She may have always been a shutterbug, and even started her career shooting portraits and wedding photography, but it wasn’t until age 28 that Kirsten Alana finally had the courage to chase the dream she’d always been “a little scared to commit to”.
“It was less inspiration and more a forced change,” says the travel blogger with 130,000 followers now watching her every move. “After my divorce, I had nowhere to really go, no support system and no desire to do wedding photography anymore as a divorcee.”
The Wedding Singer flashbacks, anyone?
“In that vacuum, it made it a lot easier to take the risk… because I had a lot less to lose than I ever had before,” she says.
So she took to the road with less than no savings (“I was in debt and still have college loan debts and other financial problems to solve, even now”), funding a new way of life by making it her job.
“Instead of seeking to backpack around the world, I travelled where photography, blogging and social media work could take me,” she says simply. And she spent four years on the road as a result.
Finally, Kirsten has found a more permanent home – New York City – although she’s still very much in the game, calling the Big Apple “the best option” for someone in the travel biz, from the “three international airports within reach of public transportation” to the fact that “almost all international tourist boards have head offices in NYC [and] travel events happen every week in the city.”
So, how do you begin your own adventure?
Start with you
Start your own blog and begin writing about the life you have now. What are your favourite places to eat where you live? Tell people about the history of your hometown. Just start. You can’t expect to become a travel blogger by someone asking you to be one. You have to be one first, and then work will come once you’ve established yourself.
Once you’ve started your blog, join groups like Travel Blog Success so you can have the support of other professionals who are blogging as a job and who take it seriously.
Get your kit sorted
You can’t really make a living while travelling without a laptop. (Or, if you can, I want to meet you!) Once you learn the basics of photography, you should have a camera you can use to shoot manually that [has] a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection, which will allow you to share the photos you take immediately on social media. A smartphone that’s unlocked for international/local/SIM card use will get you a long way. It’s incredible the uses for it, you won’t even realise until you’re travelling. A good international converter for your electronics and a power strip that includes USB and outlet connectivity is very helpful. Beyond that, it’s up to the individual, of course. So much can be bought on location these days. You don’t need to carry everything with you.
Put yourself out there
In terms of getting on the radar of PR and travel companies, I’ve found the best ways to do this are to be really active on social media and to attend lots of networking events in person. Travel Massive is a really great way to meet people and they have chapters all over the world.
Be more than a blogger
There are about as many ways to fund a life of travel blogging as there are travel bloggers. Or at least, that’s the way it seems. I do a lot of client photography to help fund my travel. For instance, my latest job as photographer for Four Seasons, where we went ‘Around the World’ on the [private] jet, was just that. I wasn’t on the #FSJet as a blogger or because it was a press trip. I was there to do photography for them. It was a common misconception during my journey that I was just there because I was a blogger but in actuality, that’s probably the last thing they considered in terms of my qualifications. Have a skill beyond blogging and market that.
Think outside your blog
Instagram has been a great source of income lately, whether because clients want me to do a takeover of their account or because they want to pay me to post to my account about their brand or destination. You have to have the follower and engagement numbers though in order for that to be possible.
Be real and relatable
The very best content is personal. People connect with bloggers because they’re telling the stories of their travels. Top 10 lists and advice may get you more SEO-based traffic in the [short] run because the Internet is gullible, but when you’re beginning, that kind of content won’t help you build and develop a loyal following (which is most important in the long run). Seek to be human and relatable. It seems obvious to me now, but it’s surprising how many new bloggers don’t seem to get that. I didn’t myself, when I first started. Don’t be fake, don’t copy others, try to be real. Even if that includes making mistakes.
Don’t look for the perfect picture
There’s no such thing. The enjoyment of photography is so subjective that one person’s definition of perfect may be the very opposite to the person standing next to them. But sunsets, sunrises and cute kittens always seem to break the Internet and do well on Buzzfeed, so there’s that.
Plan how often you will post
On Instagram my rule is not more than twice a day. My average is once per day. I think it’s like dating. You should leave them wanting more. Post too much and people will want to break up with you.
Don’t cry when there’s no Wi-Fi
What to do when there’s no Wi-Fi? Die inside a little! I’m kidding. I used to. Now, I’ve learned to embrace that time and use it to focus deeper on the place I find myself in. I look at it as a chance to experience a place without the distraction of technology and connectivity.
Be kind along the way
I think the Internet and social media (like our world as a whole) operates best when we all observe the simplest of rules: treat others how you want to be treated.