If you travel a lot, consider turning your empty luggage space into profit through crowdsourced delivery. Also known as social shipping, peer-to-peer delivery services take advantage of existing travel plans to deliver stuff around the world, across the country, or even just a short distance away. Essentially you carry stuff for other people in your luggage and make a little money. This is also possible for road trips, carrying stuff in your trunk.
There are two problems that currently make this a less than ideal money-making opportunity:
- Not enough people know about it. There aren’t that many users so unless you are flying one of the routes that a company has really nailed down, it’s not that likely you’ll find a match for your trip.
- The legal requirements for importing items to another country are different for every country. You should either make sure the delivery service you are using has thoroughly investigated this, or do the research yourself.
What is Crowdsourced Delivery?
Think of carpooling, but for delivery of things instead of people. A number of companies are connecting travelers with folks who want to buy stuff from other places. You’re going to Argentina from New York City? Maybe you can deliver someone that iPhone they really want to buy. It’s much cheaper for them to buy it in the U.S., even if they pay a delivery fee. Flying to Paris from London? Someone really misses those cookies you can only buy in England.
There are two types of peer-to-peer delivery services: overland and by air.
The overland croudsourced delivery focuses on people with space in their cars. There are a lot of these in the United States. Roadie, launched in 2015, and has built a solid business delivering stuff across the country. I don’t do much driving so I don’t have any experience with these companies. If you take regular road trips, consider signing up and using your trunk to make some cash. There are no import-related legal concerns for within-country deliveries. (To see all the options, in my spreadsheet select the “Transportation” category and the “Delivery” sub-category.)
The longer distance delivery services are taking advantage of trips people are taking by airplane. Often people pack for a trip in smaller luggage than the airline allows. This empty space can be turned into profit for travelers. Some air-based delivery services focus on a specific route or country. But most are are generalists, facilitating deliveries anywhere in the world.
How do you get started?
First, book your travel. Once you have that arranged you’re ready to search for delivery opportunities.
Unfortunately there aren’t any big companies with tons of people looking for deliveries. Instead the market is filled with lots of tiny crowdsourced delivery businesses. This means you probably should sign up for accounts with any that have requests either from the place you are originating or to the place you’re traveling. Use my list of all peer-to-peer delivery companies to find the ones relevant to your trip (in my spreadsheet select the “Transportation” category and the “Delivery” sub-category).
Once you have an account with a relevant network, you should list your trip. I recommend listing your trips on as many networks as possible, and doing this as far in advance as you can. This will maximize the chances that someone will notice your trip fits with something they want. Don’t forget to list your return trip if you’re willing to carry stuff back home as well. You should also browse through the listings requesting deliveries to see if anything matches your trip and contact those that you can fulfill in case they aren’t paying attention to notifications from the site.
Keep in mind that if you can get something to the country of interest, it’s generally very cheap to mail domestically. So if you’re going to Spain you don’t need to be visiting Madrid to deliver something there, you can always mail it from Barcelona. But if you are planning to visit multiple cities always list them all as destinations, to ensure people know about all the options you are offering.
Is it risky?
There are a few areas of risk.
You pay for the item and never get reimbursed
Many social shipping networks now offer insurance or a third party hold on the money, pretty much eliminating this risk. For instance, the buyer can pay the website, then you buy the item required with your own money. Once you deliver the item the buyer’s money is released to you to reimburse the cost and pay for the delivery. There are some variations on this theme but where available I think they mostly remove concern about this risk (assuming you trust the website). Before you accept a delivery request make sure you understand the payment system.
If you show up with a suitcase full of new iPads, it’s possible the authorities in your destination country are going to be a bit suspicious. They also might require you to pay import taxes. Suspicion is not a problem if you carry the receipt for purchase and have a plan for these computers that is legal. But you should always research the laws to make sure you know what is and is not allowed. If the country you are visiting charges import taxes, just make sure these costs are passed on to your buyer, then you can declare the items and pay the tax without any concerns.
If you’re lucky, the network you are using already did the legal research. But I’ve only seen this level of research from those that focus on one or two countries. And even those require some scrutiny before you commit. Airmule pays a lot of money for people to carry pre-packed suitcases to China, but I have some concerns about their compliance with Chinese customs laws.
Obviously importing one iPhone or one pair of new shoes is unlikely to raise questions. And in general these crowdsourced delivery networks won’t net you more than one request per trip. But if peer-to-peer delivery grows and you aspire to actually make significant money on these deliveries, my warning about legal regulations will become important.
Will you find a delivery for your trip?
I found one for my trip to Spain and my trip to Colombia, but nothing for my trips to Iceland or Malaysia. And I didn’t write about it but I also failed to find a delivery for trips to Sweden, Denmark and Ireland in spite of multiple listings in various social shipping networks.
Odds aren’t great for any one trip, but by participating you’re helping peer-to-peer delivery to grow. And it doesn’t take much time to make the listings.
How much can you make?
Realistically, right now you’re not going to make a ton of money traveling to most places. In the past, destination specific offers, like U.S. to Argentina using Entrusters could net you some significant cash by filling up your suitcase with high priced items. But these networks didn’t survive the pandemic.
Some networks like Piggybee allow people to offer non-monetary rewards like transportation, a meal, or help planning your trip. To me, a ride from the airport could be worth the trouble of carrying something in my suitcase. That’s saving me money and hassle. Plus I get to meet a local who might give me some fun tips for my trip.
PiggyBee offers pricing based on size of the item being transported. In general I have found that the monetary compensation for transporting small things is not significant. But if you’re bringing electronics or other high cost items you can expect significantly more compensation. I’m being vague here because each network is different. You’ll need to a look at what is offered for the deliveries you can make and decide for yourself if it’s worth the hassle of purchasing and delivering the items.