Most travel influencers make the #goodlife look effortless—like every day just so happens to begin with an oceanside feast and end with champagne glasses clinking as a pink sun melts into the horizon. There are lavender fields galore, and hey—do y'all have a special strategy for finding a city's most charming doors?
But really: How do they do it?! Here, nine full-fledged travel influencers reveal the biggest secrets behind their highly filtered lives:
They have no real home base.
"I don't have an apartment, and I haven't for two years," says Alyssa Ramos of @mylifesatravelmovie and @alyssaramostravels, a side-gram where she vlogs about how she gets the shots she posts on her primary page.
While traveling, she typically packs one suitcase and leaves the rest of her belongings in a storage unit, as per an Instagram video posted earlier this year. "If I need or want a break, I'll get a hotel or Airbnb in a place I feel comfortable for two weeks or so, then I start traveling again," she says.
Kiersten "Kiki" Rich of @theblondeabroad and her eponymous website, is also somewhat nomadic. "I consider Southern California my home base half the year, and Cape Town, South Africa my base the other half," she says, adding that she travels about nine months a year.
They edit the fuck out of their photos.
"The less editing the better," says Melissa Hie of @girleatworld, who relies on the right location and natural light so she doesn't have to go filter-crazy.But most travel photos go through the ringer before they turn up in your feed: Ramos spends up to 30 minutes editing her photos using Adobe Lightroom. The software delivers more professional results, she says, but she also adds that she'll use Snapseed, an editing app, to cut editing time down to 10 minutes.
Rich, who shoots with a Fujifilm X Series camera and lenses, also uses Adobe Lightroom. She saves time by creating presets, or saved edit settings that can be applied as easily as an Instagram filter.
They make six-figure incomes.
Although influencers hustle hard for freebies like comped hotel stays, it's not like they can't afford the lifestyles they lead: Many of them earn legit salaries from posting sponsored content on their Instagram pages, blogs, and YouTube pages; brand ambassadorships; affiliate links; and product placement. Ramos estimates she'll bring home about $110,000 (P5,881,260) this year on top of her $40,000 (P2,138,640) in savings, while Rich says her brand generates over $500,000 (P26.7 million) annually.
Their trips are not vacations.
Turns out you can't get comped penthouse suites and yacht rides with a winning smile. And because the terms of every paid opportunity can be vastly different, according to Christine Tran of @tourdelust, travel influencers can spend several hours a day pitching themselves to brands and negotiating deals, which for Tran, could amount to anywhere from $2,500 (P133,655) to $15,000 (P801,990)—or more. "I always end my night with an early dinner and rarely go out for drinks after," she says. "I prefer getting back to my hotel early to spend at least one to two hours catching up on email."
And then there's location scouting: "One thing that I don't share—even on Instagram stories—is the planning process and researching places," says Tran, who never rests in her search for photographic jewels that align with her bright, airy Instagram aesthetic.
What's more, photoshoots themselves can really fill up an itinerary. "We work the entire time during our travels, and we are constantly working," says Alyssa Bossio of @effortlyss, of the trips she takes with her boyfriend, who shoots and edits every photo on her feed. "It's constant photo shoots."
Even off the road, there's rarely time for influencers to kick back, according to Esther JuLee of @estherjulee and LocalAdventurer, the six-year-old travel blog she runs with her husband. She clocks 80-hour work weeks when she's not traveling. "After over a decade of working for myself, I'm convinced [work-life balance] doesn't exist," she says.
They wake up at the crack of dawn to take photos.
Kara Harms, of @thewhimsysoul and the blog Whimsy Soul, is often up and on location by 5:30 a.m. despite admitting that this part of her job isn't exactly fun. "The morning light is always perfectly soft and has just the right amount of warmth," she says. "It's almost hard to take a bad photo at sunrise." What's more, visiting landmarks before tourists swarm help sidestep crowds and photo-bombers, she adds.Nightfall is another prime time for perfect photography: "The light is soft and golden and much easier to play around with during post-processing," says Alexandra Taylor of @alliemtaylor, alluding to her photo editing routine.
They rarely foot the bill for clothing that appears in their feeds.
"I shop and sometimes return the clothes [I wear in shoots] if I know I'm not going to wear them again, or I'll reach out to brands if I really need an outfit and they'll send clothes to me," says Bossio, who plans her outfits to vibe with the places she visits: For Greece, she might opt for a blue and white dress, while she'll slip into a rainbow swimsuit to post amidst Portugal's colorful beach chairs. Oh, and she changes outfit several times a day to make each shoot look different, she says.
They pack and hoard photo props.
"I always pack a small cute bag and hat to use as props," says Tran, who also travels with extra pairs of sunglasses and watches to feature in her photos. But when she needs something extra to make her pictures pop, she improvises by borrowing cute towels, flower pots, lights, candles, food, cocktails, and even newspapers from her hotel.
Shit happens—they just don't post about it.
"There are lots of sleepless nights, jet lag, running through airports, losing stuff, hauling 60-pound suitcases up steep stairs, and lonely nights in hotel rooms," says Nicole Isaacs of @nicoleisaacs, who insists her travels aren't always quite as glamorous as they look. "I've gotten puked on by a kid on an airplane, lost my luggage more times than I can count, been robbed on a beach, missed trains and flights, and have been stuck in small towns in the middle of nowhere. The list goes on and on." You'd never guess it!
When they get burned out, they pay for their own vacations.
"This hotel actually didn't pay me to go," says Taylor of her decision to visit Goreme, Turkey's super instagrammable Cappadocia Cave Suites—and post about it. "I paid for my stay since sometimes I like to enjoy my time and not have to stress about doing sponsored posts while I'm there."
They really miss their family and friends.
The on-the-road grind can seriously wear on travel influencers: "When I call my family and friends back home, sometimes it makes me sad that I miss out on some of their important life events," says JuLee, who spends a year in each location she visits. "We've considered moving back."Bossio agrees that constant movement can make her long for her own bed. "I travel so much that it gets very overwhelming at times, and I get a little homesick," she says, but not before adding, "My job is amazing."
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.