Algorithms, pandemics and shocking cities: what it is prefer to be an Instagram journey blogger – New Zealand Herald

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When Nicola Easterby started her blog, Polkadot Passport, she just wanted to share her adventures abroad with friends and family.

Seven years, 57 countries and 280,000 Instagram followers later, the travel photographer and blogger shares how she got into the industry and then thrived during the pandemic, and shares tips for fellow travellers.

Nicola originally started her blog to share updates with family and friends. Photo / Polkadot Passport

How did you get into the travel industry?

Eight years ago I took my first solo overseas trip and fell in love with travel photography. During this trip my photos were picked up by a tour operator who wanted to buy some of my vacation photos. This got my foot in the door of travel photography and I then traveled to 14 different countries to create content for them.

At the same time, I started my travel blog and Instagram, Polkadot Passport, to share my overseas adventures with family and friends. It grew in importance over the years and before I knew it tourism boards, airlines and travel brands around the world wanted to work with me.

By getting onto Instagram early, Nicola said she was able to organically grow a large following before the platform became saturated with travel content.  Photo / Polkadot PassportBy getting onto Instagram early, Nicola said she was able to organically grow a large following before the platform became saturated with travel content. Photo / Polkadot Passport

What has been an advantage of social media during your travel career?

It’s crazy to think that if there were no social media, my travel career wouldn’t exist either. I was lucky enough to jump on the Instagram bandwagon pretty early in the game, so I saw a lot of organic growth for my account before any algorithms kicked in or the travel space got very competitive.

A solid following on social media opened up a world of opportunities in travel.

..And a challenge?

When I first started on Instagram, it was all about sharing photos. Now it’s about sharing stories, film reels, short and long video content, the list goes on.

It’s quite overwhelming to keep up with trends, stay relevant and stand out in a saturated market. Social media fatigue is a real thing and I’ve experienced it especially since COVID hit and I haven’t been able to create a lot of new content.

Fast-paced and ever-changing, Nicola says it can be overwhelming to keep up with Instagram trends.  Photo / Polkadot PassportFast-paced and ever-changing, Nicola says it can be overwhelming to keep up with Instagram trends. Photo / Polkadot Passport

Where was your first trip abroad?

The first trip abroad I took was on a missionary trip to Cambodia when I was 15. Up to this point, I had lived in a comfortable, privileged, naïve bubble. Seeing how people who live on so little can still have so much joy has turned my world upside down.

Those memories never left me. I also have some strong memories of becoming violently ill while staying in a village that I would rather forget…

What was the greatest trip you’ve ever made?

My best friend and I went on the most epic 3 month trip. We started with a 10 day volunteer service in Bali, then flew to Europe for a few weeks to visit the Christmas markets before heading to New York for a non-stop week.

We then made our way to Canada, met up with some of our friends and spent Christmas in a cozy log cabin, then flew to Mexico for a New Year’s Eve of margaritas and sunshine. We ended the trip with an exciting round trip through Cuba.

Nicola said a three-month trip that included visiting Canada in the winter was one of her favorite trips.  Photo / Polkadot PassportNicola said a three-month trip that included visiting Canada in the winter was one of her favorite trips. Photo / Polkadot Passport

Which destination surprised you the most?

Of all the places I’ve been to, Cuba has probably surprised me the most – both for better and for worse. The atmosphere was livelier, the scenery more breathtaking and the culture more unique than I had imagined.

However, the poverty and political unrest was much worse than I had imagined, so the visit was very enlightening.

Are there any items that you always take with you when you travel?

Noise canceling headphones have been the best travel item I’ve ever invested in. Being able to block out the white noise on an airplane is a game changer!

What advice would you give to new travelers?

1. Download offline maps to your phone and mark where you are so you don’t get stuck when you don’t have internet! I would also recommend marking places you visit on maps so you can record them for future reference.

2. When packing your carry-on, make sure your water bottle is empty, liquids are in a separate container, and laptop is easily accessible. This makes going through security seamless and ensures you don’t fumble when entering the counter.

3. Pack a small bag with things you will need for the duration of the flight (headphones, water bottle, eye mask, book, snacks, etc.) that you can easily separate from the hand luggage that you will put in the overhead compartment. This saves you from getting on and off the entire flight.

The travel expert said noise-cancelling headphones were the best travel accessory she's invested in.  Photo / Polkadot PassportThe travel expert said noise-cancelling headphones were the best travel accessory she’s invested in. Photo / Polkadot Passport

When was your last trip abroad?

The last time I traveled overseas (other than Australia) was on a work trip to Paris in early 2019, just before the outbreak of the pandemic. Very grateful as it is one of my favorite places in the world!

What do you miss most about traveling?

I feel most alive when I travel. Outside of my comfort zone and without a routine, I become more relaxed, curious and spontaneous. i miss that feeling

Where would you travel to first if the borders open?

After going to Australia to visit my family and Canada to visit my husband’s family, we can’t wait to go to Europe! My heart longs for return. It’s the continent I feel most at home on, I love it so much.

How has your work changed as a result of the pandemic?

Since most of my work has depended on international travel, my job has changed quite drastically.

I pretty much had to put Polkadot Passport on hold until travel resumed. That meant shifting my focus away from travel and looking for opportunities to use my skills in social media and photography elsewhere.

With international travel on hold, Nicola now focuses on the content agency she runs with her husband.  Photo / Polkadot PassportWith international travel on hold, Nicola now focuses on the content agency she runs with her husband. Photo / Polkadot Passport

Your work has changed slightly from travelling, what are you doing now?

Earlier this year my husband and I started an agency, Cedar and Gold Creative, focused on photography and web design for the food, beverage and hospitality industries.

I have also become very interested in cooking and recipe development over the course of lockdown and started a food blog, Gourmet Vegetarians.


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