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Imagine traveling around the worlds, for free, eating the best food out there for a living…that is what being a successful vlogger is all about right?! Mikey Chen, Mark Wiens, Andrew Zimmerman and countless others – ’em lucky ducks. Even if Zimmerman has to eat some bizarre stuff, I don’t think it’s far-reaching that Zimmerman goes to famously good restaurants between filming in the respective foreign land to pig out on the goods.
I’m not much for travel for the sake of travel but I would definitely endure an 18-hour flight and be moonlighting on the floor of the airport for 1 hour of unlimited Taiwanese seafood buffet. That is no exaggeration, my friends. Hell, I’ll take 30 minutes of a buffet with a cold!
You think I’m kidding?
When I was little, my mom bribed me with McDonald’s to prevent me from running away from school.
I was always sneaking away, breaking out, and doing my own thing. Once I was caught sneaking out and climbing down a cliff at midnight. NINJA LILY! But suddenly…a school guard grabbed my 7-year-old arms and foiled my escape. I spent the night sleeping and crying in the guard’s office because he couldn’t take me anywhere that guaranteed I wouldn’t escape. My dad threatened to chop off my legs once!
Anyway, McDonald’s in China was a luxury back then especially for village people like us. Mom would get me a McDouble with fries and sit there to watch me stuff my face. I was the easiest child to kidnap because you could have bribed me with a fry.
Some fellow gal pals (Frugal Asian, Birds of a Fire, Financial Orchid) of mine have bought up doing the food vlogger “Mikey Chen” career thingy after they reach financial independence. See, it is an Asian thing, haha.
Dream job: Turn on a camcorder and narrate while stuffing your face.
I thought for the longest time that the perks must surpass all the jet-lag and inevitability of losing pieces of your luggage. Soapy went to China to try her hand at being a Mikey Chen so I got to see a closer replication and first-hand commentary behind food vlogging. There are a lot more layers to it than just jet-lag.
Food and Travel Vlogger Basics
Blogger, vlogger, whatever brand of poison you want to call yourself – at the end of the day, all internet entertainer are fighting for a share of the attention. Every YouTuber is not only competing with each other but they are also fighting over viral cat compilation videos and my personal favorite: Psyduck going bat crazy on loop for 10 hours. Persistence is a prerequisite and an uncommon one at that.
I ghosted my a few of my early posts because they’re so uninspired and bad. My first post was something like 300 words. The first time I wrote a long listicle, I thought I was Shakespeare born again. Now I know that most of everything I wrote before my 6th month was pretty poopy.
I made my first YouTube video when I was 19 and I promptly deleted it. I’m glad I did, I would have been mauled online for my makeup application “skills.” The 19-year-old Lily makeup looks like a cross between a dumpster geisha and a depressed skunk (the GIRLS know exactly I’m talking about.)
But I’m sure if I persisted and practiced, it would have improved by now but no one said practice and persistence were common human qualities – I certainly didn’t have enough passion for makeup to push through.
If you want to make a career of it, passion is non-negotiable. Soaps did not expect the workload of making a food and travel video (people never correctly estimate the work involved in things).
Even though cinematic equipment can be costly, some of the equipment can be flipped for some cash back if things don’t work out. I always encourage beginners to start cheap, buy used, substitute early and upgrade when it becomes necessary.
With how advanced modern smartphones have gotten, an iPhone camera, camcorder, beginner’s DSLR or GoPro is all you need to get started.
For a girl like me that boasts frugality, I (embarrassingly) had 3 sets of professional lighting equipment I purchase off Amazon in the back of the closet. The quality from Amazon is just OK but the price (and shipping) is right.
Aliexpress is the cheapest place for backdrops screens. The only major downside is having to wait 1 month before it comes through from China. If you don’t need a professional backdrop, head over to Joanne’s or Michael’s (any craft store) and pick up some material for a DIY backdrop.
Subpar audio quality is forgivable but bad audio will ruin an entire video no matter how good the visuals are. Being a food or travel vlogger, there could be some crazy background noise so the best way is to fetch a wireless lavalier microphone or shotgun microphone. Both mics will not be visible on camera but can capture your voice clearly.
Editing is the most tedious thing for vloggers. The GoPro camera is almost always running as to not miss anything cool. Professional editing is a lot harder than it looks because of the snippet and precision required. I can report on this from first hand experience. In high school, I spent 2 years in a multi-media program where part of my job was to film and edit for our high school TV show. I was pretty horrible at it and never felt a tinge of interest in editing. Have you read my posts? Anyone actually thinks these are edited?
Looks & Vocals
A lot of people are self-conscious about the way they sound on camera. I certainly was one of them (until I started being invited to do podcasts.) I was born and raised in China but I don’t carry a Chinese accent that’s detectable. It could be because I immigrated to the U.S. at age 9ish and I was malleable enough to pick the language up fairly quickly.
In terms of looks, don’t use it as a crutch…but also don’t be monstrously ugly. There is nothing wrong with being vain. We’re all vain. If I had a choice of watching someone review a sock, I would prefer it to be a pretty girl rather than an ogre. UNLESS the ogre had a better…
Editing work is trickier than it looks but thankfully it’s something that is exportable, unlike personality. You need one to be an entertainer. To make things even harder, it has to be authentic, exciting, and non-controversial at the same time. No one likes copies of the same thing. The world is a pretty big place, I reckon me being me…I will eventually find my audience. But that doesn’t matter anyway because I can only be me. You can’t be someone else because that’s taken!
It’s Not As Easy As It Seems To Get There!
Not a bad list of prerequisites huh? I think all of those above are fairly easy to fill and take care of if you have all the right qualities.
But I’m not done yet. We haven’t even begun discussing the real downsides of a YouTube vlogging career. These are the things that no one actually considers in the first round of excitement. I’m sure Soapy didn’t until GoPro-ed around the city and it just clicked that there’s so much more to the game than just persistence, equipment, looks, and personality.
There are a lot more things out of your control…
1) Personal Finance
You need money to get started and the amount depends on your niche. There is a lot of financial uncertainty with a YouTube career. YouTube is the boss, the government, the house and they are not exactly the most transparent of systems. It’s not like they have a live hotline number to content creators. The YouTube “middle class” of around 50,000 to 500,000 subscribers cannot make a sustainable living. The platform might change (and I bet it will) but for now, it’s not a sustainable source for the vast majority of aspiring YouTubers in the “middle class.”
It is a nice feature that our own financial independence community will have less to worry in terms of financial security but we’re a tiny, niche group. The subject of money will come up with most YouTuber vloggers no matter how much they love their work.
2) Legal & Copyrights
I was a big Eminem fan (still am). The dude basically taught me English.
Anyway, I had a YouTube channel dedicated to him a little before Google acquired YouTube in 2006. I only uploaded 4 fan videos before my computer broke and my family canceled internet because we couldn’t afford it anymore. I totally forgot about that channel until I logged back in 2 years later. I come to find I had over 3 million video views!
All because I found one long lost video of Eminem rapping in the UK with his deceased rapper friend Proof and that video blew up along with the channel.
Me! Over 120,000 subscribers!
I didn’t know what to do with the YouTube fame at the time so I was like…”OK.” Less than a year later YouTube took me down for copyright/right of use or something silly and I was like…”OK.” Now I know how big of a deal that was but not at the time. I mean….120,000 subscribers in the early days of YouTube.
The main point is more complicated than this but essentially: if YouTube wanted to pull the plug on something, it’s their full right. If enough people out there report you, it doesn’t matter if you get a due trial. YouTube will pull the video. They’re your boss, remember?
3) Devotion and Sacrifice
For travel, adventure, foodie niches that require physical relocation and a larger initial investment (flight tickets, food costs etc.) over a long period of time, that is a time-consuming and financially risky move.
Building a base of vlogging supporters is not easy. It’s very, very possible to spend years of little thank, money, and huge time devotion to something that might be only probable down the road. There are some great vloggers I follow and they haven’t blown up yet. I use to follow Mark Wiens when he started Migrationology. He had no more than 20,000 subscribers at the time on YouTube and he got a lot of public hate in the comments from everything to his face to his voice to his shirt color.
I don’t think most people would have been able to do this for so long without total devotion to the cause. In the end, the competition is fierce so for someone who wants to do it alone, it’s important to be able to dedicate enough time, resources, and patience.
That’s a super lonely road if you ask me! He has 1 million subscribers now…so happy ending! But man…that’s a long 7+ years of building to get to this point without a stable paycheck.
4) Gets Lonely
There are two prongs to this, as a vlogger, you work alone and not usually in a traditional office setting. This means you miss out on socialization and have to brave the single road alone. If you are traveling, there are language barriers and safety concerns. You can imagine all the traveling and hotel hopping is not optimized for a traditional family with school-age children. Mark Wiens is one of the few YouTuber that is married with a toddler. It’s definitely possible, but he also has the support of his wife and in-laws who live in Thailand where he films.
He doesn’t do that much traveling compared to Mikey Chen who is a solo man with a work crew. When you become a YouTube vlogger professionally, other parts of your life must flex with it. If you can’t find that certain someone who can be a partner in crime, it will get lonely even in a sea of subscribers (if you’re so lucky.)
Introversion and extroversion is a spectrum. If you wanted to go black and white then, interesting tidbit, about 2/3 of the US population classify themselves as extroverts and the remaining 1/3 of Americans classify themselves as introverts. My husband and I are introverts if you pin us on to that spectrum. We’re also sun-hating vampires; that’s why we live in Seattle.
To be a YouTube vlogger, you have to enjoy the attention and sociability. Travel vloggers need to…….go outside. The food doesn’t just come to you in the hotel. If you get lost, and every single travel vlogger has gotten lost at some point in their traveling career, you will need to summon the courage to ask a stranger for directions. There is no guarantee that whoever you ask is friendly or can speak English.
Let’s say, I’m having an Omakase in Tokyo and I’m sitting at the bar. Instead of focusing on the beautiful flow of a meal that the Chef is serving me, I have to worry about how I’m appearing, the noise level, the backdrop, my audio quality, if I’m introducing the names correctly as I NARRATE the entire meal…in front of the dude! Awkward!!! You HAVE to be socially comfortable in the first place. That is the stuff of nightmares for someone like my husband. I am a little more social than he is but I’m no Zsa Zsa Gabor.
6) Support System
This is another problem that being an introvert might bring up. You can avoid getting lonely if you have a spouse or traveling partner who wants the same jet-pack, food-fueled lifestyle but what if you didn’t have that support system?
Super duper unfortunately, my husband doesn’t share my passion for food. I get heart palpitations when I watch Mikey Chen (and then my husband gets a bit jealous haha). He grew up with overcooked pork and fish sticks on Friday. He doesn’t distinguish between good vs bad food. It’s all just food that goes in the mouth. I know it sounds silly but this has actually caused more fights in between us than the topic of money. The money we have and sit on the same page about.
My husband is not interested in food or vlogging so it’s hard to go at it alone. He doesn’t care what he’s eating and he definitely doesn’t want any video cameras hanging around while he’s eating. It’s harder to drag your partner with you every step of the way and I rather not make him uncomfortable.
7) Haters Gonna Hate
I almost forgot about this! To most people, being a successful food travel blogger is probably one of the most envious gigs out there. How many times did Adam Richman (from Man v. Food) utter how much he loves his gig? (Before he starts eating those challenges.) It doesn’t matter if you’re the most charismatic, magical unicorn hero in our galaxy, no one escapes the power of anonymity given to others. Actually, if you were a magical unicorn hero then it’s an open invitation to a cult of people who hate you for being a magical unicorn hero. It’s the prickly thrones on a rose, you can’t have it without the other. The internet is not a forgiving place, which leads me to…
8) Closet Skeletons
If you don’t have any hidden skeletons in your closet…then you’ve lived a tame life. I want to see some action! 🎬
I’m a super open-minded person. I take most things with a humorous spirit but even I know the internet is not a forgetful place. The internet doesn’t forget anything. There’s no such thing as “delete” once it’s been posted on the world wide web. That’s going to be a hard lesson for the little teenagers these days with the instant upload to YouTube feature on their smartphones.
Everyone will have a few skeletons in there and chances are it will be set on auto-played the moment people find out you’re famous. The only cure is…you have to become OK with it. My past blaze of resourcefulness could come and bite me in the butt someday but I don’t respond to that for long because I’ve always known my motivation are certain and pure. Others might not be as fortunate as I am. Case and point: remember Alexandra Wallace? The UCLA girl who posted a tirade about Asian Americans in the library on YouTube? She would have a lot of issues becoming…something…like a CNN correspondent after that.
Have I Not Discouraged You Yet?
9) You Can’t “Escape” Work
I haven’t thought about this until Soaps was filming her adventures in China. Everything you do becomes work! Some places are strict about camera access. To plan properly you have to call in ahead of time and request permission to film everywhere you go. You have to track down the right person who has the power to make that decision as well to make sure all filming goes as plan. Sometimes businesses will say no or heavily restrict access to avoid tipping off local competition which puts a damper on the content. It makes the entire experience that would have otherwise been enjoyable into work.
On the trip, you have to adhere to the plan and schedules which means sleeping and waking up on time. Does that sound like a reward for someone who worked so hard to become financially independent?! This is where I would call my vlogging daydream quits, happily. I always pictured traveling the world for food as a leisurely activity, not a full-time work obligation.
Related: Our Financial Independence (FI) Plan
10) The STARES! 🙁
Ugh, this goes back to extroversion! As an introvert, getting weird stares from people is going to be embarrassing and mentally draining. Loads of strangers and foreigners will find it humorous you’re sitting around eating and talking to your camera like it’s prime time.
11) The Limitation of Enjoyment
This one rips me up the most.
If you’re filming in a foreign land, you paid the price to be there via airfare, hotel, transportation. Time is now money. You would need as much footage for cutaways and pan shots as possible to keep the viewers interested because good introductions and openings retain and set the scene.
If it’s fun, film it; if it’s interesting, film it. And if it’s a perfect once in a lifetime sunset…get the camera and lighting ready, you don’t have time to enjoy the actual sunset.
Fix up the lighting! Is there a lot of wind noise? Give me the mic that covers the loud background noise!
Tick tock, tick tock.
If you’re in a buffet (usually the limit is 2 hours), those are some precious seconds being WASTED! You have to tour the joint, give a compelling summary, narrate while eating and make sure you get to everything in time while still trying to enjoy the food on camera. The attention is removed from pure piggy joy because you’re on a mission to provide entertainment. You are the entertainer!
For a lot of young aspiring vloggers, although it’s admirable to want to be independent and find your own path – you have to make sure financially you’re set up for it and have real the persistence. It could be possibly 10 years off before people catch on to your content and become established.
Pro vloggers have to frame their lives around their job and respond to the new trends, content, and requests of subscribers. They have to give up normal lives, jobs, social lives and work is never-ending. Like blogging, you are essentially the flagship CEO and that is not an easy job. Except typically….a CEO gets paid…and is their own boss. Vloggers have to answer to YouTube at the end of the day. At least bloggers don’t have to answer to any platform. What’s WordPress going to do?
For financially free piggies, is it worth the trouble and workload? Do you have spousal support and a flexible family situation? I can’t get over the last 3 specifically: the immersion of workload, public attention, and limitation of enjoyment by proxy to work. Those are the nails in the coffins for me because I have a personal relationship with eating that wouldn’t bring me much joy if I had to commercialize it completely. If I have to be concerned with lighting, narration, audio, appearance, backdrop…I mean, what a fun suck.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t take some cool photos or even a little POV video but a full-time diary of our foodventures? Hmm…sounds like a tough one. There are some things money can’t buy past a certain point. You have to quit money eventually and by the time we’re comfortable enough to travel for food, money shouldn’t be a strong motivator anyway. I rather have my enjoyment in person rather than doing it through a camera lens because time and enjoyment is finite whereas there’s always more money to print.
So there you have it, the manifesto of a YouTube pro vlogger that shall never be! Have you thought of being a vlogger? During your daydreams, have you thought of these issues that come with YouTuber title?
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