travel

7 Travel Entrepreneurs Talk Staying Busy and Inspired During Coronavirus Quarantine

Instagram Travel Influencers

As the world comes to terms with the widespread shutdown that COVID-19 has caused, certain parts of the economy have been hit harder than others. Travel, a once-bustling industry, has largely shut down. But what happens to the travel influencers and bloggers, industry mavens who’ve left the 9-5 life behind, living a life for travel, jetsetting across the world, and taking us with them via our smartphone screens? As millions have subscribed, these Instagram travel influencers have curated lifestyles, created brands and become entrepreneurs with many of them launching their own travel agencies, content businesses and more.

I spoke to seven travel influencers who offered some advice on how they’re managing the current situation, staying busy and thoughts on the industry moving forward.

1. Jessica Nabongo, @TheCatchMeIfYouCan (pictured above)

As the first black woman to travel to every country in the world, Jessica Nabongo has accomplished a feat that many of us can only dream about. Based in Detroit, Nabongo has managed to build a successful presence as a travel entrepreneur, building her own travel agency, Jetblack. Her work and travel focus on highlighting cities and destinations that are off the beaten path, looking for ways to educate her followers and build community.

What’s your unique take on travel?
Jessica Nabongo: I tend to visit places that are off the beaten path, and a lot of what I do is more educational. I would rather draw people into the location and history of places. Currently, I’ve been doing a recap series on Instagram that highlights the countries I’ve visited, and how they are dealing with Covid-19. It’s been interesting to add that dimension because we’re all literally going through the same, and it just creates an alternate perspective on where people are living and what they are going through.

How did you get your start as a travel and lifestyle entrepreneur?
I kind of fell into it. I’ve been traveling internationally since the age of four, and when Instagram started, I joined because I had some experience as a photographer. Over time, it came out of me doing something that I love and sharing it, which just resonated with people. I started my travel agency, Jetblack, in 2015. This came about because I was planning a honeymoon for a friend of mine, and I said to myself “I could totally do this as a business.”

How are you staying busy and occupying your time? 
This is actually the longest I’ve been in my house! Since 2011, or maybe 2015, was the last time I went seven weeks without getting on a plane. I definitely understand why people enjoy their homes, it’s not bad! I don’t mind it. I still have work that I’m doing. I know a lot of people are going through it, and I was definitely in that situation in the beginning. But now, I’m adapting to the situation. I’m reading, working out, and meditating — something I’ve always wanted to start but never had the time. I’m still working: creating content and running my e-commerce site.

2. Marisel Salazar, @MariselMSalazar

When you follow Marisel Salazar on Instagram, you’re in for a deliciously good time. The writer and host is always sampling incredible food and drinks around the world, except now that is. Like everyone else, travel is on hold for her and she’s shifted her content creation to her home. Find out how she’s adjusted her storytelling:

What’s your unique take on travel?
Marisel Salazar: Food is the lens through which I travel. As a food writer covering international restaurants, food, and beverage, my stomach (and my words) leads the way to taste global cuisines. I take my learnings and share them with worldwide audiences — hoping to inspire their appetites to visit a place or country they’ve never been to before to enjoy the delicious delicacies they have to offer. It’s one bite (and mile) closer to discovering what makes us unique but also the same as humans. It also brings an appreciation for other’s cultures.

I also believe that your comfort zone will kill you. Travel is dangerous, but routine is lethal. Travel tests my physical and mental limits, my capacity to learn and deepens empathy. I’m definitely an extroverted, outgoing, and adventurous traveler. My ideal trip is not sitting on a beach all day but exploring what the locality has to offer and learning about other people’s stories.

How did you get your start as a travel and lifestyle entrepreneur?
As a food writer based in New York City for publications like Michelin, Thrillist, PureWow, VinePair and more, I cover NYC restaurants, food, and drink locally but given my international upbringing and knowledge (I was born in Panama and have lived in Hawaii, Japan, Madrid and Washington, D.C.), I began to receive offers to cover international cuisine.

The more that I covered international cuisine, the more opportunities I received to travel internationally and domestically to write about non-local food.

With the current situation, what has changed about your business, and how do you anticipate moving forward?
Food media, like all media, is in great distress right now with many layoffs and shrinking budgets — and of course, a pause on travel.

For as long as I’ve been a food writer, I’ve also simultaneously worked within the on-camera hosting and social media space. I also own my own private brand communications agency, Due West, working with F&B clients internationally.

I am working a lot more on the on-camera side (safely from quarantine and at home), podcast interviews, and nurturing relationships with prospective clients for my brand comms agency.

I’ve never put all my eggs in one basket. To be a successful self-employed and independent businesswoman, I’ve always worked on multiple revenue streams that involve different skillsets that also strengthen and feed into each other (and alleviate risk). I consider it a “moderate risk” diversified portfolio if you will.

For example, Due West, my brand communications agency, was born out of my work as a food and travel writer. I’ve had the pleasure of working with incredible brands and restaurants helping them shape and craft their stories from the POV of a writer, social media persona, and food expert.

How are you staying busy and occupying your time?
Productivity IS NOT a competition during these times, but I must say I’ve been busier than ever. I’ve been a guest on a lot of podcasts as an expert and source on food media (and also POC/immigration affairs — which I would love to speak more on), doing online cooking demos on Instagram in partnership with brands and publications, and frankly, taking the time to thoughtfully restrategize my business while voraciously trying to keep up with current affairs and the changes in my own industry.

What are some of your goals for the rest of this year?
I have a hard time “pausing.” I’m so accustomed to being overbooked, on-the-go, and onto the next. Lists help me visualize and think (in fact, you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down). Here is an honest excerpt from my notepad:

– Start my YouTube channel
– Speak my mind more (in terms of activism and constructively critical commentary on my industry)
– Make an initial investment
– Redesign my agency and media website
– Write for The Atlantic
– Work on my first book
– Produce an “at-home” television series

Instagram Travel Influencers

3. Clare Yeo, @drivingmenomad

Originally from Singapore, Clare Yeo has been traveling the world since she was little and took her first trip to Australia at just two months old. The travel bug stayed with her as she grew up, moving from Singapore to the U.S., and throughout the country. While plans to move to Medellin by the end of the year are currently on hold, Yeo shares valuable insight on ways to keep your community (and yourself) inspired.

What’s your unique take on travel?
Clare Yeo: Travel is education. One of my favorite quotes by Anthony Bourdain talks about how travel can be heartbreaking, ugly, and uncomfortable. I truly believe that. A lot of my own friends and family get a bit confused about my travels and think I’m on “vacation” a lot of the time. But traveling is exhausting. It’s about exploring the unknown and coming out the other end knowing more than you did before.

The more I travel, the more I realize just how little I know. Being Asian as well, especially during these times, I face a lot of prejudice and judgment just because of my ethnicity. I think travel is the cure to that problem. Once you experience life across the globe, you’ll notice that every single person has the same fundamentals. We may eat different food, speak different languages, and look different, but we all want to be happy, loved, and understood.

How did you get your start as a travel and lifestyle entrepreneur?
I was really lucky to have parents who encouraged traveling. They always tried to get us into the world to experience as many cultures as we possibly could. When I was 11, I moved from Singapore to NYC and lived there for nine years. The only constant in my life was moving. I lost a sense of a single place being “home”, which was terrifying.

Eventually, I came to terms that home is wherever you make it. From that point, I knew that traveling was more than just a luxury or vacation — it was education. Writing about the people I’ve met and the lessons I’ve learned on the road was the best way I could encourage people to get outside their comfort zone and travel the world. That was and still is, my mission behind Driving Me Nomad, and I’m so lucky to be able to have such an engaged and supportive community.

With the current situation, what has changed about your business, and how do you anticipate moving forward?
Part of Driving Me Nomad is catered to helping people navigate through a city or country. I write a lot of destination guides and travel tips. Due to the current situation, travel has been on a standstill. People are no longer looking for destination guides; they’re looking solace and comfort. I’ve had to pause all the articles I’ve had queued up because they’re not relevant right now, and the last thing I want to do is be insensitive to the situation. Instead, I’m preparing more thought pieces about how local communities around the world are affected due to this pandemic.

I’ve also been supporting my own community by starting a Facebook group where we can all connect and come together to chat about our interests, collaborate, and motivate one another. This was something I didn’t anticipate starting, but moving forward, the group will become an integral part of my business. It is a way for me to connect on a really personal level with members of my community, to hear what I can provide them, and to support their adventures and travels.

Instagram Travel Influencers

4. Ashlee Major Moss, @ashleemajormoss 

When one door closes, another opens. For Ashlee Major Moss, these words quite literally rang true: at the beginning of 2018, Ashlee lost her job and found her relationship coming to an end. After freelancing for six months, the decision to travel was clear. Since then Ashlee has amassed a substantial following devoted to sharing travel and lifestyle tips and guides, as well sharing her eye-catching photo presets in her shop. Ashlee spoke to us about her current projects and staying busy:

What is your unique take on travel?
Ashley Major Moss:
Travel saved me. I’d lost my job, my relationship, and myself. I didn’t know who I was at that point. From traveling, I was able to build my online platform and build my personal brand. Letting go of what I thought I wanted from life, turning instead to seeking adventures, changed my life completely.
With the current situation, what has changed about your business, and how do you anticipate moving forward?
Quarantine has given me time to work on projects I was struggling to fit in before. I’ve been able to create new streams of income for my business that will allow for increased flexibility, even after restrictions are lifted. Some of my current projects including launching my first online product and starting a group coaching service.

With that said, it’s also been important for me to stay active, so working out four to five days a week, as well as eating healthy. I’ve really enjoyed having the extra time to cook!

What are some of your goals for the rest of this year? 
My goal is to continue to grow in all aspects: as a creative, as an entrepreneur, and as a person. But my biggest goal is to try and make a difference, as I really wanted to do more non-profit work this year. I’m also focusing on furthering my skills by taking online courses and attending webinars.

5. Francesca Murray, @One Girl One World 

When Francesca Murray studied abroad in college, she knew there was no going back. Since then, she’s lived in Spain and traveled to 25 countries and counting. Along the way, she’s gained a pretty impressive following, with features in the Washington Post and Forbes, as well as a recent feature in our series Well-Traveled, where she spoke to us about insider travel tips and her favorite products to travel with. Below, Francesca shares some of her thoughts regarding the industry and staying positive.

How did you get your start as a travel and lifestyle entrepreneur?
Francesca Murray: I started One Girl One World six years ago, and at the time I wasn’t sure if it would ever turn into a viable business. If anything, I knew I had a passion for storytelling, and a mission to inject diversity into the common narrative. The influencers and content creators of today are so fortunate because there is already a blueprint and all they have to do is invest in the knowledge. I wish there were courses and coaches when I started!

With the current situation, what has changed about your business, and how do you anticipate moving forward? 
Sponsored travel campaigns were a big source of income, and I don’t see that picking back up for the rest of 2020, unfortunately. But with that, I’ve been able to focus on my next move and how I can help others along the way. Since the onset of the pandemic, I’ve started one on one coaching through my website, and am developing a course for beginner influencers.

What are some of your goals for the rest of this year?
To stay consistent in my content, expand my expertise into skincare and natural hair, and launch my course.

Travel Influencers Coronavirus

6. Karen Akpan, @themomtrotter

Some people think that travel comes to a halt when you have kids but Karen Akpan, a.k.a. The Mom Trotter is proof that this isn’t true at all. In fact, she’s created an entire platform devoted to raising children who are global citizens and helps other families figure out budget-friendly vacations for the entire family. Here’s how she is navigating these challenging times:

How did you get your start as a travel and lifestyle entrepreneur?
Karen Akpan: I started sharing my love for travel and how we were finding travel deals and traveling to so many amazing places on a budget. People showed interest in it and always had questions, so I decided to start a blog and social media accounts to share more.

With the current situation, what has changed about your business, and how do you anticipate moving forward?
I’m primarily a travel blogger, but I also homeschool my kids. During this time I’ve been able to pivot and currently sharing more homeschool and lifestyle content. My audience has really shown an interest in this as well. Moving forward I plan to share more homeschool and lifestyle content in addition to travel content. We also recently sold our home and purchased an RV, and my audience has also shown an interest in RV travel so I plan to keep sharing that.

How are you staying busy and occupying your time?
I’m staying busy by doing more things with my kids at home, working on renovating our RV and getting ready to hit the road,

What are some of your goals for the rest of this year?
Focus on sharing with my audience how to continue to homeschool their children, maximize their time at home, travel locally, and visit places around them.

7. Devorah Walker, @walkwithmswalker

Not too long ago Devorah Walker left her corporate gig to devote herself to her travel and lifestyle brand. Now with coronavirus grounding flights and stopping travel, Walker is thinking of different ways to stay busy. Here’s what she’s working on:

What’s your unique take on travel?
Devorah Walker: Travel has helped me learn so much about myself that I never would have learned if I stayed in my similar surroundings and stuck in my routine. My goal is to give people the information necessary to step out of their comfort zones and learn more about themselves. I focus on adventure travel on a predominately solo basis.

How did you get your start as a travel and lifestyle entrepreneur?
I started traveling consistently in 2015 and developed a love for authentic experiences. For four years I was able to manage my travels with a full-time job but when I launched my blog in 2019, I slowly started to lose interest in climbing the corporate ladder. So after my job decided to lay off the entire department in 2019, I took that as my wakeup call to invest in my own brand. It’s been tough transitioning from a 9 to 5 to a 24/7 but I am happier than I’ve ever been.

With the current situation, what has changed about your business, and how do you anticipate moving forward?
I had a one-month trip to Asia planned in which I was going to look at apartments in Bali for relocation as well as some freelance photography opportunities that were all canceled due to travel restrictions. I also landed a freelance writing job for a travel publication which was then put on hold due to the low demand for travel content. Given that my upcoming opportunities related to travel have been canceled, I am going to pivot my content and branch into the lifestyle space and reach out to brands outside of the travel space until it is safe to travel again.

How are you staying busy and occupying your time?
Aside from keeping up with my writing and brushing up on my editing skills, spending much more time at home has allowed me to discover new interests. Being that I was hardly ever home, I never saw a real need to invest in home decor. My logic was “I’m never home to admire it, so it’s a waste of money”. Now that I’m home I realized that my apartment is pretty boring and can use some spark to it. If I’m going to spend more time home for the foreseeable future, then it’s time to start investing in a place that I can enjoy my time in. With that being said, I am now redecorating my apartment and loving it.

What are some of your goals for the rest of this year?
A short term goal is to step up my Photoshop game. I’ve seen some amazing things that can be done with the application so I can’t wait to take my quarantine photography to the next level. Additionally, domestic travel wasn’t really on my bucket list but considering that international travel won’t be back to normal anytime soon, I’m actually looking into exploring more of the U.S. later this year. I did some research and found some beautiful landscapes in the Northeast as well as the Midwest. So I plan to take a lot more road trips which would have never been in my plans but now I’m actually excited for them.

Responses have been edited and condensed.

One thought on “7 Travel Entrepreneurs Talk Staying Busy and Inspired During Coronavirus Quarantine

  1. Not the first black woman to visit every country (Jessica), but still interesting to see what everyone has been up to!

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