Cover image taken from https://evazubeck.com/
If you’re like me, the chances are that a fairly large amount of the videos getting recommended to you by YouTube are to do with travel. Now, I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to this because I’ve simply never really thought about it that much until now but, the stars of all these videos are predominantly young, white males from Western cultures. In other words, they’re people who look, talk and act just like me.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, it’s recently been leaving me wondering about and pining for more diversity. Why is this particular niche of YouTube so dominated by one particular groupset? Surely there are more voices out there to be heard? The answer is, of course, yes, there are.
Allow me to introduce you to one such star who is shining particularly bright - Eva Zu Beck.
At a glance
Eva is a travel host for both TV (A Place Called Pakistan, Meet the Balkans) and her own 1.25 million subscriber-strong YouTube channel. Her uploads tell the stories of her adventures and travels around the world in very neat, binge-worthy vlogs.
From the outset, Eva always had a taste for world travel. Originally born in Poland, she moved to England at a very young age, studying both French and German at the University of Oxford. Having racked up over 77.5 million channel views, regularly drawing in over 300,000 views per video, she’s a leading light for solo women travelers worldwide, giving us a look at destinations that are well off the beaten path from her unique and refreshingly different perspective. Here’s what she has to say in her own words:
Let’s take a look at what makes her channel so good...
Breaking ceilings and inspiring a new wave of travelers
I talked about it at the top of the article, and it’s no secret. The whole ‘YouTube travel vlogger’ scene is overwhelmingly dominated by young, white males. Now - there are amazing creators from all different types of backgrounds and walks of life out there, but they just don’t get their deserved time in the spotlight, in my opinion.
Eva is great because she’s broken the mold - she’s a woman showing how you can travel the world solo as a female. She's badass. Her channel is different from the usual (quite frankly over-saturated) travel vlog niche we’ve become accustomed to on YouTube over the years. It’s a breath of fresh air to have someone else show us around the world, and she’s rather good at it too (more on that below).
Whether she intended to do so or not, Eva’s achievements on the platform have opened the door to millions of girls and women worldwide. She’s giving this large portion of her audience a huge confidence boost, inspiration and motivation, showing them that solo travel is possible as a woman. The comments speak for themselves.
Eva held a great TEDx Talk where she discussed her fears traveling solo as a woman:
“I know there’s been a boom in women traveling solo all around the world, which is incredible. And I’ve heard so many wonderful stories from women who have traveled solo. But the problem is that I wanted to travel to places that were not really your typical holiday destinations. They’re not places that tourists go to, let alone solo female travelers. So how did I convince myself to actually go ahead with it?
Well, my friends, first of all, gave me a pocket knife to carry with me at all times (which I politely refused)...my family advised me to take self-defense classes, which I didn’t actually do. I actually relied on myself to recall an experience that I had traveling a few months prior.
At that time I decided to go on a trip alone for probably the first time in my life. And it was a very conventionally masculine trip. I went on the Trans-Siberian express...I felt on the train like I was the only woman there - like I was the only person traveling solo there. But that didn’t last very long because throughout that journey i was adopted and taken in by a family in Dagestan, in Russia...by a group of 3 Spanish ladies traveling together on the trip of a lifetime...by a group of South Korean tourists who, although they didn’t speak much English, gave me a lot of food and by a group of gypsies on a Siberian island. And lastly, by Mongolian horse riders.
I never felt alone. I never felt like a woman traveling alone. I always felt like a daughter traveling from family to family. So I knew - no point in having a fear of that.”
You can watch the full TED Talk here:
A path less traveled
While other travel vloggers bang the drum of popular destinations such as Bali and Iceland, Eva’s success lies in exactly what she referenced in that TED Talk. She’s giving us a glance at what it’s like to travel to lesser-known destinations - places that tourists typically wouldn’t travel to and, in some cases, such as Syria and Afghanistan, places that we’re told to avoid at all costs.
There’s a natural fascination and intrigue here - we as the audience want to get a glimpse of what it’s like to visit these places as a tourist and, furthermore, understand what it’s like to live there we otherwise only ever get to see on a news channel. It's a huge credit to Eva that for communicating so much of this through every upload in a succinct way that touches the hearts of almost everyone who watches.
One gripe I’ve always personally had with many travel vlogs is that they don’t ‘go deep’ enough. It’s very easy to create a travel vlog that shows the beauty of a destination and perhaps the materialistic appeal with beautiful big villas next to swaying palms and deserted beaches...but where’s the story there? Eva is on a different level in that she always connects with the locals and shares their stories. She gives people a voice who would never have the chance to speak otherwise. And through these interactions, we learn and understand that these places and people are not so very different from our own homeland. And again, the comments speak for themselves:
Below, you can see examples of some of her best work in places such as Afghanistan and Syria:
A natural, real storyteller
In the TEDx Talk reference above, Eva opens up about the start of her adventures on YouTube.
“When I started this dream of mine, I actually had no experience filming at all. I had no experience in video production, I didn’t know how to make a film, I didn’t know how to edit a video. I didn’t know how to use all that fancy software.”
That’s hard to believe, given the quality of her videos today. The reason her audience keeps growing and coming back for every single upload revolves a lot around her personality and style of filmmaking. Each and every video feels personal - as if she’s talking directly with you. It’s almost like you’re hanging out with a friend. It’s a key ingredient in what it takes to be a successful YouTuber, and I’ve long associated this trait with other stars such as Casey Neistat.
In the travel vlog genre, there’s a tendency to only want to show the ‘good’ bits of travel. So many creators will show off all of the amazing parts of their trips and adventures because that’s what viewers want to see...right?
Well, no, actually. One of the reasons you feel like you’re hanging out with Eva when you watch is because she’s very raw, real and honest. She doesn’t shy away from the ‘bad moments’ of travel. Showing both the ups and the downs gives her travel vlogs much more depth and layers, and the audience feels like they’re getting the real deal.
So, have you subscribed yet? Naturally, the pandemic has slowed travel right down for the majority of people. Even Eva had to spend some time locked down and waiting on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean before traveling back home on a cargo ship (yes, really). However, that hasn’t stopped her. She’s going from strength to strength, and right now, she’s living out another dream of driving around Europe and living full-time in her own 4x4. The adventure never stops and in her own words, “the world belongs to the brave.” We can’t wait to see where her adventures take us next!
Josh Edwards is an accomplished filmmaker, industry writing veteran, storyteller based in Indonesia (by way of the UK), and industry writer in the Blade Ronner Media Writing Collective. He's passionate about travel and documents adventures and stories through his films.