FIU grad creates viral TikTok account for affordable, safe traveling

Soon after graduating from Florida International University three years ago, Gabi Riveros found herself scraping for money toward the end of her travels in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. 

Then, she had an idea. To earn enough to continue traveling, she would invite over a few of her social media followers and offer them to share an Airbnb and act as a tour guide. 

It worked. Today she has 160,000 followers on TikTok and a booming tour-guide business called Happy Seekers. 

“I just started posting my days-in-a-life living in a hostel in Mexico,” Rivero says.

Rivero is from Cali, Colombia and came to Miami when she was five. As a kid she didn’t travel much, but then she caught the bug. During her college years, Riveros enrolled in a study-abroad program in Spain. 

She graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and Advertising from FIU. Many borders were closed due to the pandemic, but luckily Mexico had opened its borders so she moved to Puerto Escondido, a surf town on the western coast of the country where she stayed for four months. 

She began to gain popularity on social media. Followers started asking about her lifestyle and how she attained it. But she needed to return home as her funds were running low. 

“It was at the point where I had no money left,” she explained. “So I had this wild idea to rent a house for a few weeks and have all these people that keep messaging me to come live with me.” 

Retreaters practicing meditation. (Photo courtesy of Gabi Riveros)

The idea involved her renting a big beautiful house, then charging the guests a fee that would cover her stay as well. Riveros curated an itinerary with all the best spots in the area. She advertised a 10-day retreat experience, with living accommodations, morning yoga classes and exciting excursions for $555. As the planning went on, she allowed people to come even if they couldn’t afford the full price. 

“Some people paid the full amount while others paid between $500 and $300,” Riveros said. “At this point I had already rented the house and everything’s already happening.” 

Sound Bath and Yoga practice. (Photo courtesy of Gabi Riveros)

Despite some uncertainty, the group travel retreat was a huge success. 

“I just did it,” she exclaimed. “I think this was a sign for me because nothing went wrong. Everything was so breezy.” 

Boating and snorkeling excursion. (Photo courtesy of Gabi Riveros)

She didn’t profit during this retreat but was able to stay in the house for free. This experience guided her towards her new living. 

Riveros returned to the United States to save enough money to fund her traveling again. Keeping up with her social media followers continued to ask about her next retreat.  

Coed traveling retreat. (Photo courtesy of Gabi Riveros)

So a few months later she decided to host two houses in Puerto Escondido for a month and charged $750. During the month she ran two sessions. Each lasted around ten days, with almost 30 people in attendance. 

This retreat was a big learning experience for Riveros. 

“A lot could go wrong on these retreats, that I hadn’t realized because I was so lucky during my first one,” she explained. 

There were many complications with this trip, from a hurricane to people catching Covid and getting hospitalized after minor accidents. The unexpected chaos caused her to rethink her decision but she was still receiving positive feedback. 

Waterfall extrusion (Photo courtesy of Gabi Riveros)

Riveros began to think back to her original mission to inspire others. She often stayed at hostels and learned that traveling can be affordable and safe even for solo travelers. Continuing to follow her passion for traveling led her to create her traveling business, Happy Seekers. 

Hanging out in a tree. (Photo courtesy of Gabi Riveros)

After trial and error, she planned her next steps with liability forms and a requirement for travelers insurance. 

“I just started to get more careful,” she said, “so I know what I’m dealing with.” 

She has now hosted eight retreats, three in Mexico, one in Greece and four in Bali, where she resides. An upcoming retreat will be held in Croatia during September. About 98 percent of her guests have been women, but in November, she is trying to curry to a more coed clientele during a month-long trip to Colombia. Further explanations and details are listed on the Happy Seekers website.

Bali travel retreat. (Photo courtesy of Gabi Riveros)

“The really nice part about my business is that I essentially can live anywhere I want, then I can have the retreats anywhere I live,” Riveros stated.

All of her retreats have been a learning experience. She has also taken a course on retreats to become better at group traveling. 

The pricing of her first retreats lacked structure but with a better monetary understanding, Happy Seekers is now her full time job. The cost for the retreats still vary based on location and length but range between $1,111 to $1,444. 

Riveros has always made it a point to keep her travel experiences budget friendly. 

“My TikTok is a budget account,” she stated. “I wanted to do retreats to inspire travel and make people realize how attainable it is, so making it super expensive would go against what I believe in.” 

Monkeying around in Bali. (Photo courtesy of Gabi Riveros) 

Katie Kelly is a senior majoring in digital journalism with an area of concentration in Psychology. Once she graduates, Katie is interested in pursuing her career in the journalism world.