Since I wrote the hyper discussed “Instagram created a monster” I’ve been in the news pretty much every other week, often portrayed as a fancy travel blogger who’s living the jettsetter lifestyle and makes a living off posting pretty pics on instagram…too bad that couldn’t be further from the truth!
I receive messages on a daily bases with similar variations of the questions “HOW CAN YOU AFFORD TO TRAVEL SO MUCH?” or “HOW CAN I DO WHAT YOU DO?” and although I love sharing my knowledge and my stories with you guys, i can’t hide these questions makes me slightly homicidal sometime?! Not because I don’t want to tell you my “secrets” (I have none!) but because the questions itself often implies a sort of laziness (google can answer all sorts of questions today!?) and a sense of self-entitlement to some magic formula you expect me to give you. I have bad news for you: there is no fucking magic formula!
I am doing what I do today as a result of a very unique, intense and struggling personal path that is not repeatable. But I understand some of you are just genuinely curious and some would simply like to travel more and don’t know how to. I want nothing more than for every single one of you to run towards your dreams and catch them, so I am gonna try and lay it all down for you as best as I can, and I hope learning about my path will inspire you to find yours.
Let’s start out by saying that, despite what you read in the news, my life is far from being luxurious and glamorous and it looks nothing like my fairytaily IG pics . The truth is that I live a life of extreme contrasts: yes,one day I might wake up in a beautiful resort but the next I could wake up on the floor of a hut in the middle of nowhere. One day i’m poolside working on my laptop, the next I have a fucking rifle pointed at my face (yes it happened!). Sometime I have my own driver, sometime I hitchhike…in order for you to understand all this I need to give you a little bit of background, stay with me if you want to get the bigger picture or skip ahead to the next paragraph if you only want the single frame!
HOW I GOT HERE
It’s not easy to sum it up in a short paragraph (that’s why I’m writing a book about it!) but basically it took me 8 years to get here and I still have a long way to go.
IN A NOTCH: I used to be a professional dancer and I left my country, Italy, right after highschool to pursue my dreams and moved to LA. After a few years (I had moved to Vegas in the meanwhile) I stopped dancing because of an injury—but mainly because of fear and ego—and in the midst of an identity crisis and a xanax addiction I was given a camera as a gift and found a new reason to get out of bed in the morning.
I started shooting like a maniac and made of photography a full time job within a few months, moved to London, became an up & coming fashion photographer, moved to NYC and started climbing up the fashion industry ladder . Things were going very well, I was making a lot of money and I was making a name for myself. Then a few years later, I realized it was all bullshit and the work I was producing was hurting women—setting unrealistic beauty standards that killed our self esteem—so I quit and I decided to try to change things.
I started my project Quest for Beauty, started traveling and invested everything I had saved into it. Eventually my savings ran out so I got myself in quite a bit of credit card debts (nothing outrageous but I did whatever I had to do to keep going). I never wanted to make a dime more with fashion photography but I needed to find an alternative way to survive, I knew I was a good photographer and could get work in the travel industry so while I was shooting for my project I also started creating a portfolio of travel images. When I had a solid portfolio I started showing it to travel agencies asking them to hire me and started working with them while taking other random photography gigs on the side.
Eventually I realized travel and pursuing my project full time was what I really wanted to do with my time so I broke my own heart and decided to leave NYC (which was costing me $1500 per month for a room in an apt with 6 roommates!) and be on the road indefinitely. So on Christmas Eve last year I donated everything I owned beside two suitcases—one full of books—to a homeless shelter and left everything i had and knew for a life of uncertainties on the road.
Now you have some background but that didn’t answer your question…so how can I afford to travel? The short answer is I work my ass off, I take a ton of risk and i’m not scared of being uncomfortable but I’ll brake it down for you…
HOW I CAN AFFORD TO TRAVEL FULL TIME
I’m pretty sure I will disappoint many of you with these answers. People tend to like the “I’m a super cool influencer that gets paid to travel chasing waterfalls in my bikini” fairytale. That’s definitely not my case! I don’t give a shit about tricking you into thinking my life is so cool and so perfect just to pump up my ego… fuck coolness! [i’ll write another post about fakness and the distortion of reality by influencers soon!] I care about truth and showing you my real raw self, and the real raw truth is a very simple one: I often struggle guys!
TRAVEL IS MY PRIORITY
I made travel my priority and left everything else for it. I have no home, no possessions, no family to take care of and that gives me complete freedom to go where I want when I want. I know, it’s a bit extreme and certainly not for everyone, but for me—for now—it’s totally worth it.
THE INSTAGRAM MYTH
I’ll repeat this to exhaustion: posting on instagram doesn’t allow me to make a living. To the day i made $0 on instagram. I never got payed for a post, I never got a free trip purely to post on IG. Having a blog helps for working with tourism boards sometime and more often with hotels: they give you a few nights stay in exchange of photography or writing content, and/or reviews or mention on articles and sometime a tag on IG. But the only way instagram has truly helped me is that when an agency or a client looks at my account they might feel reassured by my numbers (and even more by my press section i think!) and maybe they are more prone to hire me. But let’s not forget that I was working as much as I am working now when my numbers were really low.
I WORK (or I TRADE)
I’m a professional photographer, that’s my ‘real job’. I make money with photography. My specialty is portraiture so I spend a lot of time with local people when I travel to capture their culture and that implies staying in remote areas. I made a conscious choice of not taking commercial gigs unless i find the companies I work with ethical and aligned with my values so now I’m working mainly with private clients, NGOs, tourism boards, sometime with magazines and often with travel agencies.
Agencies hire me to take photos that they can use to promote their business. Often though I work with small local agencies that have no budget for photography so I trade my services in exchange of an all expenses paid trip. That way I don’t have to worry about spending my own money for a few weeks and then once I’m done working I’m already in a new country and I can stay a few more weeks on my own to work on my projects. During those weeks the word comfort is not even on my radar!
I TRAVEL CHEAP AF
Stop saying travel is expensive! Ok, if your idea of travel is laying on the beach of a luxury resort in the Maldives then fuck yes it will be expensive! But in many parts of the world, especially in developing countries, life cost is really low and you can spend very little money while traveling. Actually you’ll probably spend much less than you would at home, you just have t be willing to give up total comfort. Shit guys, with the money I spent on a 1 month rent in NYC I can live in South East Asia comfortably for 3 months! This is how:
-I stay in cheap hotels and guesthouses
I have no problem staying in cheap places, they exist and they are not that terrible! sure no spa or fancy extras but does that really matter?! As long as I have a room with a clean bed, no cockroach crawling on me and a functioning bathroom, I’m cool!
Example: My guesthouse in Bali was great (ok beside not having hot water, but who cares it was hotter than hell out) and it cost me $6 per night for a private room with bathroom AND breakfast included!
-I eat local food
Eating in local restaurants is MUCH cheaper than eating in fancy westernized places made for tourists. I’m not even interested in those places to be honest, I can eat western food in the west!
– I take public transport, night busses, 3rd class trains and I even hitchhike sometime
All of the above may not be the fastest, most comfortable and convenient or safest way to move around but they save you a ton of money! I took a train from Gokarna to Goa for $0,30 last winter, a 10 hours nightbus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for $10, if I’m having a good month I uber here and there, otherwise I never take cabs but look for the usual illegal taxi-bike instead; in extreme cases I hitchhike (only happened a few times for now!)
I DON’T BUY SHIT I DON’T NEED
I’m gonna sound very new-agey here but you know what happened when I started traveling? I realized I don’t need much, I only need to have enough.
So i stopped being a diligent consumer and now I only buy things I actually need or that have some sort of meaning to me. A roof over my head, some food in my stomach, some clothes and essentials, a few books and notebooks, and of course my equipment and my laptop so I can create…everything else is kind of unnecessary (especially considering I don’t even have a home where I can hoard stuff!)
The society we created made us so dependent from buying things we don’t need, making many of us trapped in an illusion, mislead by greed and chained from consumerism and materialism, all things created to keep us disconnected and distracted from what really matters: self love and happiness. And trust me, you’ll never find it in things! Travel liberates you from those chains and makes you look at life from a different (and less materialistic) perspective, it’s inevitable.
MONEY IS NOT MY GOAL
I’m a horrible business person, i suck at everything marketing and i feel like my soul is being sucked out when I have to deal with that side of my job (I so wish I had an agent!) Why? Because money It’s never been my goal in any of my creative endeavors . I do things because i want and need to see them come to life, because my heart asks me to.
Of course we need money to live but we should always look at it as a tool, not an objective. I don’t travel to make money, I do it because i love it and it’s making me a better person, teaching me things i couldn’t learn in any other way, connecting me to people in a way that makes me understand the importance of equality on all spectrums.
I made very little money this year, and my bank account went dangerously low on several occasions, but that’s ok, i had enough to survive and things always end up working themselves out!
I SACRIFICE A LOT
By now I think you got the point, living this kind of life has nothing to do with the glitz & Glamour you see on IG. Yes my life it’s magical under many many aspects, but magic always comes with a price and in my case the price is being alone a lot; not being able to have a steady relationship with a guy because I’m always leaving the next day; not seeing your friends and family for long periods of time; not being in your own bed when you get sick or are dying of food poisoning; being exhausted often because of long uncomfortable hauls; finding yourself in dodgy situations; not knowing where your next paycheck will come from…
Is it worth it though?
Every fucking bit of it! The good and the bad, because like everything else in life, the hardships and the struggles i go through make every other moment so damn beautiful. Travel is making me a much better person than I was before. It’s teaching me so much about life and our planet and its people. It’s making me understand the value of empathy and kindness and togetherness. It’s making me live unforgettable experiences and feel emotions I never thought I’d live. I owe a lot to the road.
I don’t know how much longer I’ll be living on the road, I want to finish my project by the end of next year and I just started a new business adventure (Rise & Shine Retreats) that will keep me traveling (and will bring some of you with me!), I don’t know what the future has in storage for me but I trust life will bring me somewhere magical!
P.S. If you found this post useful, if you think it could be inspirational, mortivational or helpful for some folks out there, I ask you a mega favor: please share it! Share it on facebook quoting your favorite sentence I wrote, or share it on your stories on IG or on twitter, or just tell a friend about it, Let’s spread the message that being human and real is much much more important than being cool!
Big Hug Guys