Becoming a travel influencer on Instagram has never been easy – although some travel influencers have managed to make it seem so. In reality, it takes a lot of hustle to become a travel influencer on Instagram, TikTok, or other social platforms, especially in 2021.
In recent years, the travel blogger niche has been saturated with new creators and travelers- a number that seemed to spike even during the travel bans of 2020. 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.
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 about becoming a travel influencer on Instagram that you can apply to your own travel-related social media accounts:
1. Don’t wait to start your Instagram
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.
Try to ignore the crowd and do your own thing. Stay active, and keep trudging ahead. You can always archive posts later as you learn, grow, and find your style- 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
The best travel influencers – the ones that people follow and actually engage with – are people who have a unique take on travel. Maybe it’s married couples traversing the United States in a van, budget travel while being an early-career digital nomad, or a family with small children slow traveling through Europe- finding that certain unique thing that makes your travel different from most other people’s travel is actually a powerful way to connect with viewers.
It’s hard to identify with or to feel connected to travel influencers who post generic travel photos, but travelers who post relatable or even reasonably-aspirational content on social media may find it easier to grow a following on their travel Instagram than influencers who project an unattainable look or lifestyle.
3. Post, archive, rinse, repeat
Consistency and post volume matters – especially in the early phases of growing a travel Instagram account.
For the first few months, post a minimum of two times a day. Using a service like Later.com allows you to schedule these frequent Instagram posts in advance. Posting often will net more exposure. Although you may run out of content quickly, as your Instagram follower count grows you can archive old posts and repost the content as new – after all, it will be new to all of the new followers you’ve gain since the last time you posted it.
4. Identify a mission
Similar to finding a niche, identifying a mission is a little bit different. Ask yourself, “what am I for?”
Knowing why you do what you do can help you work more effectively, and communicate your mission. If it’s something others can connect with a mission can help you grow and 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 the zero waste philosophy? Do you travel to draw attention to an issue? Centering these things in a certain portion of your Instagram posts can help elevate your travel Instagram out of the crowd, setting it apart as a travel account that is really worth following.
5. Make 20% of your posts share-focused
We all dream that the quality of our photography and the awesomeness of our adventure will prompt others to share our travel Instagram content far and wide and launch us into the realm of mega-successful travel influencers. In reality, many of our travel photographs don’t look that different from thousands of other travelers who stood in the same places and took the same photograph.
While you can expect to see some reposting and sharing of your general travel content, brainstorm ways to make your content more share-worthy.
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 it, their followers might see or understand something important about them. Feelings motivate sharing, so pause and reflect on how to create more evocative imagery and captions.
6. Connect with other travel influencers
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 but also links your account to these larger accounts in the algorithm. With your accounts even loosely affiliated, people who follow them might be suggested by the app to follow you as well. Additionally, as the human-to-human relationships grow, you might get shoutouts or collaboration opportunities with these larger travel influencer accounts.
7. Unfollow major travel influencers and celebrities
It’s unclear whether this practice actually helps boost an account in the Instagram algorithm, but what unfollowing very large, popular accounts will do is reduce the number of spam messages, comments, and fake engagement on your own content (these are often created by bots that target users following major accounts).
8. Always use Instagram filters on your travel 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 in testing this theory I have experienced that still, in 2021, posts with filters tend to have a better reach 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 so that when you do apply a filter you can restore the photo to its original look.
9. Pick a great username and register the domain name
Good usernames seem to be the hottest commodity of the 2020’s- but there are still gems out there to be had. 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 and try on different usernames until one sticks.
I strongly advise that before committing to a username, you verify that the domain name is available and purchase it. The endgame for any new travel influencer starting out on Instagram should be to develop a brand that goes far beyond Instagram – and that means having a domain name that matches your brand.
Here are my rules for picking a good username and domain name:
- Make it easy to remember,
- Make it hard to misspell,
- Make sure that when people hear the username they’ll be able to spell it without needing special instructions.
- Avoid dashes, dots, and unusual spelling in your Instagram username.
10. Use hashtags judiciously
Many travel influencers who are just starting out will pack a post’s captions with hashtags. The Instagram platform allows up to 30 hashtags per posts, but social media researchers have determined that posts with a lower number of hashtags (between 5 and 7) actually tend to have a further reach than posts that are packed with hashtags. Pick a few good travel-related hashtags and rotate them for best exposure.
11. Find and use niche travel hashtags
Sure, we’d all love to hit the popular tab for #travelinfluencer or #solotravel but unless you’ve got 300k followers to boost you to that spot, using a popular hashtag like this is a wasted hashtag. Instead, find smaller, niche hashtags that really work for your content, Like #onebagtravel #plussizetravel or #slowfamilytravel.
These specialized hashtags are not only easier to rank for, the people who are searching for these hashtags (if you are choosing hashtags appropriate to your content) are actually the ones who are looking for your content and are more likely to become followers, fans, and supporters.
Dialing down to a small audience and making really good content for that niche is a more successful model for starting our as a travel influencer than trying to appeal to every single person who aspires to someday travel. Remember, you can always shift focus and broaden travel niches down the road.
12. Make your followers feel like they matter
While some of the major luxury travel influencers draw their following largely from individuals who want to idolize the influencer from a distance, it’s much easier to develop a following when you are approachable and engaged.
If you can make your followers feel like they matter to you, that you appreciate them, and that you can help them reach their own travel goals, you’re more likely to have followers who follow long-term, share your content, and become paying customers if you ever offer a product.
The best practice is to spend 5 to 10 minutes, 1 to 2 times a day commenting, messaging, and engaging with content posted by your followers.
13. Identify a Monetization Model & Goals Immediately
Wanting to “be an influencer” is one thing, 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 (like getting paid sponsored posts, advertisers on your website, paying subscribers on a Patreon, etc) and orienting towards that goal will help ensure that you’re able to hit micro-goals on the way towards making a full-time income becoming a travel influencer.
Whatever monetization model you choose, I personally recommend creators start a Patreon immediately and cross-post any content they are creating to Patreon. Why? Patreon compliments other monetization models while working more effectively to helps 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)
If you are ready to take the leap to start a Patreon, consider joining using this referral link, which gives me a small bonus if your first month goes well and helps to keep this guide online.
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 to 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.
By following these tips, 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.
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, and 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 on Instagram
how to become a travel influencer on Instagram
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 in 2021 as a travel influencer, you’ll need to make up for some lost time by posting a lot – at least twice a day for the first three months.
Engage – constantly
Curate authentic relationships with your followers and reach out to accounts just a little bit bigger than yours to connect and link yourself both to the individual behind the account and to 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
Avoid the temptation to make it big as a generic travel influencer- 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 have appeal to every single potential follower.
Stay consistent and don’t give up
Most users attempting to build a travel influencer account on Instagram in 2021 give up pretty quickly – it can feel overwhelming when, the more you post, the more you realize how much competition there 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 creating can pay off in influencer and micro-influencer status, sponsorships, free products, and even free travel.
Artist, digital nomad, and highly sensitive person, Lynli started traveling full time as a digital nomad in 2018. Writer and Illustrator by day, remote-destination explorer by other-days, Lynli is passionate about pushing the boundaries of her own comfort zone, exploring the world as a plus size, one-bag traveler, and journaling it all on WanderBig.com