Lets Talk About Money
Let’s talk about money. How influencers afford to travel — and how I afford to travel all the time is the most common question I receive from people. It’s a difficult question to answer, for a number of reasons, but primarily because it’s based on a false premise. The question assumes that I actually travel all the time. I don’t.
A photograph may be worth a thousand words. But those words don’t tell a complete story.
My Instagram account is a carefully curated collection of photographs from my outdoor adventures. It does not represent my life – just some of the more picturesque moments. During those brief moments, I take lots of photographs, and then I post them over time. This creates the illusion that I am always jet setting off to some new exotic location. But I’m not. Few are. You’re just seeing my highlight reel. Social media is fun, and can be very inspirational, but it doesn’t provide a complete picture of anyone’s life – only the part they want you to see. So don’t fall into the trap of comparing your actual day to day life, to the curated life someone creates on social media. It won’t end well. Trust me, I know.
Once upon a time – my story.
Social media is a relatively new frontier – people are still exploring ways to use (and abuse) it. It’s the wild west of marketing, and theoretically it can open doors to your wildest dreams. There are a million reasons you might want to grow your audience. Maybe you want exposure for your art, maybe you’re trying to monetize your passion, you’re an aspiring model, or you have a message to share with the world. And those all seem like perfectly legitimate goals to me. But that’s not my story. My story is more accident than ambition. More clumsy than calculated.
I grew up with a pretty clear idea of what life should look like. That “should” dictated every decision I made – whether I realized it or not. Then one day, all of the building blocks I had carefully balanced to create a life in line with what others expected of me started to topple over. And I just kind of let them – because I wasn’t happy.
I was laid off at my law firm. The logical thing to do was find another job as a lawyer. But I didn’t. Confused and lost, I fell back on hiking and camping – interests that had been an important part of my childhood, but that I had long abandoned. I was happy when I was outside — always found enough space there to think. I realized that as a lawyer I would probably never find the type of balance that I wanted in my life. So I reevaluated my priorities and made a change. I got my real estate license and became a weekend warrior.
I’m not suggesting that everyone can or should make a big career change. I may be privileged, but I’m not that dense. I know that everyone can’t make their own schedule, travel all the time, or work remotely. When I started down this path I had a unique set of circumstances. There’s no denying that. But I do think that most of us have room in our lives to make more time for the things we truly want. And while money will come and go, time only passes.
But how do you travel all the time?
I continued to post photos from my weekend trips onto Instagram. And to my great surprise, people—complete strangers—liked the photos. My following slowly started to grow. It was addicting. Here I was doing something I genuinely enjoyed, something that had always brought me happiness, and I was getting positive feedback for it.
Not only that, but it turned out there was a whole little world of people out there with similar interests as me. People who loved the outdoors, hiking, camping, and documenting their adventures through photography. Along the way, I crossed paths with others doing this – people who helped me better understand the art, the techniques, the equipment, and the business of it all. Yes, we inevitably compete at times, but far more often I feel it as a family of support, and I know I would not have made it to this point without their help.
And while all of these people have played a role in my personal and professional growth over the last couple years, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a special thank you to Quin Schrock (@everchanginghorizon) at this point. I have little doubt that without Quin’s constant support and creative inspiration I would not have many of the opportunities I enjoy today.
Eventually companies started to reach out. This was another surprise. Of course I knew social media marketing existed. But I had no idea how it worked.
As my following continued to grow, brands and tourism boards offered to pay in exchange for exposure on my feed. For brands, this generally means a post of me using their product. For tourism boards, the idea is the same, but the product is a destination. These trips are either sponsored (expenses paid for), or I’m paid a contracted amount, or both. The idea is that you travel to the sponsored location, take photos of your experience, and post them to your feed. In return, the destination gets exposure to an audience of people that is already interested in travel. It’s a win win situation. The size of your following, combined with engagement, generally dictates the rates you are paid for these promotional posts.
Never Stop Learning
To this day, the vast majority of my trips are self-funded. But I’m able to fund them in part with savings from these opportunities. I’ve always tried not to do too many sponsored posts. Not because I think there is anything inherently wrong with them. But because it has always been very important to me to only work with brands and destinations that I feel are in line with my values and interests – not always as obvious as it might seem. Like all of this, it’s a constant evolution.
More importantly—and this took me a lot of trial and error for me to figure out—but I won’t work with a company that wants to dictate the creative direction of my photographs.
There are a lot of different approaches to sponsored posts. Some are more subtle than others. And I’ve always believed that the most important part of having a successful social media business is continuing to value quality over quantity. I need to be excited about the work that I put out into the world, and I find comfort knowing that my sponsored posts are all photos that I would be proud to post regardless of whether I was getting paid or not.
Every post you make represents your brand. So while it can be tempting to compromise on your vision in the short term to make money, it’s generally not worth it. If you build a quality brand, brands and tourism boards will take note, and you will be able to negotiate more for your work in the long run.
As I continued to get offers, I found myself struggling to find a healthy balance between real estate and travel blogging. Real Estate gave me more control over my schedule than I had practicing law, and I enjoyed it, but availability is key in real estate and conflicts were becoming more frequent. I knew I had to make yet another change. At the beginning of the year I decided to take a leap of faith and see if I could make a living doing photography and travel blogging full time. I don’t know if it will work out. In many ways I have no idea what I’m doing. And maybe I never will. Maybe no-one ever really does. But I do know that I would always regret it if I was handed this opportunity and didn’t at least try.
You start at the beginning
There is no right way to start making big changes in your life. It’s cliche, but I think the best advice I could give is to just START – even if you don’t know exactly what it is that you’re starting! Now is as good a time as any to start living the life you want, because it’s the only time we have any control over.
Don’t wait for the right time. Because it will never come. When I started I was working a full time job. I was hiking, camping, and backpacking – not inherently expensive activities. I rarely traveled more than a few hours from home and had only been using a camera with one lens. And I had no idea what I was doing. Point is, you don’t have to start by jumping into the deep end. But you do have to get wet.
Pursuing happiness is difficult. It requires sacrifice, hard work, and risk. Under these circumstances, it’s easy to fall into the trap of measuring ourselves against other people’s successes. But comparing ourselves to others is a slippery slope that generally only goes one way – down to the rocks below. I like to think that happiness, on the other hand, is found in understanding what you want, pursuing it with all you’ve got, and then taking it from the only person that can give it to you – YOU.
Photos in collaboration with Quin Schrock.
Thank you so much for Your Support!
forever grateful, jess