Around the world with Drew Binsky, the social media star who vlogs his travel expeditions
Social media influencers are on the rise and travel bloggers are capitalising on this trend to mix their passion with business opportunities to add to the wide array of tastemakers in the industry in 2019. While acting as interactive travel diaries, the rise of Instagram and Facebook has given a new pedestal to social media influencers, finding a way to mix business with pleasure or passion.
Drew Binksy has more than 1.5 million Facebook and 142,000 Instagram followers, with a growing count of 600 million views, covering 153 countries out of his target of 193 countries (i.e every country in the world barring the Holy See and the State of Palestine — it’s a healthy slice of the pie for a guy who made his name from just two years of video blogging. Though he reminds me that he has been travelling for seven years, which has now morphed into a full-time commitment to travel, explore and create regional content for a worldwide audience. He takes you to Equatorial Guinea to learn about the indigenous tribes, Namibia to admire its stunning desert landscape and India to get a glimpse of its beautiful chaos.
We start to dwell on what brings him and his team, travel partner, Deanna Sallao (whom he doesn’t fail to acknowledge was the reason behind his initial video making aspirations) and his ace videographer, Michael Hayter, back to India. He says, “I came here four years ago when I predominantly covered north India and I didn’t film anything as that was before I made videos, so I knew I wanted to come back and check out the south.” But the hidden reason might lie ahead. In his ten days in South India, he covered Kochi, Kollam, Madurai, Pondicherry, Auroville and finally Chennai, releasing a total of 14 videos during this period. While he does start out his video blogging, ranging from putting out cliched questions that Western tourists might have lingering on their minds — like ‘Is India safe?’ — to the gamut of arranged marriages, south Indian food, ‘The Indian Head Wobble Explained’ and cows. He manages to salvage and balance it out by sharing a refreshing perspective from Indian travel blogger Shenaz Treasury, to fun videos of ‘Street Bartenders of India’, to the top grossing 8.5 million views of a heart-warming and awe-inspiring one, ‘They Sell Tea to Travel the World’, which might make you go start a ‘go-fund-me page’ for the adorable old couple.
As you watch his videos as an Indian, you might cringe (perhaps with acknowledgment) at the few generalisations that an American is rather used to saying about India but in our conversation, I do buy into his view of wanting to show the world various perspectives that he thinks are unique to our country. He does further justify it by letting me know he is well aware “there are always a minimum of two sides to every story”. He seems to wear his heart on his sleeve and let’s me know that “South India gave me a refreshing perspective of India, which is quite different from my last visit”. He explains, “The friendliness of the people, the safety and my utter disappointment at not seeing cows for the whole of our first five days in India.”
Drew reminisces from his last visit to India four years ago, which was sprinkled with many ups and downs. “Taj Mahal is the most beautiful building I have ever seen but two days later I was in a fatal bus crash where two people died on the bus (en route between Jodhpur to Udaipur). Shortly after, I was on a flight to Kathmandu which got rerouted, because of the devastating massive earthquake that hit just a few minutes before we landed.” This definitely has me appreciating him for taking the effort to come back and change his perspective. He further justifies his visit, “I know when you have a bad experience of a place, you tend to block it out in your mind and do not want to go back there, but that’s exactly why I came back because I knew India had so much to offer.”
Planning is everything
Leveraging on the burgeoning market of online storytelling, Drew explains that it took him burning the midnight oil over a few years of blogging (under a rather hilarious name hungrypartier.com in Korea), learning from mistakes and countless video productions to be able to get good at content creation (now at drewbrinsky.com). As a minimalist, to aspiring bloggers, he recommends “traveling light, pick a skill, practice and consistency” as the key takeaways. He tries to expose unique experiences around common and uncommon travel destinations — the things you wouldn’t think were top of the list.
“As I travel, I always keep a notepad with me and as an idea comes to me, I jot it down,” he says. “From there, we usually sit down and construct a storyline around that trip.” As I prod him on how he earns a living to sustain his travels, he explains, “through advertisements in videos, (which are more than three minutes), the greater the views, the greater the money, brands and sometimes with tie-ups with the tourism board of a country,” insisting that he has no intention of “selling out”. “Your content is everything, work on being yourself and not someone else,” he says. Now, he’s not flexing his muscle in the online space, preaching to his fans about a perfect travel plan. His process is about “educating, rather than flaunting”, while he combines a mixture of curated content with travel destinations.
Drew seems to be picking a combination of two things as a strategy, highlighting a mix of popular and unravelling unique experiences in common and uncommon places, an approach that is driving his following, which he says keeps him from losing sight of the ‘real’.
The evolution of travel
As the value of social media influencers continues to grow and evolve, so too are the number and ways in which travel is expanding as well. Influencers at the moment seem to serve as a top-of-the-funnel ‘discovery’ tool for travellers. “In an Eventbrite survey, 78 per cent of millennials stated that they would rather have a desirable experience over a desirable item” and this trend is picking up in India with a rising middle class who is willing to rattle the status quo. The use of technology to record travel vignettes, not only for the consumption of posterity but for the present generation, has increased the shelf life and attractiveness of experiences.
With the massive growth of Instagram, social media, and travel blogs in recent years, the enthusiasm of vloggers is obvious and contagious, but what is less clear is how many of their fans actually follow through. Though the stories of Drew’s followers and audience at IIT Madras festival, Shaastra, where I interviewed him, seems to show me otherwise. A pretty girl in a hijab claims to be his number one fan among the hundred present, proudly declaring to the Jewish, Arizona-born, Bangkok-living blogger, how his videos, especially the ones on the Muslim culture, have changed her perspective on men and travel. At the same time, people do seem to be increasingly aware of tactics that influencers can use to artificially inflate their following. While it is true, most people aren’t on impulse, buying flights and accommodation on a late night trawl through Instagram, like they might do for a new attire on sale, it is undeniable that the travel bug has definitely bitten a vast majority of us.
Over the past seven years, Drew remains committed to the cause, chasing destinations on a weekly basis and partnering with marketers, brands, hotels, and airlines to bridge the gap between dreams and real time. His work has taken him from Korea and European to Asia to African countries. With 40 countries left on his list, you are likely to find him (armed with his video camera and his rather handy ‘jobi’) this year in Africa and the Middle East. For me, he says, “It’s about bursting out of the bubble we live in, inspiring those who never thought of seeking adventure and travel to step outside their comfort zones.”