Imagine traveling around the worlds, for free, eating the best food out there for a living…that is what being a successful vlogger is all about right?! Mikey Chen, Mark Wiens, Andrew Zimmerman and countless others – ’em lucky ducks. Even if Zimmerman has to eat some bizarre stuff, I don’t think it’s far-reaching that Zimmerman goes to famously good restaurants between filming in the respective foreign land to pig out on the goods.
I’m not much for travel for the sake of travel but I would definitely endure an 18-hour flight and be moonlighting on the floor of the airport for 1 hour of unlimited Taiwanese seafood buffet. That is no exaggeration, my friends. Hell, I’ll take 30 minutes of a buffet with a flu!
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You think I’m kidding?
When I was little, my mom bribed me with McDonald’s to prevent me from running away from school.
I was always sneaking away, breaking out, and doing my own thing. Once I was caught sneaking out and climbing down a cliff at midnight. NINJA FIRST GRADER! But suddenly…a school guard grabbed my 7-year-old arms and foiled my escape. I spent the night sleeping and crying in the guard’s office because he couldn’t take me anywhere that guaranteed I wouldn’t escape. My dad threatened to chop off my legs once!
Anyway, McDonald’s in China was a luxury back then especially for village people like us. Mom would get me a McDouble with fries and sit there to watch me stuff my face. I was the easiest child to kidnap because you could have bribed me with a fry.
Some fellow gal pals (Frugal Asian, Birds of a Fire, Financial Orchid) of mine have bought up doing the food vlogger “Mikey Chen” career thingy after they reach financial independence. See, it is an Asian thing, haha.
Dream job: Turn on a camcorder and narrate while stuffing your face.
I thought for the longest time that the perks must surpass all the jet-lag and inevitability of losing pieces of your luggage. Soapy went to China to try her hand at being a Mikey Chen so I got to see a closer replication and first-hand commentary behind food vlogging. There are a lot more layers to it than just jet-lag.
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Food and Travel Vlogger Basics
Blogger, vlogger, whatever brand of poison you want to call yourself – at the end of the day, all internet entertainer are fighting for a share of the attention. Every YouTuber is not only competing with each other but they are also fighting over viral cat compilation videos and my personal favorite: Psyduck going bat crazy on loop for 10 hours. Persistence is a prerequisite and an uncommon one at that.
I ghosted my a few of my early posts because they’re so uninspired and bad. My first post was something like 300 words. The first time I wrote a long listicle, I thought I was Shakespeare born again. Now I know that most of everything I wrote before my 6th month was pretty poopy.
I made my first YouTube video when I was 19 and I promptly deleted it. I’m glad I did, I would have been mauled online for my makeup application “skills.” The 19-year-old me had makeup looks like a cross between a dumpster geisha and a depressed skunk (the GIRLS know exactly I’m talking about.)
But I’m sure if I persisted and practiced, it would have improved by now but no one said practice and persistence were common human qualities – I certainly didn’t have enough passion for makeup to push through.
If you want to make a career of it, passion is non-negotiable. Soaps did not expect the workload of making a food and travel video (people never correctly estimate the work involved in things).
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Equipment is the easiest part compare to the 3 Ps I spat out above. Things that money can buy are the most simplistic things in life if you can save for it. It’s just things.
Even though cinematic equipment can be costly, some of the equipment can be flipped for some cash back if things don’t work out. I always encourage beginners to start cheap, buy used, substitute early and upgrade when it becomes necessary.
With how advanced modern smartphones have gotten, an iPhone camera, camcorder, beginner’s DSLR or GoPro is all you need to get started.
For a girl like me that boasts frugality, I (embarrassingly) had 3 sets of professional lighting equipment I purchase off Amazon in the back of the closet. The quality from Amazon is just OK but the price (and shipping) is right.
Aliexpress is the cheapest place for backdrops screens. The only major downside is having to wait 1 month before it comes through from China. If you don’t need a professional backdrop, head over to Joanne’s or Michael’s (any craft store) and pick up some material for a DIY backdrop.
Subpar audio quality is forgivable but bad audio will ruin an entire video no matter how good the visuals are. Being a food or travel vlogger, there could be some crazy background noise so the best way is to fetch a wireless lavalier microphone or shotgun microphone. Both mics will not be visible on camera but can capture your voice clearly.
Editing is the most tedious thing for vloggers. The GoPro camera is almost always running as to not miss anything cool. Professional editing is a lot harder than it looks because of the snippet and precision required. I can report on this from first hand experience. In high school, I spent 2 years in a multi-media program where part of my job was to film and edit for our high school TV show. I was pretty horrible at it and never felt a tinge of interest in editing. Have you read my posts? Anyone actually thinks these are edited?
Looks & Vocals
A lot of people are self-conscious about the way they sound on camera. I certainly was one of them (until I started being invited to do podcasts.) I was born and raised in China but I don’t carry a Chinese accent that’s detectable. It could be because I immigrated to the U.S. at age 9ish and I was malleable enough to pick the language up fairly quickly.
In terms of looks, don’t use it as a crutch…but also don’t be monstrously ugly. There is nothing wrong with being vain. We’re all vain. If I had a choice of watching someone review a sock, I would prefer it to be a pretty girl rather than an ogre. UNLESS the ogre had a better…
Editing work is trickier than it looks but thankfully it’s something that is exportable, unlike personality. You need one to be an entertainer. To make things even harder, it has to be authentic, exciting, and non-controversial at the same time. No one likes copies of the same thing. The world is a pretty big place, I reckon me being me…I will eventually find my audience. But that doesn’t matter anyway because I can only be me. You can’t be someone else because that’s taken!
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It’s Not As Easy As It Seems To Get There!
Not a bad list of prerequisites huh? I think all of those above are fairly easy to fill and take care of if you have all the right qualities.
But I’m not done yet. We haven’t even begun discussing the real downsides of a YouTube vlogging career. These are the things that no one actually considers in the first round of excitement. I’m sure Soapy didn’t until GoPro-ed around the city and it just clicked that there’s so much more to the game than just persistence, equipment, looks, and personality.
There are a lot more things out of your control…
1) Personal Finances
You need money to get started and the amount depends on your niche. There is a lot of financial uncertainty with a YouTube career. YouTube is the boss, the government, the house and they are not exactly the most transparent of systems. It’s not like they have a live hotline number to content creators. The YouTube “middle class” of around 50,000 to 500,000 subscribers cannot make a sustainable living. The platform might change (and I bet it will) but for now, it’s not a sustainable source for the vast majority of aspiring YouTubers in the “middle class.”
It is a nice feature that our own financial independence community will have less to worry in terms of financial security but we’re a tiny, niche group. The subject of money will come up with most YouTuber vloggers no matter how much they love their work.
2) Legal & Copyrights
I was a big Eminem fan (still am). The dude basically taught me English.
Anyway, I had a YouTube channel dedicated to him a little before Google acquired YouTube in 2006. I only uploaded 4 fan videos before my computer broke and my family canceled internet because we couldn’t afford it anymore. I totally forgot about that channel until I logged back in 2 years later. I come to find I had over 3 million video views!
All because I found one long lost video of Eminem rapping in the UK with his deceased rapper friend Proof and that video blew up along with the channel.
Me! Over 120,000 subscribers!
I didn’t know what to do with the YouTube fame at the time so I was like…”OK.” Less than a year later YouTube took me down for copyright/right of use or something silly and I was like…”OK.” Now I know how big of a deal that was but not at the time. I mean….120,000 subscribers in the early days of YouTube.
The main point is more complicated than this but essentially: if YouTube wanted to pull the plug on something, it’s their full right. If enough people out there report you, it doesn’t matter if you get a due trial. YouTube will pull the video. They’re your boss, remember?
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3) Devotion and Sacrifice
For travel, adventure, foodie niches that require physical relocation and a larger initial investment (flight tickets, food costs etc.) over a long period of time, that is a time-consuming and financially risky move.
Building a base of vlogging supporters is not easy. It’s very, very possible to spend years of little thank, money, and huge time devotion to something that might be only probable down the road. There are some great vloggers I follow and they haven’t blown up yet. I use to follow Mark Wiens when he started Migrationology. He had no more than 20,000 subscribers at the time on YouTube and he got a lot of public hate in the comments from everything to his face to his voice to his shirt color.
I don’t think most people would have been able to do this for so long without total devotion to the cause. In the end, the competition is fierce so for someone who wants to do it alone, it’s important to be able to dedicate enough time, resources, and patience.
That’s a super lonely road if you ask me! He has 1 million subscribers now…so happy ending! But man…that’s a long 7+ years of building to get to this point without a stable paycheck.
4) Gets Lonely
There are two prongs to this, as a vlogger, you work alone and not usually in a traditional office setting. This means you miss out on socialization and have to brave the single road alone. If you are traveling, there are language barriers and safety concerns. You can imagine all the traveling and hotel hopping is not optimized for a traditional family with school-age children. Mark Wiens is one of the few YouTuber that is married with a toddler. It’s definitely possible, but he also has the support of his wife and in-laws who live in Thailand where he films.
He doesn’t do that much traveling compared to Mikey Chen who is a solo man with a work crew. When you become a YouTube vlogger professionally, other parts of your life must flex with it. If you can’t find that certain someone who can be a partner in crime, it will get lonely even in a sea of subscribers (if you’re so lucky.)
5) Need Constant Extroversion
Introversion and extroversion is a spectrum. If you wanted to go black and white then, interesting tidbit, about 2/3 of the US population classify themselves as extroverts and the remaining 1/3 of Americans classify themselves as introverts. My husband and I are introverts if you pin us on to that spectrum. We’re also sun-hating vampires; that’s why we live in Seattle.
To be a YouTube vlogger, you have to enjoy the attention and sociability. Travel vloggers need to…….go outside. The food doesn’t just come to you in the hotel. If you get lost, and every single travel vlogger has gotten lost at some point in their traveling career, you will need to summon the courage to ask a stranger for directions. There is no guarantee that whoever you ask is friendly or can speak English.
Let’s say, I’m having an Omakase in Tokyo and I’m sitting at the bar. Instead of focusing on the beautiful flow of a meal that the Chef is serving me, I have to worry about how I’m appearing, the noise level, the backdrop, my audio quality, if I’m introducing the names correctly as I NARRATE the entire meal…in front of the dude! Awkward!!! You HAVE to be socially comfortable in the first place. That is the stuff of nightmares for someone like my husband. I am a little more social than he is but I’m no Zsa Zsa Gabor.
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6) Support System
This is another problem that being an introvert might bring up. You can avoid getting lonely if you have a spouse or traveling partner who wants the same jet-pack, food-fueled lifestyle but what if you didn’t have that support system?
Super duper unfortunately, my husband doesn’t share my passion for food. I get heart palpitations when I watch Mikey Chen (and then my husband gets a bit jealous haha). He grew up with overcooked pork and fish sticks on Friday. He doesn’t distinguish between good vs bad food. It’s all just food that goes in the mouth. I know it sounds silly but this has actually caused more fights in between us than the topic of money. The money we have and sit on the same page about.
My husband is not interested in food or vlogging so it’s hard to go at it alone. He doesn’t care what he’s eating and he definitely doesn’t want any video cameras hanging around while he’s eating. It’s harder to drag your partner with you every step of the way and I rather not make him uncomfortable.
7) Haters Gonna Hate
I almost forgot about this! To most people, being a successful food travel blogger is probably one of the most envious gigs out there. How many times did Adam Richman (from Man v. Food) utter how much he loves his gig? (Before he starts eating those challenges.) It doesn’t matter if you’re the most charismatic, magical unicorn hero in our galaxy, no one escapes the power of anonymity given to others. Actually, if you were a magical unicorn hero then it’s an open invitation to a cult of people who hate you for being a magical unicorn hero. It’s the prickly thrones on a rose, you can’t have it without the other. The internet is not a forgiving place, which leads me to…
8) Closet Skeletons
If you don’t have any hidden skeletons in your closet…then you’ve lived a tame life. I want to see some action! ?
I’m a super open-minded person. I take most things with a humorous spirit but even I know the internet is not a forgetful place. The internet doesn’t forget anything. There’s no such thing as “delete” once it’s been posted on the world wide web. That’s going to be a hard lesson for the little teenagers these days with the instant upload to YouTube feature on their smartphones.
Everyone will have a few skeletons in there and chances are it will be set on auto-played the moment people find out you’re famous. The only cure is…you have to become OK with it. My past blaze of resourcefulness could come and bite me in the butt someday but I don’t respond to that for long because I’ve always known my motivation are certain and pure. Others might not be as fortunate as I am. Case and point: remember Alexandra Wallace? The UCLA girl who posted a tirade about Asian Americans in the library on YouTube? She would have a lot of issues becoming…something…like a CNN correspondent after that.
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9) You Can’t “Escape” Work
I haven’t thought about this until Soaps was filming her adventures in China. Everything you do becomes work! Some places are strict about camera access. To plan properly you have to call in ahead of time and request permission to film everywhere you go. You have to track down the right person who has the power to make that decision as well to make sure all filming goes as plan. Sometimes businesses will say no or heavily restrict access to avoid tipping off local competition which puts a damper on the content. It makes the entire experience that would have otherwise been enjoyable into work.
On the trip, you have to adhere to the plan and schedules which means sleeping and waking up on time. Does that sound like a reward for someone who worked so hard to become financially independent?! This is where I would call my vlogging daydream quits, happily. I always pictured traveling the world for food as a leisurely activity, not a full-time work obligation.
10) The STARES! 🙁
Ugh, this goes back to extroversion! As an introvert, getting weird stares from people is going to be embarrassing and mentally draining. Loads of strangers and foreigners will find it humorous you’re sitting around eating and talking to your camera like it’s prime time.
11) The Limitation of Enjoyment
This one rips me up the most.
If you’re filming in a foreign land, you paid the price to be there via airfare, hotel, transportation. Time is now money. You would need as much footage for cutaways and pan shots as possible to keep the viewers interested because good introductions and openings retain and set the scene.
If it’s fun, film it; if it’s interesting, film it. And if it’s a perfect once in a lifetime sunset…get the camera and lighting ready, you don’t have time to enjoy the actual sunset.
Fix up the lighting! Is there a lot of wind noise? Give me the mic that covers the loud background noise!
Tick tock, tick tock.
If you’re in a buffet (usually the limit is 2 hours), those are some precious seconds being WASTED! You have to tour the joint, give a compelling summary, narrate while eating and make sure you get to everything in time while still trying to enjoy the food on camera. The attention is removed from pure piggy joy because you’re on a mission to provide entertainment. You are the entertainer!
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For a lot of young aspiring vloggers, although it’s admirable to want to be independent and find your own path – you have to make sure financially you’re set up for it and have real the persistence. It could be possibly 10 years off before people catch on to your content and become established.
Pro vloggers have to frame their lives around their job and respond to the new trends, content, and requests of subscribers. They have to give up normal lives, jobs, social lives and work is never-ending. Like blogging, you are essentially the flagship CEO and that is not an easy job. Except typically….a CEO gets paid…and is their own boss. Vloggers have to answer to YouTube at the end of the day. At least bloggers don’t have to answer to any platform. What’s WordPress going to do?
For financially free piggies, is it worth the trouble and workload? Do you have spousal support and a flexible family situation? I can’t get over the last 3 specifically: the immersion of workload, public attention, and limitation of enjoyment by proxy to work. Those are the nails in the coffins for me because I have a personal relationship with eating that wouldn’t bring me much joy if I had to commercialize it completely. If I have to be concerned with lighting, narration, audio, appearance, backdrop…I mean, what a fun suck.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t take some cool photos or even a little POV video but a full-time diary of our foodventures? Hmm…sounds like a tough one. There are some things money can’t buy past a certain point. You have to quit money eventually and by the time we’re comfortable enough to travel for food, money shouldn’t be a strong motivator anyway. I rather have my enjoyment in person rather than doing it through a camera lens because time and enjoyment are finite whereas there’s always more money to print.
So there you have it, the manifesto of a YouTube pro vlogger that shall never be! Have you thought of being a vlogger? During your daydreams, have you thought of these issues that come with YouTuber title?
freddy smidlap says
i always wanted to do a comedy bit around our kitchen similar to “my drunk kitchen” where we cook a new dish and it works or we mess it up all while knocking back a bunch of wine. after all, that’s the reality of how the cooking surprisingly gets done at the smidlap estate. you gonna make some videos from the confines of the big cardboard box? Miss Lily – Live From the Big Box!
A kitchen comedy sounds like a great idea!! Do you have netflix? There’s a new show called Nailed It where bad bakers try to make masterpieces and…fail. It’s hilarious!
Mr Defined Sight says
No thoughts of becoming a vlogger but I do have thoughts about those tacos. Damnnnnnnn! Terrific, only 4 hours until lunch. Thanks Lily! 🙂
Happy to tempt~
the Budget Epicurean says
Great points you make here! This is pretty much why I stopped with food videos. I just don’t have the time and energy to devote to doing it properly right now, the competition makes the payoff not really worth it, and if it’s not at all fun why do it? Maybe someday when I’m FI and live in a place with my dream kitchen and can film whenever… until then words is all you’re getting, internet!
Hah! I’ll race ya! Oh man, what’s your YouTube channel? Do you have any videos uploaded??
Interesting . . . There’s always more behind the scenes than you realize. I never really thought about it too much before now, but it’s a load of work. Kinda like a blog . . . .
Hahaha, keep it going, Lily.
Too much like a blog, ugh, the work!!
Ms. Frugal Asian Finance says
I tend to click on videos with good-looking vloggers, especially girls too lol. But I have also unsubscribed from a lot of them after realizing that their content is not that great. Mike Chen, though, is a great content producer. He’s not drop-dead gorgeous by any shape or form, but the way he describes what he eats is SO intriguing. I just wish I could get lunch or dinner with him sometimes and hear him describe the food in person lol.
One thing that makes me feel lazy about making YouTube videos is putting on nice clothes and makeup. I mean, I don’t even do that for Mr. FAF >_<
Ms. Frugal Asian Finance says
Btw, Mr. FAF gets jealous when I watch Mike Chen too lol. He told me to unsubscribe from Mike’s channel, but I refused #never
Yup, I agree but his content is so much better because you can see his passion which makes it all better. Lol I don’t do it for Hippo either when you’re married……who cares!!
I really can’t agree with you more. It’s difficult when people only see the glamorous side of things. It really takes dedication and passion to be successful.
I started vlogging a few months ago, and for me, it has never felt more liberating as I am simply doing it because I love it. But it can be hard sometimes as you mentioned above. I am slowing on my way out of my 9-5, and perhaps vlogging is a stepping stone for me.
Here is a Taiwanese night market video full of food for you to enjoy!
Thanks for the great post.
OMG. MAO!!! Login to your Twitter lol! I sent you a message about your video a long time ago. It’s amazing! Great job! I didn’t know you were still around the PF circle!
Joe @ Retire by 40 says
You need a bubbly personality to be a vlogger. You have to be super enthusiastic about everything and emote a lot. Moaning while you eat and all that. It’s just not me. I don’t get orgasmic from eating something delicious. Writing is a better medium for me. I can sit and revise and try to make things a little funnier. It’s a lot harder to do that on video.
Good stuff. Does Soapy have a channel?
Soapy never posted hers because they were unfinished. Then she got into trouble in China. She is required to go back home in a few days 🙁 not a great turn out of events but I’m not too surprised her parents had to come bail her out again.
Joe @ Retire by 40 says
Wow…. Hope she’s okay..
Lots of behind the scenes stuff for sure, and the constant always having to be “on” doesn’t appeal to me, much rather separate work from personal life.
+1 for Mikey Chen. He, along with my Sichuan and Malaysian friends converted me to the love of spice. ?
Being from Guangzhou/HK area, spice doesn’t play a huge role. ?
I think you’d make a good vlogger around China, as you could compare the Chinese food/educational system to America from first person perspective.
Yes! Our region has zero spice but I’m starting to like the fragrance of hot oil. I don’t want to hang up my vlogger path but I realized it’s a full-time job and beyond, not something fun-fun,
I still want to make videos :D. I hope you’ll subscribe to my channel!
Of courseee! Where is it?? Link it to me. I’ll sub right now if you have one.
Cal | FI Me Outta Here says
I was like Mikey Chen sounds a lot like Strictly Dumpling… and then I found out that you were talking about the same person. The worst thing I could ever say about him is that he shouldn’t put hot chili oil on everything! Guess haters be hating.
Lily, you could have been strictly dumpling, if you utilized those 120k YouTube subs!
AHH shoot, I should probably put that into the post. He goes by dumpling!!! Thanks Cal!!
Mrs. Picky Pincher says
OMG that psyduck video! I just watched it for five minutes and still can’t stop laughing. Oh god, my sides.
I’d argue that a lot of these points also apply to blogging! Especially when it comes to always being “on.” Girl, I can’t eat ANYTHING without either taking a (good) picture of it, or feeling sad that I forgot to take a picture of it. My life has become a walking Millennial stereotype.
I KNOW!! I laughed for 5 minutes straight too!!! Oh good I thought it was just me!! XD
Girl you are too funny!!!
Financial Orchid says
The mukbang industry is getting saturated. I saw a Chinese video about how they always need younger fresh faces. That’s a niche food vlog market tho.
For now my FIRE aspirations is probably spend 2 months in Asia 4 months in Cali and 6 months in the Pacific nw. Run a seasonal bnb like u. How many active hours does it take a week to manage the accommodations? Maybe the market will be saturated by the time I go in. I mean you are exiting because it’s not worth the time n money anymore right? The current roi calculation doesn’t make any sense for me to do it where I am at the moment due to the high financial barrier to entry . A traditional rental is less work and yields higher returns. It will be fun tho if the math works out again.
When Mikey Chen’s trio dispersed it was probably a super low point and lonely time for him that he couldn’t share as a solopreneur. I wonder if that event triggered him to buy that house in upstate new York. It was humbling to watch his story moving back to the east because the bay area was way too expensive for his small media ops.
There is a lot of career risk for employees to engage in personal brand building online. One of my coworker is a
faceless food vlogger for years. It’s hard to build up a following without facial recognition unless it’s like peaceful cuisine .
I’m taking it down a notch because I wanted to focus on my other businesses that take more time that I no longer have. The market is more saturated but that depends on the locality in the first place. Saturated is a very local cause.
I don’t get why Mikey Chen’s trio dispersed. I never got the full story, they sound like they’re friends still? Was it business? That house is….interesting LOL. I will always support Mikey, he works so hard and you can tell.
Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early says
Going back and reading some of my earliest posts can be pretty painful, but so far I’ve refused to delete any of them. Maybe I will some day, but for now, I like looking back and realizing how much better a ton this blogging thing I’ve got gottwn.
I couldn’t even read mine Angela xD
Accidental FIRE says
..a cross between a dumpster geisha and a depressed skunk..
Lines like that are just one of the reasons I read your blog 😉
I have little interest in vlogging, being anonymous kinda makes that hard. But even if I were out in the open I don’t think I’d enjoy it. I probably have a face made for radio 🙂
You sound like my husband haha – I think he has a beautiful face and I’m sure you do too!! <3
Shawn @ tTheSmartFi says
Well, I just crossed off another career off of my “what do I want to be when hen I grow up list”. THank you Lilly, great post.
I feel like I should apologize haha
Amy @ LifeZemplified says
Well I guess I won’t be doing that…ha!
I just love that you know who Zsa Zsa is. And Lucy. You had me long ago at Lucy. 🙂
I was so worried no one was going to get the reference I almost linked to her Wikipedia page xD
Haha, I say Zsa Zsa Gabor to my son and he giggles. Zoo, Zipper, and Za Za also make him giggle too. I think he likes the sound.
I have never thought of being a Youtuber. Ever. I don’t like looking at myself especially not on camera so it would be like torture to edit my own video haha. I actually don’t watch that much Youtube either. I have never heard of Mikey Chen but just Googled him now. I think I am an older millennial and I prefer reading rather than watching videos.