TikTok & Its Travel Influencers: Where to Start Your Virtual Escape

If you’re over 25, maybe you first heard about TikTok about the 400th time you heard “Old Town Road.” I’m not sure I had. But then we did one as a WFH team-building exercise after our millennial assistant sent a couple celebrity tag-team brawls and Zoom meeting pencil passes as inspiration. Then the boss asked me to write this article. Boom. I took a deep dive into the sands of TikTok time. At 15-60 seconds a pop, it’s easy and fun and annoying the crap out of my kid who doesn’t own a phone yet. Meet your new TikTok expert!

Before Covid-19 locked us in our houses, TikTok was already the fastest growing social media platform. By the end of 2019, it had been downloaded over 1.5 billion times around the world. Gen Z found the platform that combines the short videos of Vine with the silly stickers and filters of Snapchat and a huge library of song snippets the perfect place to show off their best lip syncing, dance moves or meme challenges. People quickly discovered that the short video format (the length of your old-school TV commercial) lends itself to more than MTV-style music videos. People started adding cooking tutorials, comedy sketches, cute animal tricks and just about anything else.

What is #TikTokTravel? 

Last summer, TikTok started a new hashtag to encourage some of the new content coming in. #TikTokTravel had its own theme song, “Summer” and a template that allowed users to use stitch together their vacation photos into video. Creators shared videos of skiing slopes in Austria, tasting street food in Bangkok, diving off cliffs in Italy or dancing on the beaches of Cancun. As of today, #TikTokTravel has over 14 BILLION views!

14 BILLION? That can’t be just teenagers. Definitely not. While last month, 60-70% of users around the world were under 24, cabin fever and having way more time on our hands has led to every other generation discovering just how much fun watching or making a 15 second video can be. TikTok is the No. 1 download for 2020. The week of March 16th, the app was downloaded more than 2 million times, and the percentage U.S.-based users ages 25-54 has been rising quickly since January. Now everybody’s favorite oldy, Dame Judi Dench posts a dance video with her grandson.  Gen X celebrities like The Rock, Tommy Lee and JLo are dropping content.  So are regular moms, hot cops, fitness gurus, backyard gardeners and travelers. Lots and lots of travelers.

Make that travel wannabes. Just for Corona time, TikTok started the #TravelFromHome challenge. Dreaming of flying off to far away places? Grab your passport and suitcase. From just the right angle, the treadmill in your condo’s gym can pass for an airport’s moving sidewalk. Can’t get a window seat?  Jeroen Gortworst and his boyfriend have a solution. A glass of wine and a video of landing on a tropical isle tucked inside a washing machine will recreate the experience. And destinations are taking notice: St Maarten recognized itself in Jeroen’s video and shared it on their Facebook page.

So now that I am an expert on TikTok and can tell you how many eyeballs or checking out its content… that would be 800 million active users in 155 countries who spend almost an hour (52 minutes) a day on TikTok… here’s a few trends I’ve spotted.

  1. If it ain’t broke…

Lots of TikTok creators are migrating from Instagram, the land of photos about as candid as your average Vogue September issue. Angela Giakas (@angelagiakas) is one of them. The Melbourne-based fashion/travel/beauty blogger combines her interests and creates beautiful photos of a gorgeously dressed woman in an equally gorgeous place. For TikTok, just add music and motion! My favorite (and everyone else’s with over 3 million views) is Angela on a balcony covered in Turkish carpets taking a cup of tea with hot air balloons and the fairy castles of Cappadocia behind her.  If the Turkish tourism board didn’t pay her for this, they should have.

  1. The behind the scenes

While TikTok offers plenty of its own special effects, sometimes TikTokkers prefer to show the unvarnished reality behind some of those gorgeous Instagram shots like this explanation of how to get your very own shot of Bali’s Gates of Heaven. Yet, somehow knowing people wait over two hours to hand over their phone to a man with a mirror doesn’t make me want to visit Lempuyang Temple any less.

  1. Nature at its finest

The subhead explains it all. John Bo Derting, a video producer in Alaska, is particularly good at showing off glaciers, waterfalls and sunshine sparkling on icy water. Vanessa Lloyd (@about_a_lloyd ) says she’s too old  for this app in her bio and posts penguins, hikes and sailing through glaciers from her trip to Patagonia and Antarctica. I’m a sucker for a shot off the bow.

  1. Ya gotta have a gimmick.

And boy howdy, does Sydney Brown (@sydneybrown_xo) have a gimmick! An AquaTheater acrobat on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, she posts training sessions on board, back flips on Costa Rican beaches, dives into Italian marinas, and headstands around the world.

Another Tiktokker with a gimic is @Cxunchong123456. He posts videos from the Songshan Shaolin Temple in China. Blossoming cherry trees, Chinese temples and monks performing carefully choreographed kung fu routines that harken back to TikTok’s musical beginnings.

  1. Food Porn

Tiktok is filled with absolutely amazing videos about food. There seems to be an entire genre of outdoor cooking videos.In @FarmerFood’s videos a hand tosses herbs and spices (helpfully identified in English captions) into a bowl next to a babbling brook. The hand skewers mushrooms, hot peppers, and green beans and drop them into a wok of bubbling oil. In another the hands rub a chicken in oyster sauce, stuff it with scallions and lemon grass, wrap it in a giant leaf, seal it with mud and roast it over an open fire. No sound track needed. I’m pretty sure it’s the Chinese countryside (China boasts over 173.2 million users). All I do know for sure is I want to go there and eat that!

If the countryside ain’t your thing, how about @CookingBabe’s flaming squid kababs in an Asian street market, @Hentaisushi’s jiggling cheesecake in Osaka or Morgan Raum’s  Ocean Spray’s cranberry bog in Massachusetts to get you dreaming about your next foodie tour?

And now, to wrap this all up with a nice, little bow and bring us back to the beginning. It all started, at least for me, with an “Old Town Road” and a work-from-home video. So it’s fitting that my favorite TikTok is Logan Strongarms’ #TravelThrowback tribute to boys in bowties, girls in big hats and really, really fast horses on an old road in Louisville. And that WFH video? It won’t be my last. I’m already working on my own personal #TravelThrowbacks. And while the Porthole Cruise team has only a couple TikToks so far, we’re always up to a #challenge. We can’t wait to bring you more from our favorite cruise ships and even a few landlocked destinations.

-Caroline Geertz

Caroline Geertz is a native Floridian who misses her beach and is grateful for the start of mango season. She has designed magazines as varied as the Baltimore Jewish Times, Weekly World News (yes, the one with Bat Boy), The Enquirer UK and travel magazines for several cruise lines.