How I Make Money on the Road as a Social Media Content Creator

This article explores how I make a portion of my income as a full-time van lifer through social media content creation.

kaylin standing near the lake

In June 2023, I started van life and simultaneously started taking social media more seriously. Although I had an Instagram account, I only posted on it 10-15 times yearly.

Since then, I’ve started investing in education, researching strategy, and posting regularly. I’ve tripled my follower count and made $10,000 as a content creator in 7 months.

As a social media content creator, you can receive free products from brands, make content from your phone, and work wherever and whenever you want.

And the best part? Almost anyone can do it!

It might sound too good to be true, but as a social media content creator, you can do all these while getting paid. You don’t need to be a professional photographer, videographer, model, or influencer with thousands of followers to get started.

This article explores how I make a portion of my income as a full-time van lifer through social media content creation.

Benefits of Being a Social Media Content Creator

campervan parked on the campground
Photo Credit: Tom Zittergruen @nomadxtom and Kaylin Zittergruen @katekeepswild

For many, it’s a dream to get paid to do the things they love while having the freedom to work from anywhere in the world. As van life becomes more popular, many brands want to work with van life content creators to get their products in front of a new audience.

If you enjoy outdoor recreation hobbies like hiking, backpacking, skiing, climbing, mountain biking, etc., these activities can open doors to even more potential brand partnerships on the road!

However, it takes time and effort to make money for your content. Although I believe this is a job that most people can do, you must devote the energy to learning and growing as a content creator.

In this interview, I will answer questions including:

  • What does a content creator do?
  • How much money does a content creator earn?
  • How do I find brands to work with as a content creator?

If you’re considering content creation to make a side income (or even a full-time income), this interview will provide guidance and tips on getting started.

How did you get started with content creation?

woman playing in the fields
Photo Credit: Tom Zittergruen @nomadxtom and Kaylin Zittergruen @katekeepswild

Before I became a social media content creator, I was a middle school English teacher for six years. I had an Instagram account but rarely posted on it as I was too exhausted after school to create content.

I often posted random photos with my friends at the bar, my boyfriend (now husband), and my dog. I had pictures of books, coffee shops, and even yummy-looking pizzas. My followers were mostly family and friends, and I had never worked with brands.

When I ended my final school year in May 2023 and started van life in June, I didn’t have a plan for what I’d do for income. I knew I’d still collect a paycheck for both June and July as part of my teaching contract, so I figured I could apply for positions over those two months and figure out a plan.

After teaching through the pandemic, I felt burnt out and didn’t want to become a remote teacher in my van. But it turns out that switching careers in a job market that is already limited and competitive isn’t easy!

While applying for numerous jobs each week, I knew I needed to have a way to make income in the meantime. I decided to look into social media content creation to make some income until I got a more stable job.

Although I hesitated to spend my money, I paid $100 for four e-books with strategies and tips for social media content creators looking to grow their accounts and work with brands. I invested time and money into learning about social media to monetize my page.

I purchased the e-books from a social media influencer I’d followed for years. She has over a million followers across her accounts and makes a 6-figure income through social media, so I figured she was the best person to learn from!

I read the e-books over a week, took notes, and made a media kit to send to brands. I thought about the niche of my account. A niche is the specific focus of your account and the type of content you create.

I learned that a niche like ‘outdoors’ is too broad, so I focused my account primarily on van life and the outdoor adventures that come with living on the road, including hiking, backpacking, and camping. I researched brands within my niche who worked with content creators and wrote a template for a pitch I could send them.

I began pitching ten brands per week. I heard many “No’s,” but the occasional “Yes” made it worth it. Over seven months, I made $10,000 by working with brands as a content creator!

What does a content creator do?

friends while hiking in the mountain
Photo Credit: Tom Zittergruen @nomadxtom and Kaylin Zittergruen @katekeepswild

There are a lot of different types of content creators out there! Your interests, skills, and following can influence what kind of creator you want to become.

If you own a professional camera and edit your images, you could become a content creator specializing in brand lifestyle or product photography. You could sell photos to brands for their social media channels, websites, and advertisements.

Since my husband is a professional photographer, he focuses on these brand partnerships. He also takes photos of me for the brands I work with and lets me borrow his camera for product shoots!

You don’t need a professional camera to work with brands, though. Another option is to take photos or create video reels with your phone.

You can create UGC (user-generated content) that shows you authentically using products for brands to post on their channels. The best part about UGC is that you don’t need a social media following to do it since you don’t post the content yourself.

I’ve landed a long-term partnership with an outdoor backpacking brand in which I make four UGC videos for them each month. I receive products to create short videos of myself hiking, packing for trips, or walking in scenic places.

If you have a large or engaged social media following, brands will also pay you extra to post the content you create on your page. When I started working with brands with less than 2,000 followers, brands still paid me to post the content to my account because I had an engaged following of people who actively liked and commented on my posts.

What is the difference between an influencer and a content creator?

woman fixing her sock
Photo Credit: Tom Zittergruen @nomadxtom and Kaylin Zittergruen @katekeepswild

Although they are very similar, there is a difference between a social media influencer and a content creator. Both influencers and content creators can work with brands. Some people may define these titles differently than I do.

Influencers tend to have large followings and try to persuade or influence people to buy products. They often post branded content to their pages with affiliate discount codes or links in which they make a percentage of the income from the sale.

Some people are skeptical of influencers because their product promotion may feel too sales-y or inauthentic. Even if they dislike the product or wouldn’t buy it themselves, some influencers promote products if brands pay them.

A content creator, on the other hand, is someone whose primary focus is the content. They typically create engaging content that resonates with their target audience and brands. A content creator may get defensive if you call them an influencer since they may argue that their primary aim is not to sell you a product.

Ultimately, influencers and content creators who work with brands are very similar. While some may care about the distinction, both advertise products and brands.

How much money does a content creator earn?

coffee packs on a table
Photo Credit: Tom Zittergruen @nomadxtom and Kaylin Zittergruen @katekeepswild

Depending on your experience and skills, you can make six figures as a social media content creator. As you work with name brands and produce higher-quality work, you will continue to get paid more for your content.

You might start out doing product-for-content exchanges to build your portfolio. Although you don’t make any income from these collaborations, you receive free products to create content for brands.

Sure, you’re working for free, but it’s a stepping stone to becoming a content creator. For brands to want to pay you for your work, they need to see what kind of content you create and how it performs on your account (if you hope to post on your page).

Once you have at least three brands to showcase on your media kit, you can start pitching brands for paid partnerships. Beginners typically charge between $100-$200 per reel or around $25-$50 per image.

Depending on how many followers you have, you can charge an additional amount to post the content on your page.

As you continue to gain experience, you can increase these prices. You can also pitch packages with multiple photos and reels to get paid even more. I’ve known experienced content creators to sign 5-figure contracts with brands.

After doing content creation as a side hustle for seven months, I made $10,000 in 2023. This number doesn’t include the value of the numerous products I received worth thousands of dollars. I sold some products I didn’t want to keep and made even more money!

Do I need to have a following to become a content creator?

storage box on the grass
Photo Credit: Tom Zittergruen @nomadxtom and Kaylin Zittergruen @katekeepswild

You don’t need to have followers to become a content creator, which is one of the best parts of this job. After all, everyone starts with 0 followers!

I started creating content with less than 2,000 followers on Instagram. Before pitching brands, I spent a couple of weeks posting content to my page, commenting on other posts, and engaging with my audience. I wanted to show brands that I had an active presence and followers.

If you don’t want to get paid to post content to your page, your following matters even less. Remember that if you create UGC photo or video content for brands, you don’t need to post this content to your page. You’re just creating the content for the brands to post on their pages!

As I continued with content creation over the past seven months, I have grown my following to 5,000 followers. I want to reach 10,000 followers this year since some brands won’t work with content creators unless they have at least that many followers.

How do I find brands to work with as a content creator?

woman opening the storage box
Photo Credit: Tom Zittergruen @nomadxtom and Kaylin Zittergruen @katekeepswild

I have a few different ways of finding brands to work with. Since I follow other content creators within my niche, I take screenshots of the brands I see other content creators work with. I pitch these brands since I know they are already working with creators similar to me.

I also pay attention to which ads I receive on Instagram. For example, if I’m scrolling through stories and receive an advertisement for a brand that fits my niche, I screenshot it to pitch later. Brands intentionally choose the audience for their advertisements. If I see the ad, I fit their target demographic, and they may be interested in working with me.

Finally, I use tools like hashtag research and ChatGPT to find brands to work with. If you are a hiker and want to work with a hiking boot brand, you could search on Instagram for #hikingboots and screenshot ten brands to pitch. Similarly, you could type something into ChatGPT like “10 hiking boot brands that work with content creators” and pitch those brands.

Are there any downsides to content creation?

drying a t-shirt on a sunny day
Photo Credit: Tom Zittergruen @nomadxtom and Kaylin Zittergruen @katekeepswild

Although it’s a dream to get paid to work with brands that I love, there are a few downsides. There’s A LOT of screen time involved in this job. You spend hours on your phone researching and messaging brands.

You also spend time filming, editing, and posting. I probably spend 5-10 hours each week creating content for my personal page and for the brands I work with.

Another downside is that your adventures can feel stressful or less enjoyable if you view everything through a content creation lens. For example, if you agree to take photos of a pair of boots while hiking with a friend, the hike might be less about catching up with your friend and more about getting the perfect images.

For this reason, I recommend separating your content shoots from your time with friends, family, or your significant other. You don’t want your time together to feel like a photo shoot or advertisement.

As a van lifer, content creation can also be tricky when coordinating package delivery. If you’re camping for two weeks in the middle of nowhere, you may need to pack up and drive to a city to pick up a package for a brand.

Or, if the package delivery is late, you may need to stay somewhere longer than you wanted while waiting for it to arrive. You can’t spontaneously change your mind and drive somewhere else if you’re waiting for a brand package in the mail.

A final downside is the stigma associated with being a content creator. Some of your friends, family, and peers may judge or make fun of you for making an effort on social media, posting regularly, and taking it seriously. Although you might be able to dismiss some of this as friendly teasing or jealousy, it can still be hurtful.

Many of my biggest supporters who engage with my content aren’t my real-life friends and family. They’re fellow content creators and travelers I connect with on social media, and we support each other through likes and comments.

What other tips do you have for aspiring content creators?

kaylin standing near the lake
Photo Credit: Tom Zittergruen @nomadxtom and Kaylin Zittergruen @katekeepswild

My biggest tip for content creators is to stay in it for the long haul. Don’t expect overnight success, and try not to stress about your followers, likes, and views. It can take months (and even years) to build a following on your page and make money through brand partnerships.

Brands will tell you “No” more times than you can count. Don’t dwell on it and wonder why the brand didn’t want to work with you. Thank them for their time, and move on to the next! As a beginner content creator, I usually receive one “Yes” for every 10-20 pitches I send to brands. And sometimes I have to send 50 pitches before I get a “Yes.”

When you get the “Yes,” be as professional as possible. Meet content deadlines and create quality content you would be proud to post (even if you’re not posting it yourself). By doing so, you may be able to turn a “Yes” into a long-term partnership.

Sometimes you’ll feel burnt out with social media and want to quit or even delete your account. Instead of doing this, I recommend taking a week off. Breaks are necessary to keep doing this side hustle long-term. I also recommend only posting 3-5 times per week so you have at least a couple of days off your phone each week.

Ready to Become a Social Media Content Creator?

woman driving a campervan with her dog
Photo Credit: Tom Zittergruen @nomadxtom

These are my main tips and tricks for someone starting social media content creation! Although I’m not an expert, I’ve learned much over the past seven months and hope this can save you some time.

If getting paid to do the things you love as a social media content creator sounds interesting to you, I recommend starting today. Don’t let your fear hold you back.

You will make mistakes and have posts that flop, and you will grow from those. It happens to everyone. But if you don’t go for it, you may regret it and wonder what would have happened if you tried.

Please feel free to connect with me on Instagram @katekeepswild and ask me any questions about content creation in the comments below!

More Articles to Read:

Author: Kaylin Zittergruen

Title: Freelance Writer

Expertise: Van Life


Kaylin is a full-time van lifer traveling the US in her 2023 4x4 Mercedes Sprinter with her husband, Tom, and dog, Willow. She has a goal of visiting all of the national parks and enjoys hiking, backpacking, running, reading, writing, and social media content creation. Feel free to follow her travels on Instagram at @katekeepswild.

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