In a post-Kardashian world, every millennial thinks they have what it takes to go viral, but few consider what that online fame actually looks like in a person's daily life. In Elite Daily's new series Life Behind the Likes, we speak with the people you know on the internet — from the people behind major Instagram accounts to the Daaaaamn Daniels of the world who went viral for one remarkable moment of their lives — to meet the people behind the screens.
Like many kids, Gerry Isabelle used to dream of taking off on adventures to countries all around the world. But what sets Isabelle apart from other adventurous spirits is how she turned that dream into a reality with her @domincanabroad Instagram account. There, she gives her more than 17,000 Instagram followers an inside look into her globetrotting trips, from visiting local artists in Haiti to exploring secret waterfalls in the Dominican Republic. And by turning her own getaways into educational itineraries for travelers, the New York City native is on a mission to encourage diversity and learning through travel.
As a first-generation Dominican American growing up in the Bronx, Isabelle recalls being a curious kid who would devour old encyclopedias to learn about different places. "I would just crave [connecting] with these other worlds or countries or cultural spaces," she shares. Though Isabelle would travel to the Dominican Republic with her family every summer, the stays never felt like a foreign experience due to her close connection to the Dominican community in New York. As soon as Isabelle had the opportunity to take part in a university study abroad program in 2007 while attending school in New York, she hopped on a plane to spend a year in Spain and France. "The travel bug [in me] was on fire from then on," she says.
As a Dominican American, I learned so much about myself and my multicultural heritage from [a] lens that was so different than the one I've been taught from in the United States.
As Isabelle studied in foreign countries and took in the sights of Europe, she noticed something was missing. "There was a lack of diversity, not just in the classroom ... I would say I only met one or two Dominicans when I was traveling," she explains. This sparked her realization for the need for greater representation in the travel space.
The tipping point for Isabelle came about five years ago in 2015, when she traveled to Cuba for the first time and found herself mesmerized by her personal connection to the country's culture and history. "As a Dominican American, I learned so much about myself and my multicultural heritage from [a] lens that was so different than the one I've been taught from in the United States," she explains.
I wanted to share these insights [with] my fellow Latinos and Dominicans and people of color from my community.
The Cuba trip turned into a personal call to action for Isabelle. She started the Dominican Abroad travel blog in 2015, along with the accompanying Instagram account, while working full-time as a paralegal and business coordinator in New York City.
"I wanted to share these insights [with] my fellow Latinos and Dominicans and people of color from my community," she recalls. Isabelle began to write articles for publications such as Forbes Entrepreneur about topics related to the Dominican Republic and Cuba. She got positive feedback from the community, who shared with her how much they had learned from reading her work.
In 2017, Isabelle quit her job so she could dedicate herself to travel and blogging. She wanted to create a media platform that shared stories from the people in the communities of these international destinations and encourage others to see themselves in travel spaces. After committing to Dominican Abroad full time, Isabelle's seen a gradual growth in followers. A typical follower for her is "primarily a multicultural American millennial or an American millennial [who] loves culture and history."
Isabelle doesn't stress about keeping her Instagram account fresh with new content. When she learns something new, or feels inspiration for a post, she'll turn it into content that she believes provides value for her community. "I see it as an art that's fueled by my passion," she says. "I think it's easy to keep [Instagram] fresh when you love something so much," she adds.
Isabelle partners with certain brands to create content, but only if what they provide aligns with her mission and her community's interests. Some of the companies she's worked with include Expedia, for a campaign on solo travel, and Remitly, an app that allows people living abroad to send money internationally to their loved ones.
As Isabelle's travel content gained traction, she realized she could up the ante and offer immersive travel experiences. "I noticed there were a lot of other people like me in my community, [who] wanted to reconnect with the [Dominican Republic] in a way that wasn't just staying in a resort or staying at home in the farm with family," she explains. After realizing there was so much interest for people wanting to reconnect with their heritage and better understand their multicultural identity, Isabelle decided to start the Dominican Heritage Tour in February 2019.
Everybody is welcome as long as they're open to a more culturally immersive, off-the-beaten-path experience.
The Dominican Heritage Tour brings travelers around the Dominican Republic on six- to nine-day trips to learn about the country’s history. On the tour, which begins in Santo Domingo, participants explore both the island’s cultural hotspots and natural wonders. Isabelle works with locals — from biologists to musicians — to provide cultural workshops for the travelers. By employing locals, Isabelle aims to financially empower the local community.
The typical customers for the heritage tour are Dominicans living abroad who want to reconnect with the island, but "everybody is welcome as long as they're open to a more culturally immersive, off-the-beaten-path experience," she says. In addition to the Dominican Heritage Tour, Isabelle also provides guided tours of Cuba.
Isabelle has been at home for the past few months due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has put a pause on her international travels. In the meantime, she's started to slowly venture out and satisfy her thirst for adventure by visiting local outdoor spaces while maintaining social distancing. Some day outings she's enjoyed include visiting Hudson Valley and Governor's Island in New York.
Though the trips differ from her usual itinerary, Isabelle shares a new realization she's made while staying close to home: "I don't need to take a plane for 10 hours to see natural beauty or to experience history and culture when it's everywhere around us."