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Behind the #travelhacks and aesthetic photos, you’ll often find a travel content creator who spends their 9-5 documenting exclusive travel experiences to help other travelers determine how and where to spend precious time off. These creators have figured out how to get paid to travel without having to spend a second of their trip sitting in boardrooms and meetings.
How did you discover your last adventure? Maybe you read an article in a travel publication that inspired a cozy weekend upstate or perhaps you were scrolling on TikTok and came across a 10-second clip of the Swiss Alps that convinced you to book a 10-day trip. Whether your travels have been fueled by begrudgingly liking your friend’s Instagram posts who always seem to be in Europe or an insatiable desire to eat sushi in Japan, something or more likely someone influenced your itinerary.
For most people, traveling at a discounted rate is ideal, traveling for free is miraculous and getting paid to travel is near impossible—but a select group of travel influencers have cracked the code to make the impossible a reality. J.Q. Louise, a Boston-based travel blogger and editor is one of them. As someone who makes a living by documenting her travels, Louise could write a guidebook on how to build a career traveling often, traveling well and documenting every spectacular moment—tips anyone could use, influencer or not. Louise started documenting her travels long before it became her full-time job.
“I love doing the research. I’ve always been the person that everyone asks for tips and recommendations on where to go because they know that I’ve really looked into every single place you should go in whatever city you’re visiting.” Louise says.
After writing recs for friends a few too many times, Louise realized she could build tips and itineraries out on a larger platform and launched her travel blog as a passion project—over the last seven years, she’s been able to grow it into a full-time business.
If a scroll through J.Q. Louise’s Instagram feed fuels your fire for a career change (or just a much-needed vacation), it’s not too late to start trying to build your own presence as a social media creator. With platforms like YouTube Shorts and Instagram reels chasing the success of short-form video content on TikTok, there’s plenty of opportunity to play into the algorithm and reach virality on these platforms. You can follow the route Louise chose and start with written guides in a blog format or dive right into video content. Think about how you like to get inspired and receive information and chances are, that’s the format of content you’ll enjoy creating too.
But first, the entry-level requirements for a travel creator follow the same basic parameters of any job. You’ll need personal applicable experience, a willingness to learn, an ability to read analytics, some budgeting skills in Excel and above all, excellent time management. It’s unrealistic and costly to build a social platform solely based on luxury international experiences—according to Louise, the key to getting started is to start locally.
“It’s an easier way to figure out what you like. Do you like boutique hotels? Big brands? AirBnBs? The practice of traveling is so important to determine how to balance it with your work and your normal daily life.”
Once you’ve determined your preferences on a local level, you can scale your adventures up strategically. While it may be tempting to hit hot spots when everyone and their mother are visiting and posting about it, you may actually be able to have a lower-cost, higher-value experience if you visit during what Louise refers to as a “shoulder season”.
“When it comes to international travel, the trick is finding the optimal time to go to these destinations. We can’t all go to the Amalfi Coast in July—and you wouldn’t want to. You overpay for flights and hotels are triple what they would be any other time of the year. I think it really comes down to research and figuring out what is a good balance to go somewhere,” Louise says.
Getting there is just half the trick, the real travel maximization comes from strategically optimizing the hours you have available. Schedule your time off so that it bookends national holidays—turning a three-day weekend into a four or five-day trip will help you increase the frequency of potential getaways without chewing up all of your vacation days. Plus, a peak holiday weekend within the United States is often a slower time internationally.
From the creator side, visiting destinations during an off-peak season could also help secure a brand partnership, especially if you’re just starting out.
“Often a hotel won’t be able to host a creator during peak season because they’ll be booked up. Even if they want to, they just physically can’t,” Louise says.
Hotels, airlines, and restaurants will often comp experiences (or pay if you’re lucky!) in exchange for content. These companies get plenty of organic content when it’s tourist season but they need still need to maintain a strong social presence during the rest of the year. You may be able to secure a brand partnership by sharing a portfolio of your previous non-sponsored travel content.
Exploring the world for work sounds like a dream job—and though it can be easy to forget, there’s a heavy emphasis on the “job” part of the dream. Among crowded tourist destinations, delayed flights, temperamental weather, and bad lighting capturing content that is authentic to an experience while still being beautifully curated is no easy feat. I mean, think of how difficult it is to get a good Instagram photo when your non-photographer friend or significant other is behind the camera. Needless to say, travel influencers like J.Q. Louise are pros at documenting their adventures. The best creators know how to capture their travels so that it is the absolute best, most beautiful depiction of a realistic experience—if the content is too glamorized or staged, it becomes misleading and will eventually lead to disappointment for other travelers that attempt to recreate it.
“I do genuinely like to capture the moment in photos and in videos because I actually love looking back on it. That’s one of the main reasons we all love social media is because we genuinely want to look back on all the fun things that we did,” Louise explains.
If you’re particularly interested in capturing photo or video content, traveling in the off-season will also benefit your final shot—especially if your paycheck depends on it. Louise’s tips for getting the perfect shot, align with the concept of traveling during the off-season. Simply put, be in the place everyone wants to be, when nobody is there.
J.Q. Louise put her content creation methods to the test on a recent trip to Santorini where the blue and white buildings star as one of the world’s most popular photo backdrops. Of course, Louise got the shot and if you follow these steps, you will too.
Make a list of your top 10 places you want to definitely get content whether that’s for an Instagram post, TikTok video or just for the memories.
Build your top photo locations into your itinerary. Chances are that the locations overlap anyway with the sites you want to see.
Do a little research on the hours of each location and plan to visit when it will be the least crowded. Usually, the earlier you get to the attraction, the better.
Strategize your itinerary around neighborhoods so you’re not running from one end of town to the other all day. You’ll end up seeing more if you localize your agenda.
“It sounds tedious to some people but if you do this a few days of your trip it’s actually fun because you’re up early and get to experience a popular place without anyone else bothering you,” Louise insists.
Plus, the lighting will be better early in the morning. For creators like Louise, getting the money shot earlier in the morning also helps create the balance of living in the moment for the rest of the day.
Louise says, “For me, this is my job. I need to get my content. I’m usually shooting sponsored posts and that type of thing on these trips as well so if I can get it out of the way either first thing in the day or at the beginning of the trip then I can relax more of the trip anyway.”
Like any job, you should be prepared to work some overtime. After you’ve explored a new city, mingled with the locals, and had as many regional dishes as possible, you can expect to spend hours editing and publishing content back at the hotel or when you get home. By the time you’ve finished posting all of your photos, you’ll have inspired yourself to book another trip.