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How to Become an Adventure Photographer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

YOU HAVE TO START

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

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

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

FIND YOUR UNIQUE VOICE

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

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

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

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

MAKE YOURSELF KNOWN

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

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

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

UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS A BUSINESS

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

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

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

GETTING CLIENTS

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

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

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

UNCERTAINTY IS INEVITABLE

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

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

BE A GOOD PERSON

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

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

GO ON ADVENTURES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ending with some words from photographer and filmmaker Andy Best:

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

A post shared by Andy Best (@andy_best) on

Similar posts on the blog for you to check out:


 

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

OUTDOORS TRAVEL

2017 Gift Guide

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

PHOTOGRAPHY

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL & OUTDOOR

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

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

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

Tea Tree Special Conditioner 10.14 oz.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

OTHER IDEAS

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

Books /

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

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

cotopaxi outdoorsy shirt

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

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

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


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

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

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

TRAVEL TRIP REPORTS

Two Weeks in Namibia

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Mars or Namibia?

 

WHEN TO GO

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

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

WHAT TO PACK

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

 

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

Cotopaxi Roca 50L

Cotopaxi Roca 50L

 

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

OUR ITINERARY

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

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

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

Click on photo for map on Google maps.

Click on photo to access this map on Google maps.

 

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

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

Days 2 & 3: Sossusvlei

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the kids playing with our cameras :)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Highly recommended.

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

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

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

Day 14: Fly out of Windhoek

Goodbye, Namibia!

OTHER HELPFUL INFO

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

Colby's view photographing Kolmanskop.

Colby’s view photographing Kolmanskop.

 

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

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

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

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

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

MY PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL

How to Come Back to Reality after Traveling

Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIND YOUR HOME GROOVE

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

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

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

SHIFT YOUR FOCUS

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

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

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

APPLY WHAT YOU LEARNED

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

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

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

PLAN SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO

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

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


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

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

PACKING LISTS TRAVEL

Packing List: Adventure Travel in Europe

This is what I brought for a 5 week summer trip to New York City, Connecticut, London, Greece (islands and mountains), and Ireland.

I pack my stuff in a 50L duffel bag (Cotopaxi 50L Chumpi Duffel) and a 26L backpack (Cotopaxi 26L Cusco Backpack) as my daypack. Please note that if the airline is weighing your stuff, you MAY have to check your duffel bag, so make sure you can put all your valuables in your daypack just in case, and weigh your bag beforehand so you know what to expect. Every airline is different.

In general, I find that it’s always better to bring too little rather than too much stuff. As long as you have your necessities, you can buy most things abroad. There are a couple of items on the list below that I forgot to mention in the video! Use your best judgment and keep in mind what you typically use on a daily basis.

MY BASIC PACKING LIST FOR ADVENTURE TRAVEL

  • Shoes – I don’t mind the extra weight because I like variety.
  • Shirts – 9, a few of which can be dressed up
  • Pants & Shorts
    • 2 jeans – one nice
    • 2 shorts – one nice
    • 1 flowy beach pant
    • 1 running shorts
    • 1 pair leggings
    • 1 pair cozy sweats
    • NOTE: I trade out one pair of jeans for more leggings and running shorts if I know I will be doing a lot of hiking or other outdoor activities on the trip.
  • Layers
    • 1 cozy sweater/sweatshirt
    • 1 warm jacket – I bring the Cotopaxi Kusa Bomber
    • 1 rain jacket if you’re going somewhere it’s for sure gonna rain
  • Underwear – Lots. I bring 14+ pairs.
  • Bras – 7 sports bras or bralettes
  • Swimsuit– 1 or 2. I forgot this in the video. SORRY!
  • Socks
    • 1 cozy
    • 3 athletic
    • 3 casual
  • Bandanas– I bring 4.
  • Laundry bag
  • Tech etc.
    • Camera with Internal Camera Unit (alternatively, I recommend using a camera bag instead of a regular backpack if your trip is very photography focused)
    • Lightweight tripod if you are planning on shooting night photography or lots of self-timer shots
    • Batteries
    • Mophie charger
    • 2 hard drives or back-ups for your data
    • Camera battery charger
    • Converter if necessary
    • Memory card reader
    • Memory cards
    • Laptop
    • Laptop charger
    • Phone charger
    • Headphones
    • Small multi-tool that’s “travel friendly” – I have the Leatherman Style PS. Be aware that TSA can take anything from you, depending on the agent!
  • Small TSA approved lock
  • Toiletries (all under 100mL and can fit inside a 1 quart ziplock bag)
    • Shampoo
    • Conditioner
    • Body wash/soap
    • Facewash/makeup remover
    • Dry shampoo
    • Deoderant
    • Makeup
    • Tweezers if not in your multi-tool
    • Curling iron (if you’re me)
  • Journal
  • Paperback book or kindle
  • Wallet with cash, credit cards, ATM card and ID
  • Passport
  • Water bottle
  • Ibuprofen and/or small first aid kit
    • Bandaids
    • Betadine (also doubles as emergency water treatment)
    • Alcohol wipes
    • Earplugs (if you are a light sleeper like me, these are a lifesaver)

Some parting words…

On my first trip abroad, I packed as if shirts did not exist anywhere else. Spoiler alert!!! They do. Also, you can buy pants abroad. And toothbrushes. And most other necessary items. Over the years, I’ve noticed that I never say “oh damn, I packed too light.” It is always the other way around–– I am usually kicking myself for overpacking, wishing I had left more room to bring home cool stuff from my travels or just traveled lighter in general.

Overall, my advice is to pack for the type of adventure you are going on. I have traveled with suitcases, expedition packs, duffel bags… and this is what works for me! Know that you will most likely not get it perfect the first time, and that’s OK! You will figure out what works and what doesn’t while you’re on the road– follow your best guess now and you’ll learn to adjust where necessary.

If this video was helpful, let me know in the comments below!

TRAVEL

Traveling with Anxiety

Trigger warning: this post talks about my experiences with anxiety, including dermatillomania and bulimia, and could potentially be triggering.

When I started this website, I imagined it as a travel blog. It started because my friends and family were constantly asking me how I traveled so much and so cheaply– so I figured I’d write the answers in one place. I have since written about a wide range of topics, but my experiences traveling inform my writing regardless of what it’s about.

For the first time since starting this blog, I’m going fully nomadic for a little while. I’m not a stranger to the lifestyle– I did it for three years– but it’s still a change. And unsurprisingly, as with any uncertain transition, my anxiety is making itself known.

I have always struggled with anxiety, but I didn’t know what it was. As a kid, I didn’t know how to name it– I just thought something must have been wrong with me. The other explanation I had was that everyone was struggling, and nobody was talking about it. I didn’t actually seek help for this stuff until I was in college.

In high school, I developed an eating disorder. It was something I thought I could control even when everything else felt crazy. With the eating disorder came a skin picking habit– I would stand in front of the mirror and scrutinize my face, trying to pick and pop at just about anything. I justified it as normal teenager stuff, but it wasn’t.

I remember being frozen in my dorm room, dreading my next class– not because I didn’t like the class, but because I had to physically get myself there. And I’d go, but what should have been easy just wasn’t. I’d walk through campus and feel like everyone was staring at me. I’d sit down in the studio or lecture hall, ears ringing, heart pounding, exhausted.

This is nowhere near all of it, but it should give you an idea.

So I started seeing a therapist. I heard a lot of new words– official names for what I struggled with. And the more I learned about what I was experiencing, the more I wanted to learn. The more I wanted to work on it. And I promised myself I would not let my anxiety get in the way of my life.

It’s one thing in theory, and another in practice. My first opportunity at solo travel came when a colleague of one of my professors invited me to come intern at a marine lab in Portugal. I was thrilled, and immediately started putting a plan in place. This was going to be my first time abroad– and I was going to do it by myself. I pictured my life there, what it would look like, what my friends would be like, all the cool outfits I would wear and all the European trips I’d be able to take.

A few months later, I flew to Porto. And when the novelty of everything wore off, I felt like I had made a horrible mistake. My anxiety was big. For the first few days, I didn’t even leave my apartment.

With routine, things improved. When I was busy, my brain didn’t have the space for anxiety. But it took a few months in Portugal for things to feel normal, and I learned it the hard way. Nobody told me I’d feel scared and nervous all the time. Nobody told me how intimidating it would be. Nobody talks about the harder part of travel.

I kept pushing. I figured I was already in Europe, so I was going to go see it regardless of if my anxiety wanted to tag along. So I traveled, and so did my anxiety. We went to Barcelona for a weekend. We went to Amsterdam. We went to Paris, but didn’t even go to the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t eat dinner that night, and instead retreated to my hostel dorm bed and tried to wait out the wave and the tightness in my chest.

My anxiety is very physical. My heart feels like it’s being squeezed. It’s a dull ache and it’s very, very real.

But I decided a long time ago that my anxiety is not in charge of my life– I am. Here are the tools I use, often daily, to manage my anxiety in my adventurous life, especially while traveling.

PLAN AHEAD & PREPARE

My outdoorsy folks will recognize this as the first principle of Leave No Trace. It applies here in a big way. Travel involves many unknowns, and anxiety does not like unknowns. So plan for it as much as you can. When you’re thinking about your trip, if you feel stressed about a certain aspect, plan for it. If I suspect I’m going to be stressed about a particular thing, I probably will be. So book your accommodation for the first few days at least. Look at maps, create a list of things you want to do or see, and make a plan for how you’re going to get around. Equip yourself with information. Unknowns are inevitable, but when you’ve done the research, your anxiety has less to hold on to.

FIND ROUTINE

Anxiety can make decision-making very difficult. But when part of your day is already planned, you have less decisions to make. Routine doesn’t mean you have to be boring– it just means streamlining part of your day so that it is generally consistent. When traveling, finding routine can be complicated due to place, time zone, food, and tons of other circumstances. So what is in your control? Getting up at the same time every day, journaling before bed every night, exercising, meditating– anything that is independent of place. Start small with the goal of eventually having a basic structure to your day.

HAVE A SUPPORT SYSTEM

Online or offline, know who you can count on if you experience anxiety on the road. Support systems don’t typically land in your lap, so you have to plan for this. Tell people who care about you what you might struggle with while traveling. Think about what would make you feel supported, then tell them how they can be there for you. Reach out when you need help– text or call someone, use a Facebook group, or even writing a letter to someone can help if you don’t have access to power or wifi.

DEVELOP HEALTHY COPING MECHANISMS

You will not always have immediate access to your support system, so it is important to develop skills and tools you can use when anxiety hits. Intentional breathing exercises, journaling prompts, podcasts, calming music, yoga– whatever sounds good to you, get into a habit with it at home so that it’s a natural go-to when you are on the road.

SPLURGE WHEN YOU NEED TO

Have a fund you can dig in to when you just need some self-care. Knowing you’ve got some cash set aside for mental health days is reassuring– it’s comforting to know you can go get yourself a room if you need some space. And if you’re ready to call it, you can use the money to get home sooner than you were planning on. Having the financial cushion here will take some of the edge off.

BE GOOD TO YOUR BODY

Everyone is different, so I will speak for myself here, but I am always more anxious when I am drinking. This sucks (I am a huge fan of craft beer), but I can’t deny it. Hangovers for me are always accompanied by some kind of anxiety or feeling of absolute dread. And although nights out can be fun, they aren’t always worth it. If this is you too, my advice is to limit your drinking, and to drink a lot of water regardless. I also notice that caffeine tends to make me more anxious– and unfortunately, I really love coffee. Overall, notice what your body needs and what it doesn’t. Notice what makes you feel good and what definitely doesn’t. And act accordingly.

GET OUT AND DO SOMETHING

When you get stuck in a worry loop, anxiety wants you to curl up in a ball and not do anything ever again. Thing is, nobody is going to wake you up from your anxiety “nap” (aka laying in bed looking at the ceiling)– so you have to force yourself to do something, even if it’s as simple as walking down the street or sitting in a cafe. Most of the time, getting started on one thing will lead to something else.

DON’T GIVE ENERGY TO WORRY OR STRESS

Many anxious people are very self-aware. You probably fall into that category if you’re reading this. So when you notice yourself worrying, recognize that the worry isn’t really all that useful if it isn’t translated into action. Realize that worry doesn’t usually change outcome. Only worry about what is in your control, and take action on those things.

KNOW YOU CAN ALWAYS CHANGE YOUR MIND

This is your trip and your life. No one decision you make is set in stone. You can always change your mind, so give yourself this freedom and remind yourself of it often. If the plan sucks, change the plan. You can always cut things short or go home.


Anxiety can run your life if you let it. It’s not your fault that you have anxiety, but it is your responsibility to deal with it. I still struggle with my anxiety and all of the manifestations of it, and I know that it’s never going to go away, but that it can be managed.

I am happy to share all of this with you because I want you to know that living an adventurous life with anxiety is possible. I know it’s easier said than done. And it’s not a one-time thing either– this is recurring stuff. Things are allowed to suck. Things are allowed to be really difficult. Know that you have more control than you think you do.

BLOGGING INSPIRATION TRAVEL TRIP REPORTS

Why I Went to Maui (and What I Did)

If it weren’t for the Internet, I’d have way less friends. Seriously, credit for most of my friendships goes to the Internet. Specifically, social media.

The relationships I have made as a result of social media have challenged me, they have brought out the absolute best in me, they have taught me a lot. And they have also gotten me to see some pretty amazing places. One of those places is Maui.

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I met Elisabeth Brentano at the Outdoor Retailer trade show last summer. We chatted for a few minutes and went our separate ways. That was it. But fast-forward seven months and we’re sleeping in a Jeep together on the top of a volcano. What?

Life is full of connection, and connection is awesome. Connection is the reason I do most things in life.

The trip came about because we’re both freelance bloggers and photographers, had some free time, and wanted to go to Hawaii. We kept in touch on Instagram and started talking about our plans. February was open. We both had airline miles to spend, so we bought flights and got curious. We outlined an itinerary, emailed places and people that seemed interesting, flew to Maui, rented a Jeep from Avis and hit the road.

Elisabeth and I both work with sunglasses brand Sunski, and one of their team members lives in Maui. Huge thanks to Raja and Rachel for letting us crash for a few nights! Their house was our first stop, then it was off to Heleakalā for sunset.

Haleakalā is an incredible volcano that I struggled to pronounce on more than one occasion. We drove up for sunset, slept in the car (campground info here) and drove back up to the top at 3am to attempt some star photos and catch sunrise. You have to do this if you go to Maui.

Next up: the road to Hāna is a famous for its stunning views and waterfalls around every (hairpin) turn. There are plenty of places to stop and marvel– do some research here and you will be rewarded. The drive takes 2 hours, but more if you stop at places like Wai’anapanapa State Park like we did.

It’s worth staying overnight in Hāna– a day trip would feel like too much time in the car, especially because the roads are windy. We had a beautiful stay at Travaasa in Hāna. Our bungalow was straight-up gorgeous.

snapped by Elisabeth at Travaasa

Kihei is another place you’ll probably visit when you’re in Maui. We spent a lot of time on Big Beach, aka Makena Beach, where we saw a couple of beautiful sunsets. For food, we had a recommendation for MonkeyPod in Wailea from a few people– and we ended up going back more than once. It has an awesome beer selection for a craft beer nerd like me, plus great food (butternut squash pizza please).

In Kihei, we stayed at a couple of beautiful vacation rentals. I never think about searching for rentals before a trip– I always go straight for AirBnb or to looking at campsites. This was a reminder that sometimes it pays to reach to to individual property owners. I saw Tracy’s Tropical Treasures online and sent Tracy an email. She got back to me right away. We stayed in two of Tracy’s locations, and had the opportunity to photograph a new property for her. The only thing nicer than Tracy’s properties was Tracy herself! I highly recommend that you reach out to her if you’re planning on going to Maui.

Next up we headed to Lahaina. I took surf lessons with Abner at Hang Loose Surf Club. Abner is a rad dude– a go-getter and native Hawaiian who runs 3 businesses. I was super inspired by him. It was also my first time ever *really* standing up on a surfboard. I’ve taken surf lessons before… more than once… but never actually had much success. I recorded the lesson and will be sharing it on YouTube in the next few weeks!

In Lahaina, we stayed at the Plantation Inn, a lovely B&B with gardens and a picturesque pool & jacuzzi. Dinner at their restaurant, Gerard’s, was one of the best meals I have had in recent memory– they’ve been serving some of these dishes for over 30 years. Breakfast was also delicious (get the french toast) and a great start to our last full day.

We had heard amazing things about the Iao Valley, but it is currently closed (Feb 2017) due to heavy rains a few months ago. We opted for the Waihee Ridge Trail, and it did not disappoint. Lush green jungle and views from an impressive ridge. We didn’t hike to the top– we were too busy marveling at the view of the valley below the clouds.

Overall, this trip came about because we got creative with the resources we had, and ultimately because we made it happen. We asked around and stayed flexible.

I wanted to write this post to give you an idea of some of the things we did, but also to share the “Why” behind the trip. I went to Maui because I was curious and because frankly, I didn’t have a good reason not to. On the trip, I took photos all day and edited at night. On more than one occasion, I pondered the idea of a 9-5 job so that I could go on “real” vacation and not have work obligations follow me around everywhere I go. But it’s all about chasing and building the life you want to create, and this is the life I am creating.

A life of adventure. A life of Yes. A life of defining my Why. My lifestyle wasn’t something that happened overnight– it’s something I’ve been working toward ever since I realized I had a choice. You have choices, even if they look like small steps right now. What life do you want to build?