The web is now bursting with inspiring profiles of people who are travelling the world – “travel blogger” is possibly the most envied job title. But one thing we see less often are travel bloggers with a social purpose.
Jennifer Morilla of The Social Girl Traveler decided corporate life wasn’t for her after several successful years working as a marketing specialist in New York, just around the corner from Time Square. She sold her car and most of her belongings, and began planning her journey around the world.
I have a sharp memory of sitting with Jen in a terraced pub in Covent Garden. Right away I understood she wasn’t some naive girl who decided travelling the world was less boring than sitting in a desk 9-5. Jen had a plan – a business plan to be precise. She had worked on her budget, on a timeline, on goals and partnerships. This girl knew what she was about to do! And her passion and excitement were greater than her fears.
To date, Jen has been surfing in Dominican Republic, lived in Australia, rediscovered her roots in Cuba – all while doing her best to bring change wherever she goes. She carries water filters (in association with Waves For Water), a necessity in many countries where clean drinking water isn’t as obvious and taken for granted as it is in the Western world.water filters to the community in need. Jen has also worked with Afghan refugees in Greece, and on a more personal note, she was able to cope with her brother’s death thanks to her solo Camino de Santiago journey.
Six continents and 39 countries later, I met up with Jen again to find out more about how she does it – and what’s next for her.
Tell us about the enlightening moment when you realised that corporate life wasn’t for you?
I had kind of always known I wanted to work for myself. It was a feeling I had since I could remember – probably because my parents are entrepreneurs. Also, when I was in corporate I was always thinking of new and creative ways to build brands, make my clients happy. I was always taking the lead in projects. I never felt intimated. But that moment came when I actually left and started to work on my own. I think that was the biggest confirmation. Being in that moment when I realised that I had made the right decision.
How did you plan for your travel blogger life, especially for the first few months?
Oh man! That was definitely a process. To be honest, I still think I struggle with it now. It’s a learning process and the biggest thing is learning to be constant and disciplined. It’s hard! Especially as a travel blogger. You have severe FOMO!
You are a travel blogger with a social impact twist. Can you give some examples of the impact you achieved so far and what is next for you?
I love this question! When I started traveling I didn’t want to be just another travel blogger. I wanted to do something – travel with purpose. So I started travelling with clean water filters, to countries that needed clean water. Each filter provides clean water for 100 people for up to five years, which is massive. I estimate that I have impacted 2000 lives in six countries.
I want to go back to these countries now and check up on those filters. See how it’s going, if my method’s actually worked! I also want to become more of a thought leader and advisor for people in this industry, especially for corporations. I believe that we need stop looking at social impact as ‘another good thing’ but as something that needs to change and become part of business and everyday life. I think this is the only way we will see real world change and impact.
Is the travel blogger life anything like you imagined?
It’s definitely not as glamorous as I thought it would be. It’s hard work.
You now have over 12k followers on Instagram and have been featured on Huffington Post among others. How did your marketing background help you become a successful travel blogger? Do you believe there are other transferable skills that can help you drive your brand forward?
I think I’ve gotten here for three reasons: my marketing skills, but also from networking and really connecting and meeting people – we are all in the same rat race, all aiming to be successful. I’ve helped a lot of people and in return people have helped me. I think that’s done me very good. But I also think I’ve gotten this far because of my persistence. I don’t give up. If someone tells me ‘no’ or that I am ‘not good enough’, I usually take that as: “challenge accepted- game on!”. Basically, don’t ever give up on your dreams.
Now for the million dollar question: is it really possible to travel on a budget and what advice would you give to those who are thinking of making a profession out of their passion for travel?
It’s a lot harder and requires lots of planning. I also like to say that you should always keep extra funds elsewhere for emergencies, like if you have a budget of $500 for a trip, take an extra $300 just in case something surprises you. I say that because when you’re travelling and moving so much, things happen. It’s like a rule! But overall, it is absolutely doable. I did with only 14K in 13months. It certainly wasn’t easy, but it was the best money I’ve ever spent.
So far you have visited 6 continents and 39 countries, which was the trip that was closest to your heart and why?
If I could live anywhere I’d choose Australia. But it’s too far from the rest of the world and especially from the people I love. I absolutely love Bali – I felt so at peace. But the two countries that changed me were India and Cuba. India because it was just so different from anywhere I had ever been. I was there for a month and it was so interesting to see and be part of such a different culture. And Cuba because I come from Cuban immigrant parents. Both my parents left Cuba in the 70s and I grew up hearing stories about Communism and how freedom was taken away, and being raised in America, but very much in a Cuban way. Travelling there really hit home because for the first time I actually understood what my parents and grandparents were talking about it. I am so grateful for that trip – it just gave me a different outlook on life.