This couple went on an 8-month trip to Southeast Asia and stayed at five-star resorts for free
This story originally appeared on BusinessInsider.com.
Lithuanian-born Karolina Valeikaite, 23, and Italian Marco Coppola, 25, had never left Europe when they embarked on what was meant to be a two-month backpacking stint starting in Morocco.
But by using their combined photography and graphic design skills, as well as years of experience in the hospitality industry, the couple turned their trip into an eight-month adventure across SouthEast Asia, staying in some of the most luxurious five-star resorts in the world — for free.
Their envy-inducing Instagram snaps have earned them an Influencer-worthy following of more than 60,000 on their respective accounts @outsideboxx and @gypseetravel, from a base of around 1,000 between them when they left London.
Eventually, they began earning money from sponsored content jobs from luxury hotels and brands.
They calculated that during their travels — to Morocco, Myanmar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Thailand — over a period of just two months they had stayed in accommodation worth over £20,000.
So how did they do it?
Business Insider caught up with the couple, who are now back in Europe and living with Coppola's family and dog.
Scroll down to find out how they went from "backpackers to influencers" in a matter of months.
Meet Karolina Valeikaite, 23, and Marco Coppola, 25, the young couple who have spent the last eight months travelling the world taking wanderlust-inducing photos.
Before they embarked on their trip, neither Lithuanian Valeikaite nor Italian Coppola had left Europe. Now, they get invited to stay in five-star luxury resorts and private villas all over the world for free...
...Like the Samui Summit Estate below in Thailand, which may resemble a hotel, but is actually a six-floor private villa.
It all comes down to being Instagram-savvy, according to the couple. Since starting the trip, the couple have racked up a following of more than 60,000 Instagram followers between them — a slight increase from the 1,000 they had between them when they left London.
Their trip began in Morocco, the start of what they thought would be a two-month trip. They spent three weeks having a traditional "touristy" holiday, says Valeikaite. "Everything was booked in advance and super organised." All the while, they were taking photos.
After two to three months of taking pictures, their Instagram followers "started increasing at the speed of light," according to Valeikaite. "People want to see beautiful places and picture themselves there."
However, Coppola said that despite their big following, the interest wasn't initially coming from companies.
"We were thinking of going back home — we never would have imagined doing an eight-month trip with money we had," he said.
But when they hit SouthEast Asia things started to take a turn.
In Cambodia, the pair, who have years of experience working in the hospitality industry in London, landed jobs managing a resort on the island of Koh Rong, where they spent nearly three months.
"Finding a job in SouthEast Asia is pretty easy — you can volunteer and get your board all paid for," Coppola said. "You just have to go for it, and do whatever it takes.
From tree houses to yet more private pools, the pair began collaborating with private villas in Cambodia who would put them up in ultimate luxury for free. One of the villa's is pictured below.
After doing a couple of interviews with the media — including Business Insider — they started to gain even more traction with their posts on Instagram, and more companies started to approach them for collaborations.
Suddenly the dream of becoming an Instagram Influencer didn't seem so far off.
Contracts started to roll in. In Vietnam (pictured below), the couple signed a contract for a campaign with Fusion Resorts for an entire month. There was no money exchange — their pay in luxury accommodation, travel, food and drink...
Which led to yet more private pools and villas.
The luxury hotel brand Aman invited the couple to go and stay at one of its resorts in Sri Lanka, a country that they weren't originally planning to visit.
They fell in love with Sri Lankan sunsets. "We would shoot dreamy pictures at sunset and sunrise — the blue and golden hours — when the sky becomes completely pink and orange and the colours pop so much," says Valeikaite.
Above, the duo is pictured at the Villa Vista Mirissa, in Weligama Bay. This was one of the only villas they approached themselves to set up a collaboration — most others reached out to the couple.
In Sri Lanka they started earning money for posts for the first time. Brands began approaching them for sponsored posts, paying them between $100 (£78) and $300 (£233) for a few photos.
They also started to freelance online using their photography and graphic design skills to make extra cash. "Retouching and editing photos for brands is a really good way for backpackers to make money," says Coppola.
"Some of the requests were really simple, like cropping or applying filters."
The last stop of their eight-month trip was Thailand, where they stayed in some stunning resorts in Phuket and Ko Samui. They calculated that over two months they had stayed in hotels and luxury resorts that would have cost an ordinary person £20,000.
Valeikaite, who in London was a production assistant in the fashion industry, says that if you want to become an Instagram influencer, "make sure you have some sort of idea of what kind of audience want to attract, whether it's fashion or travel."
Coppola added that you need to "do your research of hashtags and how they work, and how to get the best visibility and exposure."
"We engage with our followers by answering comments, giving nice tips of where to go," Valeikaite added. "Or we get emails, like from people heading to Thailand wanting to know, 'Where should I go and what should I do?' It's important that we answer as much as possible."
This interaction with followers has been key to growing their numbers so quickly, according to the couple. They've often held competitions to keep their followers engaged.
Now the couple are back in Italy, staying with Coppola's family and dog. They plan to spend the summer in Europe and are hoping to work with brands like they did in SouthEast Asia before jetting off again.
Their next trip may involve visiting the Philippines, Maldives, Indonesia, and then Australia, where they want to buy a van and travel the coast.
"The best plan is no plan, and don't give up," says Coppola.
Stay tuned for more dreamy posts.