Is Travel Influencing Still Authentic When Your Parents Foot The Bill?

UPROXX / Unsplash

With Instagram influencers, how the sausage gets made is a poorly-kept secret. Most people know, at this point, that Instagram personalities don’t fund their own lifestyles but rather get help through brand partnerships, whether or not those partnerships are clearly stated. After all, traveling the world, wearing brand-new clothes, idling in picture-perfect hotel rooms and basking in infinity pools — these things aren’t cheap.

And in the quest to fund an upcoming bike trip from Germany “to Africa,” one couple let slip that their funding sources are even less egalitarian than a brand partnership. Travel influencer Catalin Onc, a German man who is one half of 46k-follower-strong @another_beautiful_day_official, recently let slip that his mom works a second job to fund his travels with his girlfriend, Elena Engelhardt.

According to Buzzfeed News, the couple mentioned their funding source when they shared a crowdfunding campaign for their bike trip “to Africa” (not specifying which of the 54 countries on the African continent they’re visiting) on Facebook.

Onc’s mom works two jobs so Onc and Engelhardt can travel to locations like Bali, Kathmandu, and Paris, where they take photos of him striking contortionist poses and climbing things he shouldn’t, and then write captions about living life authentically and boldly.

View this post on Instagram

Who knows where this is? Photo taken by @motherlode_

A post shared by CAT AND ELENA (@another_beautiful_day_official) on

Per Buzzfeed, the very-privileged vagabond wrote a now-deleted post explaining why his mom helps them out, “Some will tell us to get jobs, like everyone else and stop begging. But when you have the impact we do on others life, getting a job is not an option.”The admission has raised the ire of many, who have taken to their Instagram to leave comments such as “#MomPaidForItTho,” “Chilling while mom is working to support this,” and, “How did you afford a trip to Kathmandu??? Wtf??? ?? hoooow???”

The irony of this admission, in light of the duo’s live-authentic brand, was not lost either. When they announced their next trip on GoFundMe, they explained why they’re seeking out €10,000 for their bike trip: “We could write a long text about mental health or global warming. We could tell you about following your dreams, or how important stepping out of your comfort zone is. We could tell you how beautiful traveling is, and it’s benefits, or the fact that most news don’t match reality.”

They’re not wrong about the beauty and importance of travel and stepping out of one’s comfort zone. That’s literally what our site is about. But the fact that they use Onc’s mother — whom Onc himself said doesn’t have much — in order to fund these adventures highlights the tension inherent in influencer culture. How do you fund the adventure of a lifetime? What is the responsibility to disclose this to your followers? How do travelers wrestler with their own financial advantages in an industry driven by telling people “anyone can do this!”?

These dichotomies create tension with the concept of “traveling authentically.” After all, Onc and Engelhardt are supposed to be normal people, just like you or me, risking it all to see the globe. Perhaps the more attractive versions of you or me, but there’s, theoretically speaking, a connection between us and them — the idea that we could live this vagabonding lifestyle if we really wanted to. Sure, there are plenty of Instagram influencers whose brands are “you could never” but not these two. Onc and Engelhardt are specifically trafficking in “we’re you, and we’re all one” travel culture.

Instagram — especially when it comes to travel — inhabits a strange liminal space. Is what you’re seeing real or fake? Can you believe the filtered picture with its contrast dialed high? In some ways, Instagram is built for authenticity — anyone can post on the platform, and anyone can gain a huge following and become famous (to a degree) if you know what to post and how. It’s also a driving force behind the explosive demand for off-the-beaten-path, “authentic” travel. And in other ways, secretive brand partnerships and fake “surprise” engagements become shell games to sell something to consumers and increase engagement (of the social media, not pre-wedding variety).

Onc’s means of funding — while maintaining that he and girlfriend Engelhardt are keeping it real and trying to transcend all the bullshit in the modern world — raises the question: is travel as cool when you don’t have to work for it? Is trust fund travel “authentic”? Is his ability to inspire and “influence” others to travel undermined by his funding source?

Onc has since announced that they’re taking time to do a social media cleanse, writing:

I am going on a walk.
I will walk as long as I possibly can.
No sleep,
No social media,
No distractions.
Just me and my brain out there.
This first came to my mind in the Himalayan mountains, where I got to experience what my mind, body and soul are capable of.
Now I’m going to take it even further. 
I am ready to face whatever is buried deep inside me.

To which we say: walk on, Onc. We hope you find answers to some of these because we’re not sure we have yet. And they’re important for everyone in the travel space to wrestle with.