6 May 2024

Sofia was a top Canberra real estate agent, until she burnt out. She's now paid to travel the world

| James Coleman
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woman at Uluru

Travel influencer Sofia Ligeros, aka Aunty Sofia, hails from Canberra. Photo: sofialigeros, Instagram.

Sofia Ligeros seemed to have it all.

Since leaving school, she’d earned an advanced diploma in business marketing and a reputation as one of the best-performing real estate agents at Independent Property Group. She owned her own home, and her friends and family envied her.

But every night, when she eventually returned home from her 10-plus-hour shifts, she was a bucket of tears.

“The burnout was so real,” she says.

“I was attached to an identity I had created for myself, as a young, successful single lady in real estate … But I remember thinking, I’m not actually living.”

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As COVID-19 faded into the background, Sofia realised she’d reached her “absolute wit’s end”. She had warned her boss he’d know she was serious about leaving if she ever came into work with tattoos on her hands – something she’d always wanted, but resisted because of her job.

“One day, something happened at work, and I was really stressed. I just said, ‘Enough’s enough’. I walked into a Canberra parlour and had my hands tattooed. When I came back to work, I showed my boss my hands and he looked at me and goes, ‘Oh f***’.”

The rest was done in a daze. She left her job, sold her house and almost all her possessions, bought a van, and “ran away”.

woman in a van

Sofia says she had no experience of ‘van life’ before she “ran away” from her job in real estate. Photo: sofialigeros, Instagram.

Growing up in Canberra, the idea of van life was even more a world away than the idea of Melbourne. She had “never seen anybody that had done it”, and “never watched people online that did it and envied them”.

“I just remember thinking, ‘What can I do that is just so buck-wild crazy, and that will ensure that I have a really good time’.”

Only two months in, she finally came to her senses and “felt like a human again”.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh f***, what have I done?'”


WE’RE BACK BABY 🚐❤️🗺 #fyp #foryou #vanlife #solotravel #travel #australia

♬ Rock and Roll Session – Canal Records JP

Sofia only meant to do it for six months, but it’s now been two years of travelling Australia and the world and getting paid to do so. She’s now a fully-fledged, blue-tick verified travel influencer on social media, with 195,000 followers on Instagram and 1.1 million followers on TikTok.

“I always knew I wanted to document my experience and share it with the world, but I didn’t know where to start,” she says.

Her first video involved putting her nose ring in while parked in Tasmania. The video “blew up”. To make sure it wasn’t a one-hit wonder, she applied her business nous to studying the TikTok algorithm and posting two to three short videos a day.

aerial shot of woman lying on a beach

Celebrating one million followers on TikTok. Photo: sofialigeros, Instagram.

Within two months, the first companies began asking her to work with them as a paid ambassador. But at first, she was reluctant to accept.

“I was so scarred from real estate. I was passionate about content creation and didn’t want that to feel like a job because I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it.”

Only when Backpacker Deals offered to cover costs for promotional trips to places like Moreton Island in Queensland and then pay her on top of that did she start to dabble her toes (after she’d asked her followers for their thoughts, too).

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“I’m not one of those people who try to put on a show for anyone or glamorise anything. I involved my community on every decision I made, because these are my people, and at the end of the day, what I start to share will affect my community.”

She involves them in other ways, too.

“I’ll get to a new town, and I’ll do a vlog for the day and say, ‘Alright guys, the first person to come up and say hi to me, I’ll take them skydiving or bungee jumping or something.”

family standing next to a van

Sofia and her Canberra family (including her niece). Photo: sofialigeros, Instagram.

Sofia’s family in Canberra was initially “super shocked” by the sudden change in direction but came around once they saw how she was “thriving”. She tries to visit them every few months and maintains a close relationship with her niece.

She initially kept these visits from her followers until she realised “family was too important” and began sharing videos of the interactions, so her Instagram name of ‘Aunty Sofia’ was born.

“People actually loved these videos more than my travel videos. I started calling myself Aunty Sofia because that’s who I am – I’m an auntie first, and then the rest of it comes after because family is so important to me.”


My happy ending 😭❤️ #fyp #foryou #aunty #niece #nomad

♬ original sound – Sofia Ligeros

As we speak, Aunty Sofia, age 28, is looking out over the turquoise waters and white sands of Esperance in Western Australia. Next week, she flies to Vietnam for a promotional trip with Backpacker Deals.

Now that she believes she’s done justice to Australia, her goal is to become the first solo Australian to visit every country on earth.

“I have seen so much beauty in the world – so much – but nothing is ever as significant as when you experience it with other people,” she says.

woman standing near a rock formation near the sea

Sofia wants to become the first solo Australian to visit every country in the world. Photo: sofialigeros, Instagram.

Her advice for people feeling trapped in the 9 to 5?

“The universe will never give you peace in something you’re not meant to be in anymore. So, if you’re not getting it, pursue something else. We’re taught to fear the unknown. But I think what is scarier than the unknown is staying somewhere you don’t belong anymore.”

And practical travel advice?

“Don’t plan anything.”

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I generally cannot stand “influencers”. Basically in it for profit and ego tripping.

what’s an influencer? another word that has crept into the vocabulary like “super” this and “super” that and has become very annoying and meaningless

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