You may know the WanderLover Instagram account as a drool-worthy travel feed. We are lucky today to have Danielle Hu, the Instagrammer behind the account, here with us to share how she grew her Instagram to over 100,000 followers and travels the world full-time from it. She left her job in corporate finance to become a content creator and influencer, and she recently moved to Bali.
This episode is for you if…
- You want to learn how to grow your Instagram
- You’re curious about how to make the leap from corporate to self-employed
- You’d love to learn more about how to travel for free
- How to know when you’ve built a reliable income stream
Podcast Interview with the WanderLover here
Video Interview version
Transcript of the Interview
Leah: We are very lucky to have Danielle with us today. So, we are lucky for several reasons. Danielle has an amazing story of what she’s done to make her own vision come true and she’s still in pursuit of it every single day. She is a travel influencer, a YouTuber and Instagrammer and she wrote an Ebook as well. She has traveled the world from her Instagram. You may know her from her drool-worthy feed @thewanderlover, and she left her finance job in Manhattan to live in Bali, where she lives now.
Leah: We also feel like this is a special time for us together because we first met two or three years ago.
Danielle: Yeah, almost three years ago I would say.
Leah: Yeah, which is crazy for both of us and we’re both NYU alumni, right?
Danielle: I went to Cornell.
Leah: Oh, nevermind. We are not. We both went to school in New York. But anyway, we met and during that time, both of us, we’re not where we are now, lets just say that.
Danielle: Oh yeah, completely different chapters of life, I would say.
Leah: Very much, yes. So we were kind of lost, but we knew we weren’t really happy with our, our jobs and we knew there was something more. We both had that tug of our vision, but it hadn’t quite come to life yet. It has come full circle, that now we’re together, both of us self employed. Also, we’ve kept in touch over the years, but we haven’t actually hung out until now. So thank you so much for being here Danielle.
Danielle: Thanks for having me. I’m very excited to be here.
Leah: Good. We’re so excited to have you and hear from you. I know so many people love the Instagram world, so you’re going to give us a lot of value. So before that, take us back a little to when your life wasn’t the vision that you’re able to live out now and even a little bit before you were at your corporate job, but in college and kind of what you thought life was going to look like when you were there?
Yeah, I think before college, before the whole Instagram world kind of blew up, I went in, studied Applied Economics and Management, specialize in finance. All my friends growing up and going into college and in college all wanted to pursue like finance or accounting or consulting. I was like “I want to be an investment banker” and I was like, I have no idea but everyone else around me wanted to be.
So I thought that’s what would make me happy. That’s what everyone around me was striving to get into. So I felt like it was kind of laid out for me, you know, and I interned at banks, I interned in corporate and I think it wasn’t until I studied abroad in Italy, I did my fall semester junior year abroad. I just was open to completely new ways of living. I met people from all around the world who weren’t in the finance world and consulting, didn’t speak English, and I was like, wait, I might not be you know, like…
Leah: There might be something else.
Danielle: Yeah! I think that’s what opened my eyes. But still, it was hard. Every time I went back to Cornell, everyone would be on this path towards finance and that’s where it ended up, but knew I didn’t belong. I wasn’t gonna stay longer than a couple years, and here, I am.
Leah: Amazing. Do you have, like, the distinct moment whether it was internal or external, when you were at your corporate job, and you’re like, I’m gonna start something different? Because I know you started a little bit on the side before you took the full leap, and so what was the moment where you’re like, okay, I’m actually going to start?
Danielle: I think it was, even going into it, I knew I was only going to stay there as an expiration date. Since the beginning, I knew I was pursuing other ventures trying to read other ways how to make money online, and just learn how to make income and not be dependent from my employer. I remember my really good friend at the bank, she quit after her first year. At that point, I was just so shocked, you know, I wasn’t ready. I was like, I can’t believe you’re doing this, and all she said was, “your time will come”. One year later, I gave myself a date on July 11 of 2017. I was like, that’s when I’m going to quit.Gave my two weeks and made it happen, and that was my time.
Leah: Wow. So, where was your now very wildly popular Instagram account at that time when you quit?
Danielle: So, I started my account when I graduated a semester early to backpack. So, I went to South America and to Europe for six months. I was taking a lot of landscape photos and I started to actually in 2015. When I was at the bank, it kind of died down. I still had it, it started off as a features account. So I would only feature other people’s landscape photos, my landscape photos, I was never in the photos myself. I was doing that on and off for two years while I was working, but it didn’t pick up until maybe, like my second year, towards the end of my second year at the bank. I was like, hmm, this could be something. I picked it up in 2017.
Leah: As you were like, okay, I’m leaving, I’m going to do this. Awesome. I love that you share that because it’s so easy to look at people that have, you know, gotten somewhere very impressive, and not really realize everything they did to get there. Yeah, or really just think, well, if I just did what they did, I’d be where they are. But, often, people have no idea what you did to get where you are. So you were posting for years and other people’s accounts, really so amazing.
Danielle: I always say like, don’t compare your chapter to to someone else’s chapter 20.
Leah: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a great way to put it. Awesome. So, what was it like, quitting? Was scary?
Danielle: It was, it was overwhelming. I did take a couple of personal days beforehand, which wasn’t the same. But I was like, I wonder what I’d be doing day to day if I didn’t have to go into work. I am very self motivated. I knew how to keep myself busy and like work towards, I guess, a future vision. So there was work for me to do. It just happened to be like, what I wanted to do. Not what work was giving to me. There was a mild adjustment period where I was like, “wait, did I make a mistake?” And I think that’s natural. Yeah, I took it as a growing experience. It’s always uncomfortable when you step outside of your comfort zone, but I haven’t looked back.
Leah: Yeah. So how did you get through some of those times? Or how do you… I think everyone listening or everyone that tries to do anything new has their own fears that come up, and so how do you deal with failure or your fears?
Danielle: For me, it was always trying to find someone I aspire to be, and seeing where they are today. Kind of going back to where they started and seeing how they progress and ended up being where they are. So for example, with YouTube, I was for a lot of my life I was like, “oh, there’s so many big YouTubers, like, I can’t really, I’ll never get to their level, I’m so behind”. But then do you know Ami Song?
Leah: Yes, yeah. Oh, my God.
Danielle: I went on to her Youtube and sorted her videos from oldest to newest and went to her first ever video years ago and it was in front of a Mac computer, you know, just like not edited at all and I was like, everyone starts from somewhere, you just have to do it.
Leah: Right! Oh, that’s really good advice. I mean, even here, you have 110,000 followers on Instagram and you started with one, just like everyone else. We all started with zero
Danielle: Yeah and you just have to be consistent.
Leah: Yeah, yeah, exactly, and do it. That’s like, what my whole ‘why’ behind starting this podcast, was about is ways that people have consistently stood up for their vision. Even when things seem like they aren’t getting there, they’re not working out. But remembering that, like, you have that vision, and you have to fight for it, because no one else is going to fight for it for you.
Danielle: And everyone these days second guesses themselves. It’s normal.
You just have to bounce back.
Leah: Yeah, right. Exactly. You just have to do it as quickly as you can so you keep going. So, having such a big influence on Instagram, and, you know, sharing a lot of what your life is like, how has that changed kind of your personal life? Do people recognize you? What’s it like to share so much of your life online?
Danielle: Yeah. that was actually very exciting. I was in Miami, and someone was like “are you @TheWanderLover”. It’s happened a handful of times. The first time was the most memorable.
Danielle: I think it’s so cute. Yeah, I love producing content. I love like, sharing my life. I feel like I would do it anyway, even if it wasn’t my job.
Leah: Hmm. That’s awesome.
Danielle: So I find it very refreshing.
Leah: That’s great. Yeah, your account is so positive and inspirational. It’s like you’re adding so much good to the world. If you’re connecting with people that are interested in that you’re going to automatically have good things to say to each other
Danielle: Very good vibes.
Leah: Yeah, I love that. And so, what’s next? What do you see coming out of your your Instagram or just sort of your nomadic life in general?
Danielle: Definitely I have a lot of personal goals that I would like to achieve. Like, I want to be fluent in Spanish. My next destination will probably be Argentina when it’s summertime there and like later this year. Um, YouTube.
Leah: YouTube, yeah, we were talking about that.
Danielle: I wanted to start my YouTube channel and make like consistent videos and blogs when I moved to Bali, but got a little distracted. I was enjoying life a little too much, was recording life all the time. But I definitely want to focus on at least weekly blogsl. Even produce something to get video editing, you know, content creation, like talking in front of the camera.
Leah: What do you love about video? What calls to you about it?
Danielle: Um, I think it’s just a new challenge. It’s, a whole new world. I love the creativity aspect of it. I love storytelling. There’s definitely room for improvement.
Leah: That’s awesome that you’re starting that. We can go through it together. Okay. And so Instagram itself, what are your top three tips for people wanting to grow their Instagram?
Danielle: What I tell people all the time, you need to focus on content, you know, like, look at other accounts that are big, and see what they’re doing and compare your photos. Yes, there’s a learning curve, but you can get there. You know, take tips on what they’re doing, because it’s working. Engage with your community, like reply back to every comment, like build a connection with your followers. You don’t want to just kind of ignore the people supporting you, right? And the biggest, biggest, biggest thing is, be consistent. So many people want to make it and then they give up in a couple weeks, right? I tell them like post every day for two months and it’s going to grow, right. And people start after the first week and they get discouraged, right. You can’t do that. It’s not an overnight success kind of thing.
Leah: Yeah. Well, that’s such good advice with really any thing in business. You have to have the long game in mind. Yeah, you can’t just be treating it like it’s a sprint, because you’ll exhaust yourself and you will never come out sustainably on top.
Danielle: Yeah, I think people are just scared to, especially the ones coming from corporate, because with corporate, everything’s laid out for you. You know, if you stay here in two years, you’ll get promoted. There’s like this timeline, there’s milestones and you don’t see that in the entrepreneurial world. So you like, don’t believe in yourself and give up prematurely.
Leah: Right, right. Yeah, I guess it’s uncharted territory. But I think for me, whenever I go through times of being like I have no clue where this is going to lead. You remember, like, that’s the fun of it. That’s the excitement. I don’t want to know how this is all going to turn out. Because otherwise, I would still be in the corporate world.
Danielle: And I’m a lot better at accepting that now than when I first quit. I think when I first I was like, “oh, I don’t know” , when people would ask me what my five year plan is, and I didn’t have it, it would freak me out. But now I’m like, I don’t even know where I’m going to be in five months, and that’s okay.
Leah: That’s what you wanted.
Danielle: Yeah, why do I need to have my next five years planned out, or ten?
Leah: I think it’s so valuable to just ask better questions when you’re trying to change your life like that. And really think, you know, everyone’s telling me, I need to have consistent salary. It’s like, do I really actually need that? Or do I just need enough to live and you know, things will come when they come? And, you know, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t make money. But this idea that we need to have this steady stream of income, it’s just something worth challenging and asking. What do you really need to be happy?
Danielle: Yeah, and I think it’s with the whole online media and internet culture, how we’re so connected, we’re just exposed more we, you know, as millenials we don’t take out as many mortgages, you know, right? We’re not really committed to staying in one place. So, I feel like all the people giving us advice are risk averse elders who have been there with mortgages, you know. You need stability to maintain that lifestyle, but we don’t have that lifestyle, we don’t need that lifestyle. So, it’s okay to be risky.
Leah: Right. It’s so true. It’s sometimes it’s like, why am I taking advice from someone I don’t want to be like, at all, you know? We have to just question these things sometimes. And we don’t question them enough. I remember when I left my nine to five job. One of the things like after the first week, I was like, I am exhausted. And I realized it’s because I had made so many more decisions that week, little decisions, that I didn’t make it my nine to five job because you don’t have to at a nine to five job. Everything is so robotic, you’re going through the motions, you know what you’re supposed to do. And all the sudden it’s like to decide when I get up. When I get dressed. Do I leave the house? All these things that nobody’s telling me what to do anymore. It’s a good problem to have. It does make you realize how robotic things can be. Okay, so now, if you could go back three years and tell yourself anything?
Danielle: I would definitely have stuck with my Instagram, as I mentioned, like it kind of died a little while I was working in corporate I think if I stayed with that, I would have learned a lot of things a lot sooner, I would have grown more. You know, everything happens for a reason. I’m not gonna say I wish I didn’t like focus on my job, but I could have dedicated a little more time on Instagram and learning a little more, and I probably would be a little more ahead now.
Leah: Yeah, well, what about do you think you’d look back and tell yourself like girl it’s gonna be fine?
Danielle: I wish I believed in myself a little more.
Leah: Yeah, I feel the same way. Sometimes thinking about that is like, that’s also good advice for me now, because you think about three years from now. We’re also then going to look back and be like, you should really have believed in yourself.
Danielle: Yeah, it’s easier to say when you’ve made it.
Leah: Of course, and you’re like, climbing up this wall, like, Oh, God, is this gonna work?
Okay, awesome. Well, I have a couple quick questions for you. So how do you consistently fight for your vision, even when logistics, health insurance, society, etc. gets in the way or sort of conflicts with the bigger vision you have for yourself?
Danielle: Um, I think, reflecting back on what I’m grateful for, and how happy I am with how my life turned out, and the decisions I have made to get myself here. It tells me internally that I have made the right decision. So even if I do experience, like some obstacles, you know, like, overall, I’m a much happier person. I know, I’m going to get through it. I know challenges are inevitable. If anything, I’d rather experienced challenges on this path than the path I was on board. I love what I’m doing and it’s only going to go uphill from here.
Leah: Yeah, that’s such a good way to look at it. There’s gonna be, no matter what road, there’s obstacles, so what road do you want to experience them on? Yeah, I love that and I think that after, you know, you’ve proven to yourself that you’ve reached a certain level of success, you can sort of trust your gut from that on. You’re like, well, I haven’t really messed up that bad. If I want to do something, I’m going to do it. Do you make decisions very intuitively?
Danielle: It depends. I used to be a planner. Like, I planned everything I knew every decision was like, the cause, whatever. Now, I’m very go with the flow.
Leah: Yeah, the finances getting kicked out. Awesome. Okay, so what are you most proud of in pursuing your vision, so far?
Danielle: Moving to Bali, I would say. So when I was in finance, I had 15 vacations days. And at that point, I had a I’ve never gone to Australia, I actually thought I wanted to move to Sydney and I remember booking my flight after I quit and visiting Sydney, not really liking it as much as I liked Bali, I went to Bali first. I always wanted to live in another country and had I been in finance it would have probably been London or another city, right. I found Bali and I built a life where I was able to stay there for a period of time and I’m going back and 10 days.
Leah: Yeah, amazing. You have so much to be proud of. What’s a book or podcast that you’re really recommend?
Danielle: So I think the book that changed my life the most was when I was still in corporate. Have you heard of “Millionaire Fastlane” by MJ DeMarco?
Leah: I haven’t.
Danielle: I have pages of notes really, from that book. It talks about building a system where you’re working for yourself. But you are also able to passively make income and every business decision I make, I’m always thinking like, does it follow his criteria to having the most freedom with your life? Because I’m all about freedom, I hate being told what to do. Can I share, like, my favorite part?
Leah: Please, I love this!
Danielle: He talks about this concept called cents, and he says, if you want to start a business venture, you have to make sure that it meets these five criteria. C is for control. You need full control over how the business is running, you work for a bank, you know, like, if the bank goes down, then you don’t have a source of income. Even with Instagram, if Instagram goes down, I have a blog.
Leah: Right, and you have, if it can interrupt just really quick, an amazing ebook for anyone listening and they want to know how to grow their Instagram. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen on the topic. And what you’re saying is what I tell my clients all the time, like have to have something that’s yours, you have to have something that’s yours.
Danielle: Yeah. So many people ask the same questions. It’s growing, you know, like, all companies are dedicated marketing budgets to influence or marketing, it’s growing. They know like the power we have. Yeah, and yeah, I answer a lot of those questions.
Leah: Yeah, it’s very good. Okay. So please keep going.
Danielle: Okay so the second criteria is “E”, entry. So barriers to entry is there’s no initial capital investment. If there’s, if everyone’s doing it, it’s obviously going to be harder to succeed. If there’s an initial time investment before you see some trade off, which I guess Instagram and the dedication like you should pursue that. The third is the “need”. So people need, they need what you’re selling. There’s a need for it. The fourth is “time”, how you make money, you should be making money in your sleep. Hmm. It should not be…
Leah: A time for money transaction?
Danielle: Exactly, like working for an hourly wage. And last is “scale”, you have to be able to scale it internationally. You know, if you have an auto shop in New York City, you’re only going to get customers who have a car in New York City, it’s very location controlled. In this day and age with the internet, there’s no reason to have something so confined to one area.
Leah: That sounds like a great book.
Danielle: Mhmm. Just little tidbits like that. It makes me be more certain in a certain venture investing time into. So I’m like is this going to meet the criteria? Is it going to help me be free?
Leah: Yeah, well, that’s such a valuable framework to work on here because it makes so much sense, I’m sure the author is very smart. And, you know, sometimes when we’re in this relatively new territory of social media and online business, you can wonder, like, you know, how does this compare, but if it needs every one of these criteria, you like, can feel pretty good.
Danielle: You just need that reassurance.
Leah: Right, and then it makes it exciting. It’s like, oh, this works and it’s new. I get to explore it. Awesome. Okay, so you kind of told us, you’re going to do a lot of YouTube, you’re going back to Bali, anything else people can expect from you next?
Danielle: I do want to just be as creative, like test every angle of photos, of videos, combining photos and videos. I do want to break barriers, you know, and that takes like thinking outside the box. And so it will be exciting just creating full time.
Leah: Amazing. Great. And so how can people find you and find out more about you?
Danielle: Awesome. So you can find me on Instagram @Thewanderlover. I have a blog, Wanderlover.com and if any of you want to learn how I got to where I am today, the steps to take to be successful on Instagram. You can also read my ebook, “The Travel Influencer Handbook”.
Leah: It’s Wonderful.
Danielle: Yeah. I guarantee like, I will probably answer most of your questions.
Leah: Yeah, I’m sure you get the same questions over and over.
Danielle: And if you DM me, like I respond to every one of my messages. I give a lot of advice like one on one as well.
Leah: Oh, awesome. Awesome. Great. Well, thank you so much for sharing this with a lot of fun. We’re all very lucky to learn from you soon. Thank you.
Danielle: Thank you for having me.
Leah: Alright, until next time, you guys have a good day.
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