How This Couple Quit Their Jobs and Spent 6 Months Traveling
This story originally appeared on BusinessInsider.com.
Jessica Last and Charlie Wild, both 29 years old, have been together for almost 10 years. Last year they quit their jobs in advertising and set out to travel the world.
Using Instagram as their only guide, they decided to explore under-the-radar destinations through the lens of locals.
"The Instagram community is full of creative people wanting to meet other creatives and you can feed off each other," Last told Business Insider.
Wild adds: "It's essentially your shop window, or a mood board of your tastes and you can tell quite a lot about a person from their Instagram."
Their route began in India, and then they travelled to Singapore, through Malaysia, Myanmar, and ended in South Africa.
As the couple landed in new cities they used Instagram for tips and hints on what to explore using the hashtags and geo-location settings. They found that every country they visited used the app differently. In India users open up their homes to fellow Instagrammers, while in Hong Kong users reserve certain information for the locals.
In the Himalayas they taught English to refugee monks. In Myanmar they met the tattooed women of a remote tribe. The custom began, according to legend, as a means for young women to repel an ancient King and avoid enslavement.
Overall, they met about 50 other Instagramers on their trip. While they didn't have any "dodgy" experiences during the six-months they spent connecting with strangers, the "coolest and edgiest" experience they had was at a boxing club in Johannesburg.
The couple racked up 12,500 followers on The Travel Project account, and are keen to grow this further on their next stint to the Southern states of America. They funded the first six months with their own savings, but by the end of their trip (and once their follower base hit 10,000) they were being approached by tourism boards for sponsored content.
Scroll down for a sneak peek of their stunning trip, made possible through the use of the photo sharing app.
Prior to forming The Travel Project, the couple both worked at creative agencies in London. Last was an account director and Wild was head of social, but they grew tired of the same old routines.
... It began with a one-way ticket to India, where they spent two months. One of their favourite places was the ancient village of Hampi, in Karnataka, South India. "The only way I can describe it is as if you're on a film set of The Flintstones," says Last."There are huge boulders everywhere, next to rice paddies, palm trees and amazing wildlife."
"Lots of people tip you to go and see different ruins, which are amazing, but our favourite thing was when someone said go to the other side of the river, get a motorbike, and just drive."
Instagram is huge in India, according to the duo. "It was probably the best place in the world we could have started," says Wild.
The couple soon learned that Instagram users in India frequently open up their homes to fellow users that they have never met before.
Last adds, "We would reach out to people with 100,000 plus followers (when we had hardly anything) and they'd invite us to meet up."
One girl in Delhi invited the couple to go and stay with her family, "it really felt like we were living like a local."
Instagram led them to the Himalayas where they taught English to refugee monks in 'Little Tibet'...
Last says: "Volunteering to teach refugee monks in 'Little Tibet,' where the Dalai Lama lives, was another great example of how the Instagrammers are so well connected. We didn't want to just show up and gawp at them."
The settlement was built on land set aside for refugee monks fleeing Tibet after the Dalai Lama sought exile in India during the 1959 Tibetan uprising against China.
"The monks all had such compelling stories. I spoke to one man who had had to flee and it took him two months to make his way through the mountains."
While visiting the monastery the couple were invited to join a prayer protest against the suppression of Tibetan religious life.
... And they experienced sub-zero temperatures in a camp at Triund. Below, Last is trying to dodge the cold inside a Chai shop at sunset.
The couple visited Udaipur, also known as the City of lakes. The colorful, romantic setting is known as the Venice of the East.
They arrived in The Lion City: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore, after two months traveling in India. One of Singapore's most iconic tourist spots, the huge nature park features 50 metre "Supertrees," covered in plants and connected by bridges.
Wild says: "We do it all in-app to make it completely organic. First, you search the hashtag of the place, then the geolocation tag." This will bring up the most-engaged-with photos for that location, at that point in time, he explains, and you can then scroll through and reach out to any users that take your fancy.
"We'd contact everyone through DM (direct messages) and then would just network through the app, sometimes we would email later down the line if more info was required."
One of the highlights was the ancient city of Bagan, Myanmar, where they saw the 2017 New Year in.
Instagram is not yet a thing within the local community in Myanmar, according to the couple, so they had to take tips from ex-pats or other traveling Instagrammers instead.
The image of hot air balloons floating over the temples and pagodas of Bagan looks like paradise. It's a popular photo spot among travel bloggers, but Last and Wild wanted to experience something a little different ...
"We got up for sunrise and sat on the main pagoda but you're surrounded by thousands of European tourists and all you can hear is people clicking away," says Wild. "One Instagrammer got in touch and basically left us an Instagram treasure map with directions of how to experience the view without the crowds."
"We got up the next day at 4 a.m. and found the spot. We were the only ones there, it couldn't have been a better view, with the balloons flying directly overhead. We couldn't have found this without the app —this led us to believe this mechanic works.”
They sampled the local cuisine in Mindat, Myanmar "Where the soups are big enough to feed a small army ... And spicy enough to make a grown man cry," Wild said.
Another high point in Myanmar was visiting the tattooed ladies of Myanmar, according to Jess. Below, If you look closely you can see the shaded area of ink on the woman's face.
The couple were told by some French Instagrammers how to get to a village where some of the last remaining Myanmar ladies with tattooed faces reside.
Last says: "We were told many years ago that women began tattooing their faces because they were known for being really beautiful and the King would often steal the women. We were the only tourists in this whole village and among the first 1,000 foreigners to have ever visited."
Wild adds: "One lady started to play the flute through her nose, that was a moment where we were like this is really surreal!"
After Myanmar, the couple spent five days exploring Hong Kong where people are pretty crazy about Instagram. Wild says: "The Instagram culture in Hong Kong is hipster beyond belief, if you’re a big 'Instagrammer' there then you're like a celebrity and they have these secret locations that they don't really tell anyone about."
"We found it really friendly but noticed people held info back that was just for the local community. We wanted to get loads of rooftop shots, and we got a few because we buddied up with a couple of people, but there were certainly some that we were never going to get access to," he says.
From Hong Kong the pair flew to South Africa where spent the next six weeks.
The couple visited a boxing club in the inner city neighborhood of Hillbrow, Johannesburg, known for its high levels of crime.
The couple didn't have any "dodgy" experiences during the entire six months spent connecting with strangers. The closest it came to feeling dangerous, Wild says, was visiting a boxing club in an inner city neighborhood in Johannesburg, a neighbourhood tourists are not recommended to visit. It was run by a local man who was blind in one eye.
"We met an Instagrammer who had lived in South Africa for 10 years and was into unique experiences. She took us boxing in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, and we boxed with the locals."
While in South Africa, The Travel Project's Instagram follower base hit 10,000. "That’s when people started to be a little more interested in our story and tourism boards started to reach out," they said.
The couple connected with more than 100 'Instagrammers' on their trip and met over half of them.
They also witnessed a light show on the sand dunes.
They use a Sony a6000 DSLR camera, and edit in VSCO, but Last has also just downloaded Lightroom, and they use their iPhones for Instagram Stories.
Wild says "When we left, Stories was like a month old. It really adds a new layer to the app and Multipic is going to change it even more because you can tell a story in a carousel of images rather than having one, so you can sort of storyboard your day."
The Travel Project couple is now planning their next trip across the Southern states of America this summer, which they are calling "Secrets Of The South."
The couple returned from their trip in March 2017, ending their six-month stint at a friend's wedding in Cape Town. They are now working on a blog and planning their next big trip to the Southern states of the US.
Wild says: "We want the next trip to be more crowdsourced, so we'll put our trip entirely in the hands of our followers, to push ourselves that little bit more." As their follower base has grown, people are becoming increasingly more responsive to their posts, they say.
Last adds: "With our last trip, it was inspired and driven by Instagram, and all of the interesting experiences were a by-product, but now we are actually seeking to unearth unusual and weird stuff."