All Posts By

Erin Sullivan


17 Inspiring & Adventurous Women of Color to Follow in 2018

Over the past few years, I have had the pleasure of meeting many amazing and inspiring women on Instagram. And I’ll be honest that in the beginning, most of the women I followed looked very much like me.

The thing is, if diversity is truly one of your values, then your belief should absolutely extend to your Instagram feed.

These are some of my favorite women to follow for inspiration in travel, the outdoors, photography, advocacy, leadership and life. They also happen to be women of color.

They are travel bloggers, photographers, athletes, adventurers and business coaches. Some of them are friends, some I have talked to online, and some probably had no idea I existed until now. 🙃

If you are looking for inspiration, these gals are serving it up by the ton, every day.



Glo Atanmo | @glographics |

If you enjoy travel and are not following Glo, please advise what rock you have been living under, you need to get on that! Glo’s adventurous outlook on life is contagious, her sense of humor relatable, and her writing refreshingly honest. When Glo tackles a more serious topic, which she does often, she does so in an educational manner with a humorous flair. Glo’s posts always leave me feeling inspired, or give me something to think about, or both.


Why have I been so happy lately? I want to talk about two simple words that have some real weight behind them; Personal. Growth. Take a moment and think about the last time you took a step back and did a real, honest life evaluation. Are you doing what it takes to get to where you want to be? We all have high and low seasons (life happens in waves) but I want you to think about if you’re can be making better daily choices to push yourself out of your comfort zone and thrive. Are you being challenged? Are you learning new things? Are you living with a positive mindset? Are you setting yourself up for success? These past weeks, I’ve been making a lot of small changes that have me feeling fantastic about where I am right now and what’s on the forefront. Sometimes all you need is to start taking action with one thing and watch the rest fall into place. So, let me here it… what’s ONE way that you want to challenge yourself in the upcoming weeks? #siempregirando Photo by @rico.png

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Sienna Brown | @siempregirando |

Since finding Sienna on Instagram a couple of months ago, she has become someone I look forward to seeing in my feed every day. Her stories are always injected with positivity and productivity–– helpful and necessary reminders for me as a freelancer. Sienna is an ex-pat currently living the digital nomad life in Spain, and she talks a lot about creating a life you love wherever you want to base yourself. Overall she is a ray of sunshine. If you love motivating and inspirational content, check her out!


As I hiked 23 miles this weekend with the bare necessities on my back, I thought about my first backpacking trip at age 14. After my grandma picked me up from a weekend in San Rafael Swell, Utah, I could not stop raving about it. I told her about filling my nalgene with river water that had bugs and dirt, but using iodine tablets to make it drinkable. I gushed about sleeping without shelter for the first time, about watching shining celestial bodies shift above me as the night wore on. I explained that we weren’t allowed to bring technology, not even watches, so we went to bed when we were tired and cooked when we were hungry and woke up with sunrise. I effused about the rock art and horse skeleton and campfires and crossing the river with 30 lbs on our backs and fiery canyon walls. And that night as I washed red sand from my hair and cleaned dust from my ears, I was grinning as I came to a realization… I didn’t need much to be happy, just some food, friends, shelter, and beautiful surroundings.. That was enough to make me feel more at peace than I could ever remember. That was enough to make me feel alive. // Feeling alive in Haulapai and Havasupai lands ✨ 📷 : @caitlinrathbun

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Ashleigh Thompson | @ashanishinaabe

I met Ashleigh last summer through our mutual friend Len Necefer of NativesOutdoors. I enjoy following her for her colorful images and personal reflections from her time spent outdoors. Ashleigh is a runner, hiker, climber, and she writes beautifully. I have learned a lot from her honest perspective as a Native woman in the outdoors, especially when it comes to recreation.


My world. #reflectionstories

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Paola Franqui | @monaris_ |

You will rarely find a photo of Paola without her camera. Paola’s work is a kaleidoscope of streets, windows, and fleeting glances from strangers. Her work makes the viewer feel as though they are peering into a private world. She is truly talented, and someone I look up to when it comes to travel photography.


Remember those times when you were praying and begging on your knees for things that you have now? Gratitude does not solely revolve on being thankful for things when received. It’s about being thankful for everything around you even when it’s bleak. I have observed and witnessed countless of times in my life that when I am wholly vibrating in gratitude, that’s when doors open up and abundance comes rushing in. And when I’m not, the doors stay shut. It’s something so simple, yet we get in our own heads long enough that it turns complex and we just forget. When your bank account is down to two digits, when you lose someone you love, when traffic is churning your head, when mundane routines suck the juice out of your life, when things are falling apart and things aren’t going the way you had plan. It’s easy to forget. Yet we tend to focus on things we don’t have enough of, instead of things we already have. It brews in the small moments that most go unseen. Small, tiny mindful moments that has the magnitude to shift realms. Like waking up to the golden light shining through your window and watching a galaxy of dust float through it. Or eating your food mindfully and slowly, imagining how it grew and how a golden star fed it to feed you. Or remembering to look up at the night sky when it’s so dark that you can see the Milky Way. Or when a complete stranger gets out of their own way to help you when you need it the most. Or when you watch people in public transportation and you become fully aware that they are living a life as complex as your own, you realize that they’re not that much different to you because you’re both sharing the same air and breathing it the same way. Or when you’re diving under the ocean waves and they bring you the sudden clarity of how tiny you are in the universe yet how significant it is that you have this life. Or the way the last light of the day disappears into the ocean as dusk consumes us, turning skeptics into mystics. That’s when you feel it. That’s when you close your eyes and feel gratitude settling in your bones. Then something twists the doorknob and the universe comes flooding in. @KEEN #Aphlex #FollowYourFeet

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Stephanie Dandan | @stephanie.dandan |

Stephanie’s work is a breath of fresh air and a tall glass of cold water in one. In her images, she captures moments and emotion so well. They carry a sense of thick nostalgia that makes you wonder if you lived inside that moment in a dream once… or was it real life after all? Stephanie’s writing is vulnerable, gritty, and unapologetic. Seeing things through Stephanie’s eyes is a treat, and a multidimensional one at that.


Lee Litumbe | @spiritedpursuit |

Lee’s photos transport me across the world. I love that her feed is a mix of photos of her, food/views, and the people she meets along the way. She travels to and writes about many locations I don’t see tons of travel bloggers visiting (especially in Africa, but not exclusively)–– her intention with this to challenge society’s assumptions and stereotypes. The respect she has for the places she visits and people she meets is obvious through her thoughtful photography and captions, as is her attention to detail. An added plus: her outfits are always incredible.


Today at a meeting my boss asked what made us smile today. I instantly thought of watching lightbulbs go off in my students heads today. (We’ve managed to get to a special place in math where I’m actually teaching them new topics instead of rebuilding skill and reviewing and I love it) Even two of my students who generally struggle, were able to understand the concepts. AND IT WAS THE GREATEST FEELING EVER. 🎉🎉🎉 It’s an insane feeling to watch connections be made right in front of your eyes, and it instantly makes all the fighting and eye rolling and frustrated glares completely worth it. In those moments, there’s nothing that could put a bigger smile on my face. So tell me, what made you smile today? 😁

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Ari Watkins | @ariiiwatkins |

Ari and I met when she came as a participant on my Greece adventure last summer, and wow were we lucky to have her. Think of Ari as your virtual supportive friend who will give you a hug and make you smile when you need it most. Online, she shares her journey of living abroad in Thailand and finding purpose, meaning and gratitude along the way.


believe it or not, i had multiple pre introductions to fly fishing. once in the tenth grade i convinced my English teacher to take me out of study hall and teach me how to cast. i was not interested, i was skeptical. i was tired of reading Walden and could not for the life of me understand the man’s obsession with fishing. i liked time spent with D.White, i tried harder at the comma splice rules as a result…it obviously did not last. # earlier this year post 100k in Argentina my boys were fly fishing, we camped near a lodge kind enough to let a ragtag little bunch stay a couple nights. the boys went upriver to flyfish… i drank fernet in hammocks w/ @elliot_wr # then i needed to learn to flyfish and i found myself out on the river with @_chadbrown_ . and i fell in love with river time, with distilled moments, with the focus and patience required, with the opportunity to begin to understand river ecology. this is what we share at @soulriver_runsdeep. this summer there will be six mission driven experiences in wild spaces at risk of environmental threat. we are looking to bring PNW based inner city youth and veterans together for leadership development, healing & learning. there are definitely some chance for folks from further away, so don’t hesitate b/c of that! super proud to be a part of this organization. please hit me up with questions, tag someone who might be a good match and please share my info with anyone curious! we are accepting applications for participants until January 21st!!! really hope we can share some river time! # ✨📸✨: @_cammcleod_

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Faith Briggs | @faithevebee

I started following Faith about a year ago when she became one of Columbia’s new Directors of Toughness, traveling the world on serious expeditions and testing their gear. Faith is frequently on the trail, and her Instagram stories remind and motivate me to go outside and get moving. In addition to photos and IG stories of her adventures, Faith shares her journey in writing, from reflections on her athletic accomplishments to discussing the many layers of privilege people in the outdoor industry need to unpack. She’ll give you something to think about and some motivation while she’s at it.


To be compassionate, is to be brave. Compassion asks questions, and waits patiently in the uncomfortable silence of unknown Compassion creates space for growth and change and movement And affirms the unexplained One time I sat in child’s pose for an entire yoga class In pain from an illness that I’m still learning to live with Angry, tears pooled beneath my face on my purple mat Then the teacher touched the small of my back and said softly “Meet yourself with compassion.” So I stayed there, for another hour, forehead pressed to the ground. Compassion calls us to stem the gap of unfamiliarity And resist the culturally conditioned response of fight-or-flight To love beyond reason, and rally against judgement. Every day my job requires me to extend compassion to those on the outside But I’m still struggling to follow the guidance my teacher gave me that day And I’m ok with that…so, I guess I’m getting somewhere.

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Noël Russel | @noel_russ

Noël has one of the most beautiful hearts I have encountered in this crazy online world. Her photos are lovely, but it is Noël’s writing that will really move you. Her storytelling is soft and nourishing. Her words are intentional and their meanings are deep–– she muses on everything from her connection to nature and God, to her family and ancestry, to her life and her work at a homeless shelter. I deeply admire Noël for her kindness and strength: both obvious in anything she posts.


It’s easy to think that my life is all sunshine salt water and rainbows judging from the places I’ve been or the photos you’ve seen but trust me when I tell you that this isn’t always the case. I am not always fearless. My life is far from perfect. Most of the time when I’m writing or sharing words of encouragement, it’s because I am the one who needs to read them. There are days when I feel broken or simply not good enough and today was one of them. There are times when I need a shoulder to cry on and a vent session with a friend, times when I get worried or anxious of the future or regretful of my past. No one’s life is without a certain percentage of pure bullshit – the point is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move the hell on. I don’t want to dwell on the things that have gone wrong. I am actively choosing to invest my thoughts into what can go right – how I can succeed in whatever tiny ways I can. And it takes work. Sometimes putting a smile on your face and walking out of the door is the strongest thing you can do, and that’s okay. So if you are feeling alone in your doubt, your pain or your sadness – know that you are not alone. We are all in this together. ☀ #projectinspo

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Jinna Yang | @projectinspo |

I first encountered Jinna’s work a few years ago when she traveled the world with a life-size cardboard cutout of her father as a tribute to his life. From there I was inspired and motivated by Jinna’s writing, which continues to be uplifting and supporting whatever she writes about. Her photos are crisp, cool and clean; I especially admire her underwater and abstract images. Jinna’s perspective is unique, always finding light without ever having to invalidate the darkness.


“What can I do?”. “Que puedo hacer yo?”. These are questions I get asked every day! “What can I do to fix and protect our planet?” “How can I, as a single individual, make a difference if millions of others are not?” Well, I’m here to show you how easy, important, fun and beautiful it is to incorporate consciousness into your lifestyle. 4 years ago, these words never crossed my mind! I used to order 3 to-go coffees per day to stay awake in the corporate world without thinking about the waste I was creating on a daily basis. Over 1000 cups per year to be exact! I was one more human caught in my own world, not paying attention to anything going on outside of it, until the day I started reading more about sustainability, watched many films, and understood that every action I take can either continue to exploit our home or can help heal it. Easy steps and little shifts in routines and mindsets that CAN have a positive and healing impact on our planet. Think about this for a second: We, globally, use and discard 1 million plastic bottles PER MINUTE. 91% of this is NOT recycled. In the US only, we use and discard half a BILLION plastic straws per day! This is plastic that takes 400+ years to decompose. Plastic that always finds its way into our oceans; killing and poisoning sacred animals needed for our survival and to keep our oceans healthy. Why are our oceans so important? They absorb 93% of the CO2 emissions we produce, making our oceans our main protector against global warming! Now, what can YOU do to protect your home? Our mother. Head to my blog to read all about the eco products I carry with me 24/7 or my ways of reusing and getting creative, like the skirt I’m wearing. It’s a tablecloth transformed into a skirt! I had unused tablecloths from Bali and India, so…I took them to my seamstress and asked her to give life to a skirt and a pair of pants from those unused fabrics! That easy! Click the link in my bio to read more, tap the photo for conscious brands, and make sure you follow the non-profit I’m an ambassador for, @sachamamaorg. They are a must-read for information on sustainability and climate change! 🌎🌿💚♻ Ready to #gogreen? 😍 #ecofriendly

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Valeria Hinojosa | @waterthruskin |

Valeria is a blogger focused on making her lifestyle as sustainable as possible. I met her on a retreat in Costa Rica, and her passion and commitment to an eco-friendly life is incredibly contagious and encouraging. She is always sharing her favorite tips, products, and thoughts about living more consciously. Valeria proves that it is possible to create a life you love in a sustainable way.


10 whole years ago this month I left my corporate job with salary, bonus and benefits worth six figures, I shaved my head, and I moved to Japan to teach English. That single decision ten years ago changed my life. Since then I have lived, worked and studied on four continents and I have traveled to six continents multiple times, reaching 110 countries and territories. Travel is so much of the fabric of who I am, thanks to my awesome parents who took us on international trips fairly regularly from my first trip to Uganda when I was six. What has transpired over the last ten years has been a journey of self-discovery and understanding more about the world around me. I know myself better than I ever have and I am happier than I’ve ever been. It took a long time to get here and A LOT OF HARD WORK, but I am happy that I have arrived. I have made soooooo many new friends and had brief but meaningful exchanges with strangers all over the globe. Thank you to all of my friends who have supported me via couches, beds, spare bedrooms, airport pickups, happy hour dates, late night convos and photography skills. As I embark on the biggest journey of my life this year I look forward to more interactions with strangers, friends and family, more self-discovery and more global exploration. If I’ve met you before I would love to know where and what that initial meeting was like!! Put it down below. This should be fun! #THEcatchmeifyoucan ⚪⚪⚪⚪⚪🔵⚪⚪⚪🔵⚪⚪🔵⚪⚪⚪⚪⚪⚪🔵⚪⚪⚪⚪🔵

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Jessica Nabongo | @thecatchmeifyoucan |

This woman is on fire. Jessica has traveled to (easily) over 100 countries and territories, writing and sharing her vibrant photos along the way. She also founded Jet Black, a travel agency that creates trips and curates itineraries to countries in Africa, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. On Instagram, you will find Jessica’s photos and captions to be bold, full of life, and unapologetically real. Her posts are lively reminders to keep pursuing the life you want on purpuse.


Hola todos! Just thought I would take a moment to reintroduce myself on this platform.. whether you personally know me or we just met here’s a little info about me: -My name is Karen Ramos I was born on the central coast in California but both my parents are from Oaxaca. -I just finished up shooting in Mexico with @rei for a summer campaign we’re working on, they sponsored my trip down the coast and in return I create content. -When I was 24, I founded, with the help of all my amazing friends, a 501(c)3 nonprofit called @getout.stayout It connects youth and kids of color to the outdoors through experiential educational outdoor excursions. (Follow us!) -This is my personal Instagram page and my political opinions are not a reflection of @getout.stayout .. from time to time there are posts that you may see and not agree with. That’s completely okay 🙂 I believe that something as simple as the outdoors is political and has had some deep rooted problems that we can no longer afford to ignore. -I am a @nativewomenswilderness ambassador, I believe in what they stand for and if you haven’t already go check us out. -I have the cutest, craziest, adventure pup named Frida. I picked her up off the streets in Oaxaca two years ago while on vacation. -After this trip I don’t really know what’s next, I have a free semester before I start school again and I quit my job to be out here… so I think I’ll just play it by ear.. And lastly I try to keep it as real as one can on an online platform, sometimes I make mistakes and I am sorry .. but I appreciate all the support the community has built around this page. THANK YOUUUUUU!!!! • • • • • • • • • • • • • #naturechola #LatinoOutdoors #getoutstayout #naturechola #getoutstayout #LatinoOutdoors #WylderGoods #diversitynadventure #everyoneshike #melaninbasecamp #unlikelyhikers #hikeitbaby #vasqueview #sponsored #nativesoutdoors #nativewomenwilderness #cholaxbomb #sup #diversifyoutdoors #indigenousrising #bajaroadtrippin 📷: @llituma1

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Karin Ramos | @naturechola

Karin lovingly shares her adventures in the outdoors and in the realm of advocacy–– the non-profit she founded, Get Out, Stay Out, seeks to get kids, especially kids of color, exploring outside. Karin’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in the outdoor industry is both important and inspiring, and something we can all learn from.


I’m 25 today. My mum’s spent an entire year reminding me I’m going to be “a quarter of a century” (she’s put a lot of effort in making me feel old 😂) but today is that day. I’m not a big birthday person and I’m not that great at planning things out. So I can’t say I had many life goals for 25, other than wanting to be happy and I’m glad I didn’t. Nothing has turned out as expected and the best thing that ever happen to me was that turning point leaving university, feeling completely lost, broken, confused and not knowing what to do. I don’t know why we place so much pressure on young people to have it all together, to plan out their next 20 year career move when I can’t even plan out what I’m going to eat for dinner 😂 …if I could give you advice it would be to breathe. It’s okay not knowing what on earth you want to do. I’m so glad I gave myself time. I wasn’t just burying my head in the sand (though it was lots of that too 😅). I spent time pursuing interests, which happened to be taking pictures. I made friends with guys who had those same passions and I was spurred on by a mother who never said I “can’t” but asked me “how?” and gave me the time to work it out. I’m still working life out, but I’m so blessed things are slowly coming together. I’m not sure what my next 25 years will look like, but I’m trying to give myself the patience, faith and grace to act on just the next step, without always knowing the bigger picture. *breathe* _ Self portrait, January 2017

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Holly-Marie Cato | @h_cato |

Holly is a photographer with a talent for capturing the perfect moment.  Her images tell personal stories, challenge stereotypes, and inspire connection. Holly’s work has inspired me to push myself in travel photography, and to share the images that feel more raw and real to me. Though her photography can be serious, Holly’s Instagram stories usually aren’t. Pro tip: Don’t watch them anywhere it might be inappropriate to burst out laughing.


 Ambreen Tariq | @brownpeoplecamping

If you are involved in the outdoor community, I sure hope you have heard of Ambreen. Though her feed is full of lovely outdoor scenes, it is her vulnerable and candid writing that I enjoy most. Ambreen shares openly about her experiences in the outdoors: positive, challenging, peaceful, whatever it might be. And she doesn’t only share her own opinions, but objective truths that are important for people of every background to read and consider.


Thurka Gunaratnam | @thurka |

I recently stumbled across Thurka’s Instagram account and found myself cracking up watching her story highlights. She is a filmmaker and educator, and is also definitely one of those people who seems to do just about everything (how this is physically possible, I’m not sure). Thurka’s videos on YouTube shine a (very funny) light on her culture and personal experiences. I am looking forward to following more of Thurka’s adventures!


I did a short interview with @outdoorresearch [link in bio] for #sheadventures month and to briefly touch on how media often portrays women, my personal challenges in climbing and managing a busy schedule. Three things I wish I had noted in this piece are: . 1.) There are so many incredible groups and people who relentlessly, selflessly give to the community, improve the lives of countless people, and seek to encourage more diversity and support for underrepresented groups. @thegnarwall and @j00kab00 with @verticalgeneration, @browngirlsclimb, @boccrew, @melaninbasecamp, @shelmatic with @heyflashfoxy, @indigenouswomenhike, @missmeghanyoung, @gleeabel, @paulinadao… The list is endless. I wish I had mentioned that these groups and individuals do so much more than any one person’s (my) singular goals for themselves when it comes to championing important issues. . 2.) Representation is important. Climbing media is largely homogenous and often reinforces stereotypes of what it means to be or look like a climber. These issues are important. If you find yourself angered by mentions of diversity or inclusion, ask yourself why. It is also important to note that many stories are being published about the entire female experience while really only speaking about the experiences of a select few. We can support more women by making sure we consider how different each woman’s experiences and struggles can often be. 3.) Too many women of color grow up feeling ashamed of our features that don’t fit into the *standard* portrayal of beauty. It’s a narrative woven into so many of our personal experiences. I’m ready to see all of these issues continue to be discussed and challenged. Future generations do not need to repeat this. #brownisbeautiful #browngirlsclimb . 📸: @forestwoodward

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Melise Edwards | @meliseymo

Melise is a rock climber, and though I am not a climber myself, it would be hard to not appreciate the photos she shares of her outdoor accomplishments. But what I love most about Melise’s feed is how openly she shares about her journey, whether she is talking about mentorship, inspiration, failure, representation for women and POC, or her challenges and accomplishments in a scientific field. I guarantee you will find something to relate to in what Melise so graciously shares.


There are so many epic groups celebrating WOC on Instagram. Here just a few, some women-specific and some not:










Don’t see your favorite inspiring WOC here? Please share in the comments below, or add a link to your own Instagram/blog!


Budget Travel Tips

Thanks to Uber and BarclayCardUS for sponsoring this post!

Ever since I started traveling solo eight years ago, I have collected plenty of tips on how to save money and how to spend wisely. I’ve also made plenty of expensive mistakes! What I have learned is that saving money while traveling is not necessarily the most important thing– spending it wisely is. Being a smart traveler will save you more in the long run than always just choosing the cheapest option.

It’s not a secret that travel costs money. But if you start thinking about your budget early on, plan ahead, and learn to be flexible at the right times, you can stretch your trip longer and increase the amount of memorable experiences you have. Here are my tips for maximizing your experiences on a budget.



The decisions you make with your money now (before the trip) can make a big difference to you when you’re actually on your adventure.


So many people, myself included, are spending money we don’t even realize we are spending! Small transactions add up. Instead of having an avoidant relationship with your bank account, get real with it and have a detailed understanding of where your money is going. From there, be very mindful of your spending and ask yourself where you can reasonably adjust your lifestyle to save money for your trip. Saying no to a handful of nights out leading up to your trip can save you a few hundred bucks and have you on your way to an extra day of traveling. Look into your most expensive daily or weekly routines, and get disciplined with the things you can change.


Credit cards were a huge game-changer for me financially. Not because I ever spend money I don’t have, but because I understand how rewards work. If you know you are going on a trip in a few months, it can be a smart idea to get a credit card with great rewards on travel expenses. That way, you’re getting money back. Nope, do not charge a trip you can’t actually afford, but understanding benefits & rewards can mean saving you money overall that you can later put into your trip. A card I might consider might be the new Uber Visa Card which offers 4% cash back on dining* and 3% cash back on hotels and airfare*, which can be significant especially when you think about the bigger purchases you’ll be making leading up to your trip! The Uber Visa Card also has no foreign transaction fees*– something that is important to think about when using a credit card abroad. Many credit cards charge a 3% (ish) fee when using your card outside of the US… which kinda defeats the purpose of using a credit card for travel rewards. Also make sure your card’s rewards are easily redeemable. To check out the full rewards & details of the Uber Visa Card, click here. *Terms Apply.


Look up the peak tourist seasons for the place you are going. Most of the time, hotels and activities will have a cheaper rate for off-season bookings. There is also often more availability for bookings in the off-season, giving you more flexibility when it comes to planning and last-minute activities. If you have the flexibility, shoulder seasons would be my pick. You often get the benefit of nearly peak-season weather at lower prices and it’s less crowded.


If you’re committed to giving yourself the gift of solo travel, skip this one! 😉 But if you aren’t purposefully going it alone, traveling with a friend can be fun and save you money. If you haven’t traveled with this particular friend before, I recommend communicating beforehand what you plan to do each day, and expect to want some solo time! Planning at least the framework of your schedule will help you when you’re on your trip.


The cost of accommodation is important, but the cheapest hotel or rental is not always best! If a hotel is super cheap, but it’s a long commute to the city center or the places you’ll want to see, it may not be worth it. Think about the time and money it will cost you to get to the locations you’ll want to be. It’s also often worth it to call a hotel and ask for their best deal, which may be different from what you see online! Getting creative with accommodation is also often beneficial–– if glamping is appealing to you, this can be cost-effective! A rental home, room, or a hostel are also choices worth considering. Having access to a kitchen can cut your cost on meals if you use it.


I usually use a couple of different search platforms when searching for flights. The general consensus in the travel community is that flights internationally are cheapest about 90 days in advance, and about 60 days in advance for domestic US flights. You can also save money by choosing a low-cost airline, just be sure you understand their fees and don’t get caught at the airport paying an extra $100 to check a bag because you didn’t read the fine print.



Flying carry-on only can not only save you money, but time as well! If you don’t have to check a bag, you don’t have to wait for it, and you also avoid the risk of the airline losing your luggage. In general, just be aware of how many bags are included with the airline you choose– sometimes even a carry-on incurs a fee. This can be avoided if you make sure to read the terms and conditions ahead of time, and make the necessary add-on purchases as they are required before you get to the airport.


Instead of spending money on three meals a day at restaurants, consider designating one meal a day as a “picnic” meal. Buy oatmeal and fruit and keep it in your hotel room, or if you have access to a kitchen, keep supplies in the fridge to pack a lunch. When I was traveling around New Zealand for four months, I made my own meals most of the time. When I did choose to eat out, I was intentional about the restaurants I wanted to try. I never felt a sense of lack because I understood that I was choosing to stretch my dollars.

Along the same food lines…


We all know what these look like–– big sandwich board signs with photos of hamburgers and fries that say “WE SPEAK ENGLISH!”. These restaurants often serve lower quality food for more money. Look for restaurants that locals are eating at, and expect to break out your pocket translator (or app) if you’re not in a country that speaks your language. 🙂


It can be energizing to see the greener part of any town or city. In the US, National Parks do come with a fee, but if you spend a day or two in the park, it can be worth it. Other outdoor activities require no monetary expense, like a walk in a city park. If you have a rental car, make the most of it and research where the most picturesque countryside is, or go explore the coast. Drive to a trailhead and go hiking–– these are often the most memorable experiences you’ll have!


Many museums have days or half-days where you can visit for free. Look these up ahead of time and see what fits with your schedule!


In many cities, public transportation is not only more cost-effective, but will save you time as well in bigger cities like New York City and London. Look at what the locals do–– most of the time, they’re onto something. If you’re debating on the best way to get somewhere, ask around. People are likely to help you out if you ask the best way to get from Point A to Point B. Which brings me to my next point…


Ask for free upgrades and later check-outs. Ask for complimentary breakfasts and discounts. Many people don’t get these perks because they simply don’t ask for them! The worst thing the manager/owner/server/person can say is no, so why not ask?


I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten complimentary beverages, meals and upgrades just because I asked someone how their day was going, or made their life a little easier. I’m not saying the only reason you should be a good person is to get free stuff, but its a bonus on top of other excellent benefits like having a positive outlook on things, attracting genuine friends and enjoying your life. 😉 Folks who work in customer service driven industries have to deal with rude people a tad more than others. So if you make their day, they might just make yours, too.


These tips are not as much about saving money as they are about being intentional with it… like everything else you read here on this blog.

What are your favorite hacks for getting the most value out of your trips?

This post is sponsored by Uber and BarclayCardUS. 

Photos taken with the help of Dakota Adan


The Ethics of Travel Photography

When is it OK to take a photo? When is it not OK?

I ask myself these questions on every trip. More specific questions include:

Should you ask? Will asking someone permission ruin the candid nature of the photo? Is it OK to not ask? Is it OK to take photos of someone’s property? Of someone’s children? Is it OK to take pictures of poverty? When is it exploitative? Is it OK for me to be in the photo myself? If I got inspiration from a particular photo, is it OK for me to take a photo of the same spot? Is it OK for me to imitate a concept? Is it OK for me to take a photo of a remote, beautiful or environmentally fragile place and post it on my social media channels with a geotag?

I could keep going, but you get the point. There are endless questions you can ask yourself when it comes to the ethics of travel photography.

There are no hard and fast rules for ethics when it comes to taking pictures when you travel, but just because you bought a plane ticket doesn’t mean you bought the rights to photograph every person and thing you see on your trip. There is so much to consider when taking photos while traveling, no matter what your subject is.


As a traveler, you need to consider the context of your presence. Many lives have been and will be disrupted by tourism. Wherever you are, do the people actually want you to be there? Are you a welcomed visitor? This question is applicable for any situation you find yourself in with a camera. Be aware of the climate you are walking into (literally and figuratively), and understand that you are in someone else’s space, and that it is not a space you are inherently entitled to be in. Do not make yourself an intruder by acting entitled to anything, photos included.

Showing respect comes in many forms. Learn some of the language. Learn what kind of behavior is accepted, and do some research on what is found to be disrespectful in each place. Tune in to your intuition when it comes to feeling out a place or situation. Smile. Be considerate and pay attention to your surroundings.

Be careful about your language, before, during and after you travel. Many adventure photographers might describe the places they travel to as “unexplored”, “uncharted territory”, or “undiscovered”–– but these words invalidate the experience and history of indigenous groups who may have been living in the place for a very long time. I have certainly been guilty of using these words, and I am sure I’ll be checking myself on stuff like this forever. We need to remember that we are just guests passing through someone else’s home, and that should be greatly respected.

Something I think about often is the phrase “take a photo.” In many places Westerners travel, white Europeans have a violent and brutal history of taking things already: land, resources, and people. Knowing that you will be taking something away from your travels in the form of your experiences and images, ask yourself what you plan to give back. I am not necessarily talking about money or physical gifts, nor am I referring to temporary help in the form of voluntourism. I’m talking about being a net positive during your travels if at all possible, by thoroughly considering the context of every place you travel to and acting from the foundation of that knowledge.


Should you ask permission to take someone’s photo? My answer to this question is yes, in a perfect world, you should. But do I always follow that rule? No, honestly I don’t.

Here’s an example: If I am shooting on a telephoto lens at a market and see a lady selling fruit and want to document that scene, I’d argue it is the right thing to do for me to walk over to her, ask if I can take her photo, then go back to my spot and get the photo once I have her permission. However, this might change her pose, or she might get confused at why I am going so far away, or the right moment may have passed by the time I go ask her and get back to the spot. So in these scenarios, I usually take the photo and ask for forgiveness afterward. In full honesty, sometimes I don’t ask for forgiveness. If they don’t notice me at all, sometimes I leave it at that. Some photographers would never do this. Some do this all the time. There are no clear rules.

She never saw me. Is it wrong that I took this photo? Is it wrong that I am posting it here?


If you’re looking to photograph a candid moment, it’s not really possible to find out if someone is OK with it until after the fact. This is a decision and viewpoint every individual photographer has to develop for themselves. My personal opinion is that if I am generally welcome in the space (with my camera), not being obtrusive, and not exploiting someone or their property, I usually feel comfortable taking the photo.

If you do get someone’s attention, you can usually tell if they do or do not want their photo taken.

“It is always important to respect others boundaries. The other person always does something that tells me it is okay for me to take their photo. A smile goes a long way in street photography. If you show openness and just overall friendliness, it makes the other person somewhat comfortable if that makes sense. If they show any sign of aggression or “no photo!” I simply walk away respectfully.” –Travel & street photographer Paola Franqui, aka monaris

When I am interacting with someone, that interaction is more important to me than the photo I might get. Be more interested in the person than you are in the photo you might take of them. The photo is just a bonus.

I might say hello or sit down with someone if it doesn’t feel awkward. I might buy something from them if they are selling crafts. If they continue talking with me, I might point at my camera and ask if is is OK to take their photo. If they say yes, I will show them the photos after, and we might continue talking. I’ll stick around for a while if we are having a good time. And sometimes, the camera can be a conversation starter once you are acquainted–– sometimes people want to show their friends and have you take more photos of them. It all just depends on the situation.

My camera is in my bag. These kids were curious about me, so I went up to them taking cues from their moms to see if it was OK. The kids cautiously approached, and I got down on their level and showed my hands up to them, both to show that I intended no harm and to invent a game with them. My friend Corey took this photo, but not because I requested him to. I didn’t actually end up taking any photos of these kids or their moms, I just enjoyed the interaction and didn’t take my camera out.


People are not museum exhibits, so don’t treat them like they are. It’s so important to be open. Talk to people. Learn some of their language. Learn their name. Learn how to say it correctly. Sit with them if they welcome you to. Be willing to laugh at yourself. And consider doing all of this before reaching for your camera.

When it comes to photographing children, I personally very rarely will ever photograph a child without the explicit permission of their parent or guardian. Sometimes that permission is a nod or a smile. Consider what you’d do in your home country and go from there.

Sometimes when we travel, our excitement clouds our judgment and we do things we would never find appropriate at home. Take a moment and filter yourself. You want your photography to be an act of respect, not an act of exploitation. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. If you look at a photo you took and it makes you feel uncomfortable, well, it probably feels that way for a reason.

For me personally, taking photos of people on my travels felt awkward at first. I learned what is and is not OK because I learned to form a relationship with the people I am photographing. When you form a relationship with someone, even if it is a brief interaction, you learn a bit of their story and you can tell relatively quickly if it is appropriate or not for you to document it.


Why are you taking the photo? What is the story you want to tell? It helps to get clear on this.

As you know, travel photography does not exist for the photographer to brag about all the cool places they have gone, so if your reason has something to do with showing off your travels, I urge you to re-consider your intention. Most locals don’t care about being a part of your “authentic” travel experience. 😉 So if you are photographing another human being, ask yourself why. What are you hoping to convey with the images you are taking?

The reason I bring up this subject is that images are powerful, and storytelling is a skill. My hope is that photography does not contribute to the exploitation of (often poor) people around the world, but the fact is, I would not be writing this saga of a post if it did not carry that possibility.

Speaking for myself personally, I hope to communicate the beauty of a person, but not oversimplify their situation. I hope to show the complexity of their culture, not exotify it. I hope to make my viewers think deeper, not gloss over images of the planet they live on. I hope to show what is real and true, and never sugarcoat things for my own benefit or the comfort of my audience. And I always hope to preserve dignity.

What you intend to communicate is up to you as the artist. Make it a deliberate choice, then do everything you can to bring that intention to life.


Should you pay someone to take their photo? When would this kind of thing be appropriate? This can be a complex issue, and may or may not be appropriate depending on context and where in the world you are.

If you took a photo of the guy selling onions at a market, then buy a couple onions. Yeah, I know you probably have no use for onions, but it’s the right thing to do, in my opinion. If you took a photo of a woman selling bracelets she made, buy something. It is a pretty simple thing and creates a relationship with them besides just you taking their photo and leaving like many other tourists might.

In some areas of the world, posing for photos can be a way for people to make money. Recently I spent some time on Inle Lake in Myanmar, where many fishermen do not actually fish–– instead they pose in traditional outfits for tourist boats. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? On one hand, posing for tourists may be preferred work and/or easier physically, depending on the individual. On another hand, an income earned in this way is dependent on foreigners… often of the same race as the people who make decisions that harm the country/location in question. This is a rich and deep issue, and I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer.

Another question: from a journalistic standpoint, if you pay someone to pose for you, is that photo really true and authentic? If it is set up, is it warping the fundamentals of photography? Is staging OK if done outside of the context of documentary-based work?

I hope that by asking yourself these questions, you can form your own opinion.


So far, a lot of what I talked about here has a lot to do with respecting people and culture, and I think that is obvious. But this can and should be stretched to more specific things–– as travelers, I believe we should be respecting rules, regulations, guidelines, laws, traditions, private property, privacy, and wildlife.

Just logistically speaking, not abiding by rules in certain countries could get you in trouble or even land you in jail. But in terms of basic empathic and considerate behavior, it’s important to think about whether or not it is appropriate to photograph certain things. Religious structures, sensitive ceremonies, and certain celebrations or traditions, for example. You are representing not only yourself, but foreigners as a whole, and your behavior (positive or negative) reflects on other visitors as well.

Within this topic is respecting Leave No Trace principles if you’re outside or camping, and abiding by regulations that prohibit drones in certain areas (US & Canadian National Parks, for example).

For wildlife photography, feeding animals is never OK in my opinion. I believe you should pay attention to an animal’s cues–– they will show you how they feel about your presence. If you are scaring or threatening them, their body language will tell you that.

I shot this photo on foot, following our experienced guide. We were tracking these rhino, and it was clear that mom was protective over her baby. She did not notice us in this moment. I’m sure that if she did, she and the calf would have run away quickly. If we were visibly bothering her, I would not have felt comfortable taking this photo.


Sometimes, the respectful thing to do is to put your camera away.


Because we are talking about travel photography, I think it is worth talking about tribal visits. Visiting with a tribe is something travelers might seek out to learn about a culture different than theirs and expand their travel experience. If you are visiting with a tribe, make sure you are doing it in a way that the tribal members have approved, and that your visit actually benefits them (read: you are paying them directly). I have heard stories and can certainly imagine that it is easy for tribal members to get ripped off here, so do the necessary research that your money is actually getting to them, and that it is not being pocketed by your tour guide or driver.

Tribal visits are one way for tribes (common in Africa, but also Asia) to make money, especially as the lasting impact of colonialism and climate change has drastically changed their way of life. Some tribal visits can be booked through tour companies, or you might try to get a word-of-mouth recommendation for a guide once you’re on the ground. Unfortunately, not all visits are positive experiences for the tribe, or for the visitor.

Being respectful does not come easily for all travelers. I watched a carload of tourists unload in a Thai hill-tribe village, distribute candy and whistles to the village kids along with flags from their home country, take photos like they were at a zoo, and take off again loudly in their 4×4’s. I asked a local woman I was sitting with what she thought of this. She said, “not so good.” I can’t even imagine what an understatement that must have been for her, and how ironic it was that she was saying it to a western tourist (me).

Even looking at this photo still makes me feel gross. You can see the tourists surrounding the kids, all taking photos of them from above with their phones.


In another scenario, I watched tourists pull over at the entrance gate of a luxury resort where tribal members were selling jewelry. They got out of their vehicle, took photos of these people, and got right back in to check in to their chalet… a resort built on ancestral homeland, from which the indigenous group receives little to no money. Can you see why these behaviors are completely inappropriate?

I am willing to bet if you are reading this that you are not looking to treat people like this, but you should know that it happens, because you will see it happening all around you especially if you are aware of it. So please be intentional with your actions, and ask your fellow travelers thoughtful questions about their behavior when they take photos on their trip.

If you want to bring a gift to a tribe, make it something that the people actually want or need, not just candy or a noisemaking toy because that’s what you think they’d want. Do not go if you are sick. People living in remote areas often do not have access to the same healthcare that you do. Ask permission if you are not sure: permission to take photos, permission to pick up a toddler, permission to enter an area of the village. Don’t assume you are entitled to anything. The terms of your visit should be agreed upon, or you should not be there. If you are considerate and the group welcomes you, visiting with a tribe or local indigenous group can be a great experience, and one I would recommend.

Colby Brown bringing our payment into a Himba village we visited. We bought food for the village based on their requests.


It is no secret that social media puts the focus on the individual. People are now personal brands. I would also argue that it has become cool to show photos of yourself doing altruistic things. Did you really volunteer if there’s no picture of you surrounded by 5-10 smiling (non-white) children, who are just so “happy even though they have nothing”? I am not only referring to the do-good stuff, but also just fun and out-of-the-ordinary travel experiences. Did you really eat a fried bug if there isn’t a video of you to prove it? Did you really saunter through the market if your friends and family don’t have visual proof? I am not saying this type of imagery is inherently negative, but I want to encourage us to think more about it.

Be careful what you pose with, and how you pose with it. Be respectful of religious sites, family businesses, statues and the like. The same goes for people. If you want a photo of yourself with local kids, ask yourself why. What is the photo about? If you’re in it, then well, at least partly, the photo is about you. I know you probably don’t view other human beings as accessories, so make sure that isn’t what you are accidentally communicating photographically.

I don’t think there is a hard line that says all of this type of imagery is problematic, I just think it is important to consider it. Having a photo of yourself in a place can be a wonderful reminder of your time there. I have lots of photos like this of myself. But I know looking back which ones were in good integrity, and which ones I took so I could later post them on Facebook. At the time, I might have told myself I was taking those photos with clean and clear intentions, but when I reflect back, I know it was just because I wanted to look cool and worldly. The only person who will really be able to tell is you, and you will know in your gut what feels right and what feels icky.

Vintage Erin. Here’s me and a couple of friends in Myanmar in 2014. We were hiking in the hills with a guide from a family business in Kalaw. These girls asked to do our makeup with thanaka (common for women to wear on their faces in Myanmar), and I didn’t feel weird about this photo being taken afterward. They were giggling and smiling, even though the girl on the left looks rather serious in this photo.


With powerful editing tools, we are able to easily change many things about a photo, from the color of the sky, to the scale of just about anything. A photographer’s editing decisions can transform an image to something much more impressive than it was as a RAW file. However, extreme editing of images can be misleading in certain scenarios. It is up to the photographer to decide what is acceptable.

When it comes to respectfully displaying culture through your photography, the amount of editing you do matters. Whereas I might get super creative with colors and lights/darks in my landscape images, I would never make any huge changes in a photo of a person where it mattered to their story. I don’t want to tell a story that was not true to how I saw it. Alternatively, I might edit an image heavily if the edit lends itself to the way I felt when I took the image.

One recent example of a choice I personally made in post-processing is in my images from visiting a Himba village in Namibia. I didn’t want to evoke a possible feeling of pity from the viewer, so I chose to Photoshop out a couple of flies and some stray stuff from my subject’s face and hair. Was it the right choice to make these edits? I’m not sure there is one. Here’s the before and after:


In another case, I changed the colors in the sky drastically. I liked this change stylistically, and I felt that the edit was consistent with how the scene felt in the moment. I posted this image on social media, and it’s likely that my audience assumed that these were the natural colors of the sunset that night. They weren’t.


Editing is a stylistic choice. Personally, I usually do not like to stretch my images too far from the reality of how it felt being there, but “too far” is completely relative. Some photographers are digital artists too, and create mind-blowing fantastical composites of their images. I think these are completely valid (and beautiful) too. What are the limits of photo manipulation? Should an image only be allowed to portray 100% reality?

You may completely disagree with my post-processing choices here, and that’s OK. These decisions are up to the individual to make.


Most of us want to share our work, but with the ease of sharing online, you don’t always know where your photo will end up, or what the ramifications of that might be. Here’s an example: the featured photo of this article. I had this woman’s permission to take her photo, but did she know it would be used in a blog post and that thousands of people would see it? I can’t be sure. And yet, I am making a conscious decision to use her photo because her pose and expression communicates discernment, something I want to convey in this blog post. Some people might not agree with my choice to use this picture of her here, and I would understand that.

In the outdoor community, it is common for people to get upset, and rightfully so, if someone posts a photo of a tent at the edge of a pristine alpine lake, or a photo of a hammock set up across fragile trees. Not only might these activities be harmful to the environment and prohibited, but the act of posting images like this on social media could mean that more people go to these areas and engage in these activities, which then creates a domino effect. Monkey see, monkey do.

I should be aware that if I post something on Instagram, someone else might emulate my behavior.


Once you post a photo, it departs the confines of your camera, computer and imagination and gets given to the viewer… and to the internet. You don’t have control over an image anymore after posting it on social media. Ask yourself what that photo will mean when it stands alone, without your words or experience or defense.

Think twice before posting a photo that oversimplifies a complicated issue or displays something out of context. I’m not saying it’s always wrong–– I am just saying it is worthy of your consideration.

If you have taken photos of an endangered species, especially one that faces a poaching threat, be sure to wipe your metadata. Poachers have been known to take advantage of the ignorance of tourists by using their geotags and metadata from their images to locate individual animals. Here is an excellent resource on removing metadata, compiled by photographer Olwen Evans and shared with me by Rob Moffett from Ongava Game Reserve.

It’s entirely possible that someone could unknowingly publish a photo that could identify someone breaking the law or doing something that could be seen as such by their government. Sometimes as the photographer, we get swept up in the moment and in our own excitement of documenting and creating, but something that seems arbitrary to us could heavily impact someone else.


There are so many photographers that inspire me, and I follow most of them on social media. As with any art form, as artists, we’ll always be inspiring each other and drawing our inspiration from the community at least some of the time. Everyone does it, and it’s not like there are that many truly original thoughts, concepts or ideas in the world.

When is it OK to get inspired by someone, and when does that turn into straight up copying them? Where is the line? I think it is usually clear to see when an image is an exact copy, versus cases where someone may have been inspired by another photographer and shot the same location, or a different scene in a similar style.

I am all for inspiration, but much like plagiarism in writing, exact copying is never OK.

Personally speaking, there have been cases where I have noticed people taking my writing word-for-word, or certain phrases that I always use, and putting them in their Instagram bios or on their blogs. Usually these are folks who are aspiring bloggers or photographers themselves… and I do notice. If you copy another photographer, especially one you look up to, it does not reflect well on you.

Getting inspiration from someone else is fine… we all do it! And it is totally expected that we experiment with different styles, especially when starting out. But there is a line between inspiration and stealing.


If you end up with the opportunity to sell your images, either as prints or by licensing the rights, congrats! It is exciting that people want to purchase your work.

If the photo in question is a portrait, and you do not have a signed model release, you will have to ask yourself if it’s in your integrity to license or sell a print of that photo, knowing the person in the photo will never see any of the money you made. They might never know you did it, but that doesn’t make it right.

On the other hand, selling a print of a portrait might mean your work is displayed in someone’s home or office. Maybe it’s a conversation starter. Maybe it touches someone and encourages them to see the world or research conservation issues. Maybe this is a stretch… but maybe it’s not.

If you plan to sell your photos from the beginning, I recommend making sure you can legally (and ethically) shoot at your proposed location, and that your models, if applicable, are fully informed and have signed something confirming their understanding.

There are photographers I greatly respect with a wide range of opinions on everything I have discussed above. My opinions are not unique, but there are plenty of folks who oppose them, too. These can be incredibly controversial issues and are questions every individual photographer should ask themselves.

Any photographer can tell you that they have taken photos they should not have taken. Our stances on issues change over time. I am sure I have invaded privacy, and even exploited people for the sake of a photo, and that is both selfish and self-involved. If this happens to you and you feel as though you have overstepped a boundary, learn from it and apply that moving forward.

Photography is powerful. I have always believed that. As the photographer, you have moral and ethical responsibilities. By taking a photo, and by sharing it, you have the responsibility to preserve and communicate your subject’s dignity. Do not take this responsibility lightly. Like so much else in photography, travel photography requires being in tune with your intuition–– paying attention to what feels right and wrong, and using your intellect on top of that to question the implications of the photograph you are taking.

There is a lot to think about here, but it is all in the interest of being the best and most responsible photographers we can be. Hopefully by thinking through these topics, we can create impactful images that catalyze and promote positive change in the world.

This is a hefty topic, and I’m sure I left some things out that should be discussed. Let me know in the comments.

Feature photo of a Himba woman in Namibia in her village outside of Opuwo, taken with permission.


Travel Won’t Fix You

Travel won’t fix you. Maybe that’s a strange thing to say, and maybe you disagree. Maybe you have had an experience so profound that it did turn you into a better version of yourself. So let me clarify.

Some of us are guilty of driving off into the sunset and thinking that is the end of the story–– poof, our worries are over.

The story never ends with just us and the sunset. For travel to be a permanent fix, you’d have to be running forever. And running, well, it takes energy and stamina and a lot of drive, and it can get uncomfortable quickly if you’re not used to it.

I don’t know if you’re looking to be fixed or righted or patched up in some way. I know that’s not what travel, by itself, does at all. Indeed, flinging yourself into the unknown is rarely comforting.

So if you are wanting to be free of your imperfections, do not seek travel. Should you find yourself chest deep in worry, know that the view from the airplane window will not absolve it for you. And if you head down the road looking for that something you can’t quite name… well, the act of seeking offers no guarantee of defining it any sooner.

I don’t share this in order to be discouraging… that’s the last feeling I want to leave you with. I promise there is hope in here.

I want you to know that travel isn’t going to fix you without your participation. Throughout my adult life, and perhaps throughout yours, there was always this hint that travel is the miracle cure for dullness, for heartbreak, for existential crisis. But in my experience, travel made all of those things way worse at some point before any of them got better.

I sought travel for the first time when I was 21. I, like many, was guilty of romanticizing it–– I thought cobblestone streets and port wine on the river would result in the clarity I was so desperately seeking. I was a student of many things, but I wasn’t truly learning from life quite yet. I was a stubborn student of myself alone, thinking I knew everything in my short existence.

Travel, like many things I thought I understood, kicked my ass.

Another time I hoped for a quick fix, I moved to Australia for a year with $800 cash and a backpack. What could go wrong? Sitting in my room in a suburb on the outskirts of Perth, I stared at emails from friends telling me just how lucky I was. Meanwhile, I was just getting by. No fireworks or exciting love story. Just working a full-time retail job like I could have done at home, except with less friends and more depression. But it’s supposed to be better than this, I thought. It’s supposed to be exotic and fun and adventurous, right? Funny thing… you will not enjoy something if you’re constantly labeling your experience as lesser-than.

I remember biting off more than I could chew on more than one occasion. More than one solo trip I thought I could conquer. More than one hotel room I didn’t leave during daylight hours. More than one landmark I did not visit because I was too anxious to go alone.

I have done stupid things in more countries than I can count. Fell in love once, lust more than once. Hiked up mountains unprepared, stood on a volcano in a thunderstorm like a human lightning rod. Not smart. I trusted the wrong people and offended the right ones, got ripped off and fooled and hurt and embarrassed. In New Zealand, my ex-boyfriend and I had a screaming match in our car in the pouring rain. Travel didn’t fix us then. I still feel the heartbreak of that scene, the bruise of it. But travel had no way of holding me back from myself–– instead, it peeled away all the layers of home to show me who I really was, and why I made the choices that I did. Through all of it, the stuff I’ve shared publicly and everything I never will,  I feel lucky to be alive and carrying all of those experiences with me.

No matter how hard a trip was, no matter how tough it was, or how broken I felt, I kept coming back. I kept making it work. I kept saving money for the next trip, or applying for the next job in a new place, or couch-surfing in whatever city I could get a cheap flight to.

Yes, there was fear that felt bigger than me. There was my heart beating fast in my chest on trains and in taxis and other places that should have just been easy. There was disappointment and boredom and anxiety and enough dread to fill a mid-life crisis. There was challenge and pain and joy and triumph, too. Because the things I dealt with in my life were never going to just disappear and be replaced by what I thought travel would be. Travel just added another layer. A thick one.

I began to see that although travel would never fix me, it would give me more challenge to work with. It would help me build my toolbox, so I kept coming back to it. Travel requires you to do more. It requires deliberate choices. It puts all of the weight on your two shoulders and asks you to name the specifics of each day, each moment.

When I thought travel would spit me out clean and whole, I was wrong. I wanted travel to scoop me up in big comforting arms and sing me to sleep. But it doesn’t do that. Travel is far more discerning than that–– it’ll put you through wringers you didn’t know existed. Travel had me overcoming impossible odds, finding serendipity and meeting God, though I could have never identified any of that at the time.

So when I say that travel won’t fix you, know that I mean it lovingly. I mean it with excitement and joy and incredible hope.

It does not fix you and does not make you more comfortable in your pain. It does not soften loss. It will not gloss over the mistakes you’ve made, or patch a broken heart. It can’t promise to heal you or give you clarity, regardless of if you are looking for it or not. But maybe after all the miles you’ve walked, and the stories you’ve lived, travel will present you an opportunity. And maybe in that, you’ll find the strength to fix yourself.

Model: Adaeze Azubuike.


Deep Thoughts from 2017

Every year I write these yearly personal reflection posts, I start with some kind of statement like “what a year,” (wow that’s very original, Erin) and 2017 was no different.

I want to note that the title “deep thoughts” is meant to be facetious, if you didn’t already get that. These are entirely personal, and none of them are going to cure cancer. But I share them because if they help one person, then that’s enough.

This was a year that many things really came full circle for me, the biggest theme being my creative interests. I have written before about my longtime passion for photography–– something I had given up on in my early 20’s out of fear and doubt. The second half of this year marked my full return to it.

In continuing my yearly tradition (Deep Thoughts from 2016, 2015 and 2014), here are my very personal reflections from 2017.


Short-term wins are great ego boosters. One-time gigs can be a good thing (and even necessary!) for your bank account. But if they are not contributing to your long-term vision for your future and the world you want to live in, my opinion is that it may deserve more thought. Sometimes we don’t know what the hell our long term vision is in the first place. But with every opportunity, relationship, and job we pursue, we can ask ourselves if that thing is aligned with how we want to be and/or the vision we want to work toward. This way of thinking allows us to say no to the wrong things and make room for the right things.


From time to time, I look back on articles on this blog and find it so funny how I wrote as if I had answers! I never had answers, and I still don’t–– but this is the most comfortable I have ever been with admitting what I don’t know. As a recovering know-it-all, this feels really good and refreshing. This year, admitting the room I had to grow allowed me to learn from friends and mentors more than I ever have.

Earlier this year, I was at a Sony conference and plopped myself down next to landscape, travel and humanitarian photographer Colby Brown. He was super friendly and receptive, so I asked him a few questions about his path and business and took his feedback to heart. Fast forward six months and I found myself in a helicopter with Colby above the Namib Desert in Namibia. This is because I identified him as someone I could really learn from, and did whatever I could to get myself in a position where I could work for, with, or alongside him. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of mentorship, and the investment (time, energy, money) that it requires.


I’m a God person, but please feel free to substitute The G Word for The Universe, or simply for your own inner wisdom, as I truly think this applies to everyone regardless of spiritual belief. Look, you get a lot of clues in life if you are open to receiving them. Until this year I ignored the things that were right in front of me– signs that were all around me consistently– because I thought I knew better! THAN GOD. Noooooo. Things that are not for you will never be for you, no matter how much you try to push and pull and manipulate them. Things that are for you will always be. Stop trying to contort yourself into a job, relationship or situation that isn’t working. Let go and see what flows instead.


I can still hear my grandmother repeating “patience is a virtue” to me as a kid, advice that always fell on stubborn ears. I have historically rushed into things and wanted to see immediate successes, but there are some things that are really only good with time. There is no substitute for practice or experience, and you can’t get down on yourself for lack of results if you haven’t been actively trying for a good while. So do your thing consistently over a long period of time. Know when to pursue something, but also be gentle with the process, and know when to be patient (personal progress), and when not to be (standing up for what is right).


How amazing is it that you will never be successful running someone else’s race? You will never be able to do exactly what they’ve done, because you aren’t them! Their shoes won’t fit you. How incredible is it that you have full permission to stop comparing yourself to anyone else, because it is actually 100% absurdly useless?! Ha!!! This one felt like unlocking a secret golden treasure room, one that I hope to return to whenever I need the reminder.

Your path is yours and yours only. Don’t know where your lane is yet? That is OK. You’re already on it, so stop trying to force it. Experiment with anything that feels exciting to you, and if you fall into the comparison trap (we all do), scoop yourself right back out.

I would love to hear about your reflections from this year, so please share them with me in the comments or link me to your blog posts. Here’s to another year of learning for all of us. Wishing you a healthy winter solstice and a joyous start to 2018.


How to Become an Adventure Photographer

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.



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. If you’re ready to invest some money into your knowledge base, CreativeLive is an incredible resource.

CreativeLive is an online education platform offering tons of classes–– everything from photo editing to confidence to technical aspects of business. I put together a list of my recommendations here.

Getting started can feel messy, but there will never be a perfect way to do it, so do your best with what you have


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


2017 Gift Guide

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.



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.


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.


Screen Shot 2017-10-08 at 10.41.55 PM

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!


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.

leatherman cs3

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.

travel pillow

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.


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.


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.

brainstorm print

Science and nature inspired prints from Brainstorm / $40+
These prints are inspired by the outdoors and are a fun way to brighten up your indoor space. I enjoy the Northern & Southern Hemisphere Star Chart prints… allows me to study constellations instead of fully zoning out in moments of daydreaming.


Dr. Roebuck’s FACE Moisturizer / $45
This is a new product for me, but in the past month it has been a total treat for my skin, which gets exposed to lots of elements throughout my travels. I am always wary of products that say “anti-aging”, and almost never seek them out, as personally I’m not trying to go against aging–– but this cream has totally hydrated and calmed my skin. You can also pick it up in travel size as part of this kit.

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!