Sorry, Instagram. YouTubers Are the Key New Influencers in Travel
Last month at VidCon, an annual gathering of almost 30,000 video creators and fans at the Anaheim Convention Center in California, every major player in social media announced new initiatives to embrace the next generation of viral video makers. Instagram showed off a feature that would let followers access a livestream for up to 24 hours. YouTube announced a production tool called VR180 that makes it easy for people to create and share 3-D videos in 180 degrees. (All you need is one of the special cameras due later this year from LG, Lenovo, and YI Technology.) And Facebook unveiled updates to its Mentions app, which lets creators apply effects to their live videos and connect more easily with followers. The titans of social media were courting creators, not the other way around, in hopes of expanding their audience engagement through must-see video content.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that vlogging is becoming a big business. Though many vloggers make only $20 a day (barely more than $7,000 a year), the most successful are raking in as much as $7 million annually. One especially successful vlogger who often plays in the travel space, Casey Neistat, even built a spinoff app to help creators share their videos, then sold it to CNN last November for $25 million as part of the network’s push to compete with YouTube.
Travel creators are poised to steal the spotlight on these video platforms, just as they have on Instagram. By and large, their influence is being wielded on YouTube. According to a study that was run in part by Google (YouTube’s parent company), 64 percent of people who watch travel videos do so while planning a trip. And a captive audience translates into highly profitable advertising support: Branded YouTube videos that integrate a sponsor’s product or destination in some way can go for as much as $187,500 per post, and cover everything from luggage brands to website building tools. And for those who can’t command such prices, there’s always Patreon, a crowdfunding site where creators are raking in six-figure sums.
For viewers, cutting through the clutter of travel videos can be like taking a metal detector to the beach in hopes of striking gold. So whether you’re seeking inspiration for your own star turn or simply want to discover the next Anthony Bourdain, here’s where to look.
Inspiration for Your Next Road Trip: Kombi Life
The premise: In 2010, former IT specialist Ben Jamin (get it?) bought a 1993 Volkswagen Kombi bus and embarked on an epic, four-year drive from Chile all the way to Alaska, with the idea of sharing the experience (and driving time) with anyone who could throw him gas money. More than 100 different travelers, 111,232 followers, and four seasons later, Jamin finally made it to Alaska—having met his partner, Leah, along the way. (Watch here.)
Why we like it: It’s like The Bachelor meets Top Gear. You get drama from scantily-clad, hitchhiking surfers and nitty-gritty car talk from stuck-in-the-mud bus repairs. It’s also well-produced, with a solid script, professional-sounding voice-overs, and a fun concept that in future seasons will take Ben across the U.S. and into Europe.
Culture News You Can Use: Vagabrothers
The premise: San Diego-based brothers Marko and Alex Ayling talk squarely to members of their own generation—millennials—as they seek out the trendiest cultural experiences around the globe. They take viewers on neighborhood tours of Santa Monica, into a “sparty,” or spa-bathhouse party, in Budapest, and to the coolest gaucho-style barbecues in Mendoza. If there’s a craft beerhouse, cocktail den, or dance party worth seeking, these would be the guys to tell you about it. (Watch here.)
Why we like it: Marko and Alex are tapped-in and adventurous, helping you flesh out itineraries in well-trod destinations and giving you a reason to consider new ones (think vodka shots with yurt-dwelling nomads in Kazakhstan). And while Vagabrothers’ affordable, nightlife-heavy vibe is unabashedly youthful, there’s broad appeal in reliving your glory days.
The Masters of Travel Porn: Beautiful Destinations
The premise: This company creates short-form, striking vignettes in full 4K resolution that are like cinematic postcards from the most beautiful destinations on Earth, just as the name would indicate. The simple concept relies on flawless execution: slow-motion pans across Yosemite or the Dubai desert, time-lapse shots of crowds in Macau, overhead drone shots of boats in the Arctic. Escapism is this company’s bread and butter—after all, these are the same social media pros that have drawn 9.4 million followers on Instagram since 2012. (Watch here.)
Why we like it: It’s strangely compelling to see a destination as a bunch of slickly shot clips, like a travel-vlogger version of a Godfrey Reggio or Ron Fricke film. And without deeper narratives to latch on to, these stunning clips are like bite-size snacks that offer quick, satisfying breaks from reality.
Rare Looks at Forbidden Places: Kick the Grind
The premise: Marine biologist-turned-videographer Mike Corey checks out all sorts of fascinating places you wouldn’t dare step foot in, like abandoned shopping centers, creepy doll museums, and a Garden of Eden re-creation in San Luis Potosi originally built for an eccentric millionaire. He captures them with stunning drone footage and up-close-and-personal walk-throughs, detailing their little-known histories along the way. Also on his channel: mini-documentaries showcasing obscure festivals and traditions around the world. On one episode, he dives into an annual celebration in one of Spain’s tiniest towns where a man dressed up as the devil chases kids through the streets, eventually leaping over babies set on mattresses to purify their newborn souls. This isn’t stuff you will see on the Travel Channel—yet. (Watch here.)
Why we like it: Though Corey has a tendency to use words like “crazy” in reaction to otherness, he makes a genuine effort to present global traditions without judgment. His content is immersive and thoughtful in a way that would be difficult—or almost impossible—to experience firsthand.
Your New Adventurous Man-Crush: Mr Ben Brown
The premise: A former champion kayaker with a keen sense of dry British humor, Ben Brown has been vlogging his first-person, high-octane adventures at the ends of the Earth since 2010. That can mean a motorcycle road trip through the Alps or a zodiac excursion between Arctic glaciers. Other times it’s a visit to his favorite camera shop in Cape Town, with tips on his preferred new gear. It’s almost always the life you’d dream of living, if you had the time off and the athletic prowess to pull it off. (Watch here.)
Why we like it: Visually breathtaking video work and slick hipster pop soundtracks lend the clips real production value, and Brown’s effortlessly cool personality is as aspirational as his travel schedule.