of Dose of Travel in Cape Town, South Africa. Nabila Ismail
- Nabila Ismail works at GoodRx by day and blogs about travel at night.
- Her side hustle started to pick up speed once brands reached out to partner.
- She hopes to make solo travel more popular, especially for people of color.
When 27-year-old Nabila Ismail logs off of her 9-to-5 job as an engagement marketing manager at GoodRx, her thoughts immediately turn to travel — reflecting on past trips, tracking US Department of State travel advisories, and planning future excursions.
Although many other workers do the same, Ismail’s motivation has an added layer: She’s the creator of Dose of Travel, a platform dedicated to showing how women of color can safely and affordably travel solo. With an audience of more than 24,000 followers on TikTok and 14,000 followers on Instagram, she connects with women around the world to answer questions about where to visit, how to do so on a budget, and why diverse representation in the travel industry is so important.
Even though Ismail has been creating travel-based content for the past nine years, she said she only started to make a sizable income from it in 2019, when she had gained a few thousand followers on Instagram and TikTok and started attracting brand partners.
In addition to creating social-media content, she’s also branched out into freelance writing, consulting, and speaking engagements. “I didn’t make a lot of money until I took it seriously as a business,” Ismail said. Since COVID-19 began, she’s earned roughly $US13,000 ($AU18,443) and filed for Dose of Travel to be an LLC in November.
She shared how she got her start and how the pandemic encouraged her to pivot to a new business model.
The itch to travel solo
Ismail in Morocco. Nabila Ismail
Ismail wasn’t bitten by the solo travel bug until her first year of college in 2012, when she traveled to Belgium over winter break to visit her best friend, who was working as an au pair. Seeing her friend’s lifestyle inspired her to become an au pair herself, she told Insider, and that following summer she booked her first solo trip to Spain.
It was the first time she met other solo travelers and became comfortable exploring on her own. “That summer trip to Spain invigorated travel as what I would be doing anytime I had time off,” Ismail said. “Anytime I had a break between school, I was catching a flight,” she added. By the time she finished college and graduate school, she’d traveled to 36 countries, out of which 31 trips were solo.
Dose of Travel originally started as a fashion blog because of how much Ismail loved styling. It stayed that way until her trip to Spain, when she started posting travel content and noticed how much it resonated with viewers.
She said that because there weren’t a lot of active travel blogs at the time, most of her audience found her through Google and social media. She also had an email list made up of professional contacts, friends, and family that she emailed her blog out to.
As her platform grew, Ismail said she began receiving free invites to restaurants and events in her hometown. “Living in Buffalo, New York, allowed me to be a part of their blogger community, and that gave me insight into how this could be a career I could make money from. It was easier to create a name for myself because it was a smaller city,” Ismail said.
From hobby to pandemic side hustle
Her big break, she said, was landing a brand partnership in 2017 with Victoria’s Secret Pink as a stylist. “That moment was what changed everything for me. I started thinking of how I could work with so many other brands,” Ismail said.
According to Ismail, COVID-19 forced her to pivot Dose of Travel’s content away from chronicling her personal travels to what it is now — a community for South Asian women to talk about solo travel.
The shift first began in March 2020, she said, when her travel plans, like everyone else’s, were halted. She used the time during quarantine to think more about what her audience wanted and remembered how often followers commented that she was the first South Asian woman they’d seen who was traveling solo and how empowering that was. She decided to lean into that content by creating a TikTok that focused on needing more South Asian representation in travel. The next day, she said, she woke up to thousands of new followers.
Since growing her platform, Ismail has worked with brands including Marc Jacobs, Club Feast, and The Pill Club. She’s had brands reach out to her on their own, but said that creators need to be proactive and pitch themselves directly to PR agencies and brands using a media kit that includes statistics and work experience, which is how she said she landed several collaborations.
Ismail also uses a new TikTok trend — casting calls — to land partnerships, and said it’s how she was able to work with one of her favorite brands, Free People. She saw an open casting call they posted on TikTok and submitted a video that explained why she wanted to partner.
“Anything that doesn’t feel genuine doesn’t work. I only work with brands I believe in or use,” she said.
She added that creators, especially those of color, shouldn’t curate their content too much and should just post. “Be yourself. Representation matters, and just talking about things you go through is helpful to more people than you know,” she said.
Making traveling alone appealing and more affordable
Ismail in Mexico. Nabila Ismail
In addition to posting content about the benefits of solo travel and why more South Asian women should do it, Dose of Travel also focuses on affordability, an especially important topic for Ismail. “No one told me I could travel on a budget. It was always seen as a luxury in my head,” she said.
While in college and grad school, she said she self-funded all the solo trips she took by working any part-time job, whether at her college library or musical festivals. Even now, she said she saves money from her corporate job to be able to travel or supplements her spending money when on a press trip. “Sometimes, budget travel doesn’t sell or isn’t marketed as much, but it can still give you the same experience you’re looking for. So I want to be that person to say, ‘This is how you can do it on a budget,’ especially for people who think they can’t afford it,” she said.
Even though the world is still battling COVID-19, Ismail is optimistic about the future of solo travel. “The travel industry took a big hit, but I think it’ll bounce back. I think solo travel has blown up more now because you have to distance yourself and limit social interactions,” Ismail said.
She’s now focused on expanding Dose of Travel by offering group trips — her first will be to Bali, Indonesia, in June 2022 in partnership with Trova Trip. She said that the response so far has been great and that if it goes well, she’ll work independently to plan future trips with local hotels and partners.
She also hopes these trips are the start of encouraging more South Asian women to travel solo and not wait for others. “If I had waited and looked for the right opportunity, I might not have gone,” she said. “Solo travel is about empowerment and independence. If you really want to go do something, you have the power to do it. You’re in control.”
About the Author