A&E

People: Aided by internet and social media, this couple has made traveling a career

 

Christine Williams and Jules Hatfield were both in their mid-20s and working for a disaster relief organization when they met in Peru in 2012. Soon, the young woman from Atherton and the young man from Melbourne, Australia, discovered they had a mutual love for traveling.

As they worked together, helping the city of Pisco recover from the aftermath of a catastrophic 2007 earthquake, they fell in love, and decided to continue their travels together.

After a year of wandering around Latin America, Williams and Hatfield started a blog to share the stories and photos from their travel adventures with their families and friends, with the vague idea of maybe finding some way to help finance their travels. Their initial goal was to attract 24 visits a day to their blog.

The couple continued to travel -- with breaks to work for nonprofits -- and post their writing and photos, while both worked remotely on master's degrees they hoped would help them with careers in international development.

But somewhere along the way which, by now, has wound through 55 countries the travel itself became their careers.

The blog started by Williams and Hatfield, DontForgetToMove.com, is now a website with more than 55,000 monthly pageviews. They have 160,000 social media followers on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest.

Last year the business completely supported the couple. "We used to call ourselves travel bloggers, and then travel influencers, and now we're calling ourselves a travel media company," Hatfield said.

In 2016 the couple visited four continents and 15 countries, traveling hundreds of thousands of miles on 35 air flights, with much of their travel paid for by sponsors.

They wrote a book, "The Authentic Cuba Travel Guide," spent two weeks on a ship crossing the Atlantic as part of an attempted "digital detox," rented apartments in Colombia for a month and in Bulgaria for two months, took a road trip through Europe, watched bears from a hut in Estonia, bought a drone to help them shoot videos, and, in October, were offered a chance to shoot a pilot for a Travel Channel series.

Shooting of the "Shoestring Getaways" pilot started in January and has kept Williams, now 29, and Hatfield, now 32, in the Bay Area for much of this year. While they waited to find out if the show will get picked up as a series, the couple purchased a Dodge Ram van, converted it into a traveling home, and started a new video blog-- a vlog -- about van travel. Their first installment was a trip to the Stanislaus National Forest, and they plan to drive across the country as well as visit the Pacific Northwest.

The journey to where they are today has often been hard, with 50-hour weeks the norm and all-nighters not uncommon, but both say they don't think they'll become sedentary anytime soon.

"I don't think we'll ever have 'normal' jobs," Williams said. They struggled to make their business a success, and "we'll definitely stick with it," she added.

Their trips are work, not pleasure, Hatfield says, because they constantly must remember why they are there. "I have to go to this place, and I have to be behind the camera and take these photos," he says. However, it's a job that takes them around the world and on trips such as two weeks spent in Italy last year. "It was a bit of work," he said, "but mostly it was eating pizza and drinking wine."

"I'd never give that up for working in a cubicle," Williams said.

The skills they've picked up along the way, including shooting and editing videos, and curating Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds, have also come in handy for side jobs as social media management and strategy consultants.

The companies that DontForgetToMove partners with (which are always identified on postings if something is sponsored) have to "align with our blog and our interests," which include sustainable and adventure travel, focusing on culture and socially conscious experiences.

The two say they're "not overly organized" and often book flights just a few days before taking off on a trip. They do much of their research once they arrive in a location and are usually not in a hurry. "We try to spend a lot of time in a place," Hatfield said, and "if we went to a place for week, we probably wouldn't write about it."

The two are vegetarians who sometimes eat fish, so their writing about food is limited.

"We just try to base our writing on our own experiences," Williams said.

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Favorite destination?

It was love at first sight when Hatfield and Williams first visited Cuba in 2013. Within hours of arriving in Havana they rebooked their return flights to extend their two-week trip to four weeks.

"It's just magic,"Williams said about Cuba. "You can feel it immediately."

During that month, they stayed mostly in rooms rented out in private homes (for about $5 a night), took local transportation (as in a bus crammed with entire families, plus their animals), ate street food (as in 20-cent pizza) and survived on about $80 a week. They say they felt safe and welcomed, and were very happy they'd decided to extend their stay.

The two were so entranced with Cuba, and the articles they wrote about their visit are so popular on their DontForgetToMove website, that they returned in 2016 and wrote a book: "The Authentic Cuba Travel Guide."

Their goal, the book says, is "to show people the real Cuba," and share information allowing visitors to "get the most out of your trip and see Cuba in all its rich, vibrant, complicated glory."

The book details the many complications of Cuban travel, including the country's two official currencies, the government-sanctioned system of rooms rented to tourists in private homes, and the vagaries of transportation options.

While they detail how to see Cuba on a budget, they also talk about more pricey options and how to get off the beaten path with minimal hardship.

Between Hatfield and Williams' two visits, President Barack Obama had made it easier for tourists to visit Cuba. The two say they noticed many changes in the country. However, they add, it's still relatively easy to get to know the Cuba and its people that most tourists never see.

While the Trump administration has reversed most of President Obama's actions easing sanctions on Cuba, the new regulations haven't been released yet, so travel by individuals directly from the U.S. to Cuba is still possible at the moment. Once the new rules are released, those who want to visit Cuba without going through a tour company will be able to do so only by skirting U.S. law and entering through Mexico or Canada.

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Get paid to travel

Williams and Hatfield say they were just about ready to give up on their travel website, late in 2015, when they attended a travel blogging conference in Thailand. There they heard others' success stories and were motivated to try to make DontForgetToMove into a real business.

Most bloggers, they say, give up "just before they hit their peak," and 2016 proved to be their breakthrough year as they traveled to four continents and 15 countries, wrote a book and were offered the chance to make a travel show pilot.

While the travel blogging world has become "way more saturated" and more competitive, the two still encourage others to try it. "You might as well have some fun with it and get some free stays," Williams said.

Their DontForgetToMove website offers a step-by-step guide on "How To Start a Travel Blog and Travel the World for Free."

The article goes through what is needed, from choosing a name and picking a niche to concentrate on, to what platforms to use to design a website and where to have it hosted. They explain how to set up social media accounts and what products will help manage them.

Find their travel blogging tips on their website.

Resources

Connect with DontForgetToMove on:

Facebook

Instagram

Twitter

YouTube

DontForgetToMove.com website

Find out about their Cuba travel book on their website.

Buy the Cuba book on Amazon

Check out their volunteering website, Volunteer Guides.

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