Mention the term ‘travel influencer’ to a group of wanderlusters or seasoned explorers and you may conjure mixed reactions.
For some, the title is synonymous with long-limbed beauties lying on yachts and picture-perfect couples posing in iconic locations (mostly at sunset).
But the reality behind the travel influencer profession is one of long hours, a lot of dedication and extremely hard work.
Whether it’s because of their aesthetically curated Instagram feeds, spine-tingling tales of adventure or creative knack for combining the two, travel bloggers, Instagrammers and photographers are among the most influential and knowledgable people in the travel industry.
Subsequently, they’re also among the most sought-after. But in an incredibly saturated and ever-evolving industry, how do you cut through the competition and succeed?
Enter: Liz Carlson, owner of the world’s leading solo female travel blog Young Adventuress. Liz is one of three professionals behind The Travel Bootcamp, an initiative supported by Intrepid that coaches aspiring bloggers and photographers how to successfully (and lucratively) make a career out of travelling.
We sat down with Liz to pick her brains on all things ‘travel influencer’, and her tips for #makingit.
How do you define the term ‘travel influencer’? Do you think the nature of the role has changed in recent years?
“For me a digital influencer is someone online who has created a brand or profile around a specific set of values that has a core audience that shares those values. It’s an audience that is big and participatory enough that they are actively following what the influencer shares.
Put simply: an influencer is someone who has enough influence online to sway people into making decisions; buy that dress, book that trip, go to that destination. And, importantly, they can prove it with examples and case studies.
I’ve been working as a travel blogger for the past seven years and on Instagram for five years, so I’ve watched the industry shape and change for a long time now. Five years ago no one used Instagram. Ten years ago blogging barely existed. A few years ago people would watch five minute videos, now you’re lucky if they last a minute.
We are absolutely inundated with media these days. You have seconds to grab someone’s attention, so you’ve got to make it count!
If you could give 5 tips for success, what would they be?
1. Work harder than you’ve ever have before.
2. Don’t give up when things don’t go your way.
3. Be patient, it takes a long time to break and find success, often years.
4. Don’t be afraid to take risks and be creative.
5. Be a good human. It’s a small community.
In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes made by social influencers?
I think one of the biggest mistakes influencers make is approaching the industry with a ‘gimme gimme gimme’ attitude. Nothing frustrates clients and brands more than this and it’s exhausting to watch.
I approach everything as a collaboration. I build relationships with people, often years before I ever pitch anything, and I listen. I think not listening is the biggest mistake. I ask what people are working on and see how I can help, I use positive language and talk about partnerships instead of give me this trip or I’m entitled to that. I think that attitude is very detrimental.
What are the top 3 things social influencers should be aware of when looking to work with brands?
I think the biggest thing is influencers should try not to get too caught up in the glitz and glamor of free trips or cool merchandise because it’s not actually free. Everything comes with a price. You are working for whatever you are doing with brands, and should approach all partnerships that way.
People will always try to get the most out of you so really know the ins and outs of your values and do not work or provide content for free or less value than what it’s worth because it damages the industry. If you don’t know your values and what each piece of exposure or content you’re sharing is worth, than you shouldn’t be working as an influencer.
What are your favourite and least favourite things about being a social influencer?
My favorite thing is that I am following my dreams and I’ve managed to build a life and lifestyle around what I want to be doing – being able to travel and see the world and having work that is location independent. The hardest thing is probably the uncertainty; you have no idea where you’ll be or what the industry will be like in a few years so you have to be able to grow and evolve with it. It’s a lot of pressure and you have to be able to cope with it.
What advice do you have for people looking to break into the industry?
My biggest piece of advice is not to monetise before you’re ready. Often you’ll get people wanting to gift you things or offer you things early on, but if you don’t have any real influence yet then you’re wasting everyone’s time.
It is much better to wait and grow your brand and business naturally and organically, put your emphasis on building a loyal community of followers who love and trust you, and then align yourself with a few key brands that match you later on when you can show your influence.
Be as creative as possible with what you’re sharing. Look for what people are looking for and what other influencers aren’t doing and then fill that space. You’ll never get anywhere if you just copy what other people are doing and you’ll never break into an industry with millions of people already without being original.
Ask yourself: How can you share a story around travel in a new and innovative way? I would also add to not get into it wanting to be rich. Be passionate about what you share. It’s very obvious if there is no passion behind it.