Meet Charlie and Jess, former ad agency staffers who packed up their very comfortable London lives and bought one way tickets to India to embark on a journey of a lifetime.
Their desire to leave behind the city life at home and explore the big wide world is hardly unheard of in this day and age. However, they’re doing it with a twist – they’re relying solely on Instagram to plan, organise and draw inspiration for their entire trip. We caught up with the couple who are currently in Cape Town to find out more about their travels and how they’re using Instagram as a travel tool.
Tell us a bit about yourselves – what were you doing before you decided to travel?
Before deciding to go away, we were both working in advertising, at separate agencies in London. Both our roles were social media focused and so I guess it was inevitable that we would integrate this into our plans.
What made you decide to leave your jobs and buy a one-way ticket?
Everything was very comfortable in London; our jobs were going well and we lived in a nice flat close to lots of our friends, however things started to feel repetitive and we were craving a new challenge. As I’m sure many British people can relate to, on cold, wintery evenings, conversation often turned to foreign shores, exploration and adventure. We started to discuss a new way of travelling, one that would enable us to have unique experiences and see places from a new perspective. Ultimately we wanted to break from routine and test ourselves – in order to do this we couldn’t plan in too much detail. This is when The Travel Project was born…Deciding it was time to take the leap, we quit our jobs, packed up our flat and bought a one way ticket to Delhi!
Your first destination was India – Why?
We wanted a new challenge, something that would push our buttons creatively and take us out of our comfort zones. Neither of us had been to India before and from what we’d heard it would deliver on all these fronts. It’s safe to say, it didn’t disappoint. Someone once described it to us as ‘beautiful chaos’ and we could agree more. It’s an attack on all of the senses in the most incredible way. With everyday offering a completely new experience it set the tone for the rest of our adventure.
What was your most memorable experience in India?
This is a hard one as there are just so many! We will always remember the wonderfully extrovert and welcoming people we met along the way, as well as the hilarious concoctions of Western cuisine we were served (ice cream spaghetti carbonara springs to mind!). However the most memorable one off experience has to be our first day in Hampi. We were tipped by an Instagrammer to forgo the usual tours and instead rent a scooter and just drive out into the countryside. The scenery was like nothing we had ever seen before; riding along the empty roads as the sun was beginning to set we couldn’t have felt further from our desks and London lives. We rode through banana plantations, rice fields and boulder scattered mountains before we met a farmer who invited us into his home to drink Chai with his family. This is what the project is all about and was an experience that we will never forget.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to travel around India?
In might sound cliched, but be open minded, talk to the locals and go with the flow. In India, there is no option but to dive in head first. If you let go and get involved you will find it very hard not to fall in love, just as we did. It’s a very different country to the UK or South Africa and so you can’t expect to have all of the amenities and luxuries you have at home. However the amazing people, rich culture, delicious food and spectacular countryside put creature comforts into perspective.
What made you choose to use only Instagram to influence/inspire your travels?
There are 3 things in particular we love about Instagram, all of which we felt made it the perfect travel tool:
1) It promotes community – Instagram is an excellent tool for bringing together like-minded creatives around the world. More than other social platforms it encourages community and support amongst it’s users which is something we liked from the very beginning.
2) It’s visual – We both love photography and therefore the simplistic design of the app was always something we’ve liked. Using the app we are able to create a bespoke visual diary of our trip, while the Insta Stories functionality gives us the opportunity to share our experiences in more depth.
3) It’s local and live – Through the simple search of a hashtag or geotag, we are able to discover creative people across the globe who are actively documenting their environments at any given time. This instantly shows us who is local to the area and offers us live, localised updates which are not available on Google or in guidebooks.
You’re now in South Africa – where have you been so far and is it what you expected before coming here?
So far we’ve explored a good mixture of the classic tourists spots, including The garden Route and Cape Town alongside the less travelled areas such as Limpopo, Joburg and The Wild Coast. In the UK we see a lot of beautiful pictures of the typical South African tourist destinations, so we had fairly defined picture of what we thought it would be like. However what struck us immediately is how much more there is to the country than this. We were surprised to learn how many different cultures and traditions South Africa boasts and how landscapes differ so drastically from one place to the next. The coastline from Cape Town all the way up to Mozambique has to be the most diverse, beautiful and quiet coastline we have ever seen. Only here can you get a stunning, sandy beach all to yourself!
You’ve just arrived in Cape Town – what have you got planned for your time here and what have you done so far?
So far we’ve been Gin tasting at a local distillery, learned to cook traditional Malay cuisine, climbed Lion’s Head and eaten our heart out at many amazing restaurants. With so much to choose from, using the Instagram community as our guide has really helped us to experience the best of the city. In terms of what’s next… As usual we have kept our schedule pretty open to allow us to react to people’s tips. We have lots of suggestions for bars, restaurants, neighbourhoods and views to explore, however new tips are always welcome!
What has the response been from the South African Instagram community?
We thought we’d never find anyone more welcoming than the Indian Instagram community, however the South African community has proven to be a strong contender! Everyone has been amazingly welcoming, going out of their way to show us their favourite local spots and share their insider knowledge of the country.
Where are you off to next after South Africa?
We are flying back to London for two months to see our friends and family and to launch our website. After that we are heading to North America to discover the best local experiences from Austin to Missouri – something that has been on our bucket list for a long time!
How do you plan your route/itinerary? (do you have a set plan in mind or are you being guided solely by Instagram as you go along?)
We would be lying to say we didn’t have a vague idea of where we want to end up. For example, we have a wedding in Franschhoek in March and so that is our end goal for now, but other than that we really do let the Instagram community guide our route and shape our experiences along the way. At the beginning of the trip we agreed that we would be open to pretty much anything. So long as it is logistically and financially viable, we will give it a go. Not knowing what is next is what we love most about the project.
In your opinion, how has travel changed over the past 10 years and where do you see it headed in the future?
There is definitely a shift occurring in terms of what people are wanting from travel. People are increasingly moving away from the typical two week beach holiday and are instead looking for more fulfilling experiences that enrich their lives on a deeper level. Not knowing how to achieve this is what stops many people from travelling this way. Everyday we receive messages from people asking us how they too can travel in this manner.
Via The Travel Project we hope to show that anyone can use social platforms to be more adventurous on their travels and that there really is more to the world than palm trees and beaches (even though both of these are pretty great). We are not alone in seeing this shift in travel trends, Airbnb launched ‘Experiences’ shortly after we began The Travel Project and smaller enterprises have popped up wth similar offerings. As more brands catch on, this type of travel will become more and more popular. This is an exciting change that has many social and cultural benefits for tourists and destinations alike – something we will continue to promote as we travel.
How long are you planning on travelling for?
We don’t really have a set time frame in mind. To some extent, we hope to continue travelling forever. As time goes on, it is likely we will base ourselves somewhere and use it as a jumping off point to wherever we are tipped to go next.
Will you return to your previous careers?
We’re having a bit too much fun to go back to the day job just yet. The project has opened our eyes to lots of new and exciting opportunities combining travel and social media, so both are likely to feature in any work moving forward.
What advice would you give others wanting to do a similar trip?
One of the biggest learnings we’ve taken away from this trip is that you’re more likely to regret the things you don’t try, than the things you do. Not everything will go as per your original plan and some things might not be for you, but chances are you will love it and never look back! Most importantly, dive in and immerse yourself. Social media has opened up the world and made it easier than ever to meet people from all corners of the globe. This network is there to support you, so our advice is, use it!
Photography by Charlie and Jess
FOLLOW THEIR ADVENTURES ON INSTAGRAM: @the.travel.project
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