With ‘January blues’ well underway in many countries, the story of former ad agency staffers Jess Last and Charlie Wild will either leave you green with envy or reaching for your phone to plot your next move.
The pair decided to pack up their comfortable lives at ad agencies in London to travel Asia but are doing it with a twist: they are only using Instagram to plan, organise and draw inspiration.
It’s an example of a very new, community-led approach to travel that has certainly been boosted by open, visual online communities such as Instagram. It’s also why so many people are switching their habits and creating a new economy around travel - Airbnb being the posterchild of this.
Airbnb even partnered with philosopher Alain De Botton to add credence and forge a narrative around its business model, which hinges on the concept of opening up and travelling in a new way. Airbnb sponsored a reissue of his book ‘The Art of Travel’ and he spoke at their events, calling on people to rethink the way they approach travel.
In an interview with The Drum last year, de Botton referenced both travel and Instagram in the context to how traditional advertising and content was losing its impact: “We don’t really believe that sunshine holiday is going to deliver us eternal happiness, but we still book it. We know that person posting on Instagram is kind of lying, but we still feel envious of them, and inadequate in our own selves.”
The Drum spoke to Charlie Wild, one half of The Travel Project, about the experience so far and how this new approach to travel will have ripple effects on how brands interact with the content produced from it.
What were you both doing before you decided to travel? What spurred on the decision?
We were both working in advertising, at separate below the line agencies in London. Life was comfortable and things were chugging along nicely, however conversation in the evenings often turned to foreign shores and adventure. We started to discuss a new way of travelling, one that would enable us to have unique experiences and see places from a new perspective. Ultimately we wanted to test ourselves. And so The Travel Project was born… We quit our jobs, packed up our flat and bought a one way ticket to Delhi.
You are using just Instagram to find inspiration and log the journey - why did you choose to do this?
We could bore you forever as to why we chose to centre our idea around Instagram but here is probably the best way of summarising it:
Community - Instagram is an excellent tool for bringing together like-minded creatives around the world. More than other social platforms it encourages community and support amongst it’s users which is something we liked from the very beginning. With this in mind we thought it would be an interesting experiment to see what would happen if we relied solely on the people we met in-app to guide our real world journey.
Creativity - We both love photography and therefore the simplistic design of the app was always something we’ve liked. Using the app we are able to create a bespoke visual diary of our trip, while the Insta Stories functionality gives us the opportunity to share our experiences in more depth.
Real-time - Through the simple search of a hashtag or geotag, we are able to discover creative people across the globe who are actively documenting their environments at any given time. This instantly shows us who is local to the area and offers us live localised updates which are not available on Google or in guidebooks.
The travel 'influencer' has turned into quite a phenomena - what is the community like be involved with? Have you found it as welcoming as you'd hoped?
One of the biggest surprises so far has been just how friendly and welcoming the Instagram travel community has been. We originally chose the platform due to its supportive nature, however the community has exceeded our expectations, with people literally inviting us into their homes and lives everywhere we go.
As our community has grown, we have started to receive more and more offers from around the world, inviting us to come and experience their countries and cultures through their eyes. The never-ending list of places to visit gets longer everyday!
What examples can you give of how Instagram has influenced the trip?
The premise of The Travel Project is that we allow the Insta community to fully guide our trip so we could argue that it has pretty much influenced everything we’ve done in some way or other. There is no doubt that it has given us access to some amazing experiences: In the first month alone we taught refugee monks in the Himalayas, met the England cricket team in Rajkot, modelled for a global exhibition in Udaipur, learnt bouldering in Hampi and had an accidental face-to-face with a Leopard in the Karnataka countryside. Last week we were also one of the first tourists ever to meet the tattooed-faced, nose-flute playing ladies in Mindat, Myanmar (we didn’t believe it either when we first heard about it!)
Is any of your trip being funded through the content you produce? Do you think that could be something people could do in the future?
So far we have been approached by a few hotels and travel agencies, however none that we feel are the right fit for the idea at this stage. However, as the project grows, we are very much open to working in partnership with brands but it would be important that our stories align. That said, we have been spoilt by the generous hospitality of the Instagrammers we’ve met along the way. Special mention to all the amazing feasts we’ve been treated to.
What advice would you give people looking to do similar trips?
There is definitely a shift occurring in terms of what people are wanting from travel. As the world becomes more accessible, there is an increasing appetite for experience-based tourism rather than the standard beach holidays. Via The Travel Project we hope to show that anyone can use social platforms to be more adventurous on their travels and that there really is more to the world than palm trees and beaches (even though both of these are pretty great). Take the leap. You won’t regret it!
What have you learnt about Instagram as a tool for travel content?
Instagram is traditionally used as a passive, inspiration tool, however what we have found is that the platform can also be used as a very effective tool in actively planning travel and also for real time updates when you are in the midst of your trip. It’s also been a great way of meeting people - both locals and travellers alike, which in turn gives us access to insider tips and experiences. Above all, nothing beats having a friendly face to meet you when you arrive in a foreign country. We wouldn't travel any other way going forward.
Will you go back to the day job?
Let’s just say we’re having too much fun to go back just yet! That said, this project has opened our eyes to lots of new and exciting opportunities within the social world - something we will definitely apply to any work we do in the future.
Follow Jess and Charlie as they travel round Asia on Instagram.