They make every millennial’s dream job look effortless, and that’s part of why they have tens of thousands of social media followers. Anyone with an Instagram account knows the type — the beautiful, worldly couple that travels full time and posts photos of themselves lounging on a beach or hiking a new scenic route every day, the living embodiment of wanderlust.
These nomadic lifestyles are made possible because someone else is paying the bills — and paying these Instagram “influencers’’ to promote clothing, hotels, airlines, or locations. All that’s required for social media work is a Wi-Fi connection and a following, inspiring plenty of people to roam the world and profit off how stylish and cool they look while they’re at it.
Turns out, though, that the life of a travel Instagrammer involves more than just filters and freebies.
Anna Lisa and Porter Grieve, a recently married couple in their early 20s from Manchester-by-the-Sea, have been planning since February to launch their blog and Instagram account, Recess City, into a business and an opportunity for full-time travel. The photos on their 52,200-follower Instagram feed are composed in soft, pale pastels and feature the two modeling minimalistic, ethically-made fashion pieces. After scrolling through the first dozen images, you’re mesmerized.
On Aug. 31, about four weeks after Porter Grieve quit his full-time digital media job and three weeks after the couple’s wedding, the pair flew to Rome to begin three months of traveling around Europe — and getting paid to do it. They will stay in mostly luxury hotels, meals included, in the most popular and photoshoot-friendly cities in Italy, Greece, Spain, Morocco, and more. Anna Lisa Grieve estimated the total value of their hotel stays is somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000, but after working out deals to feature and review the hotels on their blog and hand over a batch of photographs taken at each, they’ll pay nothing.
The young entrepreneurs say they often find themselves having to explain that they’re not just taking an extended honeymoon or living on their parents’ dime.
Their income will come from companies whose brands they feature on their Instagram and blog page. Anna Lisa Grieve, who has worked on Recess City full time for the last year, arranges partnerships with brands the couple likes. In the media kit they e-mail to prospective partnerships, fees vary, but one Instagram post can go for as much as $500.
The key to securing these partnerships — and to turning their savvy social media skills into a career — was creating a niche for Recess City in a sea of fashion accounts, said Anna Lisa Grieve. For them, that’s sustainable fashion and ethically-minded brands.
“Having 50,000 followers is not that large, but because we have a niche, we’re able to be more profitable at a smaller size than if we were at around 100k or 150k and didn’t have a niche,’’ she said. Their audience is mainly women between the ages of 15 and 24, in Europe, Australia, and the United States. And while they don’t tend to get personal on Instagram — both of their faces are usually hidden in photos — they open up a little more in blog posts on their website.
This type of personal online presence is beneficial for influencers, says Barbara Bickart, an associate professor of marketing at Boston University. Although an influencer might be getting paid to post a photo or review, she said, it doesn’t feel like blatant marketing to an Instagram follower who already admires an account’s style and personality.
What’s important, Bickart said, is transparency about which posts are sponsored. “There’s a difference between being actually paid money to post, which would be sponsored, versus just being given free lodging. They can basically say, we were allowed to stay here for free but our opinions are our own.’’
Which is what the Grieves do with Recess City, noting their partnerships with companies in a blog post before their trip: “No gimmicks, no subliminal marketing, these posts are going to be about ethical brands we love, why we love them, and why we think they’re a better option for consumers.’’
The couple sought partnerships with businesses that share their dedication to environmentalism, including the German airline Lufthansa, which uses lightweight containers to save fuel and reduce emissions. Recess City flew Lufthansa on a first-class, overnight flight to Rome, and reviewed the trip upon arrival.
One hotel the couple is staying at in Morocco, the Kasbah Bab Ourika, caught their eye because it is “made almost entirely of packed earth using traditional local methods, generates its own electricity, and recycles all gray water into the garden,’’ Anna Lisa Grieve wrote in an e-mail.
It’s not unheard of for people with large social media followings to get opportunities to travel. Neha Gandhi, a Boston fashion blogger with 128,000 Instagram followers, has reviewed resorts in the Poconos, a castle-turned-hotel in Ireland, and more, and said she treats her blog like a business rather than a hobby. While it’s possible she could try to travel full time using social media, she wrote, as of now, she likes balancing her blog with her corporate career in Boston.
Others who have accounts with large followings use social media to connect with hotels and travel full time, but don’t rely on Instagram or blogs for their income.
Danika and Chris Garlotta have been living a nomadic, social media-documented life abroad for three and a half years. Their 169,000-follower Instagram account and blog, No Destinations, follow their travels to luxury hotels around the world. But both work independently of social media, too.
Chris Garlotta has been working on clients’ websites remotely for nearly 20 years, and Danika is in online marketing. They weren’t dependent on the success of their social media presence when they decided to travel full time, and still aren’t.
“We would be doing this lifestyle whether or not we were working with any hotels or any brands,’’ said Chris, 37, in a Skype interview from Amsterdam. “If our Instagram account turned off today and no one ever heard of No Destinations again, we would still keep doing what we’re doing. But the fact that people have noticed what we’re doing and brands do want to work with us, it enables us to do things above and beyond what we would ever consider doing on our own.’’
They travel for about nine to 10 months at a time, staying mostly at hotels they partner with, and then take a month or two off to stay in one city, catch up on work, and plan the next trip, they said.
The Garlottas say they get a lot of questions from people hoping to travel full time and make a living through social media, to which they have mixed responses:
“Don’t,’’ Chris said, laughing. Danika, 33, added that it’s important to have a steady income from another source. “My advice is . . . to try to have a skill set to kind of fall back on.’’
About a week into their trip, the Recess City couple reported via e-mail that they’re doing great. They are aware of the risk they’re taking, launching a social media venture instead of pursuing traditional, steady jobs, but they agree that now is the best time to take the plunge, as young professionals who can still get back into the corporate world if full-time blogging and Instagramming doesn’t prove to be as sustainable as their clothing.
“You just say your prayers and you take the risk,’’ Anna Lisa said. “Because better to take the risk than to sit at a desk and wish that you had.’’