Become a Digital Nomad and Grow your Instagram Following with Ian Barin

About Ian Barin
Ian Barin - Digital Nomad and travel photographerIan is a talented graphic designer and travel photographer living life as a digital nomad.  In this interview, Ian shares the steps he’s taken to create a location independent career and how he grew his Instagram account to over 40,000 followers in the highly competitive niche of travel and landscape photography.   

Can you tell me a little bit about what your background and what life is like as a digital nomad?

I like to consider myself a multimedia designer.  I write songs, create videos, take pictures and make a living as a graphic designer.  I always felt these interests of mine were never going to fit into a cookie cutter 9-5 job so I set out a few years ago to create a career path that would make me happy.

I got my bachelors in environmental studies in New York.  I knew going into college I was fascinated with environmentalism and activism, but I also knew I didn’t care that much about the hard science that goes along with it.  My real passion was figuring out ways to share with people that these issues are important.  I essentially wanted to be a storyteller, which I feel is a wonderfully vague term that covers so many different mediums.

I was first introduced to photography in one of my high school classes.  Taking the actual photos didn’t interest me all that much, but Photoshop blew my mind.  The introduction to Photoshop also got me started with graphic design.  I knew it was an effective way to communicate data through infographics, which was very useful in the science field.


What has your work experience been like?

I had a small internship for an environmental marketing company in college.  I was there for a short period of time but it was long enough to realize that this was not something I wanted to do the rest of my life.  There’s one conversation that stood out from my time at this company where they essentially mapped out my whole life for me – where I would work, who I would work for, and the type of work I would be doing.

After that conversation I felt helpless in the sense that I was signing up for this life that I didn’t really want.  Right after that talk I started to take initiative to create my own career path.

The following year I took part in a sustainability focused, study abroad program in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.  This trip really opened my eyes to being productive and traveling at the same time.  Once I returned home I got the itch to travel again, and to prove to myself that I could travel alone.

A year later (my senior year of college) I booked a solo, 4 week trip to Hawaii.  After this trip I learned two important lessons.

  1. I have the ability to talk to anyone.  I was always able to make friends in school, but being able to strike up conversation with complete strangers was something I never did until this trip.  These lessons have proven to be extremely useful when it comes to networking.
  2. I realized photography is something that I actually enjoy and I’m pretty good at.  Hawaii is such a beautiful place and when I recall the feelings I would get from taking the pictures and editing them, it really put me on a good mental path moving forward.

After this trip and graduating college I spent the next 6 months searching for a job.  I came across an opportunity in Santa Barbara, CA, and even though I didn’t end up getting the position, I had done a ton of research on Santa Barbara and decided I was going to move their either way.

I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have anything lined up in terms of work and I didn’t have much money.  As luck would have it though, two weeks later I got an apartment and a full time job as a multimedia designer at UC Santa Barbara.  It was a great experience that lasted for about 2 years, and then the remote life started.

How did you transition from a standard 9-5 to a full-time remote career?

There weren’t many graphic designers on campus so I was often used across multiple departments.  A project came up outside of my department that I did so well on they offered me a part time job.  At the time I had to turn them down as I was still working full-time, but a year later when I put in my notice it occurred to me that I should see if the part time job offer was still on the table and if they would allow me to work remote.  They agreed and I was ecstatic!

With a steady source of remote income I hit the road for 2 months, road tripping throughout the US and Canada.

Was working part-time while traveling enough to pay the bills?

It was, but only because I moved out of my apartment in Santa Barbara and became very adamant about minimizing my costs and what I owned.  I realized I didn’t have to make all that much money to do the things I wanted to do.

For the past two years, I realized having a home or an apartment isn’t as important as having the freedom pick the places I want to make my temporary home.  I’ve put the money I would have spent on rent towards travel and I’m very fortunate that I don’t have any student loans, which has given me a lot of freedom that I’m grateful for.

I’ve also done a lot of traveling this past year in Asia; specifically picking locations that are extremely cheap to travel to.  It’s not that hard to travel around these destinations, meet amazing people and create beautiful content for less than $1,000/mo.

Do you have a favorite place you’ve visited and a top destination you’d like to travel to?

Myanmar – I was there for two weeks and it blew me away.  It was the perfect blend of all the places I visited in Asia.  Photography wise it was an absolute dream and I couldn’t take enough photos there!

I’m also really fascinated by the middle east. I would love to go to Jordan, Egypt or Iran.

Are you generating any income from your photography?

So far graphic design has been the thing that has made me money and I have yet to monetize my photography.  However, photography is what I love the most, what I want to be the best at, and how I would like to make my money.

I no longer work for UC Santa Barbara but I’ve had a good amount of clients on and off since then.  I feel this lifestyle is a constant search for remote jobs and networking.  Sometimes you can have an amazing month, and next month can be pretty slow.

How do you find your remote jobs?

I’ll use a few different job boards and cold email some companies I would like to work for, but the best results have come from personal connections.

Aside from that I’ve really focused the past year on building my photography portfolio on Instagram and growing a community.  I’m happy to say that my hard work has been paying off and I’ve had a few jobs come directly from Instagram.

Speaking of Instagram, how have you built up your portfolio to 40,000 followers in the competitive niche of travel & landscape photography?

It really takes a lot of work.  You have to give attention to people.  You need to put yourself out there, put your best work out there and give your profile a personality.

I’ve reached out to plenty of accounts on Instagram asking to be featured.  I also have a pretty close relationship with the National Park Service’s Instagram.  Whenever I have a quality national park photo, I’ll send it to them and they’re always happy to repost it. Having the NPS support my photography has been great in terms of gaining exposure and also reputability.  I built that relationship simply by sending out a bunch of cold emails and this one just stuck.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from using social media and Instagram is authenticity goes a long way.  There are so many accounts where people just focus on themselves and just want to push product or make a dollar.  I try to stay away from them and instead surround myself with a genuine community that cares about one another, wants to share quality content and support each other’s growth as photographers.

What has been the hardest part about being a digital nomad?

Community.  That is definitely the thing that I struggle with. I love people, I love meeting new people, but I have amazing friends and there is nothing that can replace them.

What are the biggest challenges about working remote?

I’ve found it difficult to sustain the longevity of the work.  Remote work can have a negative connotation around it because you aren’t showing your face and it doesn’t allow you to create as strong of a connection with the company you’re working for.

Out of sight out of mind really is the best way to describe it, so I try to use video conferencing whenever possible.  Video allows you to express more emotion and create more of a connection with your client.

What does the future hold for you ?

The biggest lesson I learned from all this traveling is that I need something consistent.  For the past several years it’s felt as if I was just wandering.  In the future I’m going to try and create more structure.  For example, I might work a 9-5 for a few months and then go on a trip for 2-3 months.  This way I can get into a routine where I work when I’m suppose to work and travel when I’m suppose to travel.  I also prefer these longer trips because it allows me to really immerse myself in the culture versus just taking a week or two vacation.

In terms of owning a residence, I’ve been eyeing up a van!  There are so many things that i’m drawn to when it comes to living out of a van, but it still doesn’t solve the problem of longing for a proper community so we’ll see. 🙂

Be sure to follow @ianbarin on Instagram!

Color burst sunrise. |?Sanibel Island, Florida | ? Follow —> @ianbarin ?☀️? #visualtraveller

A post shared by Ian Barin Photography ? (@ianbarin) on

Tea time, anyone?.? Cameron Highlands, Malaysia | Follow >> @ianbarin ?

A post shared by Ian Barin Photography ? (@ianbarin) on

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01 Comment

  1. WH

    Love this piece on Ian Barin. Insightful and of course fantastic photos.

    July 3, 2017 Reply