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.
nstagram 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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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 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.”