I’m not a big fan of the term ‘influencer’, however I must admit, it does describe much of what I do. Over the past few years the term travel blogger has been taken over by the term travel influencer; honestly we do more than blog I suppose. My goal is always to inspire, or convince people to travel; basically I want to influence the way you think about travel. It sounds sort of icky just typing it, but we attempt to influence people all the time in our lives; convince people to eat something, read a book, cheer for a sports team, or worship a God. In a way every one of us is an influencer. However the difference is that I occasionally get paid to influence.
I just find the term influencer to be presumptuous, and since I’m a subdued Midwesterner, I don’t like to be presumptuous. I’ve also heard the word content creator – which is a little nicer, but the average person doesn’t really understand what it means, and it’s just easy to say I influence people’s travel decisions, rather than I create content to inspire people to travel.
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Making a Living Travel Blogging
One of my most predictable questions I always get no matter whom I meet or where I got is “How exactly do you make money blogging?” One of the main ways I earn revenue is when I’m hired to do an influencer marketing campaign for a company or destination. So I thought I’d take you behind the scenes of what it’s like to be an influencer on an influencer campaign. What you see as the end product, the content, is not always the whole story. That perfect photo or relaxed video creates a sense of calm or simplicity that isn’t always there when you are trying to capture it. I decided to focus on my recent 19 day California trip as it is a good example of how challenging it can be to get that end product just right for you, the reader. It’s also a good example of how much fun you can have while working in this industry.
The #CaliforniaWild project was one of the most challenging, exhilarating, demanding, and fun projects I’ve done in my career as a travel blogger. I probably had the least amount of sleep I’ve ever had for that long of stretch, but I also had an immense amount of fun. And I always say I’ll give up sleep for fun any day.
But even though the 19 days were filled with fun activates that I know I’m very fortunate to get to do, it was also filled with work; an immense amount of work. This was one of the few trips where I was ready and happy to come home – mainly because I was exhausted and needed a few days off! This project put my veteran travel blogging skills to the test – how to juggle travel, fun, and work at the same time.
I want to be clear – I’m not complaining in this article, I adore what I do; I’m simply providing a realistic view of the profession that you might not always see.
What was the Campaign?
I often think people seldom know the amount of work that goes into this dream job. This CaliforniaWild campaign was actually two jobs in one.
We were all asked to share our daily experiences in 8 rural California regions with our audience. This is basically the normal influencer stuff I get hired for; go on a trip and share it with your audience. We each had to share pictures/video on our social media channels (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) and were contracted to write blog posts and participate in a Twitter Chat after the trip on our websites. We were given a direction on the messages the client wanted to get across about each region, but we were left to our own devices to share what we wanted to based on our personalities.
The second part of the job was to gather very specific content on these regions for use in a micro website that was being created to highlight the regions to the Adventure Travel community. This was a micro website that would be seen by both consumers and industry. The microsite needed videos, photos, stories, and itineraries for each region. This was not left to our own devices; instead we had to follow a very specific creative content brief to ensure the site would have the type of content it needed.
This was a 19 day trip through the entire state of California by car. Our only flights were in and out of Sacramento! We would spend 2 days in the 8 rural regions covering roughly 3,500 miles. However, in reality once you put in drive time around one of our largest states, that really meant we had 1.5 days in each region to gather content, experience the region, and share with our followers.
I knew this was going to be challenging when I took it on. Unlike my old corporate job, influencer campaigns don’t take into account weekends or any time off for that matter. This was going to be 19 days of solid work, no days off and no down time except for a half a day where we convinced them we’d need time to do laundry midway through the trip! I did wonder if I would have the stamina for it, but since I was used to constantly moving after a decade of nomadic living, I figured it wouldn’t be that much different.
An itinerary was created with the client; and we were not really part of that process because they knew what they needed to capture. A total of four influencers were hired along with one driver and we were all set!
Meet the Team
“You’re going to travel with 4 strangers in car for 19 days?!” This was the most frequent reaction I received when I told people about the project. Yes, long term traveling with strangers in a car in stressful work situations is not always a recipe for success. However I think if there is one thing travel has taught me it’s patience as well has how to deal with being uncomfortable. 19 days – it’s not really that big of deal. I can deal with many uncomfortable situations for 19 days or a month, or even a year if I have to. And I know I can do that because travel puts you in these situations a lot. Plus, lest you forget I did do the Mongol Rally a few years ago for 5 weeks in a small car with 3 strangers and survived that…I felt like this wasn’t going to be an issue.
Each influencer was hired for a specialty in content creation. This was a great idea as it meant we could each focus on one thing when we had a short amount of time in an area to gather content.
Kristen from Border Free Travels was our videographer
Kirsten from KirstenAlana.com was a photographer
Kim from Stuffed Suitcase was a photographer
And I was hired for all of the writing for the microsite.
I had traveled with Kirsten years ago on a press trip, but other than that I didn’t know any of these people! On trips like this you rarely know who you are working with, it’s just part of the process.
Plus we had two drivers who switched halfway through, Kelly and Adam who run a California Travel company called Explore California Travel And were familiar with many of the places were going on this trip. Hiring them to drive turned out to be the best decision of the whole campaign. Apparently there was some talk of us having to drive ourselves at one point which I can guarantee would have been a disaster.
Kelly and Adam acted as our ‘fixers’ – they were incredible. I honestly don’t know how we could have done it without them. They ran interference for us, kept us on schedule, stood up for us when the itinerary was unrealistic and we couldn’t do everything. They were our guardians and for that I am forever grateful. Plus – they provided an immense amount of fun and laughter to the project, they couldn’t have found two better, more outgoing people to take care of 4 frazzled influencers on this trip!
Going to California for Vacation?
Check out Kelly and Adam’s Explore California Tours!
We all started off a bit timid; being accommodating to each other just as you would with strangers. But it didn’t take long for each of us to get comfortable with each other commiserating on lack of sleep, or frustrations about the itinerary or content needs, or just blogger gossip in general. After all, every job has water cooler talk even if there was no water cooler. It took about two days for people to figure out that they shouldn’t talk to me in the morning, or that Kirsten needed to be in the front if we were on winding roads.
A Typical Day Full of Fun and Challenges
Every morning I’d wake up in a haze and take a picture of my bed so I could document this 19 day bed hopping journey. I’d look at where we were headed for the day and then figure out where it was on the map so I had a bit of an idea of what we were doing.
We were up and out by 7:30AM most mornings, eating breakfast at our hotel. After a couple of days we knew how to pack up the Suburban quickly as everything had it’s place, and each piece depended on the other like a Jenga game.
We’d do one activity in the morning such as hiking, kayaking, SUPing, visiting beaches, biking, dune buggies, etc and then we’d go to lunch with people from the tourism department which normally included drinking and being treated to decadent lunches.
In the afternoon we’d do one of two more activities such as visit a winery (more drinking), ziplining, horseback riding, rafting, or visiting farms. Then we’d go out to dinner with more tourism people. Many times the lunches and dinners were big events where the tourism rep invited numerous people from the county or travel industry. This meant that we ate and drank very well for 19 days, but it also meant that we never had any down time to just eat and not have to be social. I think that was one of the most challenging and exhausting things is that it was 19 days of being socially on all the time; except when we were in the car driving which is when we’d collapse. Being a travel blogger or influencer is not for the introvert.
We’d roll into a hotel after the big dinner around 9 to 11PM each night. At that point you’d think that we’d sleep…right? No. Then I’d stay up another 2 hours typically editing photos/videos from the day and putting everything up on Instagram, stories, FB, and Twitter to fulfill our Influencer requirements. On average I was asleep by midnight each night. And then up again at 6:30 or 7.
This is pretty typical of a media trip with 12 to 14 hour workdays, but 19 days of that schedule with no breaks was exhausting.
Watch what a typical drive was like on our trip.
The Car, Drives, and the Suburban Bursting At the Seams
We had a big black suburban we called the space ship as occasionally it would just start talking to us or have random calls to our car. Likely we pushed some button we weren’t supposed to! You think a Suburban is big until you have to fit 5 people into it for 19 days and 3500 miles PLUS all of our equipment. There were laptops, cameras, lenses, Gopros, tripods, selfie sticks, mifi devices, phones, batteries (so many batteries), external hard drives (at least 45 terrabytes), and of course all of our clothes and adventure gear for 19 days with one laundry stop!
That Suburban is where we worked, slept, laughed, and got car sick; it was our little moving home.
Since we had to cover the whole state of California, we’d normally have a few short drives and then one long drive of 3+ hours each day. Most of the drives were on winding two lane roads with very little cell reception surprisingly. That made it much harder than I was expecting to get work done in the car.
We’d meet up with a tourism representative from that area and they’d be our host for the day ensuring that we got everything we needed. But inevitably, they’d also give us stuff we didn’t need. Every tourism organization except for one gave us a little bag of tourism goodies; little trinkets with VisitX on it, and a lot of paper work about the region. This is pretty typical on media trips; I have a million USB drives full of PR info, mugs, pens, notebooks, etc from trips I’ve taken. But on a trip like this where you meet on average 1 to 2 tourism people a day bearing gifts, and no room in your suburban or your suitcases, it’s a bit of a problem. At the end I felt as if we had the Grinch’s sleigh piled high full of stuff in every crevice where it felt as if the whole car was going to topple over! Every night I would go through the bags of stuff we were given and throw away 80% of it to try to keep it manageable, but it still was an immense amount of stuff.
The hardest part was when they gave us wine. I had no room for wine, so luckily our drivers Kelley and Adam were more than happy to take the bottles off my hands.
The one tourism area that didn’t give us a bag of stuff to take home was Ventura. Instead they took our addresses and mailed us a little gift since they knew we didn’t have room. Halleluiah Ventura!
We are Posers
Sherry, stand there.
Move that branch.
Walk towards me.
Look this way.
Wear bright colors.
You see all the pretty pictures and fun videos all over the internet, but you seldom ever get to see the other side and how much work or how manufactured it can all be. This is one of the pieces of what I do that I don’t really like. I want everything to be real and natural; it’s the way I want to live my life personally. And yes we can sort of make a posed shot look natural, but I don’t like it. However in this project we had to get a number of these types of posed-but-look-natural images.
A gallery of posed pictures…beautiful…but…
Here’s the real deal…not posed…just a quick snap by Kirsten Alana as we were coming down the trail! I love this shot!
We were not only responsible for capturing all of this content, but often we were the models for this content too. Occasionally when we had an activity that was too challenging for us to do, we had other experts be our models and sign model releases. But most of the time we spent a lot of energy on photographing and videoing each other.
After about 3 days of this I felt myself getting really cynical and slightly angry about it. Even though I knew I had to do it in order to get the shots the client needed, it pained me to do so. The day we had biking planned in Mammoth Lakes I was really excited to get out and bike and be active like a normal traveler. But when I found out that we weren’t really biking, but just ‘fake biking’ to get some video shots, I was pretty deflated. Many times we only had time to do bare minimum to just get the shot or video clip we needed and then we had to move on. But of course in our social media feeds, it looked like we were biking all morning! For someone like myself who loves doing adventure activities, it killed me to just ‘pretend’ to do these activities.
However, I was able to find a little outlet for all of that bitchiness and cynicism – Instagram stories. Our contract didn’t cover Instagram stories so I felt like that was my medium in which I could really be myself and be real. Of course this was within reason – after all I still did want to impress the client with my professionalism and work. Once I started having fun on Instagram Stories and showing people a bit more about the behind the scenes of what was happening I started having more fun myself. It was an outlet for me to be real and that’s just what I needed.
Watch my day of being a model on our trip:
“Sometimes I think we have lost what created this whole ‘influencer/social media marketing industry’ – actual realistic travel. The ugly side and the pretty side.”
The only reason why people followed me in the beginning was because it was truthful – it was the good and the bad and people built trust in that as opposed to reading a brochure. However it seems that what we expect now out of social media is more of a brochure rather than the ugly truth at times. I say this based on the fact that I see influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers that only put up well-manicured, manufactured photos of beautiful destinations. Those are real, I’m not saying they aren’t, but they also aren’t the whole truth. That person had some down times during that trip too – the ones that make you want to scream out of frustration of cultural differences or cry from frustration – but you rarely see or hear about those times.
The Not-So-Fun Moments
Speaking of those times, yes – we all had a few meltdowns, it’s pretty impossible not to with such a tight schedule, tight quarters, and the stress of work deliverables.
There was one day in particular for me where I had reached my limit. It started with breakfast at hotel that we rolled into the night before at 10PM and were leaving at 7:30AM. I had 6 hours of sleep and a very busy day ahead of me. We were about 10 days into the trip and I had a melt down about having to eat yet another breakfast with plastic spoons and paper plates.
The downside about moving every day is that the hotel experience is not really a fun experience; it’s just a necessary evil of moving every day. So they all start to blend together and honestly are simply places to sleep. Each of our hotels served breakfast, but it was always a cheap cereal of old fruit and burned coffee because it had been sitting out too long. I understand they don’t want to hire someone to wash a bunch of dishes, but I was sick of eating off of paper plates!
Then we went on to drive dune buggies on Pismo Beach – which was an incredible experience. Then we raced to meet tourism reps for lunch at a brewery. The brewery was spectacular and we ate and drank way too much. Then we raced off slightly buzzed and in desperate need of a nap to a winery where we took a tour and then did wine tasting. More food, no nap. I was loosing energy fast. Then back to town to do a town tour and then to the farmers market where we had to do a Facebook Live and get a bunch of footage and interview people. We left the farmers market at 9PM and then had to drive an hour to our hotel. I was so exhausted, and in a haze from drinking all day; I slept on the way to the hotel. We arrived at the hotel, a cute RV and Glamping park, after 10PM and after much confusion we finally found someone who could check us in.
All I wanted to do go to bed, yet I knew I had another 2 hours of work to do. I was bitchy…really bitchy. I was in that stage where I didn’t’ want to talk to anyone. So when the lovely lady checking us in told me that she was so excited to meet me because she was a long time Ottsworld reader, I felt horrible. I immediately tried to perk up and be social; but I’m pretty sure I came off as a bitch. Once we finally got to our Glamping tent, I worked for 2 hours and collapsed into bed but couldn’t figure out how to turn on the heat. It was midnight and I didn’t want to bother anyone at the front desk – so I just slept with my jacket on!
Luckily the next morning when I woke up we had a real breakfast with proper silverware and coffee mugs. The world was right again.
The Finished Product
As I look at the California microsite and see all of our hard work (Kristen’s videos aren’t up yet but will be soon!), I am so proud of what we did. The site looks great and I’m really proud of all of the research and writing I did for the site. I spent nearly a month going through notes, researching, and writing all of that content after we got home!
Regarding the team, each of us had our moments – but luckily there were never any major moments for anyone or between any of us. I was really impressed by my fellow influencers and how well we all rolled with most things and were able to get along in some challenging situations. To be an influencer you do really have to love your work; you have to find joy in the fun times and also realize it’s work too.
As I look at the pictures and remember all of the cool things we did, a smile forms across my face. I had so much fun on that trip thanks to all of the cool activities, but mostly thanks to my great peers I was working with. I have this little pang of actually missing it and them. That’s the thing about when you work hard and put everything out there, the accomplishment is addicting. Yes, I’d do it all over again if given the chance!
Planning a trip to California? Check out and try these itineraries!
This was all of the itineraries and adventure travel facts I put together for each region – it will give you a ton of ideas on things you can do and short 4 day trips in these regions!