All Posts By

Erin Sullivan

MENTORSHIP PHOTOGRAPHY TRAVEL

How to Become an Adventure Photographer

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I often get questions from people who want to be where I am at in my career in travel photography. How do you get started? How do you get paid to travel?

There’s a big part of me that thinks I am completely unqualified to dish out advice on this topic. The reason why I am taking it on is because it’s a question I get very often. I’m sure this is because social media makes it seem like I’ve arrived. I don’t feel that way. I am proud of where I am, but I hope that this is the beginning of a very long journey. This is just what I know so far.

I can admit that what I do as a photographer and writer/blogger is fun and interesting, but it isn’t easy or secure. People say they want my job, and my immediate reaction most of the time is, “are you sure?!”

This is a commitment to chaos. It’s a full-time, moving, shaking, uncertain, demanding, daunting, messy life. It’s one that I chose with my full heart, so I completely understand why others might want to choose it too… but that doesn’t mean it is simple.

Though I was always interested in adventure photography, doing it as a career felt very elusive to me, and now I see why. It’s because it is an adventure you build yourself, not a trail you follow. What I hear constantly and consistently from my friends and mentors in this industry, is that there isn’t really a right way to go about things. You just have to start where you are and jump in the deep end without floaties.

My start came when I got fired from my 9-5 abruptly after working in the adventure tourism industry throughout college and for a few years afterward. I decided to put my energy behind this blog, which was previously just a hobby. I posted consistently here and on social media, regardless of whether or not people were reading. For the first couple months, I cut my expenses and lived off savings. After that, I found projects I wanted to get behind and showed why I was qualified to help with them. I compiled my best work so I could be ready to show people if I ever had their attention long enough. I interned, I assisted people I admired (I still do this), I tried to make myself valuable while I was learning. And when necessary, which was often, I house-sat, dog-sat, baby-sat. I worked at a restaurant. I picked up odd-jobs along the way.

This career doesn’t happen overnight. Those success stories do exist, but they’re rare. It takes time, consistency and investment, and you will not see the reward right away. So first, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. If it’s for fame and recognition, it’s going to get old real fast. You’ll need a strong drive to get you through the moments of standing knee deep in frozen mud at 4am or when you’re sick in an airport far from home. The glamorous adventure of it all wears off eventually, so photography has to mean something more to you. If it does, keep reading.

Editing in a budget hotel room at 1am. Not uncommon.

Editing in a budget hotel room at 1am, charging every item possible. Not uncommon.

 

YOU HAVE TO START

When you don’t know how to start, ask yourself what your best guess is, and do that. You always learn more doing something than you do sitting around waiting for the answer to appear. Most of the time, you have to invent the answer yourself. So if being a photographer is what you want, start taking photos with the tools you have.

Good news: it’s not really about the gear or whatever formal photography education you may or may not have. Don’t let the idea that you need a traditional background get in your way. Many photographers have never even taken a photography class. Will it help? Absolutely. Should you take a class if you can? Sure! But taking classes will not turn you into a great photographer overnight, and neither will the most expensive gear. Only practice and experience over time will do that.

Learn your camera. Use it in as many situations as possible. Use it on every mode. If and when you get stuck, YouTube is an amazing free resource that makes it incredibly easy to find the answers to many technical questions. Getting started can feel messy, but there will never be a perfect way to do it, so do your best with what you have

FIND YOUR UNIQUE VOICE

Figure out what makes you stand out. Do this by experimenting often. Try anything that seems mildly interesting.

Seek the places and people that inspire you, and ask yourself why that is. Tune in to your unique creative voice and follow it where it leads you. Whatever you experiment with doesn’t have to be your thing forever–– you can shoot portraits today and something else tomorrow. You can play with whatever editing techniques feel interesting. The point is to create and refine, eventually getting to a point where your work looks like yours. This is a long and frustrating process, so remember to let it be fun.

Own what you create. Your work doesn’t have to appeal to everyone, and if it does, chances are you are diluting some part of your creative voice. The point of art isn’t to be a crowd pleaser. Say no to the wrong things so you can operate at 100% for the right things.

Always run your own race, never anyone else’s. Even if my exact journey were completely replicable, I wouldn’t tell you to go do exactly what I did to get here, because it wouldn’t be the same. Find your lane and work within it.

MAKE YOURSELF KNOWN

Share your work wherever you can, online and off. Buy a domain and reserve the same name on all social media channels. If that isn’t available, figure out something else you like (I only started as @ErinOutdoors because there are thousands of other Erin Sullivan’s out there). Having a website or blog in addition to social media is always a good idea and separates you from just Instagram.

Social media is a big part of being a photographer today. Make a schedule for posting. Create and share consistently. Set short term and long term goals. Refine & move forward. Pay attention to what is working and do more of that thing.

Figure out how to self-promote. Be confident and know where and when to show/talk about your work. So much of this is about confidence. Notice what you say and how you sound. People don’t hire folks who are “trying to be a photographer.” They hire photographers.

UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS A BUSINESS

Without business, creative ventures fall apart. Everyone wants to be a travel photographer, so this field is extremely competitive. Those who are successful not only take great photos, but they also have business smarts. They create multiple income streams. They understand what investments are necessary, and what the returns will be on each of them.

Set financial goals and break them down with where you would like that money to come from. Then get to work on each specific goal. Everybody’s breakdown is different. If I ever feel lost with regard to what to pursue next, I look at what people are already asking me for. It can be easier to fulfill a product or service when there is already demand for it.

If you want your photography business to be truly sustainable, consider thinking a few years down the road with what you’d like your ideal life to look like, realistically. Though full-time travel and moving from job to job might be super appealing right now, perhaps in ten years that’ll be really exhausting. It is also worth thinking about where you want your income to come from, and how you can maximize control over these streams.

GETTING CLIENTS

I and many other freelancers have many clients to balance. Getting your foot in the door is a strategic thing sometimes. When I was starting out with brand photography, I worked with smaller brands and start-ups on a trade basis–– they didn’t have a budget and I was looking for experience, so this was mutually beneficial. I helped friends out with their small businesses to build my portfolio. Many folks in the industry are passionately against ever doing work for free. My personal opinion is that it can be a good way to learn and build your portfolio if you are transitioning from hobbyist to professional. Just be aware of how your work is evolving, and when is the right time to stop working in exchange for product so you aren’t taking away paid work from yourself or other photographers.

Do the work you want to get hired for. For me personally, I want a brand or publication to already know who I am when they hire me. I want my body of work to speak for itself. The brands and publications many of us want to shoot for aren’t looking for newbies, and that’s a good thing. People in the industry constantly have an eye out for talent. If they start seeing your name and work over and over again, they might reach out eventually. This isn’t something you should ever count on, but is always something to work toward. It is always OK to wait to reach out to a brand/company until you feel your work is good enough.

If you aren’t shooting directly for brands or publishers, other ways to make money include stock photography, portrait/wedding photography, selling prints, and hosting workshops. Take inventory of your skill set and go from there. Build out your deliverables in a way that provides value to the client, but also maximizes your ability to do the work well.

UNCERTAINTY IS INEVITABLE

You have to be willing to be uncomfortable. This isn’t a job for the faint of heart. It’s really easy to romanticize it when you’re not living it–– but it takes guts and resilience to do this.

If you ask different photographers and writers what their paths were like, I’m sure you will get a wide range of stories and answers, but there are consistent themes around uncertainty, creativity and perseverance. This lifestyle is ripe with unknowns, so if you don’t like those, this career might not be for you. I think that goes for any entrepreneurial venture, but especially this one given all of the dynamic aspects that come with frequent travel.

BE A GOOD PERSON

This is an industry that requires interacting with other people and working on a team. Things go wrong all the time, so you have to be flexible. Being a good person is something you should do for obvious reasons… but it also impacts your business. This industry is small, and people talk. If you are a royal pain in the ass, most of your peers will hear about it. If you gossip about someone in the industry, they will find out about it. Alternatively, if you are fun to be around, helpful, and genuinely interested and supportive of other people’s work, working in this industry is not only enjoyable but it becomes a team effort. This job is way more fun when you have friends that you truly love working alongside–– and when you can genuinely celebrate each other’s successes instead of being bitter or jealous of who got the job.

There are jobs I have gotten and bids I have won because I am extremely flexible and understanding with my clients. I have been assigned to trips because it’s known that I am well-experienced with travel and able to handle dynamic situations. If you are generally a positive person with a good outlook on life, any project will be much more enjoyable than if you are cynical or negative.

GO ON ADVENTURES

Perhaps this is obvious, but if you want to document travel, then you have to travel. If you want to shoot in the outdoors, you have to go outdoors.

There is nothing wrong with you if people aren’t throwing free luxury trips at you from day one. Maybe that is something you will work toward. For now, maybe it looks like planning weekend trips with friends, or getting up in the middle of the night to experiment with astrophotography or long exposures in your city.

There is no right or wrong way to do it, so find inspiration and go.

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Remember that you are not a failure if it doesn’t work right away. I made plenty of mistakes and I am 100% sure I still will.

My personal journey started with working as a wilderness guide and adventure trip leader. I always used photography as a way to capture and share memories from my trips. It wasn’t until the last few years when I started pursuing it professionally–– and it has been full of trade-offs and sacrifices in the name of my craft. There is no way in hell that this is an easy path, and I doubt it ever will be. But I know I am here on this planet to compulsively tell stories. So I do.

Life is the biggest scavenger hunt you will ever go on. You will get clues and you will follow them. They’ll come in the form of teachers, opportunities, rejections, successes, failures, challenges, and anything else you decide to learn from. You will take what you can from each thing and add it to what you already know. You’ll re-work your knowledge, you’ll practice it and then you’ll change it again.

When answering the question of how to become an adventure photographer, I am reminded that I am still figuring out the answer to it myself. But this is what I choose. Actively. Every day.

And in fact, it is the choosing in itself that might be the most important thing we do.

Ending with some words from photographer and filmmaker Andy Best:

Grateful to be back in the Pacific Northwest and thankful my work allows me to travel the globe. Many ask, how? I try to answer as many as I can, I promise you that. Some assume that I must have an inheritance or that I have a golden key. See I feel that @Instagram over the years has created this illusion that one can become a filmmaker or photographer overnight without any effort. Or by following in the steps of others may unlock some sort of fortune or even fame. To those I say good luck, because behind the scenes of this craft is a very uncomfortable world of work, a serious grind, and a lifetime of dedication. And I do mean lifetime. Do not be fooled into thinking that the windows shared on this platform come easy. To that I also say, what do you desire personally on your journey? Are YOU satisfied? Can you rest well knowing the story you’re writing? If you really desire to replicate my journey, prepare yourself for failure, prepare yourself to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, and prepare yourself to give up everything as nothing comes without very serious sacrifices. Only then will you find YOUR golden key. Meanwhile, I’m stoked to be headed home from many nights away from my little family. #wearestillwild #lovethegrind

A post shared by Andy Best (@andy_best) on

Similar posts on the blog for you to check out:


 

Feature photo by Renee Hahnel. Third photo by Colby Brown.

OUTDOORS TRAVEL

2017 Gift Guide

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Somehow, the end of another year is here and so is another season of holiday gift giving. Whether you enjoy giving gifts or dread the holidays, I have some ideas for you! Here is my 2017 list of Erin Outdoors approved items, full of products I have been loving in the past year at every price point to give you some inspiration for the adventure-seekers in your life.

PHOTOGRAPHY

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Sony A6000 Camera with Kit Lens / $498
This is for the person in your life looking to get started in photography. This camera is my Number One Recommendation for a starter camera due to the amount of features it has for its price point. It comes with a 16-50mm lens, which is great for shooting in the outdoors and traveling. This is a mirrorless camera, which makes it smaller in size compared to many DSLRs–– great for someone who is on the move frequently. If you’ve got more of a budget, the A6300 would be the next step up.

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Peak Design Leash Camera Strap / $39.95
A reliable lightweight camera strap for a smaller mirrorless camera. Peak Design’s products feature attachment points that can be unattached super quickly for when you don’t want to use your strap–– a big upgrade from the strap that comes with your camera. If you are shooting on larger cameras (Sony full-frame or larger), I would up-level to Peak’s Slide strap instead to give you more support.

peak design everyday

Peak Design Everyday Camera Pack 20L / $259.95
I used a handful of camera bags this year from a handful of brands, and this one is my favorite. It keeps your stuff accessible, the customizable dividers make sense and are easy to use, and it doesn’t look like your dad owned it in the 90s (no offense, dad). PS– Nope, it doesn’t come with all the stuff in that photo. 😉

Memory cards / $30+
A practical stocking stuffer for any photographer in your life. If you’re giving this to a pro, make sure you buy a fast card (a la 300mb/sec write speed). If they’re newer to the craft, lower speeds are just fine.

TRAVEL & OUTDOOR

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Cotopaxi Roca Duffel Bag / $99.95+
This has been my go-to bag for most of my trips this year. I own the 50L and 70L sizes and find both to be great. The 50L can pretty much always be used as a carry-on size, whereas the 70L is better for when you’re going to be checking your bag or want some extra room. The bag is water resistant and durable, which matters if you’re as clumsy as I am (or if you go to extreme places).

cotopaxi dopp kit

Cotopaxi Dopp Kit / $19.95
These bags are awesome. I use them for toiletries, lenses, and loose cords. Each one is unique in color, so you will always be able to tell them apart.

TSA approved lock / $10
These just give me peace of mind when I’m checking a bag halfway around the world.

Tea Tree Special Conditioner 10.14 oz.

Travel Size Tea Tree Shampoo & Conditioner / $10 each
This year, I put a bit more care into my beauty & hair routine. My hair stylist told me it’s important to travel with quality haircare, so this is my go-to for most of my trips. I use the same shampoo & conditioner at home and fill up the travel sized bottles in between trips.

Bumble & Bumble Pret-a-Powder Mini / $13
This is the dry shampoo I use on most trips in-between washes. It does a good job of absorbing oil and smells great, plus it isn’t aerosol, which is something I’ve been trying to get away from. This tiny bottle goes a long way!

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Moleskine Cahier Journals / $20 for 3
These were on my gift guide last year… sorry to be so predictable. But they’re awesome. Still. They’ll probably be in next year’s gift guide too.

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Leatherman Juice CS3 Multi-Tool / $29.95
I have become quite familiar with Leatherman’s products over the past year through working with them, and this is one of my favorite tools they make. It just has three things–– a bottle opener, a corkscrew, and scissors, so it’s great to keep stashed in your backpack, car or suitcase for moments when you might need it. I haven’t had any problems taking this tool with me in my carry-on, but keep in mind that TSA can confiscate what they want, so carry on at your own risk.

tarte glow to go

Tarte Glow to Go Highlight & Contour Palette / $23
This is a great, easy palette for traveling that I use every day that I wear makeup. If you are curious how it will work on your skin tone, look at the product page at Sephora and scroll down to see looks from girls of all colors on Instagram.

ursa major traveler kit

Ursa Major Traveler Skincare Set / $41
Ursa Major’s simple ingredients and clean scents make for refreshing products for your skin. This kit includes some of their most popular products, sized for travel. Their deodorant is a favorite of mine as well.

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Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow / $19.95
I never fully understood anyone’s obsession with travel pillows… until this one. I bought it for camping and loved it, so it’s become my companion on long haul flights. It comes in a few sizes– the small one is enough for me personally.

OTHER IDEAS

Ubuntu Made Bandanas / $18
Some of my favorite bandanas are from Ubuntu Made–– an organization that employs and empowers moms in Kenya. Each print is limited-edition.

Books /

  • From Excuses to Excursions by Glo Atanmo. For anyone needing a kick in the pants to get out and see the world. This also happens to be written by one of my favorite humans. (Print version here)
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. For anyone who could use a reality check. Mark Manson is one of my favorite bloggers and his work has always inspired my blog. His book is excellent.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. For someone who would like a powerful novel that makes you think about culture and history.
  • Braving the Wilderness by Dr. Brené Brown. Dr. Brown’s work on vulnerability and shame is fascinating, and her latest book is a deeper dive into what it takes to be brave.

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Kotah Bear Jewelry / $25+
I love rings. I collect them everywhere I go. Some of my favorites were purchased from Kotah Bear and are from different Indigenous tribes in the American Southwest. Native-made jewelry should always be purchased from Native people. Here’s your opportunity. Kotah Bear is owned by husband & wife team Kotah & Missy, friends of mine who I met on Instagram.

cotopaxi outdoorsy shirt

Cotopaxi Outdoorsy Tee / $22.95
In case you need to remind anyone how outdoorsy you are… there’s this shirt. I like the men’s colors better, so that is where the link will take you. I have both colors.

natives outdoors logo

Natives Outdoors merch / $25-30
Supporting the visibility of Native people outdoors is important. This year Natives Outdoors started making shirts and hats featuring Native artists for anyone to buy and wear. My favorite is the Ganado Tank.

Volunteer your time / Free
This is one of the best gifts on here. Invite your friends and family to participate in a give-back day with you where you clean up an area, spend a few hours at a soup kitchen, or dedicate some time with a local organization.


Whatever you end up buying this year, consider that where you spend your money is important. Consider the ethical and environmental impact of what you are buying overall, and consider that some companies are better at things than others. Consumerism by nature is not environmentally friendly–– that is no secret. Assuming you are going to participate (I am!), ask yourself how you will do so thoughtfully.

I hope this list gave you some inspiration for whatever gifts you are giving this year, or helped give you ideas for what to ask for yourself. I hope you have a happy and healthy holiday!

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may get a small commission if you choose to buy something. These links help me keep this blog full of meaningful content and ad-free, so I really appreciate your purchases!

INSPIRATION

Keep Going

I woke up with this message on the tip of my tongue, but I don’t always wake up with something clear on my mind. Sometimes I don’t feel like trying, to be honest.

Keep going. This message is for you, but it’s for me, too. Because there are days that it’s a challenge to do anything that feels productive. I end up wasting my own time, doing things that aren’t important. And I think as entrepreneurs, we don’t talk about this part of the gig nearly as much as we could.

This blog has always been me, always been real, always been the high highs and the low lows. I’ve been writing here for nearly three years, and when first I started it, I did not look at my future in a crystal ball and see my life as it is right now. I didn’t see much of anything. I had just moved back to the States from traveling full time, had taken a job I wasn’t really sure about, and wasn’t clear on any kind of vision. I started this blog on a hunch that people might find these words helpful someday. That hunch never promised me a clear or straight shot to success. But it did prove to be a foundation for something–– I just had to decide on what to build, and then get to building it.

Today, I just want to offer you some encouragement. Whatever it is that you are fighting for, dealing with, working toward: keep going.

Nobody promises you ease or flow, it’s up to you to find it. We don’t get the final product dropped on our front doorstep, or success delivered in a package. It’s up to us to create it, and to struggle and learn with it in the process. And I do mean process–– something that takes time, energy, patience, and a little bit of luck along the way.

If you’re pursuing a path less traveled, be prepared to commit. Be prepared for it to last a lifetime. Be prepared to take your best guess most of the time. Be prepared to sit with yourself throughout your seasons of both loving and hating the journey. Of successes and inevitable failures, both of which you will learn from. I’m telling you this because I’ve been through it.

Part of my work involves writing. There are days I don’t write, and there are days I write and I don’t like any of it. I don’t wake up feeling inspired every day. And there are certainly periods of time when I don’t think my work is very good. That is just how all of this works. There are days when you think you’re a genius. Those are balanced out by the days you think you’re a total failure. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. (and no, you’re not a total failure.)

Do not discredit your journey, today or ever. Look at the big picture. Look at how far you have come. And keep going, because the world needs your innovation, your creativity, your words, your love, your ingenuity.

If there has been any key to my success, it’s that I’ve been doing this consistently without giving up. Hard stuff takes discipline. And creativity is, well, hard. So notice what is working, ditch what isn’t, and pursue what is. There is no magic pill, no secret key I possess that you don’t. It’s just hard work and creativity over time. It’s not like the people who you look up to have “made it.” It’s not like they live in a perpetual state of having “made it” after they booked that one gig or had that one photo published in that one place. Everyone is looking for their next mountain to climb.

My friend, we have to bet on ourselves. We have to make joy a habit. We have to let it be easy when and where we can. Sharing truth matters. Bold, real, gritty truth and experience. Connection fuels this world and its movement and you are invited to be a part of that by doing whatever it is that you do.

I come back to a lot of the same themes from time to time–– but I do so because they are important. A creative and adventurous life is often also full of doubt and fear. We can’t let those things get in the way of actually doing or actually creating.

If you feel like you have lost your momentum, it is up to you to find it again. Movement inspires movement. Remind yourself that you have taken many steps before, and many more are required of you. So take another step, and keep going.

TRAVEL TRIP REPORTS

Two Weeks in Namibia

Last month, I spent two weeks in Namibia. It all started because of this Facebook post:

I met my friend Colby Brown at a Sony conference. Colby is a fellow photographer and Sony Artisan of Imagery, creating images and leading workshops all over the world. He also runs a humanitarian organization called The Giving Lens, and he’s got about 10 years on me in terms of experience and expertise in the photography world.

I saw Colby’s post and thought: well, I guess I should probably go to Namibia. I did some math, looked at my schedule, and booked a ticket within 24 hours. The next challenge? Plan a two-week photographic adventure in Namibia during high season on just a few weeks’ notice.

I’m no stranger to last-minute trip planning, but it helps to have experts on your team. We consulted with Chris McIntyre of Expert Africa for help with the details. Chris and the EA team were extremely helpful in their recommendations and feedback on our itinerary, especially when it came to creating an authentic experience with responsible travel in mind. Chris literally wrote the book on Namibia and I highly recommend his expertise to anyone who could use a hand planning a spectacular trip. Here is a ton of bookmark-worthy info about travel in Namibia on the Expert Africa site.

Expert_Africa

the people to consult if you need…well… experts.

 

Before this trip, I honestly didn’t know much about Namibia. I knew it was vast and has a small population (2 million) relative to its massive size, and I had seen a few photos of its seemingly endless desert courtesy of my friend and fellow blogger Glo Atanmo… but I wasn’t prepared for the stunning landscape and fascinating culture I’d experience over the course of my two-week trip.

I hope this post gives you some helpful info and lots of inspiration to go experience Namibia for yourself!

Mars or Namibia? (it's the second one)

Mars or Namibia?

 

WHEN TO GO

Generally speaking, dry season (winter) is May to October, and wet season (summer) is October to April. If you want to see wildlife, it’s best to go during the dry season. Many of our guides said it that it’s harder to see wildlife in the rainy season because animals don’t necessarily need to go to a watering hole for water, plus there are more obstacles in your line of sight (i.e., lush vegetation). Keep in mind that Namibia’s dry season is also its high season for tourism, which means that you may want to book earlier than you normally would. We got lucky with a lot of our bookings, but had to be very flexible when it came to dates in case our first choice was booked. Of course, this was our fault… but maybe you won’t do things as last-minute as we did. 😛

Our trip spanned two weeks in the middle/end of September. It was generally quite hot (in the 90’s Fahrenheit) during the day, cooling down at night. In the southern parts of the country, it wasn’t as hot during the day (70’s and 80’s Fahrenheit), but still warm.

WHAT TO PACK

I travel frequently, and as a result, I can pretty much pack for a two week trip on command. For this trip, I swapped some items in my normal summer attire for more conservative (but lightweight) options. My denim shorts were replaced by lightweight pants, and I brought neutrals instead of bright colors. For shoes, I brought my Blundstone boots and a pair of comfortable sandals–– these were more than enough. I brought a sweatshirt and my Cotopaxi Kusa Bomber for cooler nights and mornings.

 

In terms of luggage, I recommend a soft-sided duffel rather than a hard-shell suitcase for easy loading when it comes to safari-style travel. I brought my Cotopaxi 50L Roca Duffel because it’s water resistant and durable. I also brought my LowePro 500 AW II as my camera bag, and my Ubuntu Made Canvas Tote for items I wanted easily accessible during the day.

Cotopaxi Roca 50L

Cotopaxi Roca 50L

 

Generally speaking, if you forget something, you can probably buy it in Windhoek. But preferably you’ll remember whatever you forgot before heading into the bush. 😉

OUR ITINERARY

Namibia is a large country full of amazing sights, and the distances between the things you’ll probably want to see are far. Unless you have endless time, you will probably have to make choices on what you want to see. Our top priorities were wildlife photography, the sand dunes of Sossusvlei, and spending time with the Himba people, so that’s what our itinerary reflects.

Our options were to try to cover more places (and therefore drive more), or spend more time in fewer places and drive less. We opted for the latter. We didn’t want to feel rushed, and as photographers, we wanted to have plenty of time to get the shots we were looking for.

A note about cars: For this itinerary, a 4×4 was an absolute must. The parts of the trip that required the 4×4 were the last 5km to Dead Vlei, and the drive out from Opuwo to camp with the Himba. Other than that, the roads were excellent and 4×4 was not required. We rented a double-cab truck and it worked great.

Click on photo for map on Google maps.

Click on photo to access this map on Google maps.

 

Day 1: Arrive Windhoek airport, drive to Sossusvlei (drive time 5h 40min)

We arrived, picked up our rental car, snacks and water (get a lot, it’s dry out there), and headed south. Our goal was to get to the dunes–– we had a sunrise helicopter flight booked for Day 2.

Days 2 & 3: Sossusvlei

In Sossusvlei, we stayed at the Sossus Dune Lodge (operated by NWR), the only place inside the gates of the park, and the place you must stay if you would like access to the dunes at sunrise or sunset. There are a handful of other nice spots to stay outside the park, but the gates are closed between sunset and sunrise, so if you’re a photographer and good light matters, do yourself a favor and book the Sossus Dune Lodge. It’s expensive, but this is your only option to be in the park at sunrise/sunset.

My first impression of the dunes was from above, and holy crap, what a unique and spectacular landscape! The colors that appeared as the sun came over the horizon were gorgeous reds, oranges and purples, and the different shapes the dunes formed were nothing short of art. I highly recommend a doors off helicopter flight if you are able. We booked through the adventure center at the Sossusvlei Lodge.

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We spent another sunrise exploring Dead Vlei, a very interesting and alien-like desert-scape consisting of dead trees scattered among a dry clay flat, surrounded by orange dunes. It was definitely worth being there at sunrise to watch the way the light played on the dunes as the sun came up. Note that you need a 4×4 to drive the last 5km to Dead Vlei, but there was a vehicle that left with some of the other folks who were staying at the Sossus Dune Lodge, so this is an option if you don’t end up renting a 4×4. Definitely do confirm this with them in advance though.

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Our sunsets were spent driving the road towards Dead Vlei, stopping to photograph whichever dune seemed interesting… which was… well, lots of them, obviously.

Days 4 & 5: Erindi Private Game Reserve (drive time from Sossusvlei 7h 17min)

We woke up early for the long drive and checked in to Old Trader’s Lodge at Erindi Private Game Reserve in the afternoon. We headed for lunch on the incredible deck overlooking a large watering hole, where we were greeted by a herd of elephants. So cool! We ate all of our meals on the deck, and also found it to be a great place to do quick edits of the (many) images we captured while on the Reserve.

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We spent two full days at Erindi, and our guide Warren ensured our morning and evening game drives were excellent. Warren was extremely knowledgeable about all of the animals we saw. We had a great time with him!

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Day 6: Cheetah Conservation Fund (drive time from Erindi 2h 30min)

After our last game drive at Erindi, we drove to the Cheetah Conservation Fund and stayed at their new Cheetah View Lodge. In the morning, we watched the CCF staff run the cheetahs and did the behind-the-scenes activity they offer as well. It was great to learn about some of the programs the CCF is doing to protect the species. Worth a stop.

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Days 7 & 8: Camping with the Himba outside of Opuwo (drive time 6h 48min to Opuwo, then 1-3 hours to a village depending on where you go)

Through a contact we through a friend, we were able to hire a guide in Opuwo and spend a couple of days with a Himba village. This was a wonderful experience and I highly recommend it. There is a lot to unpack here regarding visiting the tribe in a respectful and responsible manner, and I’ll write a longer blog post to discuss this.

The main points? Don’t be the tourists that show up bringing no gifts, take photos for five minutes, and leave. Hire a guide/company who contributes (do the research!), buy staple items the village needs and/or make a monetary donation, be inquisitive and ask questions, and always ask permission before taking photos of people. Put respect above all else. If you’d like to see more photos from our experience, as well as more information on many of the people I photographed, I posted an album on my Facebook page here.

Some of the kids playing with our cameras :)

Some of the kids in the village playing with our cameras :)

 

Days 9 & 10: Okuakuejo Camp at Etosha National Park (drive time from Opowu approx. 5h)

Etosha National Park is on everyone’s list, and for good reason. The park covers over 20,000 square km, and with a self-drive option, you can explore on your own or opt to join a drive with a guide. We decided to take our chances and drive ourselves, but we were not disappointed. Within our first half hour of driving in the park, we came across three male lions walking along the road. Once they moved into the bush, I captured this image, one of my favorites from the trip.

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The perhaps obvious drawback of Etosha is that it does feel a bit like an amusement park at times because of the self-drive aspect. Cars and safari vehicles pack into a small spot to catch a glimpse of the wildlife–– it’s anything but private. If you’re after a more serene wildlife viewing experience, a private game reserve is worthy of a splurge.

In Etosha, we stayed at Okuakuejo Resort, another NWR property like the Sossus Dune Lodge. It seems to be pretty unanimous that this is the place to stay in Etosha if you can. It’s got a pretty stunning watering hole where we watched a couple of gorgeous sunsets. Here’s a shot from our second night–– we could not have asked for more!

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Days 11 & 12: Ongava Private Game Reserve (drive time from Okuakuejo 30min)

Oh, Ongava. I didn’t want to leave! Ongava Private Game Reserve was a massive highlight of this trip for me, and I’m so glad it was our last stop. It was the perfect place to celebrate the beauty of Namibia and wrap up such a fantastic trip.

We stayed at Ongava Tented Camp, which consists of eight luxury tents immersed in the bush in a classic safari style. The best part, in my opinion, is the glorious outdoor shower each tent includes. We ate our meals under a thatched roof with a waterhole front-and-center for wildlife viewing at all times of the day and night. Ongava’s attention to detail was impressive, especially in the way that they put nature first in everything they do–– indeed “Nature First” is their motto. It was inspiring to hear about their commitment to conservation and their plans for the future as well.

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Our guide Michael was extremely knowledgeable and we enjoyed all of our drives with him. Wildlife highlights at Ongava included lots of lions (with cubs), cheetahs (with cubs), and white rhino, which we felt very lucky to see! FYI: the animals at Ongava do not wear tracking collars (which are common on other reserves and parks), which makes them both easier to photograph and maybe slightly harder to find.DSC08368

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Highly recommended.

Day 13: Drive back to Windhoek (drive time from Ongava 4h 30min)

After our final drive at Ongava, we headed south to Windhoek. A friend recommended Joe’s Beerhouse, where you can get pretty much any type of meat you want. Colby ordered a skewer of pretty much everything (and contemplated going vegan in the aftermath!). This place is worth checking out for the decor alone–– it’s a beer house meets safari meets Caribbean beach bar. Quirky.

On our last night, we stayed at Etango Ranch Guest House due to its convenient proximity to the airport. It was easy and a good place to re-pack our bags for the journey home.

Day 14: Fly out of Windhoek

Goodbye, Namibia!

OTHER HELPFUL INFO

Some places we skipped on this trip, but that are worth considering: Caprivi region, Swakopmund, Fish River Canyon, Twyfelfontein. Colby went to Kolmanskop on his own before I arrived.

Colby's view photographing Kolmanskop.

Colby’s view photographing Kolmanskop.

 

A note about booking NWR (Namibia Wildlife Resorts) properties (for us, that was Okaukuejo and Sossus Dune Lodge)–– these are government-run, and it can be hard to hear back from them! I found emailing to be inconsistent, and ended up calling their Windhoek office directly to make our bookings. I then paid for one of the bookings online, and one in person.

Etosha National Park is a must, but I do recommend splurging on a few nights at a private reserve if you are able. This will get you closer to the animals and provide a more intimate experience. Of the two we visited, I would book Ongava for a quieter/more relaxed stay, and Erindi if I was traveling with family or small children.

Driving times between the places you’ll want to see are long! Make sure you’re prepared with podcasts and some great playlists. Our rental car didn’t have an aux cord input, so we bought an FM transmitter like this one in Windhoek. I recommend bringing one with you just in case!

In general for trip planning, your options are to join a pre-designed trip with other travelers, or to plan something on your own. If you’re a less experienced traveler or would like to have a social trip, group trips are a good option for you. If you’re wanting something a bit more tailored to your preferences, planning your itinerary on your own is what you’ll prefer. If you want to do less work in the planning stage, you can hire a specialist to plan and book your entire trip for you. As stated above, we tasked Expert Africa with this for part of our itinerary and they were great.

If you are looking to join a photography tour, consider Malcolm Fackender’s Spotlight on Africa, who currently has tours available for July/August 2018. I’m sure Colby and I will each be leading trips in Namibia eventually–– until then, if you want to go on a trip with either of us, you can check out Colby’s photography workshops here and my trip offerings by clicking the “Trips” tab above (or just follow this link).

MY PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR

Here’s the list of photo gear I used on this trip:

For wildlife photography, the winning combination by far was the Sony A9 with the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 lens + 1.4x Teleconverter. Due to the high frame rate and awesome autofocus, this made my job so easy when it came to capturing images.

If you want to see an updated list of my current gear kit, click here.

This was an epic trip and I loved sharing it with you on social media! If you have more questions about Namibia, photography, or travel in general, please let me know in the comments or shoot me an email at info@erinoutdoors.com. Thanks for following along.

INSPIRATION LIFE ADVICE WITH ERIN

Your Question: Is there time for everything?

Hi, Erin!

Do you think there is enough time for “it all”? By that I mean, personally, right now I’m 24 and I want to go back to school and finish my bachelors degree then get my PhD in either psych or history. I also want to be a full-time adventurer and environment advocate. At some point I want to hike the PCT from Oregon up to Canada. Want to join the Peace Corps too. Then there is the simple dream of working at a brewery and sleeping in an old Toyota Land Cruiser and reading the books and research studies I WANT to read and writing things I WANT to write. Is there time for all of this or do you think we have to narrow our dreams down to one or two manageable things? My mom tells me if I want something badly enough and I’m willing to work for it I’ll get it but I still feel this pressure that I should be settled down by a certain age and, even at 24, I feel like I’m running out of time. My priorities in life aren’t to get married or have kids, it’s myself but there’s still that voice in the back of my mind that says I shouldn’t hike the PCT after a certain age or backpack across Europe when I should be writing a thesis. I’m lost. I get chastised for feeling passionate about too many things then I feel ashamed for craving so much out of life that I don’t chase anything that my heart desires.

–M.


Dear M,

I totally get it. I’ve been there. There is so much out there. So many roads to explore. And it feels like they are one-way streets, but they aren’t. Let me explain.

At 22, I had the same question. There was a feeling of having to do it all right then and there. What was that urgency actually rooted in?

It can come from the fear of falling behind. The fear of never being “successful,” and an unfair definition of “success” in the first place. The fear of having to start over if you make a “wrong” choice. Why do these fears feel true when there are plenty of examples that show us otherwise?

You can always change your mind. Write that down and make it your mantra. We need to shift your thinking from a stressful space to a fun one–– your life is full of opportunity, how f*ing awesome is that?! It is important to recognize that this sense of overwhelm is coming from an immense place of privilege. You are blessed to have so many choices and resources. Don’t mistake this for a guilt-trip–– it’s not meant to be–– but it’s important to recognize the broad opportunities you possess.

“Which of these awesome things should I pursue?” is a fun question, so let’s take the pressure off. Let’s let it be fun. The fact that this is a worry for you tells me that you’re a passionate and dynamic person with a lot to offer, and that is something to celebrate.

First, look at your list of things. Your list of possibilities. What’s the Why behind them? Answer the following honestly.

  • Why do you want an advanced degree?
  • Why do you want to pursue full-time adventure?
  • Why you want to hike the PCT?
  • Why do you want to join the Peace Corps?
  • Why do you want to work at a brewery and live in a Land Rover?

When you answer these, identify which things you’re wanting for the right reasons. Not for prestige, for recognition, or to prove something to yourself about an insecurity. Get really stinkin’ honest with yourself here and see what comes up. Ditch the things you feel drawn to for the wrong reasons and keep the things that feel fulfilling to your soul.

What is the theme throughout the answers that remain? Is it creativity, adventure, giving back? Is it environmental? Does it involve you working behind the scenes, or standing on the stage? Connect the dots and identify the common themes, especially the Why. You can’t go wrong when you are connected to your Why. So can you soften? Can you stop being so hard on yourself?

I know that you want to get it right the first time. Listen: it’s OK if you don’t, and it’s a hell of a lot easier if you get used to the idea of failure right now–– because we rarely do things right on our first attempt. There aren’t right or wrong ways to do this whole Life thing anyway. You can change your mind anytime, remember? You can turn around whenever you want. Failure is only failure if you decide to purpose it that way. Repurpose your failure as a learning opportunity.

Is there time to do all the things? Yes, you’ll make it work! Why does it have to be so black-and-white? Could you work part-time at a brewery, read and write what you want, apply for PhD programs and take a semester off to hike the PCT?  Stop overthinking it, pick one thing to start with, and go for it. It will become clear if it’s the right path once you’re on your way.

Sitting and stressing about a lack of time is a gigantic waste of time. I know because I’m an expert at overthinking. In college, I had six months to write a thesis. I spent one week writing it (the week before it was due, obviously), and spent the other five months and three weeks worrying about not having enough time. The reality is that I always had enough time, I just convinced myself I didn’t.

So start doing. Start trying the things. Where do you feel the excitement? The real excitement–– not the stuff you feel you “should” do. I’m taking about the stuff that tugs on your heart, not your ego.

Your mom is right. If you put your mind to something, you’ll do it. Look at what your own history tells you–– if you always got shit done in the past, there’s no reason to doubt that you’ll get it done in the future. It’s time to put your energy somewhere it can be used. Choose one thing you are curious about, and the answers to your questions will reveal themselves over time.

If you only take one thing from this, here’s what I want you to hear: Stop overthinking and start doing. Don’t let indecision stop you.

If and when you do fail along this journey, take it as a blessing, learn what you can, and get back up. You got this.

-Erin


Have a question you’d like me to address on this blog for everyone’s benefit? Email info@erinoutdoors.com with the subject “Advice”.

PHOTOGRAPHY

Getting Started with Photography

First, I want to tell you about how I got into this whole thing.

In high school, I was a creative kid. I borrowed my dad’s old film camera to take an intro photography class and I was hooked. I loved the feel of the camera in my hands, I loved being able to capture moments the way I saw them, I loved developing the film, I loved the darkroom. I loved the process. I loved that there wasn’t a right or wrong answer.

I got in to a university art & design program with my photography portfolio, but within my first semester at college, I changed my major to something else. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be good enough, that I wouldn’t be able to make a career out of it, that it wasn’t a “real job.” I let doubt get in the way, and as a result, I didn’t end up taking a single photography class in college. Do I wish I did? Um, yeah. Was it necessary for me to take specific photography classes in order to become a photographer? Well… you tell me.

The first thing to know about diving into this industry is that there isn’t a right or wrong way to do it. There isn’t a gear checklist or a step-by-step guide (though there are definitely some things I wish I knew). I’m willing to bet that getting into photography is one of the biggest questions I receive because it seems like a mysterious process. But those who have done it know it’s much simpler than it seems. You just have to pick up a camera and start.

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE CAMERA… BUT GET A CAMERA.

If you want to get into photography, you need a camera. Duh. It doesn’t have to be fancy. My first camera was my dad’s Nikon F1. After that, I had a Canon Rebel XTI. Then came a series of Canon PowerShot and Lumix Active Lifestyle point-and-shoots. I didn’t own a smartphone of any kind until 2014, shortly after buying a GoPro Hero4 Silver. Then came an iPhone and finally my first Sony camera, a Sony a5100, which I used exclusively until earlier this year when I bought my Sony A7Rii, the best camera I’ve ever used.

I have only been getting paid for my photography since the Spring of 2016. It hasn’t been that long. Pretty incredible when you think about how short that timeline is, and that in the past year I’ve completed many gigs with just my a5100.

A good camera for starting out is whatever camera you have available to you. Find something in your budget, read reviews before you buy anything, and borrow someone else’s or rent first if you can. Use what you can within your resources. I don’t recommend splurging on a super expensive camera you don’t know how to use yet. One example is the new Sony A9– this is a fantastic camera, and lots of people asked if I was going to get one when it came out. My answer is no. The A9 has some awesome features, but it’s overkill for me unless I start shooting lots of action or wildlife (its main feature is high frames-per-second). I just don’t need to spend all that money for a feature I will rarely use.

In my opinion it is better to outgrow something and then upgrade when you know exactly what you want (and why). When I went to buy my first camera, I was tempted to go straight for the big guns I had heard about, but I am so glad I went with something less expensive because it allowed me to actually learn my preferences. Spending time practicing on my first camera helped me make my decision when it was time to throw down bigger bucks.

I get asked all the time what a good first camera would be. If you’re looking to get into a mirrorless system, I recommend the Sony a6000 with the kit lens (the lens it comes with). This camera is an excellent introduction to the Sony system and the small size is great for travel.

GO SHOOT (AND THEN SHOOT SOME MORE)

Go out with your camera and practice. If you are wanting to get paid to take photos eventually, your photos need to be good, and that comes from lots of practice! Not only does your work need to be good, you need to know how to operate your gear comfortably. You need to know how you change your settings quickly. You need to know how light works and how to position your models/clients/subject. You need to get comfortable interacting with your subject.

Develop your style. The way to do this is through a lot of trial and error. A lot of creating photos you don’t like. A lot of frustrating nights editing an impossible image and wanting to throw your computer against the wall.

If you want to do outdoor photography, get outdoors. Portraits? Take ’em of your pals. Weddings? Practice at the next one you go to. The only way you get better at this craft is through experience. So work hard, keep going, and practice your craft.

LEARN WHAT THE NUMBERS MEAN

The technical stuff is not the most important thing, but it is important. I am not above Googling super basic stuff. I didn’t even know what dynamic range was until a few months ago. There’s a lot of technical verbiage in the photography world and it’s actually not all that complicated once you understand the main principles. I and everyone else in the industry figured it out as we went, so please go do the same, and never be afraid to ask questions even if you think they’re stupid. Everyone has been there at some point.

A very brief crash course on numbers:

  • ISO: Basically, this is the level of sensitivity of your camera to light. Lower ISO = least sensitive to light = sharpest image. Higher ISO = more sensitive to light = more grain/noise. Typically you want to shoot at a lower ISO because it produces the sharpest image.
  • Aperture: A hole in your lens that light travels through (like the pupil in an eye). The larger the aperture, the more light can get in. Aperture is expressed in f-numbers, and a larger f-number means a smaller aperture. Confusing, but this is where practice matters. A larger aperture (smaller f-number) will give you more depth of field (i.e. the blurry background with the subject in focus), whereas a smaller aperture (larger f-number) will bring more things into focus. This is all about depth.
  • Shutter Speed: A measurement of time a camera’s shutter is open to allow light in (and therefore capture your image). A shorter shutter speed lets less light in, a longer one lets more light (and motion) in.

I guarantee you can find the answers to almost any photography question you have online. YouTube is one of my favorite resources for pretty much anything–– whatever your question is, someone, somewhere has probably explained it in video format. Bless you, Internet.

LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES EVERYWHERE


Say yes to the work that comes your way–– even if you’re doing it for the exposure and practice while you are getting things up and running. If you’re serious about this, you will eventually get to a point where you can’t work in exchange for exposure, but you’re not necessarily there yet, so step away from the high horse. There are mixed opinions about working for free, but if you are looking for experience and if it gets your work out there, I think it’s worth considering.

How do you start getting paid? Eventually, you start charging money for your services. You can start charging money today if you want to–– this is up to you. However, obviously there has to be demand. And how do you create demand? You get the word out. You put your work into the world. You do good work and people talk about it to their friends and family. You let absolutely everyone know that you are available for hire. You won’t know what to charge at first, and that’s OK. Try to find out what the going rates are. Ask around. Google it. And when all else fails, you can ask what their budget is before you even throw out a number and take it from there.

Know that when I say opportunity, I don’t just mean job opportunity. I also mean relationships, mentorships, and building your skill set. Identify people you look up to and watch what they do that makes them successful. Identify the people you hope to be surrounded by, and try to get yourself (and your best work) in the same room with them.

…AND PLEASE *TRY* NOT TO OVERTHINK IT

I know you will overthink things at some point, but please try not to think too hard about this. Spend your energy doing things instead of micro-managing yourself and getting stuck in loops of worry and doubt.

It will feel frustrating, and that’s a promise. It will feel like it’s taking forever. You will wonder if you are doing it right. WELCOME… This is the process. It’s not all glam. Photographers can make their lives seem really adventurous and easy on social media, and there is so much more to the story. You stay up late, you wake up early, you take more risks in your career than you ever thought you would. If you’re in it for the right reasons, it’s worth it.

A lot of my advice isn’t photography-specific–– it’s applicable to a lot of different professions, and to life in general. Work hard, consistently, for a long time, and if you don’t have a good Why behind it, find something else to do with your time that really fires you up.

Quality, consistency and passion will take you a long way. Welcome to the journey.


More specific photography questions? Let me know in the comments so I can write more blog posts like this.

TRAVEL

How to Come Back to Reality after Traveling

Welcome back.

If you found yourself to this post, I’m gonna assume you’re struggling to get back into your everyday. So first, welcome back. And second, you’re not alone if you’re feeling the post-trip blues.

You’ve had an experience that completely shattered your routine– an experience that other people could never understand, because they weren’t you. Travel can be transformative and impactful, and it’s no surprise that arriving home after a big trip can be a rough landing.

Anyone who has traveled has most likely dealt with the dread of the aftermath– you are no longer on your trip. You are no longer studying abroad, or teaching English, or on your wilderness trip. Wherever you went, coming home can somehow feel harsh and uneventful at the same time.

However you feel, it’s OK. You are not the first or last person to feel the way you do.

However you feel, it might be a bummer or less than ideal. But the fact is, you are now home. And you have some options. You can marinate in your misery, or you can try to move through and eventually out of it. Which one sounds better?

Here are some tips from my experiences coming home from big trips or stays abroad.

FIND YOUR HOME GROOVE

When I got back from nine months in Portugal, waking up in my own bed felt foreign but mildly familiar… like a dream that I could only barely remember. Getting back is going to feel weird– you’re not heading to your usual café for breakfast, you’re not greeted by the same smells or sights as you were on your trip, and that can be underwhelming and just plain strange.

Trust me, sitting inside in your anxiety cave is not going to make you feel better. You have to get out.

Find things in your home country that speak to your highest excitement. Explore the places you haven’t explored yet, travel domestically, make it a goal to meet new people. Find things that you are excited to build into your routine– force yourself to get up and get into that groove. The hardest part is getting yourself out the door.

SHIFT YOUR FOCUS

Instead of focusing on what your home country lacks, focus on what you loved so much about your trip and incorporate more of it into your home life. Nope, you’re not going to get the *exact* pastries you used to get in Paris, but maybe you’ll discover a new bakery or even learn to make them yourself.

Instead of, “Man, it really blows that I don’t have the same view here as I did in Florence,” can you shift to, “My view in Florence was gorgeous and I’m so thankful I got to experience that”?

Don’t let your fond memories drain you. Let them inspire you instead. Watch the language you use and the story you are telling yourself about being home. Choose to rephrase the story to one coming from a place of abundance instead of a place of lack.

APPLY WHAT YOU LEARNED

If a part of your heart misses your trip, it must have meant something to you. It must have taught you something.

Your trip most likely taught you how to be more independent. It probably forced you to be friends with different types of people. It probably got you outside of your comfort zone. It probably put you in situations where you had to order food in a different language, or ask for directions, or communicate in a new way. And you can apply many of these takeaways to your life at home.

You had an amazing experience abroad, and that is noteworthy. Now how can you bring some of the learnings into your day to day life? Ask yourself this question and take it seriously. Build upon your newest foundation.

PLAN SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO

If you can’t seem to get out of this funk, if the black hole of boredom seems never-ending, plan something that truly excites you. Maybe it’s a creative project. Maybe it’s a trip with friends. Maybe it’s some solo time to do some soul searching. Maybe it’s a big move. Whatever it is, let it be something to look forward to.

Mix it up and sprinkle your weeks with fun activities, You time, and things that interest you. You’re not going to get through this lull by keeping everything the same.


If you are feeling like you want to escape, can you view your everyday with the same amount of curiosity as you had while you were traveling? Can you challenge yourself to see it with new eyes?

Whatever blues you may be feeling, I totally get it. But you have to look back on your trip fondly without dwelling on the negative stuff. You are the only one who can make this shift. Love the memories and the relationships you made. Take what you learned and use it. Although it’s hard to come back, it’s far more important that you went in the first place.