and the PayPal cash out amount for your account is only £5 GBP. If you're in the UK/US, Prolific recommends waiting to cash out at £20 with Circle to avoid a fee. The surveys are first come, first served, so they're likely to be reserved quickly unless you keep an eye on the dashboard all day. To help with that, there's a Prolific Assistant on the Chrome web store that can alert you to new surveys.

Most of the surveys on Prolific are created through universities, so they seem to be sparse during holidays. Be sure your email and phone are verified and your "about" page is completed, otherwise you probably won't see anything. Personally, I don't receive surveys often enough to make the platform worthwhile. On the other hand, Respondent and User Interviews always have studies available for me to apply to. Your mileage and demographic may vary.

Related: Don't forget about cashback websites

Screenshot proof of a Befrugal payment through PayPal.
You could be throwing away a lot of money if you shop online without a cashback website. I use such sites for online purchases and travel expenses whenever I can.

In addition to all the ways to make money online discussed on this page, one more way in which I set aside extra funds for travel is by recouping part of expenses that I would have incurred anyway. If you do any online shopping and you're not currently using a cashback website for it, you're missing out on free money. Similar to how many credit card companies share their merchant fees with their card users in the form of cashback, a cashback website shares referral fees with its users. Major online merchants like Amazon reward a referral commission when another website refers a visitor who makes a purchase. Cashback websites share that referral reward with their users. In fact, they may share up to 100% of it to be competitive, because they make money in other ways as well. The amount of the cashback can be up to 40%, but 3-8% is a more common range.

There's several good cashback websites, and their offerings are highly competitive. All of them offer deals with thousands of stores, which includes many travel services and hotels. Befrugal is one of the most popular, and the one I use most often. They'll fund your account with a $10 bonus if you're a new member and you earn $10 in cashback within 365 days of joining, and you can earn $10 for each friend you refer as well. If you find another website with a higher cashback rate, Befrugal promises to match it and add an additional 25%. They also offer daily coupons, and unlike coupons from other sites I've tried where it is often expired or simply doesn't work, Befrugal will give you $5 if you find a faulty coupon. To make savings even easier, they have an optional browser add-on that will automatically apply coupons and activate cashback for you.

The options to request payment on Befrugal include check, direct deposit, PayPal, and several gift card options, the latter of which includes an additional 1-6% bonus. Direct deposit and PayPal can be requested with as little as $0.01 in your account. For users outside the U.S., the options are PayPal and Amazon gift card.

Ebates is another strong cashback website with comparable offerings to Befrugal. They have a similar sign-up bonus of $10 if you are a new member and make qualifying purchases totaling at least $25 within 90 days of becoming a member. Their bonus for referring friends is higher than Befrugal, at $25. Also similar is their browser add-on that automatically applies coupons and activates cashback for the best price. Ebates even has its own credit card with an extra 3% in cashback if you use it when you purchase things through their site (1% cashback everywhere else). They don't have a highest cashback guarantee, but they have deals with some stores that other websites don't, so it's not a bad idea to use more than one cashback website. Plus, you can always collect the sign-up bonus on both.

One area Ebates comes up a bit short is payments, which are issued on a quarterly basis every three months. The options are typically check and PayPal with a minimum of $5.01 to cash out. If you're a resident of the European Economic Area then you're out of luck, as their terms specifically disqualify it.

A third option is TopCashback. The site was originally launched in the United Kingdom, and has several international versions. Its .com version is aimed at American consumers, so not all merchants may honor rewards for users outside of North America. The site doesn't offer a sign-up bonus, but you can still refer friends to earn $10 per referral when they reach a minimum cashback threshold of $10. TopCashback guarantees it will match competitor's rates, and indeed I do find it is very competitive. I especially like it's offers for travel, which sometimes beats Befrugal and Ebates. Some of the airlines and hotels aren't even featured on the other sites.

The payment options for TopCashback are direct deposit, PayPal, and gift card, with various bonuses for the latter. Direct deposit and PayPal require only $0.01 to cash out. Payouts to members located outside of the United States can be made via PayPal.

When it comes to cashback websites, remember that they are beneficial for things you are already going to buy. Impulsive spending to earn more rewards is counterproductive. To ensure a cashback is tracked, a purchase should be made in one session, meaning you click from the cashback website to the merchant site and make a purchase without closing the tab or navigating to other websites. It's also a good idea to disable adblockers. Cookies, on the other hand, should obviously not be disabled. If you use the website's browser add-on, then tracking issues shouldn't be a concern. Also be aware that it can take quite some time for cashback to be deposited into your account, as ample time to void returned or canceled products is required.

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links, which means, at no additional cost to you, I may receive a commission for sign-ups or sales. I stand by the recommendations (and criticisms) I make, and refuse to promote a service if my experience with it is negative.