In April 2015, Alyssa Ramos — a vagabond specializing in solo female adventure travel — published a post sarcastically titled “Yes, I’m Pretty and I’m Traveling Alone.” It quickly went viral and the heat of the spotlight came to rest upon her. But, though it upped the number of followers she enjoyed, it didn’t make Ramos the millennial Rick Steves (that might already be Andy Steves, btw).
As a travel influencer, clearly Ramos values followers, and increasing them is dope. But, if these people show up on social media and are greeted with a metaphorical blank landscape, complete with whistling wind and a lone tumbleweed rolling past, it’s Unfollow City, baby. It was a good thing she had been working the travel game for years at that point and had a body of work that kept people engaged and helped her build in their numbers.
Now, Ramos is a full-time traveler with a reasonable income. She is living the life so many of us wish we could finagle, all while capturing beautiful images of her travels. This way, we have visual aids when we pretend that we, too, are daring adventurers. During some rare downtime, Ramos met with us to talk about the criticism she faces for being conventionally attractive, how she built her own career, and how others can do the same. She also shared the kind of pictures that will make you long to hit the road.
You’re really emphatic on your website that this didn’t come easy to you, and I get the impression that maybe people think that it did.
I’m appreciative that you bring that up, especially because I definitely do constantly remind everyone that this was not handed to me. This is not something I was able to do because of the way that I look. I really, really, really try as much as possible, to remind people that this is all a product of passion and hard work. From the beginning, I knew it was going to be discussed. I’d been obviously stereotyped my entire life and treated certain ways because of the way I look. I was accused of having rich parents, having a rich boyfriend, or using my looks to be able to travel.
From the start, I was like, “All right, if you think that, then fine. I’m never going to show my face.” So, I didn’t. In the beginning stages, I would never show my face. It was always in the back of my head, and I kept it that way so I could be like, “Here’s proof. This is all me working hard.” I constantly remind people of that and then I also write a lot about how I started from absolutely nothing, which is true. I have a single mom, always have, and we’ve always been super poor. When I first started doing this, I was also super poor, trying to figure out how to make money to pay rent. I really did build everything from the bottom. But it was all that hard work that kept me motivated to keep pursuing this career, and now that I have it, it’s a huge motivation for me to keep at it with the hard work.
I’m curious about the back of the head shots. I was really curious about why that was your signature thing. I didn’t realize you were fighting back against being conventionally attractive.
For a while, I was pigeon-holing myself. I am still doing it today to some extent. I’m just now transitioning into working with more fashion and clothing brands because for the first two and a half years, I didn’t even want to look remotely attractive. I always had my hair in a bun, wore workout clothes and sneakers, and was like, “I’m gonna go do this badass thing. I’m not gonna post a pretty picture in a dress like everyone else does.” It’s really just been this past year where I kind of morphed and opened up more and started being comfortable with showing the more girly side of what I do, but while also maintaining the image that I’m a badass. Just because I wear a dress, I’m still gonna hang off the edge of a cliff.
You have to be a badass, though, if you’re traveling solo.
I was just doing a live video and asking people if they had gone to Morocco solo because you hear so many stories about not going there by yourself. But, I’m like, “You know, I don’t want to listen to that because it will make me say, ‘you know what I’m gonna go there anyway and I’ll let you know how it is.'” Sometimes it’s scary. I’ve had maybe five times where I’m like, “Shit, am I really going here by myself? I don’t know if this is safe,” but it always turns out fine. I’m obviously used to it now, but I’ve kind of nailed down some techniques in regard to not attracting attention to yourself and pushing people away and things like that.
You’ve supported your travel differently as your work has evolved. Can you talk a little bit about that for people who want to travel themselves but aren’t sure about financing it?
When I first started, I was a freelancer. I went on Craigslist and I went under “Jobs” and any job that was available and could be done remotely from my computer I applied to, even if I had no idea what it was or if it was insanely boring.
Under skills and experience, I have a biology major. I had no prior experience or knowledge of SEO, marketing, writing, anything like that, so I would go and Google everything that they’re looking for, teach myself how to do it, and then I would say, “Yes I can do it, I have experience, here’s a sample of my work.” I kept picking up jobs that way and it was random payments here and there depending on how much work I did. I kept working, working, working. I like to emphasize that if I was able to do that, and Google how to do certain things, then everyone has something that they are good at and they can do, they just have to be willing to work extra in order to make the extra money.
If you can find that balance between having a steady income, whether it’s an actual office job, or if you want to get into freelancing like I did, you still need to have that stream of income and balance it with working equally as hard on your own content.
What do you advise others to do?
There are two ways that I approach advising people about this because there are two different types of people wanting to do this. There are the people who see what I’m doing, see what the rest of us are doing, and they’re like, “I want to be a travel blogger so I can travel.” And then, there are people that want to travel but they don’t have enough money.
I’ve set up that program just to teach people and show people tiny things you can do to save your own money and try to pick up extra work on top of your existing work. So that’s like a “savings and making travel program,” and then I completely cut it off to people just trying to learn how to be a blogger. You can be an aspiring blogger, but that course is specifically just to learn how to save and make money, it’s not how to start a blog. I don’t do any courses about how to start a blog because it’s a constantly evolving idea and method. We host boot camps to do it, but again it’s because it’s constantly evolving. It doesn’t apply to everyone.
Anyway, so for the people that are trying to be bloggers and Instagrammers, what I always say is, “Don’t just put all your eggs into that basket right away, you still need to be having a source of income while you’re building your audience and you’re building your notoriety and you’re building your brand.” A lot of people end up quitting because they love it at first, but then they’re not making any income and have to stop.
Yeah, I started a charitable organization, and I’m hoping to do a lot more with it in 2018. But, I started it because I am really big into philanthropy. I always have been, and I wanted to just give back as much as I can in reciprocation for the amazing opportunities and experiences I have had traveling.
Heartsleeves started with the idea to do a fundraiser to provide something that I can get easily in the United States that you can’t get somewhere I’ve been. I had the idea to sell t-shirts with a heart on its sleeve. I could buy three kids’ t-shirts for one shirt I sold, so I bought t-shirts for an entire school where I volunteered.
I’m trying to do one big charity project every three months. I just did the one in Africa, and then I paired that up with Heartsleeves to see if I could do an extra fundraiser to bring extra supplies in from my followers.
What did you just do in Africa?
It was a four week, five country road trip and camping trip where we delivered 2,000 pairs of something called the grow-able shoe to children in schools in need. A lot of the kids don’t have shoes or they have shoes but they don’t get new shoes ever. Their feet no longer fit in them. The shoes get holes in the front. Some of them don’t even have shoes at all; they wear plastic water bottles on their feet. This grow-able shoe expands as the child grows, so it’s good to use for up to four years, because the buckles adjust and the sole can get longer. You just buckle it back up.
How did you end up getting connected with them?
The founder of the rally reached out to me to ask if I would be their social media ambassador. I get quite a few requests because I also emphasize that I do charity when I’m traveling, which is awesome.
How often are you traveling?
I travel full-time. I’ve been officially homeless for 16 months, and I think I’ve only been in the U.S. for probably close to two months this year. I’ve gone back and forth with getting another apartment, but right now, I get booked on projects pretty much back to back. It doesn’t really make sense for me to have my own place again. I’d say probably ten months out the year traveling.
If you’re booked back to back, do you ever have a chance to have a relaxing day?
My relaxing days are when I can just sit at my computer and work all day. I don’t ever not work. This is why I’m trying to get all my interviews and all my business stuff done while I’m in Florida. I’ve been here for two weeks, and I have not done anything besides sit at my computer and get everything done and out of the way. That’s relaxing to me and relieving to me. Then, I can go off and travel again and I don’t have to worry about working while I’m traveling.
I do take like two weeks off when I can, or if I have time in between trips I have the option to either stay in one spot or do a trip for fun. Next month I’m back-to-back booked for three different trips, but they’re short trips, so I have two weeks in between Paris and Mexico, so right now I’m trying to decide if I want to live in Paris for two weeks and work, or if I want to fly to Morocco for $34.
You’ve been to over 50 countries. That’s pretty substantial. What are some of your favorites?
Now, it’s 70 countries —
Oh really? The blog said 51! You’re moving fast!
Oh shit, I need to change that. I need to change my Instagram, I forget. Yeah, I’ve done 24 this year, maybe 25 just this year. My goal this year is to hit 30 new ones so I can get 77.
I found India very interesting, very beautiful despite what people think. Very safe, people were friendly. The culture’s just beautiful, literally is amazing. From there, obviously I went to the Maldives; that was pretty epic. I really liked Sri Lanka, that whole area of the world I’m just in love with, like Indonesia, places like that.
Iceland is obviously beautiful. Everyone should travel to Iceland. Another one of the most epic places I went, though, was a place called Svalbard. Was like a frozen, arctic archipelago in between Norway and the North Pole that no one goes to, and for some reason they invited me and I was like, “All right, sweet adventure.”
It was cool. And then South America, I love South America, I love the whole Peru area, it’s really enchanting. And I’m actually going back there soon, so I might have to update where I’m staying, but I’m really excited to be going back to that area.
Cool, and so what other exciting things do you have coming up?
After my business trips slow down, I have all of December. I’m going to do my own stuff, and I’m doing all of my biggest bucket list items. I’m gonna plan to go to Easter Island, then Patagonia. I finally secured an Antarctica trip, which is my number 1 bucket list item.
That means you’ll have hit all seven continents, right?
Yep, seven continents, seven world wonders, seven wonders of nature, and 77 countries in 2017.
Wow, well that has to be lucky on some level, all those sevens.
I hope so, I’m doing it on purpose. Make your own luck.