Despite what influencers might claim, becoming a travel influencer has never been easy. In reality, it takes a lot of hustle to become a travel influencer on Instagram, TikTok, or other social platforms, especially in 2023.
In recent years, the travel blogger niche has been saturated with new creators and travelers- a number that paradoxically spiked during the shutdowns of 2020.
In this article, I’m combining my expertise from working on Instagram influencer accounts in both the travel and creative niches. With 140,000 followers on one account and a modest 16k followers on WanderBig’s Instagram, here’s what I’ve learned through experience as a travel influencer on Instagram that you can apply to grow your own social media accounts:
1. Don’t Wait to Start
Becoming a travel influencer on Instagram isn’t getting any easier. Some people see that hurdle and give up before they ever start – but here’s the thing, if you don’t start, you’ll never reach your goal of 1000, 10,000, or even 100,000 followers.
Don’t Replicate, Create.
Avoid the temptation to do what everyone else is doing. Try to ignore the crowd and find your own thing. Explore your style. Experiment with what creates excitement for your followers.
Keep posting even when it’s slow, and keep trudging ahead. If you change course later, you can always archive posts – but those early posts are essential to getting the ball rolling on growing your travel Instagram.
2. Find a Niche (a.k.a. what makes you and your travel different)
I have noticed that the best travel influencers – the ones that people follow and actually engage with – are people who have a unique take on travel. Some successful niches I’ve found in my research include:
- exploring the United States via road trips in a van,
- budget travel as an early-career digital nomad,
- or a sharing insight into the life of a family with small children traveling through Europe
Finding that certain unique thing that makes your travel different from most other people’s travel is a powerful way to connect with viewers.
It’s hard for followers to feel connected to travel influencers who post generic travel photos. Travelers who post relatable or reasonably-aspirational content on social media may find it easier to grow a following than influencers who project an unattainable look or lifestyle.
Often an ordinary, adorable, or interesting photo from a destination can get many times more engagement than a tired pose in front of an overused backdrop.
3. Post, Archive, Repeat
Consistency and post volume matter – especially in the early phases of growing a travel account on Instagram or tiktok.
For the first few months, post a minimum of two times a day. I’ve had good luck using a scheduling service like Later.com to schedule these frequent Instagram posts in advance. New on the stage in 2023, Meta now has a built in scheduler that’s free to use and fully automates Instagram posting.
💡 Expert Tip: Posting often will get more exposure. Although you may run out of content, there’s a solution: As your Instagram follower count grows, archive old posts and repost the content as new. After all, it will be new to all of the new followers you’ve gained since the last time you posted it!
4. Identify a mission
Although it is similar to finding a niche, identifying a mission is an important step. Ask yourself, “what am I for?”
Knowing why you do what you do can help you work more effectively, gain followers faster, and attract the attention of brand sponsors.
If your mission is something that others can connect with, it can help you turn casual followers into real supporters.
Do you travel because you think it’s important for personal development? Do you travel with a carbon neutral aim? Do you travel to draw attention to an issue? Centering these things in some or all of your TikTok, Meta, Facebook, and Instagram posts can help elevate your travel influencer account out of the crowd. A mission can set you apart as a travel account that is really worth following.
✍🏽 How to write a mission statement: If you don’t know where to start, the University of Minnesota has a guide to writing a personal mission statement that can easily be adapted for creating a mission for your travel influencer journey.
5. Make 20% of Your Posts Share-Focused
When I was starting out and learning to be a travel influencer, I wanted to believe that my photos were special enough to make people want to share. I dreamed that the specialness of my trip would, itself, be “inspo.” (Spoiler: it was not.)
To make it into the realm of successful travel influencers, we have to make our content about our audience, not about ourselves.
In reality, many of our travel photographs look the same as thousands of other travelers who stood in the same places and took the same photograph. So how do we get shares? By standing out and appealing to our audience.
Generally, the posts that get re-shared most often are posts that make people feel an emotion (good or bad) or make people feel that, through reposting, their followers might see or understand something important about them. 1 Feelings motivate sharing, so pause and reflect on how to create more evocative imagery and captions.
6. Connect with Other Travel Influencers
This isn’t just about community-building (although that can go a long way toward fighting creative burnout) it’s strategy. Here’s how it works:
Pick 3 to 6 travel-focused Instagram accounts that are 20 to 40% larger than your own and very active on the platform and begin intentionally engaging with their content regularly.
Leave meaningful comments, share their posts to your stories, and engage with their accounts. This fosters organic human-to-human relationships with those influencers- and it also links your account to these larger accounts in the algorithm.
With your accounts even loosely affiliated, people who follow them might get suggestions in the app to follow you. Additionally, as the human-to-human relationships grow, you might get shoutouts or collaboration opportunities with these larger travel influencer accounts.
7. Unfollow Major Influencers & Celebrities
It’s unclear whether this practice actually helps boost an account in the Instagram algorithm, but it will help your account. When you unfollow very large, popular accounts, it will dramatically reduce the number of spam messages, comments, and fake engagement on your own content.
This kind of fake engagement isn’t created by humans. Instead, it is generated by bots that choose a celebrity with a million followers and harvest that account’s list of followers.
Be real, authentic, and playful. Followers engage when you are engaging.
8. Always use Filters on your Travel Instagram Posts
A year or two ago, the Instagram artist community discovered that when an Instagram filter is used on a photo at 23%+ strength, the post gets more views. No one seems quite able to explain why posts with Instagram filters get a boost in the algorithm and are more likely to be shared on explore, but it’s true!
📅 2023 Update: I recently tested this theory again in 2023, through post 6 filtered and 6 unfiltered photos on my travel influencer Instagram account in January 2023. The result? Generally, posts with filters tended to have a better reach and higher engagement than images edited outside of Instagram.
If you’re picky about the filters you use on your photographs, you may wish to pre-adjust your colors before uploading. Then, when you apply a filter, you can correct the photo to its original look.
9. Pick a Great Username and Register the Domain Name
Good usernames are hard to find! The nice thing about starting as a travel influencer on Instagram instead of starting on your own domain name is that you can switch your username until one sticks.
Before committing to a username, I verify that the domain name is available and purchase it. The endgame for any new travel influencer starting on Instagram should always be to develop a brand that goes far beyond Instagram. Essential to this is a domain name that matches your brand or even starting a travel blog.
My rules for a good username and domain name:
- It is easy to remember,
- It is hard to misspell,
- When people hear it, they’ll be able to spell it without needing special instructions.
- Avoid dashes, dots, and unusual spelling.
IMPORTANT: Once you choose a username, register it on all the major social media platforms immediately. Your username across platforms should match. Don’t delay registering these important placeholders, even if you don’t plan to use them.
10. Use Hashtags Carefully
Many travel influencers who are just starting out will stuff captions with hashtags. I’ve got a better technique:
The Instagram platform allows up to 30 hashtags per post, but according to Instagrams own disclosures, using more than 10 hashtags dows not increase visibility.
Posts with a lower number of hashtags (between 5 and 7) actually tend to have a greater reach than posts that are packed with hashtags. Pick a few good travel-related hashtags, save them to a note or spreadsheet, and rotate them.
Specializing in a niche can help you grow faster than being just another travel influencer. Experiment with focusing on niches – like packing tips, travel beauty, or remote work – as you begin. You can always broaden your niche later.
11. Find and Use Niche Travel Hashtags
We’d all love to be featured on the “popular” tab for #travelinfluencer or #solotravel but unless you’ve got 300k followers to boost you to that spot, using a popular hashtag is a wasted hashtag.
Instead, find smaller, niche hashtags that really work for your content, Like #onebagtravel #plussizetravel or #slowfamilytravel.
These specialized hashtags are easier to rank for. The people searching these hashtags (if you are choosing hashtags appropriate to your content) are the ones who are looking for your content. They are more likely to become followers, fans, and supporters.
Dialing down to a small audience and making content for that niche is a more successful model for starting out as a travel influencer. It works better than trying to appeal to every single person who aspires to travel. Remember, you can always shift focus and broaden travel niches down the road.
Hashtags for Travel Micro-Influencers:
12. Make your followers feel like they matter
Mega superstar travel influencers create their profit through idolization. For the other 99.9999% of us in the travel influencer space, our journey will look different. For small creators to make it to a critical mass number of followers, we have to be approachable, engaging, and communicative.
- Make your followers feel like they matter to you.
- Communicate that you appreciate them.
- Encourage them to reach their own travel goals.
You’re more likely to have followers who follow long-term, share your content, and become paying customers through genuine engagement.
Spend 5 to 10 minutes, 1 to 2 times a day, commenting, messaging, and engaging with the content posted by your followers.
Intimate perspectives on over-photographed destinations- like this shot from a tent in the Atacama Desert- can help followers feel like insiders.
13. Identify a Monetization Model & Goals Immediately
Wanting to “be an influencer” is a fine goal, but what will you do with your platform when you get it? Plenty of people have wasted their 15 minutes of fame because their goals didn’t extend beyond fame for fame’s sake.
Choosing a monetization model early and orienting towards that goal is important. It will help ensure that you can hit micro-goals on the way toward making a full-time income as a travel influencer.
How to Monetize as a Travel Influencer
FREE RESOURCE: This section ended up with so many money-making tips that I split it off into a separate resource called: 7 Ways to Make Money as a Travel Influencer.
Whatever monetization model you choose, I recommend that creators start a Patreon immediately and cross-post content. Why? Patreon compliments other monetization models while working more effectively to help you sell you.
Patreon is where you convert followers to fans, build community, and grow a steady monthly income that isn’t dependent on new content, schlepping products, or staying on the road constantly. (Hint: Patreons seem to grow faster when you align with a mission others identify with)
14. Get the Word Out
It may take several months or even a year, but once you reach around 5,000 followers you’ll qualify as a micro-influencer. Travel micro-influencers, though still too small for major influencer marketing, can begin reaching out via public relations channels.
Through directories like HARO, you can get yourself listed as a source for journalists and reporters writing about travel, travel influencers, or travel as it relates to your niche.
Getting interviewed or quoted in even one major publication can result in thousands of new followers overnight.
15. Keep Your Day Job (or Find a Flexible One!)
Finding your audience and turning them into followers takes time. It also requires a capacity to stick-to-it even when the rewards aren’t immediate.
For those of us traveling on a budget, figuring out how to travel and create content while earning an income can be tough. It’s even harder in the early days before our content is earning a profit.
Because this is a sticky point for most new influencers, I’ve created an entire post about how to make a profit from your influencer status.
If your job makes it difficult to travel, consider my post on ways to make money while traveling. That resource contains ideas on how ordinary skills you use in your current job can be converted to travel-lifestyle-sustaining freelance work that you can do from anywhere in the world.
By following these 15 strategies, you can boost engagement, grow followers, and develop your travel Instagram into a legitimate travel influencer account.
It may take months or years, but by starting today, getting started well (by picking a good username and posting content often with a limited number of specifically chosen hashtags), and focusing on small steps like connecting with your followers and reaching out to larger accounts, you can begin building momentum to grow your travel influencer profile.
More and more people are curating a modern version of a travel scrapbook or travel journal in a digital format using social media platforms like Instagram, Tik Tok, and personal blogs– staying ahead of the game takes dedication, curiosity, and creativity.
It’s never too late to start – even if your account never explodes in popularity, a travel Instagram can be a valuable way to record our travels for the sake of our own memories. Consistently creating travel-related content can build followers and engagement over time to launch our travel Instagram to success.
Simple Summary: How to Become a Travel Influencer
How to Become a Travel Influencer
Pick a Username
Pick a username for your travel influencer account that is easy to remember, easy to spell, and with a domain name available for purchase.
Begin posting travel-related content – lots of it
To get a foothold as a travel influencer, you’ll need to make up for some lost time by posting a lot. Post at least twice a day for the first three months.
Curate authentic relationships with your followers and reach out to accounts just a little bit bigger than yours to connect. Through this, you link yourself both to the individual behind the account and help Instagram’s algorithm understand that your new travel influencer Instagram is connected to other established travel influencer’s Instagrams.
Stay true to yourself and your niche
People get excited about following new travel accounts because those accounts are doing something new or different, or because they seem relatable. Pick a niche (like budget travel, family travel, slow travel, etc.) and keep most of your posts on topic. Having a huge appeal to a small audience will help you grow much faster than attempting to appeal to every single potential follower.
Stay consistent and don’t give up
Most users attempting to build a travel influencer account on Instagram give up pretty quickly – it can feel overwhelming. The more you post, the more you will realize how much competition is out there vying for the same followers. Stay true to your mission, engage with and enjoy your followers, and stick with it. Over time, your diligence in content creation can pay off in influencer and micro-influencer status, sponsorships, free products, and even free travel.
Lynli Roman’s unique approach to travel is informed by decades of experience on the road with a traveling family and, later, years spent as a solo international traveler. When she’s not writing about Seattle from her Pike Place Market apartment, Lynli writes on-location while conducting hands-on research in each destination she covers. Lynli’s writing has been featured by MSN, ABC Money, Buzzfeed, and Huffington Post. She is passionate about sharing information that makes travel more accessible for all bodies.
- Konnikova, M. (2014). The six things that make stories go viral will amaze, and maybe infuriate, you. The New Yorker.