Travel Expectations vs. Reality

You’ve been sitting in the airport for a couple hours by now and your flight should be boarding any minute.  After months of planning and getting all of your gear together, you finally find yourself on the verge of leaving for your new adventure.  They call out your flight number. Your heart is racing.  In the back of your mind you know that you still have about 6 hours of sitting on a plane, but you don’t care because you are on your way.

We’ve all been there, so excited for our upcoming trip that we can’t think straight.  And after reading through the tour book five times and looking at the vibrant pictures over and over, we begin to build up a few too many expectations.  I just went on a three-week adventure through Mexico and Belize and it was an incredible trip.  Mexico far exceeded my expectations, but I had built up Belize in my mind so much that I forgot about the economic hardships the country is facing.

Expectations.

For being such a small country, Belize has incredibly diverse ecosystems and wildlife, frombelize-beaches.jpg beaches to jungle.  They have animals and creatures that I have only seen in movies including 590 species of birds (two of which are globally endangered), conch, stingrays, sharks, howler monkeys, iguanas, and the list goes on.  You could spelunk through caves, hike through jungles, scuba dive in any of the 190 mile-long barrier reef, fish…the possibilities never end.

So naturally, I imagined Belize to be this sparkling picturesque country.  Don’t get me wrong, I had a extraordinary experience; but it was also eye-opening.

Reality.

My adventures in Belize began on Caye Caulker, which is like a fairy tale island and naturally built up my false expectations even more.  After a couple days of backpacker paradise, I took a water taxi inland to Belize City and then a bus across the country to San Ignacio.  This is where my fantasy delusions were shattered.  Belize City and the bulk of the country are incredibly poor.

Their public buses are old school buses that come from the U.S. and after speaking with a few locals, I learned that the education system needs a lot of help.  Their unemployment rate is up around 11% compared to the US’ 5.5%.   The country comes from a very different background: their history books teach about being colonized rather than colonizing others and the country did not have complete independence until 1981.  So imagine that for a second. How would your ideals change if you grew up in a country on the other side of history?

Belize unemployement rate

Realization.

This adventure was unlike any trip I have taken before.  I have been to “third-world countries” in the past but Belize was unique in a way that is difficult to explain.  The DSC_0527_JPG.jpgBelizean people are different than any other nationality because of how welcoming and accepting they are.  After meeting many of the locals, I noticed that the people as a whole are unbelievably appreciative for what they have despite the hardships they face.  And that realization is what made my trip.

I don’t know if I could see myself living in Belize, but it is definitely a country that I will return to.  I can’t seem to get enough of the diverse environment and remarkable culture.

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The Beauty of Limitations

We are digital. Whether through our phones, our computers, our cameras, or even our watches, nowadays our brains move at warp speed.  Some days I feel like I have information overload because of the mass of words and images that fly past my eyes. But where this fast-moving world has the greatest effect on me is my art.

Too much Space.

When I go out with my camera, I make sure to take at least 3 SD cards so that I have plenty of space for thousands of images and will never miss a shot.  And god forbid that I run out of space or lose a card, I still have my smart phone.  But at the end of the day, this gives me 16+GB worth of crappy photos.

When I allow myself this much room for error, I don’t slow down and plan out each photograph like I used to when I only had a roll of film.  So when I go out shooting, sometimes I only allow myself to bring my Diana camera with one, MAYBE two rolls of film.

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Try this yourself. 

You may not have a film camera, but I bet you can find a cheap one at a thrift store or go get a disposable camera from Walgreens…remember those???

And if you’re not a film person, that’s okay too.  Instead, take your digital camera and put a 1GB memory card in there. Yes, only 1GB. I promise you’ll be okay. And at the end of the day, I’m willing to bet that you are going to have 10 images you will actually want to look at again instead of 5,000 images that you store away forever.

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Guidelines. They’re a wonderful thing.

Do you ever wonder how you wrote so many impressive papers or made endless intriguing art projects in school, but now that you’re a grown up you can’t seem to make squat?  That’s because you constantly had professors give you printed projects with bullet points and specific requirements.

Now do the same for yourself.  Pick three goals you want to accomplish by the end of your photo shoot or writing exercise.  This will force you to narrow in on certain ideas and come out with a better end product.  Otherwise, you’re just walking around looking at pretty things and snapping a quick tiresome picture.

So limit yourself.

Not in the negative sense of the word in which you take away all artistic freedom, but just enough that you can narrow in on what you want to accomplish.  Have fun with it! …and put some thought into it.

 

Is a Picture Still Worth a Thousand Words?

As you read this blog post, you are sitting at your computer staring through the glowing screen and scrolling up and down in your web browser . Using my mind-reading powers, I am assuming that your cell phone is laying somewhere in arms reach and there is probably another electronic device somewhere in the near vicinity, whether it is a TV, smart watch, Kindle…the list goes on.

NY Times article 1800s

NY Times article 1800s

Now take a second to imagine a world before all of these illuminated mechanical devices when you had to look at printed paper to find out what was happening in the world.  Believe it or not, at one point the printing press was the biggest phenomenon since sliced bread; and let me tell you, sliced bread was pretty damn exciting.

So here you are in the early 1800s getting your daily dose of news in the morning and if something life-changing happens, you won’t find out until the tomorrow morning. And don’t forget that there are no photographs, so whatever is happening in your country, you are learning about through someone else’s writing.  But suddenly in the 1840s, photographs are being printed in newspapers and you no longer have to rely on writing; you can now see history with your own eyes!  Fun fact: the first images to be printed in newspapers were of wars because the government would pay these photographers to document the events. 

A picture really was worth a thousand words back then because looking at a war images could tell you more than a full page worth of text.  But is a picture still worth a thousand words?

Mathew Brady Civil War photo 1862

Mathew Brady Civil War photo 1862

Time traveling back to modern day, we see thousands of images everyday; they flood our lives to the point that we don’t even realize it anymore.  Instead of craving a photo in the 1800s to learn the truth about the world, I find myself yearning for text without images because I’m tired of being manipulated.  I can hardly believe that every one of the thousand of images I see daily has a thousand words of meaning.  I certainly don’t look to photographs for truth anymore, but more so for embellishment or attractiveness of an article.

We don’t just look at pictures, we take them…a ton of them.  Why use words when you can freeze an image of what you are doing at that very moment and post it instantly?  The more we post mediocre staged images of our lives, the less impact they have on the people viewing them and seem to just be part of the daily routine.

So is a picture still worth a thousand words?  You tell me…what do you think?

Are You Sure You Want to Get Paid to Travel?

The quick-witted young photojournalist strolls out of the A train to head to JFK airport as she puts on her aviators to block out the intense glare of the sun on a particularly frigid August morning.  She had just wrapped up a meeting with her editor around 11:45 the night before to ensure that she had a solid plan for the shots she needs in Nigeria the following day.  Her flight is in a little over an hour which gives her just enough time to add the finishing touches on her story about the Venezuelan National Bank from last week.  Life has been a little hectic lately but there’s never a dull moment, she thought, and always a new place to discover.

Eve Arnold: One of the first women to receive recognition as a photojournalist.

This is how I envisioned my life when I was a young 18 year old, new to college and trying to figure out which path to take.  No matter which way I chose to go, my life would be completely different down the road.  It was a daunting choice, but also an exciting one.  Get paid to travel; that was the only thing running through my head.  Become a photojournalist, I thought, and live in the Big Apple, constantly bouncing from one country to the next.  All I have ever wanted to do is experience the vast array of cultures around the globe and what better way to do so than get paid by The New York Times.  It sounded like a great idea, until I realized towards the end of college that this was a dying profession.  Who needs photojournalists when everyone has cell phones these days?

But that didn’t stop me from dreaming.  My next grand life plan was to become a fashion photographer and travel around the world to exotic locations shooting for the top magazines, but little did I know what that entailed.  I moved to New York (check out my older blog post about NYC) right after I graduated college and worked in a still life photo studio.  I met a ton of fascinating people and needless to say, I learned an overwhelming amount about the business, including one of the key pieces of insight: knowing when to shut my mouth.  So I would like to be able to tell you that this experience got me one step closer to being a world traveling fashion photographer but it didn’t.  In fact, it made me realize that it’s not all it is cracked up to be.  A good friend of mine told me that he assisted on a fashion shoot on the beaches of Italy for five days without getting to see anything but that same beach for 15 hours a day and his hotel room briefly before he passed out every night.  Not to mention that shooting on a beach sucks: it’s hot, you get sun-burned and you get sand in every imaginable place on your body… not ideal.

I now work as a freelance photography assistant and retoucher in Milwaukee at a large studio that doesn’t allow me to work for more than 40 hours per week.  And because I am my own boss, I can take vacation whenever I want, so I will be taking a month off to travel to Mexico and Belize in December.  Although this wasn’t my exact plan, I found a better way of getting paid to travel.  Here’s the secret: work, save, then travel.

Inspire Me! …It’s Not That Easy

Finding inspiration is tricky, especially when you’re out of art school working 40+ hours per week, dealing with moving to a new apartment, trying to meet people in a new city and just trying to keep up with the other endless things that need to get done.  Needless to say, I’ve been busy and not doing so well at keeping up with my blog.

I have my days when the inspirational juices are flowing or moments when brilliant artistic ideas pop into my head, but I’ll be at work and can’t run with it.  How do I inspire myself to write or make art at the perfect time?  This isn’t something they taught me in school, nor did they warn me that once out of school, it will be REALLY hard to force myself to make art.  So how can we get those magical thoughts moving?

For one, always have a pen and paper handy because you never know what will jump into that messed up brain of yours.  Although, after following my own advice, I have random notes in all forms scattered everywhere.

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Second, get off your phone and allow yourself to get bored once in a while.  How can our minds wander if we are always distracted by games or Facebook? I promise you, if you get bored enough and start daydreaming of far-away lands or mystical creatures.  Don’t you remember all those high school classes that you never paid attention to? Manoush Zomorodi does a great podcast about this on her podcast Note to Self.

Third, constantly look for new art outlets and learn as much as you can.  There’s art everywhere in so many forms and now that we’re a global world, it’s so easy to access.  Read blogs, find new exhibits in your city, go to live shows and learn from those artists!  Watch, listen, interpret, throw yourself into the art and I guarantee that a lightbulb will go on in your head.

And probably the most important (which I need to be better at) is practice.  Our artistic inspiration is like a muscle; if we don’t use it, it will get harder and harder to flex. So keep creating.  You don’t have to craft a masterpiece every day, just make something.

Albert Einstein said it best: “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination.”

Technology and Travel: Do They Mix?

Our world is constantly changing around us and with every new day, comes more advanced technology: a new smart phone here, a cutting-edge software program there, and even smart watches that are attached to us.  These devices make our lives easier, allow us to take shortcuts or “life hacks” in our day-to-day routine and connect us to people around the world.  But what does this mean to us as travelers?  Does this ever-changing world of technology benefit or hurt us?

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photo by Erin Bloodgood

Just for the record, I managed to backpack around Europe (partly by myself) without a phone for a month and I survived.  We know that ‘most of us’ are able to travel without a smart phone, but we no longer have to; we can use this device that opens up so many doors for us.  We can quickly look up the translation of a word we don’t know or capture flawless photos without having to carry a bulky camera or message people on Facebook to meet up with them in a foreign country.  But what do we lose from this? You no longer have to learn a word in another language because you can easily Google it…why bother memorizing anything?  As a photographer, I become lazy by using my phone and quickly snapping photos instead of setting up my shot to get the perfect lighting and admire the scenery I am shooting.  You can easily meet your friend from home in a strange city, but you can lose the mystery of traveling and miss out on a random adventure with the people you meet in a hostel.  The list goes on, but for me personally…I need to escape sometimes.

Smart phones and social media are incredible ways to connect to with people you’ve met abroad or friends you’re just not ready to let go of, but most of all, they are a great way to speak with family when you’re across the globe and feeling a little homesick.

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photo by Erin Bloodgood

But as electronics become a more global phenomenon, I’m finding that I have to go farther and farther to escape them.  I don’t always want to be connected.  Occasionally I search for that silent spot in the middle of the mountains with no cell reception, where all you can do is marvel at the boundless stars filling the blackness above you.  There is something peaceful and terrifying about knowing that no one can find you and you are completely alone in an unknown terrain.

Technology opens so many doors for us, allowing us to break barriers when we travel, but it also hinders us.  We can easily get lost in the screen we hold in front of our face because we forget to look up.  From time to time, we must turn off our screens and look up. Look up at the breathtaking world in front of you.