Instagram travel star: Is this the world's best job?
YOU could say Lauren Bullen has one of the best jobs in the world. Her life looks like a postcard...or an album of them. The 23-year-old travel and lifestyle blogger behind Gypsea Lust has more than 406,000 Instagram followers.
A self-taught photographer, Lauren's incredible images have caught the eye of tourism boards who she fronts campaigns for - some with her twin sister Ellie, whose health blog Elsa's Wholesome Life has attracted a following of similar proportions.
Lauren's job is to travel to 'wanderlust' destinations and snap photos of her travels. Standing on a cliff face listening to elephants splash and spray as they bathe in a Sri Lankan river is a once in a lifetime experience. But it was on the pristine white sand of Whitehaven beach for a job, that Lauren Bullen had to pinch herself.
"There was definitely a moment where we thought, wow, this is actually our job. It's an insane reality. It's overwhelming but really exciting," she told Weekend, while taking a break in Tangier, Morocco.
So how does a person go from posting the odd photo to their personal Instagram account to turning it into a worldwide business?
Days spent getting lost in the right direction☼ I've been using @fitazfk guides to keep in shape, it was really helpful whilst in Morocco where there aren't many places to exercise. These guides were the perfect hotel room motivation, especially when I was feeling uncomfortable about running around the busy streets of Marrakech! #FKExcuses
"I started my professional Instagram account about a year and a half ago," explains Lauren, who grew up at Lennox Head in northern New South Wales.
"It had been my personal account for forever. When I was travelling I just started taking pictures and tagging pages. Then I moved up to Cairns and I got really into it there. I taught myself how to use a camera and edit the photos."
Just on a year ago, Lauren got a job taking photos for Tourism Tropical North Queensland. And from there the job requests grew until she had no option but to give up her day job as a dental assistant.
"It got so full on that I was taking time off from work all the time. I quit my job in November, 2015 and from then on it's got busier and busier as my following has grown.
"Being a dental assistant wasn't something I could see myself doing long term. Being an influence on Instagram wasn't something I planned. It just sort of happened. And as it happened more and more I just thought, 'woah' this is crazy, this is insane, this can actually be a job. And now it's gotten to the stage where this is a proper business."
Lauren travels the world showcasing businesses, products and sometimes the everyday life of whatever exotic destination she's in. Her Instagram posts combined with amazing imagery can boost a company's online profile in an instant.
After meeting her partner Jack Morris on her travels, who also has an Instagram business, they now combine and share camera gear. Their gear consists of a new Canon 5d Mark III with a 16- 35mm lens, 24-70, a 35mm lens, 50mm lens a 70-200mm lens. Jack's Instagram page @doyoutravel has 1.3 million followers right now.
"It works really well working together," Lauren says. "We both have the same aims in what we are trying to create. So it's like a team effort. I don't think I could be with someone who is not doing the same thing because so much of my time is being taken up by this."
Her work can include staying at a hotel complimentary in return for a post or it can be all expenses paid and the business pays for posts. But mostly they fund their food and travel themselves.
"In Marrakech, we stayed at a hotel. Jack and I did one post for them each and it grew their account from 2000-3000 followers to about 11,000 each. Both of our posts went really viral and it was one my best posts I've ever done. And the hotel got instant bookings. It shows what just one post can do for a business" she says.
And while it may sound like easy work, Lauren believes the secret to her rapid success is being authentic.
"We try and pick places and companies that suit what we already do, so it's doesn't look like we are just doing an ad for a resort or a company. They work the best because people see it's authentic and it's something we actually like.
"Also it's the imagery. If our images weren't what they were people wouldn't follow us. They see it and they think 'wow, I want to go there and recreate (what they're doing)'. They want to go to that hotel. (But) if a hotel doesn't have that wow factor we just can't post any image and expect it to work.
"We try and always be in our images, it seems to work better and people can imagine themselves in that place," she says.
While it might be envious to some, Lauren says it's a job and a business, which she runs like any other professional would.
"It's tricky because there are not set out rules (to this kind of business). So when you get an email you have to just figure out what you've done in the past, what you think it is worth. You look at your following and engagement. And sometimes you meet people on the road and they give you tips and hints. Most of my emails are negotiating a promotion, working with a brand or travel stuff. You say what you think it's worth and see what they come back with and you learn as you go. I'm having trouble because my account is growing so much, that by the time I've sent a quote a month or so later my rates have gone up."
Since Weekend first met Lauren a month ago, her page Gysea Lust had grown from 62,000 Instagram followers to more than 400,000.
Her business has taken her around the world and several destinations have left an impression on Lauren.
"I loved Cappadocia in Turkey, it's one of my favourite destinations," she quirks. "And Samoa was another. I'm loving it here in Morocco too. The architecture and everything is really beautiful and interesting.
"I loved Sri Lanka. It really surprised me. I love discovering somewhere new and being able to discover it in my own unique way. I love creating imagery. And I love the social media aspect; being able to share it and connect with so many people from so many places. We get positive feedback about how inspiring it is and they love waking up to our images... that's really satisfying and rewarding."
Lauren says she tries to keep a little bit of routine to her work day, which can prove difficult when changing time zones and catching flights.
"Usually in the morning we'll check and respond to emails, then after breakfast we'll go out and take photos. The morning and afternoon light is the best.
"Our day is pretty normal for a traveller. We'll visit places, have lunch, but there always has to be time to edit. To get a post up on Instagram, that can take a while with captions and tagging.".
After dinner there's more emails and she finds a local gym to keep up her fitness routine. And when she has time off, Lauren says it's about laying at the beach or the pool, relaxing and not rushing around.
Until now Lauren had never really known what she wanted to do career-wise, but says she has finally found her passion.
"I was always sort of lost. I thought about going to uni to do nursing, but I never wanted it enough to ever actually start uni. When this all started to happen, I thought, 'wow, I've definitely found my passion'. It's something I enjoy and most days it doesn't even feel like work, so that's total bonus."
Although she has camped under the stars in the Sahara desert, got lost amongst beautiful clifftops in the Greek Islands and swam in waterfalls during a road trip through Queensland, Lauren says she's learned a lot aout success and the ever-changing social landscape during her first year in business .
"Everyone wants to succeed in this (type of business). To actually stand out, you've got to be able to stand out; have a point of difference. Don't go by following or likes. People can see through that. Be authentic, be real and be yourself," she says.
"I've also learnt that you've got to let things happen for themselves. You can't push something too hard. Just enjoy it, do your hobbies and see where they lead. Don't get to needy for it. I've learnt not to take things too seriously. By just enjoying it, it just being a hobby, and not having any big plans for it, things have worked out well."