When Nate and Kara first told their friends and family that they were ditching their regular lives to travel the world, no one took them seriously. Over 100 countries later, they've managed to do it all. Here's their story.
Where Our Story Begins…
Let's start at the very beginning: in today's day and age, it seems that there's no shortage of travel vloggers. However, it takes something special to truly make a name in the business and turn it into a career.
While anyone can pick up a camera and jet off on a trip, it's usually a matter of time until the money runs out and it's time to head back to regular life. But one couple has managed to defy all odds. After traveling full-time for four years and visiting 100 countries, everyone wondered how they managed to pull it all off.
Meet Kara and Nate
...This brings us to Kara and Nate. The couple from Nashville, Tennessee, had been going strong for years. After meeting and dating in high school, they were practically inseparable. "The only way I landed Kara was because I was two years older," Nate jokingly told the hosts of the Re-root podcast.
After high school, Kara went to school to study education and became a pre-school teacher while Nate ran a printing company. The two had never been traveling and had no filming or editing experience. No one could have predicted what they would come to do with their lives.
Getting The Travel Bug
After ten years of dating, Nate finally popped the question, and the couple planned to marry in June 2013. Kara was put in charge of planning the wedding, and Nate was to arrange the honeymoon. It was then that he started to learn about credit card points - and it led him down a world of research.
Applying all the tricks he had learned online, Nate booked them a trip to Belize, where they stayed in beautiful accommodation for a fraction of the original price. After exploring Belize, the pair fell in love with traveling. They had caught the travel bug, and they couldn't wait to plan their next trip...
A Plan Is Hatched
On their Belize trip, Kara and Nate met many other travelers who all seemed to be traveling long-term. They hadn't even known that this was an option, and they began to question if this was something they could do themselves at some point in their lives. It was a date night in January 2015 that changed everything.
As they sat in Dairy Queen eating ice cream, they realized that if they didn't do it now, they never would. They had no children or other commitments, so there was perhaps no better time to pack everything up and go on an adventure. The plan was a one-year world trip. The departure date was set for a year from then.
Behind the Scenes
The following year was spent saving money and planning. Kara and Nate understood that they couldn't experience all these incredible places without recording them and sharing them with their friends and family, so they splashed out and purchased a professional-style camera. Unfortunately, they had no idea how to use it...
So, they got to work. They spent hours watching YouTube tutorials on how to film a video and edit it. They even had a practice run recording a stranger's wedding video. They were far from professionals at this point, but they had the basics down to run an amateur YouTube travel channel.
After speaking to friends about their plans to travel the world and document their efforts online, Kara and Nate were introduced to YouTuber Casey Neistat. Up until this point, the couple had no idea that people could make money off of YouTube, but here this man was earning a living from his YouTube content. It gave them an idea...
Copying Neistat's approach, the couple decided to upload one video to YouTube every day of their travels. In the worst-case scenario, it was just for mom and dad to watch, and they would have thorough documentation of their experiences. Best-case, it would turn into something that enabled them to keep traveling.
With $35,000 saved up, it was time for the big adventure to begin. After a big send-off by their family and friends, the couple boarded a one-way flight to Tokyo, Japan, with one carry-on bag each and kept the cameras rolling the entire time. "Once the money is gone, we're going home," they told themselves.
At the end of each day, they spent time editing and uploading the videos. They went from zero to daily vlogging - all while learning how to live full-time on the road all in the same week. "It was a lot to take on," they reflected in their YouTube documentary a few years later. They had no idea what lay ahead for them...
Things Take a Turn
Soon enough, Kara and Nate discovered that traveling full-time was not as glamorous as it may seem. After a great week in Japan, the couple landed in their next destination of the Philippines, where some poor planning led to things not going as smoothly as hoped.
"Things felt like they were falling apart," Kara explained. Delayed busses, extreme travel sickness, and overwhelming exhaustion had the couple worrying it was all a big mistake. One night, when Kara broke down in tears while editing a video, they decided they needed a time-out to re-evaluate.
Back on the Road
After taking a day off, the married couple felt refreshed and re-energized. They started to read the comments on their YouTube channel and saw many messages of support from complete strangers! The excitement of their audience encouraged them to get back behind the camera.
They also realized that filming made their trip better. "Having the camera made us do cool things," Kara explained. "Otherwise, we would have just laid on the beach." From there, they headed to Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Thailand, getting better at traveling and filming as they went.
During a scuba-diving trip in the South of Thailand, Kara and Nate met two bloggers who taught them about the world of 'influencer perks.' "We learned about the concept of doing things for free if you blog about it," Nate said in the documentary. This would start the couple off on a whole new adventure.
At this point, however, their YouTube channel had less than 1,000 subscribers, and they worried that it wouldn't be enough to work with travel companies. With their money draining fast, Nate decided to try his luck with three companies in Chiang Mai, Thailand. To his surprise, all three agreed.
Now six months in, they had plenty of perks, but they needed some form of real income in order to keep going. The couple debated over a decision most YouTube creators dread making. Finally, they decided to go for it, and if it meant losing followers, they would have to find a way to earn them back.
They decided to monetize their YouTube channel, opting to include ads in their videos. "It was the scariest thing we did," Nate explained. "We felt like we needed to keep justifying why we did it." As Kara put it, "we were terrified people would leave us cos they thought they thought we were only doing it for the money."
Change In Thought
Despite their concerns, Kara and Nate's subscribers and followers continued to increase in number. They were having the time of their lives traveling around the world - and people were loving the opportunity to live vicariously through their viral videos.
For the first time, the couple began to think past that first year. Setting off on that first flight to Tokyo, they didn't even know if they would like it. They didn't know what would be. "It could have sounded like a much dreamier idea than it actually was. But we loved it SO much," Kara explained. "We didn't want it to end..."
Their next stop was South Africa, where the couple had yet another defining moment in their journey. After a life-changing safari and cage-diving experience with great white sharks, Kara and Nate realized how hard it would be for them to leave the traveling lifestyle when the time came.
On a hike up table-mountain, the pair sat down for a break and allowed themselves to discuss the upcoming years out loud. What could they realistically do next? They knew they would love to be able to keep traveling - but they needed a goal to work towards...
Nate began to make a list of all the countries that sounded remotely interesting to visit, and it came out to a total of about one hundred countries. Based on this, they reckoned their dream goal would be to see one hundred countries by the start of 2020.
While this goal seemed incredibly tempting, no final decision was made at this point. They understood the sacrifices that would need to be made in order to travel enough time to reach this milestone. The plan was put on the back burner until they had enough time to sit and work it out properly.
Around the World
The final leg of their year's world tour was Europe. In Spain, they drove a Ferrari and attended the world's largest tomato fight; they went on a food tour in Poland, celebrated Oktoberfest in Munich, and visited the beautiful Lake Bled in Slovenia.
Next, they swam in waterfalls in Croatia, drove a car through Bosnia, and then rented a boat in Montenegro. They fed donkeys in Cyprus, toured Athens, cycled around the Netherlands, attended the world travel market in London, and finally ended up in Morocco, where they spent the night in the Sahara desert.
Home for the Holidays
Finally, the year was up. After so many incredible experiences around the world, the couple was exhausted and decided to head back to their hometown to spend some downtime with their families over the holidays. They used this time to finalize their future plans.
On the one hand, it seemed like the right time to get real jobs and settle down - but the money was running out, and it would be too challenging to keep going. However, on the other hand, they loved it so much and didn't want to stop. Finally, they decided to go for another year. But where would the money come from?
The Year of Freebies
Kara and Nate did not have the money to keep going, so they decided to get creative. They reached out to as many businesses as possible to do as much free stuff as they could. With their relatively impressive viewer numbers, many companies agreed to provide their services for free in exchange for coverage on their channel.
"That's how we ended up as broke twenty-somethings traveling South America in luxury," Nate honestly explained. With this being their financial approach for the year, the couple referred to this time period as 'The Year of Free Stuff.' So, what was on the itinerary?
Whirlwind of a Ride
With the partnerships arranged, Kara and Nate spent the next two months traveling South America on epic luxury tours. Including an epic trip to Patagonia, where they trekked on a glacier and spent time playing on the largest mirror in the world, and enjoyed dinner while watching the sun set over the Bolivian Salt flats.
They slept in the middle of the Amazon rainforest in Peru and then cruised down the river in a luxurious suite. They even had the opportunity to stay in glass pods situated on the side of the mountain overlooking the sacred valley. Although they were living their best lives, the audience's response was not as they expected.
They were filming what they thought was their best footage ever, but they soon learned that people weren't so into watching them doing all these fun things. "People seemed to be much more interested in our videos where something went wrong, instead of when we were doing really awesome but unrelatable stuff," Kara noted.
Nate pointed out that a video in which he stumped his toe in Santiago had 144,000 views. Similarly, a video titled 'we got out of the taxi…' earned 134,000 views. On the other end, a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Penguin Island in Patagonia had a much small audience of 59,000 views. Based on this, they adapted their content…
Finding a Balance
Now having learned the lesson of relatability and having a clearer understanding of what the viewers wanted, they decided to adopt a more balanced content style. They started doing less of these luxury experiences and tried to focus on more of the realities of traveling full-time.
"When we do [these luxury trips], we make sure we're telling the story that we want to tell. We also try to infuse as much of our personality as possible into the videos," Nate explained. He admit that at first, they felt like they needed to be shooting commercials for the companies, and this led to them losing viewers.
The Turning Point
2018 was what the couple refer to as "the turning point." With 100,000 subscribers, their YouTube channel had reached a massive milestone, one which they never dreamed they would achieve. Furthermore, the couple recorded their hilarious 140-hour train journey across Russia, which was their first video to hit 1 million views.
This was also the year the travelers decided to start taking 'workcations.' Taking time off from traveling and staying in one place for an extended period of time, they would use this down-time to relax and edit. When they started to get bored, they would pack back up and head back out into the world.
Many couples might panic at the thought of spending all day, every day with their other halves. As much as they love them, spending so much time in such close proximity while under stressful conditions sounds like a great challenge to many. So how do Kara and Nate manage to make it work, and do they ever fight?
"The majority of our arguments stem from having different creative visions for our videos. Kara has a more casual style, and I like polished and professional," Nate told CNN. Kara also explained that traveling requires many more decisions than usual life, which causes tension. That being said, they are still very much in love.
"Best in Travel"
In 2018, Nate and Kara had the honor of attending The Shorty Awards in New York, which is essentially the Grammys for Internet Creators. As their names were announced as the winner of 'Best in Travel,' their shocked faces showed they did not truly understand the reach of their channel.
"This is incredible. Who would have thought? We love to go traveling, and now we're standing on stage at the Shorty Awards," Nate exclaimed as they accepted the award. "Thank you!" Kara shouted out to the audience. From there, it was back to the airport for a business class flight to the Maldives.
Expanding Their Reach
By this point, the two were making more money than they would have if they had been at home with two 'real' jobs. This was the moment they began to see YouTube as more of a career than a fun, money-making hobby. That being said, they understood that if YouTube changed its policies or settings somehow, it could be over.
For this reason, they worked hard to diversify their platforms. "We're trying to move our audience to our own platforms where we have more control. That includes growing our email list and being more consistent on the blogging front to give people a reason to continually come back to our website," they told Holidify.com.
Tracking The Finances
The couple documented their finances on their website for their viewers to understand how they spent and made money. Despite contrary beliefs, in the first year, the couple was barely breaking even. In fact, it took two years of uploading a video every day for two years before making any real money from YouTube.
Their money came from YouTube Ads, Patreon, Course Sales, Affiliate Income, and Video Licensing. Frequent Flyer miles helped them afford their flights around the world. "If we had set out from the start with the goal of creating a successful YouTube channel, we would have given up after seeing how long it was taking," Kara said.
December 17, 2019, Kara and Nate momentously boarded the flight to their one-hundredth country. With tears in their eyes, they could not believe the journey they had been on to get to this point. As they booked their accommodation while sitting in their seats on the runaway, they braced themselves for the final adventure.
After asking their fans to cast votes for the final destination, they kept their followers in suspense, keeping the country's name a secret. Once they arrived, they finally let the viewers in. "Welcome to FIJI!" they exclaimed while holding hands and jumping into the clear blue waters. They had done it.
Upon reflection, they realized that it was "more of a dream than a goal." "We're living a life better than our wildest dreams," gushed Kara while acknowledging it was all due to their YouTube family. There had been a few roadblocks along the way, but they had been incredibly fortunate with how it all worked out.
Over the four years, there had only been once canceled flight and one lost bag. There were only a few bouts of food poisoning, and they had yet to go to the hospital. "Maybe we're not adventurous enough?!" joked Kara. Little did they know, there was one more surprise in store…
1 Million Subscribers
As they excitedly celebrated their one hundred country achievement, reminiscing on all the adventures they had been on over the years, they truly thought this was as good as life could get. The next day, waking up to the beautiful views of Fiji, the couple could not believe the news waiting for them.
To their absolute shock and surprise, they had reached 1 million YouTube subscribers. "As if life could not get any better at the current moment, we're sitting in our 100th country, and we just hit 1 million subscribers!" announced Nate. "The timing is impossible!!" exclaimed Kara. "This is the stuff you write a movie about."
Reaching Continent #7
They had successfully completed their goal and visited one hundred countries, but they soon realized regular life was not for them. Before they knew it, they were back in the airport on route to tick off another huge bucket list item. However, this one was no ordinary destination.
To get to this country, they would need to fly to Buenos Aires, travel from there to the tip of South America, and board a boat to Antarctica. This would mark the couple's seventh continent, and they could barely control their excitement. However, they knew their followers had questions about the future...
During their journey to Antarctica, the couple addressed the big question. They knew everyone wanted them to keep traveling, but they needed some sort of plan. Until this point, they hadn't really had a chance to think about what was next. They decided to keep traveling and filming until they worked it out. Then, Covid hit...
Like everyone else, the Covid-19 Pandemic hit the couple hard. Outside factors had halted their usual up-and-go lifestyle, and they needed to adapt accordingly. The couple bought a van and embarked on a journey around the US, filming as they went. Now the skies are open again, and we cannot wait to see where they end up next!