May 20, 2021
Where are our travel bugs at?!? If you’ve ever been interested in getting paid to travel the world, today’s episode is for you! Today we’re talking to the incredible Ryan and Samantha Looney.
Ryan and Sam are the founders of Our Travel Passport, a travel blog, and brand designed to help you have meaningful experiences around the world. Over the past 5 years, they’ve built their brand to a substantial following, traveled to over 35 countries, worked with some of the biggest names in the travel world, and created guides, courses, resources, and more for other travelers to experience the world in beautiful, meaningful ways. They’re passionate about helping people have meaningful experiences around the world so everyone can have fun memories to look back on and cherish forever.
In today’s conversational episode, we talk about how they first got into travel blogging, how they started getting paid, a step by step look at a travel campaign with them, what to watch out for when first getting into the travel space, and their biggest pieces of advice for new travel bloggers.
If you’re intrigued by the influencer lifestyle, especially one in the travel blogging world, then this episode is for you. It opens a behind-the-scenes look into what that world looks like and how you can start to break into it.
Ryan and Sam met the first night of Sam’s freshman year of college in Utah. Sam is originally from George and Ryan from Southern California. After hanging out that first night with a group of friends, Ryan got Sam’s number, not reaching out right away but continuing to see each other on campus they eventually started to talk which then led to them dating.
After dating for a while, it ended up not working out but rekindled a friendship by the end of freshman year. That summer Ryan left for his mission in Uruguay for two years. During that, they would email once a week and write letters back and forth mostly as friends but a hint of something more was always there. Then six months from when Ryan would return home Sam left for her mission in Portugal for 18 months.
Ryan got home in 2013 and continued school for another year before Sam returned. By the time Sam returned, Ryan knew they had to try to make their relationship work as he could never get Sam out of his head. The day she got back from Portugal he was the first person to call her, and from there on out they Facetimed, texted, and called for the next month every day. Four weeks later Ryan flew out to Georgia with flowers in hand. When he landed in Atlanta, went up the escalator and say, Sam, he just kissed her. They hadn’t seen each other for three years. After that kiss they both knew moving forward they wanted to date. Later that trip when Sam thought Ryan was asleep she said “I love you”, but little to her surprise he was awake and said it back. That was in August and Ryan proposed in January in San Francisco and they got married in May.
Now they have a sweet baby girl and have been married for seven years.
When they first started they considered themselves travel bloggers, then photographer and videographer, and now is more content creation and in the influencer space. Which has also grown into the education of how to be a travel blogger and photography & videography courses.
Personally, they both have different experiences growing up, but were both fortunate to go on family trips. Ryan always has had a love for other cultures and languages. After living in Southern California, a lot of his friends growing up were Mexican which is where he learned to speak Spanish. After going on his mission in college he acquired learning Portuguese as well.
Sam grew up not traveling a ton, but her eyes were opened when she did a study abroad in Jerusalem in college. She realized how beautiful different parts of the world are and places that are often seen as scary are so amazing. There are a lot of benefits from traveling and seeing different parts of the world, different experiences that you couldn’t experience if you stayed at home. That was part of what made Sam fall in love with travel. She had bought her first DSLR before this trip and that was also when she fell in love with photography. She wanted to capture everything.
On their first trip (not counting their honeymoon) they went to India. They went for ten days to India, doing it cheaply, going light, and backpacking. That was when they decided to start a separate Instagram account so they wouldn’t spam all their friends and family on their personal accounts. That is when Our Travel Passport was born and they had started a blog the previous summer for a road trip they had done, so when they create Our Travel Passport Instagram they switched the blog to ourtravelpassport.com and it grew from there.
That was February 2016.
Starting to plan trips around holidays, Ryan and Sam started to save their money and using credit card points to book flights. They weren’t traveling constantly but up front, they were footing the bill but it was out of fun and desire while documenting and posting along the way. They were planning a trip to Paris and they had 3k followers at this point, so they reached out to a little boutique hotel and were able to get three days and nights comped.
Ryan and Sam felt on top of the world, that they could go to Paris and not spend a dime on a place to stay. They had also partnered with a backpack company, a watch brand, and doing more trade collaborations with local Utah brands. A lot of free things, that is normal when first starting. This was all in 2016.
Then the next summer, Ryan graduated college and they planned a seven-week trip and they had already secured one collaboration to work with a sailing company and then proceeded to get every single night of the trip covered with hotels. That was the moment at the end of that trip where they realized they could make this work. They weren’t getting paid to do it yet, but if they could travel for free then they figured they could make money doing other things.
Coming to a crossroads when Ryan started applying for jobs and realizing they wanted to go all in and pursue creative jobs and grow Our Travel Passport. A switch flipped, with how they started to make money. Sam started booking photography sessions and Ryan got involved with a local start-up that needed food photography. All of a sudden they opened themselves up to all these creative jobs.
That summer they got paid $50 for their first collaboration with a Turkish towel company. At that point, they realized they need to make money, and if they use their platform to support products they can get paid for that. It is a mindset shift that this is a job and not a fun side-gig of getting free things. Recognize the value of getting brands so that they in return will recognize the value you are giving them to work with you.
Ryan does most of the pitching and negotiating and then Sam does the creative and creating. After five years in the industry, most of their paid jobs are people reaching out to them. It is hard to pitch, if you are good at it that’s awesome. At this point for them, it is less work and easier for them to wait for the ones to come in.
For one of their most recent campaigns, Club Med reached out to them through an influencer platform that represents them.
Influencer platforms are different websites that brands, hotels, people, can go and submit that they want an influencer to come and stay at their hotel and they want three posts in exchange for three nights, ten stories over the time of their stay, and airfare is included. That is just an example. Then they have people apply for those campaigns, they received an email asking them to apply for that campaign for Club Med.
For the Club Med one, they applied to the campaign and in the application, it explained what they wanted in exchange for what they had to offer. Ryan and Sam came back and negotiated that they can’t pay for their flights with what Club Med was paying for the content. You need to not only get paid but also make money. The flights can’t cost more than what they are offering to pay you. Club Med ended up coming back, saying flights were covered and it would be all-inclusive while they were there, so they wouldn’t spend a dollar from the time they left their house to the time they got back and they would also get paid on top of that. In exchange for x posts, x stories, and this one didn’t request a blog post but oftentimes destination locations request a blogpost. Once they agreed to that, they send over a contract, sometimes there is extra stuff that you didn’t agree to so you have to go back and state that. Generally, that is asking for exclusivity and content rights, photographers do not give those away for free!
While you are there it is very much a job. A lot of people think of travel blogging as a dream, but it is also your job to make people think that you are on vacation. It is your job to make people think it is a dreamy, relaxing experience at this hotel, and while you can have dreamy and relaxing experiences you often wake up before sunrises to take photos and then take pictures at sunrise and then take pictures of activities that the hotel offers and then take more pictures when the sun is at a better angle. Then you change your clothes to get more pictures at sunset and then you get dressed up at dinner and take pictures while eating this delicious dinner (often waiting while it gets cold) and then you go back to the hotel room at night and edit pictures and writing captions to get them ready to post the next morning. For when you will start over and do it all over again.
While it is wonderful and many people love it, it is very much so a job and sometimes people from the outside looking in think it is easy. For it to be successful and every other travel blogger Ryan and Sam know it is the same way for all of them. They all wake up before sunrise, working until 2 am and then repeating it. Especially to get the quality you should strive for.
If you are only in a destination for three days, to capture the experience you have to go go go when most people are doing all those things over a week or even 10 days. Not only do you want to have high quality but you want to deliver above and beyond for the hotel or company you are working for. Even if they say to relax and enjoy our place, they are still paying you to do a job and expect it to be incredible.
You won’t always get reached out to, such as Ryan and Sam did with Club Med. A lot of times you might want to go somewhere, so watch flights and book them when they’re cheap and then reach out to hotels, airlines, and brands. Sometimes you might go somewhere and just break even but you’ll get a lot of good content for a blog post and that you can use in your portfolio. Another way you can make money, not in the moment of the trip is through affiliate links that you can then use the content you got while there to market and push after.
Another thing you can do is reach out to swimsuit companies, backpack brands, or any other brand you use and ask if they want the content of their product at this epic place in the world you are going. Then they’re more likely to pay you to shoot their product in that location and then you can make money off of the trip and it’s not necessarily a travel blog expense.
There are always brands or organizations that are looking to have content especially in 2021, content is king. You have to have content to survive and market your business so it is a good way to work with other brands to give them content and make more money while you are on a trip.
These platforms are super helpful and some you have to apply to all the campaigns you want to be involved in and then others you just sign up for the platform and when you fit the demographic or have the audience that they are looking for they will reach out to you.
Our biggest first two pieces of advice are:
Make their job as easy as possible, because especially now there is always someone in a company to find people to promote their product so if you can make their life easier they will be more likely to work with you.
Focus on the thing that you are good at, don’t worry about becoming this epic photographer. Don’t be what you think people want in the industry, be yourself because that is what people want.
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WASSUP FRIENDS. We’re Evie + Lindsey, co-founders of this wild partayyy called The Heart University. Our goal is to empower entrepreneurs to kick freaking BUTT in their businesses, dive down into the heart of their why and how, and serve you with all possible tools you’ll need to up-level your business game and CRUSH those goals of yours.
Whether you’re coming to an in-person workshop, joining our online course, or soaking up all the strategies via this blog or our podcast, we’re STOKED you’re here + can’t wait to see you out there kicking butt.
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