If someone had told me five years ago that some day I would be living in Italy I probably would have laughed at them. Me, a third generation Italian-Canadian from Montreal, heading back to the old country- it was highly improbable. Yet here I am. 25 years old and new resident of Sanremo, a small coastal town on the Italian Riviera, in the stunning region of Liguria.
It does not escape me that I’ve moved to the country my grandparents left for a better life only 65 years ago. I know that for a lot of people that seems strange, contradictory, and even non-sensical. But that doesn’t really concern me. I don’t feel a need to make everyone understand or agree with my choices. I only feel compelled to share what is true for me. And the truth, for me, is that I love Italy. I could spend hours weighing its beauty against its chaos, but no matter which came out on top I would still know that this country has already won me over.
Seven weeks ago I laid one large suitcase down in a tiny flat in the Old Town of Sanremo. The ancient, white stone walls were bare, the dark wooden bookshelves and Moroccan styled archway leading to the kitchen soothing. I didn’t know where to place any of my things. I couldn’t fall asleep the first night. There was too much in my head, too many emotions to process, fundamental questions still unanswered, and no time to write about any of it.
La Pigna is a medieval village dating back over 1000 years, spiralling into a cone shape over Sanremo. I’ve read it was once the pulse of the city, but it is now largely abandoned. The most dominant noise in the area is the sound of stray dogs barking. I can’t help feeling like a character in a storybook every time I walk through its narrow, twisting streets, with their uneven cobbled steps and eclectic, pastel shaded apartments. Fresh laundry hangs freely from the old shutters. Black lanterns adorn the side of each alleyway, inviting wanderers to linger in the maze, eyes always drawn upwards. The area has so much character and so many different influences carved into it. I doubt it could fail to interest anyone.
I’ve seen many places in Italy, but I don’t think there is anywhere quite like Sanremo. I adore everything about this city- the dogs everywhere, the market on Saturday morning, the shops that close down for half the day on Sundays, the anachronistic train station, the sea less than 100 m from my office, the music shows that take place every night during the summer, and the street artists ready to break into song and dance at all hours. There is only a coloured version of Sanremo. This is not the location for black and white photography. It’s the kind of place you can almost believe never sees rain, but when it rains there are flash floods and the city’s economic engine shuts down.
I came here to work for a company that changed my life. I came here to recruit educators and artists to come to Italy and teach Italian children from the Alps to Sicily. This summer I even had the opportunity to continue teaching for three weeks. I feel so incredibly lucky to be in a position where I can do such rewarding work and combine my passion for education and travel. Moreover, I am so happy to be working alongside people who share my joy for our programs and who know so much about Italy. They remind me why this country is so impossible to escape and that one is never fully finished discovering it.
I live within walls that claim over 800 years of history and my own history often seems so inconsequential in comparison. I try to open my mouth and express to someone else, anyone, what being here means to me and I find it nearly impossible. It’s not the first time this happens. I used to think something was seriously wrong with me. Now I understand that sometimes when I feel too much I lose the ability to speak.
And even though I pursued this goal with every fibre of agency and energy in my body, I still feel as though there was some level of magic involved in getting me here. I know now that I will never get over it. It will never stop being surreal. Thank goodness for that. It means that despite the challenges, changes and all the madness, I still adore this country as much as ever.
“Photography is universal. No matter what language you speak, you can appreciate and understand an image.”
Full name, place you are currently residing, occupation.
Gary Arndt, Travel Photographer, Nomadic (I have no home).
In March 2007 you sold your house to pursue traveling full time. What were the events that led up to this turning point in your life and how did you discover that you could commit to this lifestyle long term?
In 1999 I took a business trip around the world which lasted three weeks. It was the first time that I had ever really traveled outside of North America.
I sold my home in 2007 and the plan was to travel around the world for one or two years. It just sort of never ended. I never made a conscious decision to travel permanently, it just sort of happened.
Your photography has earned you numerous awards and critical acclaim. In 2014 the Society of American Travelers awarded you the Gold Medal and title of “Photographer of the Year” and you have recently taken home the silver medal for 2015. Did you always intend to document your travels through images? How has this passion of yours developed over the last seven years?
Prior to traveling full time, I amassed one of the largest collections of National Geographic Magazines in the world. I always had a love of photography but I didn’t originally set out to become a photographer. I purchased an expensive camera that was over my head when I started and took many bad photos. Over time I began to take it more seriously and eventually grew into the photographer I am today.
On your website you share a collection of over 20 000 of your travel photos, spanning more than 170 countries and territories, and all seven continents. What is it about the photo narrative that you believe resonates with so many people and makes it easy to share experiences?
Photography is universal. No matter what language you speak, you can appreciate and understand an image. Photos are also relatively quick to consume. It takes only a moment to view a photo and they are also very easy to share with friends. I think most people who have a desire to visit a place have some image in their mind which came from a photo or video.
Have there been any locations where you felt uneasy about shooting due to the political climate or social customs? How did you overcome these obstacles?
Yes. Occasionally you go places where the locals do not want to be photographed. In Benin we visited the water village of Ganvie, and almost every person covered their face when we floated past them. They didn’t like being the subject of a tourist’s camera. When you are in a place like that, you just respect their wishes and take photos of other things.
What are the sorts of characteristics in a landscape that you are drawn to? Are your subjects usually pre sought out and researched or do you prefer to stumble upon them through your explorations?
I usually just take what comes my way. However, I find myself doing more and more research before I visit a location and also making special trips just to get certain shots. For example, I made a special trip to Abraham Lake in Alberta this winter just to photograph the frozen bubbles in the lake.
When you arrive in a new destination is your first impulse to photograph it or to simply “be” in it? In your opinion, how does the urge (perhaps more powerful than ever today) to document one’s experiences influence the travel experience? Have you ever found it an interference?
Photography makes you more aware of your surroundings. You pay attention to details that you otherwise might ignore. I’ve heard many people say that photography interfere with having an experience, and I find that to not only be wrong, but the opposite to be true.
How has your travel style evolved over the last decade? Particularly when you think about the future, would you prefer to slow down and spend more time living extensively in various locations?
I have made a conscious decision to slow down. I set foot in over 40 countries in both 2013 and 2014. That pace just wasn’t sustainable. I’m going to be slowing down and maybe even finally getting an apartment in 2015. I’ll still probably be on the road 3-4 months a year, however
Describe your experience in a city, country, or region that turned out to be completely different from what you imagined. How did your perceptions about the place change?
I try not to have expectations about a place before I arrive. I try to just experience it on its own terms. I’ve also been to so many places at this point that I’m really not shocked or surprised when I arrive somewhere new.
According to you, what is the most dangerous assumption a traveler can make?
Assuming that the place you are visiting works on the same rules as the place you are from. Some things might be the same, but some things might not.
In addition to your photography, you write about your travels regularly on your website. Your style is personal, humorous and inclusive. In 2010 Time Magazine named you one of the top 25 blogs to follow in the world. Your work is read by hundreds of thousands of people each month. In what ways have you evolved as a storyteller as you’ve watched your audience grow massively around you? What do you have planned for the site over the next year?
My interest is moving more towards history, science and culture. There are more than enough places where you can find out about hotels and flights. That isn’t really why people travel, however. I want people to know more about a place, even if they never actually go there. I haven’t changed the design of my site in over 5 years. I have a new redesign coming soon. I hope to have it live within a month. I also hope to launch a new podcast this year.
Which locations do you have in mind to visit for 2015?
I’m actually cutting back on my travels this year. In 2013 and 2014 I visited over 40 countries. I’ll be in Catalonia in May, I’m running my travel photography tour in the Galapagos in September and I will be attending a conference in Chile in September as well. I’m sure I’ll end up going to more places, but that’s all I have scheduled right now.
*Photos are the exclusive copyright of Gary Arndt.
You can view Gary’s photography and read his travel writings on his official website
You can also follow him on
“I don’t think either of us have it in us to travel solo. We love sharing moments together and talking about them afterwards. We love encouraging and motivating each other. By traveling together, we’re always inspiring each other to try something new.”
Full name, place you are currently residing, occupation.
Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil Travel Bloggers, Canada.
When you’re married and working on building your career, what are the most challenging aspects involved in making travel a regular part of your life?
Being married and working together can be tough. It’s a challenge to separate work from leisure time. We find that we end up always talking about the blog, or photography, or business. It’s important to set aside time where you aren’t doing anything that is work related. That’s a difficult thing when you are a travel blogger because our work is fun. However it is still work, we still have commitments, and it does take a lot of time and energy to put together blog posts, edit photos and video and keep up our marketing. We are on the road a lot and travel can be exhausting. Most people relax on their vacations, but we are always working wherever we are. When a beautiful sunset happens, we are taking photos and videos of it. When we are at a beach location, we aren’t taking that time to sit on the beach, we are documenting what there is to do there, getting video footage and sending out photos and updates on social media. A lot of people use social media and travel to escape their hectic schedules and work yet, these are our work. We’re always traveling and we’re always on social media so we find that it is difficult for us to turn off.
How has travel defined your lives on an even deeper level than your careers have?
Travel changed our life and it continues to change our lives. In 2000 we travelled to Thailand for five weeks and it absolutely saved our marriage. We met when I was 20 and had already been together nine years at that point. We were stuck in a rut in our relationship and our personal lives. We were basically bored about life and didn’t know it. We worked all week and were too exhausted and unmotivated to do anything on the weekends. Our weekends consisted of doing errands, shopping and then going to a movie. When we went to Thailand, our eyes were opened to a whole new way of living. We tried rock climbing, sea kayaking, jungle trekking and we were exposed to a completely new culture. We also reconnected emotionally with one another because we were excited about life again. We came home and took that new energy and excitement into our own lives and we took up scuba diving, rock climbing and mountain biking. Now our weekends and evenings were spent doing fun and exciting things with new and exciting friends. We were inspired and happy and fell in love all over again and travel has continued to be the catalyst for knocking us out of any current rut and re-inspiring us to make each and every day better.
As a couple, you have journeyed to over 80 countries and all seven continents. Describe the “travelling slow” philosophy you follow. In your opinion, why is this way of traveling worth pursuing?
This is an excellent question because since writing that bio, we have actually moved up to over 100 countries. That’s a lot of countries in just a couple of years. We have felt that we’ve been traveling too fast these past two years and we’re planning on slowing down again and spending long chunks of time in each country. Traveling slow lets you truly experience a country. There have been some places we’ve visited lately where we’ve come away from the destination but we feel that we don’t know the first thing about it. We love to make friends in a destination and learn where the best morning spot is for coffee or find that secluded beach or park that nobody else knows about. When we travel slow we really feel like true travellers. Lately we’ve felt like tourists looking in from the outside, but we’re excited to be back in action to travel slowly and the way we want to. We aren’t country counters and don’t need to check things off a list. That’s great for those who do, and I applaud them, but our fulfillment comes from walking away with new friends and memories. We’ve been to so many places in the past two years and many of them are a blur, but when we travel slow, I can tell you every detail of every place and think of touching moments and fond memories of each. That’s what I want out of life.
Travel has given you a way to work and live together that neither of you initially planned or expected. How would you describe the difference between solo travel and traveling as a couple? In your opinion, is more compromise involved in this sort of travel, and how so?
Well, we have never travelled solo so that is a difficult one to answer. We’ve been together 24 years (17 of those married) and we’re joined at the hip. We had only been together about eight months when we took our first road trip to Florida to visit my parents. When we came back from that trip my college room mates told me that they hoped that Dave and I had had enough of each other. We’re so annoyingly together all the time, maybe we’d be ready for some alone time. But nope, we were just as bonded as we ever were. When you are 20 and in love it can be a little sickening to your friends. Haha. But seriously, we love traveling as a couple. I don’t think either of us have it in us to travel solo. We love sharing moments together and talking about them afterwards. We love encouraging and motivating each other. By traveling together, we’re always inspiring each other to try something new. My interests are different than Dave’s, but I’m willing to give something a try that he wants to do and I end up loving it. I expand my horizons traveling with someone. If I were on my own, I don’t think I would be so brave.
We always say that communication and compromise is an important part of couple’s travel. You need to have an open mind and be willing to bend a little. Over the years though we find that we have to compromise less and less because after the early days, we’re both up for anything. If one of us wants to try something or go somewhere that the other person doesn’t, it doesn’t really matter because we’re game for anything. Norway isn’t really on my radar, but Dave wants to go and because he wants to go, I’m willing to give it a try. I’ll most likely end up loving it!
How do you decide on your next location? Are you both more or less drawn to the same places?
We are always drawn to new places. I think that is what got us into travel in the first place. We love to constantly experience new things. We rarely go back to the same destination because we feel that once we’ve been there, we’ve done that. It’s time to move on and it’s almost never as good as when you went the first time around. So we keep moving on as much as we can. That’s not to say we don’t go back to places, there are many destinations that we’ve been to more than once, we just prefer something new. Normally we decided on destinations by either where we haven’t been before or where we’ve always wanted to go. We get a lot of invitations to countries to visit, but we turn a lot down. If we don’t want to go there, chances are we won’t go.
You both live by the motto that “adventure is for everyone”. Your ardent belief that “ordinary people can lead extraordinary lives” is a main premise of your writing. What would you say to people who feel too fearful to cross international borders, don’t see themselves as physically “fit” enough, or have financial concerns?
We definitely feel that ordinary people can live extraordinary lives. We’re living proof! I used to always say “oh, I can never do that because I wasn’t born into money or I’m not a celebrity or I wasn’t a great outdoorsman all my life. But once I stopped thinking that way, great things happened. Once I said, “wait a minute, everyone has potential to live the life they want” I started living the life I wanted. We aren’t the most physically fit people, and yet we conquer some amazing challenges that ordinary people think they wouldn’t be able to do. But we do it! We also feel that those who are too afraid to cross international borders are doing themselves a disservice. The world is a beautiful place and there is so much to learn about and see and do. When you meet people from another culture you find that they are just like you. They laugh, they love, they cry, and they are going through life the same way that you are…they just want to be happy and make the best life they can for themselves and their families. Travel is the most beautiful gift you can give yourself.
For those that think they are not fit enough or don’t have enough money, if you set your mind to it, you can make it happen. Dave and I started out like anyone else, we had bills and debt, but we changed our lives to a more simple way of living. After that trip to Thailand in 2000, we wasted less money. We stopped buying empty possessions and started living live. Going for a bike ride doesn’t cost a thing, but it is so much fun! Our hobbies were things that didn’t cost a lot of money, but fulfilled our lives. Because our evenings and weekends were taken up with activities, we stopped shopping so much and spending our money on empty things. We could then start putting away cash to travel. You don’t have to go far or spend a lot of money. I won’t bother going into all the ways you can save money, but if you really want to travel, you can make it happen by lifestyle changes and saving a bit. And for those who think they are not fit enough, start off small and take baby steps. Maybe you can’t climb a mountain yet, but you can go for a walk through a market or on the beach and you can start somewhere. Don’t rush into things, if you take it one step at a time, the next thing you know, you will be climbing a mountain. That’s how we did it. I never in my life thought I’d climb a mountain. It was never on my radar or interest, and here it has become a huge part of our travel life.
In 2008 you both participated in the Tour D’Afrique (the world’s longest cyclist race). Deb, you were women’s champion of the race. Dave, you took home the prestigious title of “Cycling every fabulous inch of Africa”. How did this event shape the beginning of your full time travels?
It completely shaped our full time travels. We entered the TDA with the plan of traveling full time afterwards. We felt that we needed something epic to stand out from the crowd and this fit the bill. Cycling a continent definitely captures people’s attention. Before that cycling race, we hired a publicist, set up media appearances, and cemented plans to write a series for one of Canada’s national newspapers. We went in with the plan that this would be the catalyst to start our travel careers. While we really wanted that experience to turn into a TV show, it turned out even better that- our blogging careers took off. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Online media is the future and I’m so happy that it went this way. We’re in charge of our own destiny. We don’t have to worry about some network executive switching us off.
From deserts and sand dunes, to the oceans and seas, whether on the rocks, immersed in water, or in the air, you two appear to always be ready for your next rush of adrenaline. What is the riskiest situation you have found yourselves in as of so far? Have you ever found yourselves so entirely outside of your comfort zones you questioned whether you could go through with the experience? How did you deal with it?
It’s funny because it was in Canada that we felt way out of our comfort zone back country snowboarding in Whistler. We’ve always thought of ourselves as good snowboarders, but it’s a whole new ballgame in the back country and once you are in it, there’s no getting out of it until you get down. It was only a day, and we had a guide, but during the entire time we were like “How could we think we were qualified to do this?” It was difficult. We were never afraid for our lives, but it was extremely challenging and we failed miserably at it. We fell a lot, struggled a lot, and made fools out of ourselves. But for the most part, we always take on challenges that we feel we can handle. We hire the proper guides to make sure we are safe. We aren’t outdoor specialists. Last year while trekking the Arctic watershed in the dead of winter for 10 days was a crazy adventure. We were walking over moving rivers on shelf ice and through frozen lakes covered in slush. If we were to do this on our own, we would literally die, but because we had professionals around us making sure we were following the right path, it was doable for us. Yes, it was hard work, we had to pull sleds full of hear while snowshoeing 100km in -30 degree weather. We had to chop down trees for firewood and chip through three feet of ice for water, but we made it. We suffered and complained, but we finished the trek and have never felt so proud.
You have both spent much time reflecting on the reasons why you continue to travel. Despite being attracted to the idea of eventually “putting down roots”, you continue to feel a need to keep moving, being challenged, and experience change. What is the most significant way in which travel has challenged and changed you as individuals?
At this point we don’t see it happening any time soon. We really enjoy where we are in our lives. Especially if we slow down our travels and stay in a place for a few weeks or months. We’re quite happy living out of a bag with minimal possessions. I’m sure one day we’ll want that, but right now, we’re feeling the need to continue to explore the planet.
For Dave it’s definitely about coming out of his shell. He used to be the quiet one, now he’s public speaking, going on TV and running workshops. He’s always been confident and strong, but it’s always been in a quiet way. He’d sit back and let me have the spotlight. Now he is a leader and is constantly forward thinking. I think travel gave him an ambition he didn’t have before. He was always successful in everything that he did, but he didn’t have that passion and drive to really make something great. Now he craves making each day as great as it can be.
For me, it’s definitely a humbling experience. I am not the centre of the universe like I thought I once was in my 20s. I am now content to sit back and listen. I love hearing other people’s stories and crave learning from others. I used to be a “it’s my way or the highway” type of person, now I have an open mind and realize that I am wrong about a lot of things most of the time and that’s ok because I am able to change my way of thinking and see both sides.
In 2014 your website, The Planet D (TheplanetD.com), was awarded the gold medal for Best Travel Blog & Best Illustration of Travel by The Society of American Travel Writers. What has been your goal in writing and sharing your adventures with the online community? How do you envision the site growing over the next year?
Our goal has always been to be honest and open. We wear our hearts on our sleeve and let our personalities come through. It’s sort of easy for us, because that’s the natural way for us to write. Everyone always tells us that we are exactly what they expected when they meet us and that is the greatest compliment we can ever receive. We don’t want to portray ourselves as anything we’re not. We want to give people the inspiration and tools to know that they can live their own lives to the fullest and that they too can do whatever they want in life, because honestly, if we can do it, you can too.
We always have plans and goals each year and this year we talked about focusing on more inspiration. As we said, the last couple of years have been a bit of a whirlwind when it comes to travel and that means we have a lot of travel experiences and stories to share. As we slow down, we can write more personal and informative pieces interspersed with our travel experiences. I don’t know if that is the right thing to do or not, but all we can ever do each year is follow our own hearts. If we don’t write about what we want to write about, other people probably won’t want to read it, because how can they be interested if we’re not? That’s how we see it anyway.
*Photos are the exclusive copyright of Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil.
You can follow Dave & Deb’s journey on their official website
You can also follow them on
“There is so much beauty in this world and I don’t believe that visiting, taking photos and buying a few souvenirs is enough to thank the communities that we have visited. If you can travel and help give back, why not?”
Full name, place you are currently residing, occupation.
Jenna Davis, Content Creator & Freelance Travel Blogger, Residing in Freiburg, Germany.
In September 2012 you left a stable 9-5 marketing job in Toronto to begin traveling around the world. Why did the security afforded by this routine leave you feeling unfulfilled?
I somehow always felt unfulfilled no matter how amazing my workplace was or how much I loved the job. There is just something about sitting in a chair and staring at a computer 40 hours a week for the rest of my life that seems terrifying. I was constantly reminded of this every time I felt a wave of anxiety pass by me (which was quite often nearing the end) and realized that I wasn’t put on this earth to be ‘standard.’ I wanted to live my life to the fullest and be able to say when I am older that I have done everything I wanted to in my lifetime.
At first, you believed traveling was a way for you to run from your problems and anxieties. When exactly did you realize that you weren’t running, but actually carving out a new space for yourself, and what were the specific events that made this meaning transparent?
I still find myself running from my problems every now and then. Even minor situations like the grocery store attendant being rude will set me off on an adventure I never thought possible. At some point, I don’t really know when, I realized that each travel experience I embarked on brought me closer to where I wanted to be. It is the moments of self-actualization where I was standing at the top of a mountain or laying in the middle of the ocean which made me realize that what I once considered ‘running’ wasn’t running at all. The more I started meeting other travellers and attending blogging conferences, the more I realized what I was doing may be selfish in a sense, but there is much of it that actually supports others to do the same. I started realizing that people over the web were inspired by what I was doing and this has really impacted me in a positive light.
In your opinion, what is the most terrifying aspect involved in international travel and how can people learn to cope with it?
Though the question could most definitely be answered differently among travellers, hands down I would have to say the safety of a country. International travel is life changing, eye opening and rewarding, though it can also be incredibly dangerous. After about a year of solo travelling the feeling of invincibility started to wear off the more I realized that there wasn’t a force shield surrounding me as I thought. One night I was on a night bus driving from Coorg, India to Bangalore, India sitting in a broken and mouldy seat. I had incredible difficulties falling asleep, as the window had broken open and I was getting covered by a cold, muddy mist from the road. After about 4 hours I had finally fallen asleep only to be woken up by a loud thud and an incredibly painful headache. It was about 3:00 in the morning and I was with a few girls who I had just met that week. I didn’t realize what had actually happened until I saw the blood pouring down my face. I was sent to the hospital for stitches only to find the doctor stitching me up with a broken arm. I felt vulnerable and weak and the thought that I was no longer in Canada absolutely terrified me. Learning to cope with these situations can be as simple as telling yourself to be safe, avoid dark alleys, buy good travel insurance and travel in packs. However, nothing can prepare you for the occasional unforeseen circumstances like being woken up after peacefully sleeping to getting stitches in your head. The best way to cope with situations like these is to keep going. The more I travel, the more I realize that the likelihood of terrible things happening is slim as long as you take all the necessary precautions.
Your passion for travel goes hand in hand with your passion for social justice. How do you believe these two endeavors are fundamentally connected?
Social justice and travel don’t have to be connected, it is simply just me putting two of my serious passions together into one organized package: Give for Granted. For me it is very important that I am socially conscious throughout my travels because the simple act of travelling was not nearly fulfilling enough. I always compare myself to others (as much as I try not to) and often think back to all the travellers in my past who used to make me extremely jealous. I didn’t want this for others. I wanted others to read my blog and become inspired rather than envious. I wanted readers to become passionate about the way I travel and offer their support and advice. It is my dream to create a network of social justice inspired travellers who together can help make a significant difference across the globe. There is so much beauty in this world and I don’t believe that visiting, taking photos and buying a few souvenirs is enough to thank the communities that we have visited. If you can travel and help give back, why not?
Your journey to the Canadian arctic began as a way to meet your newborn nephew and became a life changing confrontation with the amount of poverty existing in your own country. How did you feel a sense of personal responsibility in the face of all this?
I think the real question for me is how could I not feel a sense of personal responsibility? I am Canadian. After all my previous travel experiences and getting a better understanding of how other cultures and other travellers see a typical ‘Canadian,’ it kills me to know that this isn’t the reality. I am now 23 and it took me until the age of 20 to realize that Canada wasn’t the perfect bubble I thought it was. I immersed myself in poverty stricken areas across Africa, Asia and South America and nothing hit me as hard as my own country. Not only was I blind to the problems in Northern Canada, but they are terrible problems. Problems that many third world countries face with the addition of -30 degree winds, frozen pipe lines and no heating. I had spent some much of my childhood giving back in any way possible without even realizing that ‘Africa’ or ‘Peru’ weren’t the only regions in need of support.
You founded Granted Apparel, a clothing line, in order to help Northern Canadians living in poverty and increase tourism in the region. Your goal is educating your consumers and having members of northern communities share their stories in order to raise awareness. Reflecting on all of the people you have spoken to, what is one story that especially moved you?
I have to be honest with you here, this was my initial plan for the entire blog. Actually, I never planned on merging the travel blog once called “21 and Counting” and the Give for Granted clothing line. I quickly realized that no one cared about the poverty in Canada as much as me and many people enjoyed reading about my travel experiences much more. The best solution I had was to merge the two in order to gain more awareness about the North while still giving the readers what they want. I still haven’t been able to make an incredible difference in the North as of yet but I have met quite a few inspiring people. There is one gentleman from the East coast of Canada who has especially inspired me to keep going, his name is Matthew Clark. I worked in the north for a few months while visiting my sister and Matthew Clark was my manager at the store. Since then he has moved to a town called Inuvik, Northwest Territories, and has helped build significant support systems for the homeless. He spends every waking moment either managing the store, sitting on a homeless committee board, or feeding the hungry. Mr. Clark is the reason I continue to support the North even when I feel like no one else is standing there with me. At the end of the day, I know the harder I work on my blog and the more readers that come, the more awareness I can bring to the region.
You have advised young people who want to travel but have hesitations not to live for the future because no one knows what it holds. “Money can be made back, time cannot,” you observe. How has traveling changed the way you think about time?
Once you pop that ‘bubble’ of being at home and in a safe place, you start to realize everything else that the world has to offer. When I was working 9-5 at a marketing firm in Toronto I only knew what I was surrounded by. I would wake up every morning, spend hours in traffic, make my money and go back to sleep. Travelling through Europe and watching people enjoy a morning coffee on the patio, or riding their bikes to work in their freshly pressed suits, made me realize what I was missing. Spending time in India and being surrounded by the dead at the funeral fires also made me question what I had been doing all along. Life is so short and if you’re not happy, well.. what’s the point? I truly believe that we have been put on this earth to enjoy our time here and make differences where we can. Though not everyone may have a passion for travelling, I encourage all young people to spend more time with family, doing the things they love and finding a job that makes them smile.
You have written about your desire to live as a minimalist. How has de-cluttering your personal space transformed you into a smarter and happier traveler?
Oh boy, this is probably the biggest solution I’ve had to my anxiety disorder (second to the medication). When I heard people talking about living a life as a minimalist, I would nod my head and think ‘yeah, if only.’ A few years ago I read a book by the man who started TOMS called “Something That Matters”. I don’t often read, so this book really took me for a spin. I couldn’t even finish the book before I started clearing my e-mails, getting rid of my clothes and applying the 80/20 rule to my entire life. It’s hard to express in words how this has made me a smarter and happier traveller, but it has. I feel like I’m always waking up to a clean slate and am always ready for a new adventure. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a little less stress in their day to day lives- no matter where in the world they are.
As of so far, which country, city or region of the world has impacted you most deeply, and why?
So many different cities have impacted me in so many different ways but I’m going to be a little bit selfish here and tell you that, for me, my visit to Germany has been the most influential visit. I was inspired in Canada, taught in India, emotional in Peru and happy in Thailand but nothing has influenced my life more than my recent move to Germany. I love my home in Canada but I never wanted to have a family of my own in the cities I had spent my childhood in. A part of my journey always brought me back to thinking, ‘where could I live?,’ ‘what is affordable?,’ and ‘will my children one day like it here?’ I have found home in Germany, the perfect mix between my Canadian lifestyle and the dream lifestyle I have always wanted (drinking coffee on a patio, biking to work, and enjoying a slower life).
You have recently announced your plans to settle in Dusseldorf Germany. What has been the greatest challenge for you in adapting to life in Germany?
In extension to the last answer, adapting to Germany was almost as fast as a snap of the finger. The minute I stepped foot in Germany I knew I was in love. I have fallen in love with many other countries but for many different reasons. The lifestyle in Germany is similar enough to Canada to avoid home sickness and different enough for a new and exciting experience. However, the greatest challenge to adapting to life in Germany has been the language barrier. Many people speak English in Germany, but when trying to find a job being bilingual will always set you one step ahead, meaning I have yet to find even a part time job. I am really enjoying studying the German language, but it has got to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
How has travel changed your concept and experience of happiness?
The travel itself has always made me feel extremely lucky, having the money to afford the flights and the skills to work out deals for accommodations. The journey itself is what has opened my eyes to what happiness really means. In Toronto, Canada where I grew up, happiness is very much about your possessions and the material objects in your life. After travelling through Cambodia, South Africa, Nepal, Laos and other similar countries, I started to realize that my happiness did not lay within the material objects I owed but in the experiences I have gained. Some of the happiest people I have ever met were the poorest. I will never forget visiting the locals in Soweto, South Africa and hearing their stories about when the government offered them subsidized housing. At the time they were all living together with aunts, uncles, grandparents and children in small huts made of shipping containers and stray wooden boards. The government had built subsidized housing in the village to support the locals and soon realized that no one wanted to move out of their current homes because each apartment could only house a family of 5 and not 15. They were happy with their lives because they knew nothing more. This is what made me realize that happiness is what you make of it. Every morning I wake up thankful for the family I have, the experiences I have gained, and the love in my life.
*Photo is the exclusive copyright of Jenna Davis.
You can follow Jenna’s journey on official website
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“I never thought that I’d be a solo traveler. But when I decided to go anyways, I realized that the thought of it was worse than reality. That’s usually how fear works. “
Full name, place you are currently residing, occupation.
Miriam Jasmin Risager. Travel blogger & Copywriter. Denmark.
You are a self described “travel obsessive” who travels for adventure and believes that facing your fears is what keeps life interesting. How has traveling expanded your philosophy of getting out of your comfort zone and taking risks?
Well, Sophia, I believe that traveling forces us out of our comfort zone. When you’re in a foreign country, you’re without a safety net and away from everything you know, so you simply have to trust your instincts and make it on your own. Taking more risks and living in the now comes naturally.
Among your many travel experiences you have swam with whale sharks in Malaysia, illegally snuck into Bolivia without a yellow fever card, and boarded down an active volcano in Nicaragua. You have written about each of these experiences very honestly on your website. What do you hope to accomplish by sharing these stories with your readers?
Seeing as I’m a somewhat fearsome adventurer, I hope to show that adventure is for everyone. If I can do it, so can you. We all have different definitions of adventure and what scares us. To be totally transparent, traveling alone scared me MUCH more than any of these experiences you just mentioned.
In 2006 you backpacked through Asia for six months. You continue to return to Southeast Asia, a region you have fallen in love with, whenever possible. What surprised you the most about this part of the world the first time you visited?
To me, Southeast Asia wasn’t really a culture shock…not like India anyways. I simply love Asia to pieces, especially that everyone is so happy and life seems easy even for those without money in the bank. In Scandinavia, we’re so busy being on time and doing things perfectly – in Asia they’re relaxed and don’t care about typos in the menu. I love that.
Thailand, in particular, is a country you feel a strong connection to. You married your husband there, on a beach, in secret. How has your relationship with this country affected you and why do you continue to be drawn to it?
Thailand… It’s my happy place and it’s where I recharge. I love how everything is so cheap, the food is absolutely to die for, beaches are gorgeous and people are genuinely welcoming and cheerful. Thailand just makes me happy.
2014 was the year you conquered your fear of traveling alone. What, in your opinion, is the most terrifying thing about traveling solo and what steps did you take to overcome this fear?
To be honest, I’ve never thought that I’d be a solo traveler. But when I decided to go anyways, I realized that the thought of it was worse than reality. That’s usually how fear works. To overcome it, I focused on what I would achieve from traveling on my own. You can do the same; just think of the reason why you want to do it. Is it because you want to be more independent (because you will!) or do you want to learn how to rely on yourself? Remember this reason when fear tries to stop you.
On your website you state that when you travel, you “visit locals and indigenous cultures, learn about different customs and religions and try to understand how women are perceived and treated in different cultures around the world.” Traveling through Asia, Central and South America and Europe, what are some of the most important observations you have made on this subject? How, if at all, have your own beliefs been challenged by what you have seen?
What has affected me the most is seeing how so many women and children are sold into sex trafficking in Thailand. Meeting and talking to these poor trafficked girls in Pattaya and Phuket has been horrible and in some regards life changing. It has given me perspective and reminded me never to take my freedom or way of life for granted.
What advice would you give to fellow women in their twenties who are seeking to travel solo but are held back by fear?
It all about finding your inner strength. When I was 18, I started working as a caretaker. Every Wednesday, I visited a man who had lost his wife, his child and recently his grandchild. I remember feeling so sorry for him and one day I asked him how he managed to cope. How could he possible see trough the tears and live on? He gave me this answer: “You are much stronger, much tougher than you think. Just wait and see.“ I believe the same advice goes for facing fears. We’re all frightened for things that can go wrong, but facing our fears makes us stronger. I believe we have the strength within – we just need to find it.
What is the next destination on your travel list and why?
Lately, I’ve been drawn to places with astonishing nature so naturally Iceland, New Zealand and Argentina come to mind. I hope to visit one of these places in 2015.
As far as your concerned, what is the worst excuse for not traveling, and what argument would you give against it?
It’s probably this: ”I don’t have anyone to travel with”. I think a lot of us can relate to that. But the truth is if you really want to travel then nothing should stop you! I found my first travel partner in an online forum and we traveled together for six months. There’s always someone to travel with or you can travel on your own.
What is the most uncomfortable travel experience you have found yourself in and what did you learn from it?
Um, that would be the time when we got robbed on our honeymoon in Thailand (a complete nightmare!). It was at the airport and no one wanted to help us since we didn’t have any identification or money. I learned the hard way that not all people are as friendly and helpful as I thought they’d be. We didn’t let it ruin the trip, though. I figure we can’t control whether these things happen, but I do control how I react to them.
Name one travel goal for 2015.
New Zealand (the dream goal). Iceland (the realistic goal).
*Photo is the exclusive copyright of Miriam Jasmin Risager.
You can follow Miriam’s journey on official website
You can also follow her on
Happy New Year everyone!
I want to thank each and every single one of you for the encouragement and positive feedback you have brought to the work I’m doing on TheOpenEndedAnswers. I am so excited about what is coming up for the website over the next year and cannot wait to share it with you.
This project was born out of a young woman’s simple but profound love for travel and it has only just begun. My goal for 2015 is to present travellers from as many different backgrounds as possible and have them share a piece of their journey with my readers. My hope is that TheOpenEndedAnswers will develop into a community where travellers can learn from and inspire one another.
Reflecting on everything that my travels have given me so far, I leave you all with the following proposition:
Learn freely, driven by a genuine hunger for knowledge. Understand that education is so much more than what is contained in any institution. Go somewhere new and stay for a while. Change your mind about something. Be kind to everyone you meet (not only those you meet on purpose). Remember- life is too short for straight roads.
With warm wishes for each of your unique journeys,
“Wherever I found myself in life in the last 60 years, I always returned to the mountains for spiritual refreshment. I still do.”
Full name, place you are currently residing, occupation.
Ed Cooper, Sonoma, CA, USA. While I am supposedly retired, I pretty much work full time on my photography.
On your website you quote the American author and naturalist, John Muir- “Going to the mountains is going home”. Is it fair to say that you feel the same way and, if so, what is it about the mountains that gives you that sense of peace?
The mountains have always been a source of inspiration for me ever since I “discovered” them at age 16. Wherever I found myself in life in the last 60 years, I always returned to the mountains for spiritual refreshment. I still do.
In August of 1953, at the age of 16, you successfully climbed to the summit of Pinnacle Peak in Mt. Rainier National Park. It was the first peak you ever climbed and a milestone for you. Looking back now, how would you say that event changed you as an individual, and set into motion the passion that would guide you throughout the rest of your journey?
The real game changer for me occurred eight days after climbing Pinnacle Peak when my sister and I hired a guide to climb Mt. Rainier. I tasted the “freedom of the hills.” It opened up for me the real world, a world of adventure, not the world of rigid conformity in which state I had existed until that time.
Your six decade career in mountain climbing has taken you from your hometown in Syracuse, New York, to the American and Canadian West Coasts, and as far north up the Pacific Coast as Alaska. You have lived and work in a number of states, including California and Oregon. Which region surprised you the most, or exceeded your expectations, in terms of its natural scenery?
Having “discovered” the mountains, I was now also able to turn my attention to other facets of nature such as the oceans, the desert, flora and fauna. I appreciate all these aspects of nature. I can find beauty in almost any natural setting, but I do admit my special fondness for the Western mountains of North America. However, I might add that my favorite area is wherever I might happen at the time. My wife, Debby, and I now travel in a small 4-wheel drive camper, and we both take pictures. We avoid the more popular places at the height of the tourist season and opt for those areas that are lesser known and less crowded.
There’s an old saying that “the mountains do not forgive” (in regards to injuries). You have certainly put yourself at risk on more than one occasion in order to photograph rare and beautiful moments in the mountains. What advice would you offer to novice mountaineers who are interested in mountain photography?
I would say that you have to decide at what level you want to do your mountain photography. By that I mean do you just want to travel the roads to the usual mountain destinations and take pictures from, or near the safety of your vehicle, or do you want to get up in the mountains by climbing them? Good images can be had either way, but you will miss so much by not getting out on the trails and ascending to the summits. By all means get good advice and equipment if you do the latter.
On your website you have stated that, from early on in your mountain climbing career, you “took pictures in an attempt to convey to others the feelings you experienced”. Today, you have built a collection of 60 000 – 70000 photographs spanning over 60 years. When you look through that library now, do you still experience those same feelings? How have they changed?
I absolutely feel the same way. As I scan some of my treasured film images from years ago to digital form, I can remember the circumstances surrounding the taking of that particular image, and how I felt at the time. This is so even for my first climbing images taken in 1953-1954.
What is the riskiest climb or trek that you have ever made? What were the circumstances that made it so?
I would have to say climbing new or difficult routes on the Cascade volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest were the riskiest. Among other things, I have been buried in an avalanche (& was dug out), I had a climbing partner fall 200 feet and I stopped him with an ice axe belay. On another occasion my climbing partner and I were caught in a massive rock fall on a steep ice face on a new route. A Volkswagon sized rock went right between us, bouncing over our rope at probably 150 MPH. Then there was an avalanche that set me and my partner running across a glacier unroped and in stockings to avoid a large avalanche that threatened to engulf us. There have been close brushes with lightning. The list goes on.
Your photography and stories have appeared in numerous magazines. In July of 1977 a photo you took in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, was selected for the cover of National Geographic Magazine- a huge honour! Tell us more about the making of that photo. How did this achievement set a new standard for you, as a photographer, ever since?
This was a matter of hard work getting my name out to editors of magazines. I wrote them letters and called them up. Often, editors I had been in contact with would send me picture requests. Such was the case with National Geographic. The editor sent me a want list for America’s wild rivers. They chose one of my images for the cover, and three more for inside use. These were images (4×5 transparencies) that were already in my files that I had shot simply because they were beautiful aspects of the mountains. All that had to be done was to choose images that fit the request and send them (by mail). Of course now everything is digital (and we haven’t sent out any original transparencies in several years).
What would you consider the greatest achievement of your mountaineering career?
I don’t really look at my climbs as great achievements; they were merely aspects of my love for nature and especially the mountains. There were some first ascents and new routes in the Cascade Mountains of Washington and in British Columbia. In one epic ascent, a whole town came together to support us in our climb (The Grand Wall of Stawamish Chief near Squamish, B.C.) I was a member of the first non-Yosemite climbers to climb the face of El Capitan, the Dihedral Wall (a new route). In mountain photography, I devised a powerful telephoto set-up for a view camera (none such existed at the time). As I look back I would have to say that I am especially grateful that I was never on a climb where someone was killed.
Outside of North America, where would you want to travel to next, and why?
Very early on I thought of going to the European Alps or the Himalayas but in the beginning I never had any money to be able to do this, and also early on I developed an appreciation for the fact that there were so many mountain rangers right here in North America I didn’t need to go elsewhere. I have favourite picture spots of many of the better known peaks on this continent and can visit these same spots (which I have filed in my brain) in different seasons and even at different times of the day to get new views.
In your opinion, what are the biggest misconceptions made about the mountains, and what steps can be taken to correct them?
One misconception that is prevalent is that by taking climbing courses and by having the proper equipment, whether for mountaineering or rock climbing, climbing can be safe. Climbing is inherently dangerous, and every year I read the American Alpine Clubs Accident Journal which is sent out to members once a year. It is sad to read about accidents, even on small cliffs, where someone went out for a day to enjoy climbing, and was either maimed for life or killed. Rappelling appears to be particularly dangerous with even very experienced climbers having mishaps.
You are in the process of amassing a very large following on social media platforms such as Instagram. It appears that the wonder of nature will never cease to captivate people. In fact, judging by what is trendy on IG, people seem to be actively seeking out reminders of that beauty more than ever today, when for the most part they are spending less time outdoors than perhaps ever before. What do you make of this contradiction?
Perhaps they are too busy taking “selfies”, which as we have seen is dangerous in itself. Several people have been killed in this fashion at cliffs or on mountains by stepping backwards toward the view point to be in a selfie only to take one more step backward that proved fatal. Who, but perhaps a few close friends, want to view somebody’s selfie taken at some spectacular viewpoint anyway? More to the point of this question is that some popular areas are becoming so crowded now that many people avoid them altogether. Further, the cost of travel has now risen to the point that many people decide to stay home. The trendy word here is “staycations.”
What lessons about the mountains do you hope to pass on to your children and grandchildren?
Every young person has to learn the lessons of life and discover their own destiny, pretty much on their own. All a parent can do is show a child different activities and sports and hope that they become involved in one of them to the point that it becomes a focus for life. My wife and I introduced our children not only to the wilderness, but other activities as well, and let these germinate in their own minds. I was mindful of the fact that by the time I was 25 or so, I had known over 50 people who had been killed in the mountains. So, understandably, I didn’t want to push them in this direction unless they were so inclined.
*Photos are the exclusive copyright of Ed Cooper.
You can view Ed’s photography and learn more about his journey on his official website
You can also follow him on
“People are surrounded by so many wonderful, magic things and moments, but they don’t pay attention to it.”
Full name, place of birth, occupation.
Dina Gossart. Photographer – Interior designer – Painter
What was your first travel experience and how did it affect you?
Paris was my first travel experience. In my opinion Paris is one of the most fascinating cities in Europe and probably in the world. It is a place that everyone should have the chance to visit and to experience. Even if you don’t have enough money to visit all the wonderful museums in the city, Paris is itself a museum.
As an artist you have a multifaceted background in painting, design and photography. How has travel affected your role in each of these mediums?
As far as I work in the visual art industry it’s very important to me to discover new atmospheres and environments on a regular basis. I say it ‘prevents the eyes from losing their sharpness’. Traveling is a way to push the boundaries of mind and to extend creativity as well as to open new horizons. I believe it is a necessary resource to develop my creativity: capitalizing on travel experience and attempting an artistic transposition of these experiences is my operating approach.
You have lived and worked in several locations across Europe and Asia. Where do you feel most at home?
I’m Kazakh. I was born in Almaty in Kazakhstan. Our ancestors used to be nomads. Maybe that’s why I feel free to move from one place to another! During the last 10 years, I moved to different countries and cities: Milan, Bangkok and Almaty. The most important thing is to be with my family. My geographic location doesn’t significantly matter.
If you could offer one piece of travel wisdom based on your experiences what would it be?
My husband (Bertrand Gossart) and I have been on numerous trips; so I can say that from any country you come back as a different person. You bring not just impressions, but the energy, vibrations, culture, another look at the casual things, even changed interests. It’s not only travel in terms of a trip that fascinates us, but the possibility to get into another reality for a while, to plunge into the identity of a foreign country.
Travel; do not sit in the same place. Marvellous and new things are awaiting for us everywhere, no matter where you go next vacation- to Bali, Mexico or somewhere close to your own neighbourhood, the most important thing is that you will visit somewhere new in the world, absorb something useful for you, and perhaps it will change you in positive way, ‘update you’ let’s say.
The thing that seems to strike your audience first when looking through your photos is your deep appreciation for colour. Your compositional style always seems to shine a light on your subjects while simultaneously shrouding them in mystery. As a photographer, do you purposely seek out that contradiction when making images? What other qualities do you look for when searching for a photo subject?
Usually we don’t pursue any goals when we take pictures. Everything happens naturally, spontaneously. The main thing is to pay attention for potential subjects and to take time. We love taking pictures of simple lifestyle, ordinary people, portraits, daily life and of course the beauty of nature. People are surrounded by so many wonderful, magic things and moments, but they don’t pay attention to it. I think it’s easy to take nice photos without even leaving the place you are living.
On your website you have stated that your paintings are inspired by your travel emotions. What was one of the most emotional experiences you’ve had while traveling?
My first trip to India (Varanasi) impressed me very much. It was such a strong combination of different feelings from delight to curiosity and sometimes fear, breathtaking joy and compassion… Absolutely distant and different culture for us. There are also countries of absolute purity, both natural and human. I’m talking about Bhutan. Such places cleanse your mind and soul. Spiritual countries.
The joys of traveling are endless and almost always what travel writers focus on. In your opinion, what is the most terrifying thing about travel?
What an interesting question! The most terrifying thing is to lose your camera and your USB key at the end of the trip! 🙂 More seriously I would say that the most important thing during the trip is your personal safety and to take all necessary measures to avoid unpleasant experiences.
If you could pack your bags tonight and choose one new country/region to explore where would it be and why?
Well, I think it would be some magnificent region of Papua New Guinea. There are many different and exotic cultures within Papua New Guinea and it is a land of traditional people living a subsistence lifestyle. There are 43 known species of Bird of Paradise on our planet, 38 of these can be found in there. I think this place must offer an exceptional travel experience.
What is the most surprising thing you have discovered while traveling?
The most surprising thing was something about human beings. Usually people with simple lives also have happy lives. They live far from the Internet, Smartphones and other gadgets. Simple things make them enjoy life. The majority of them are honest and kind people. Their lives are dedicated to God and light. It makes them very harmonious. You [as a traveler in their land] are involuntarily catching this energy of kindness.
How has traveling changed your understanding of yourself (both as an artist and on a personal level as a human being)?
I think my travels have significantly transformed me as well as my life priorities. Everything is much easier than we think. People often make their life more complicated than it should be. We don’t need many things to feel happy and to enjoy life. Don’t spend time for quarrelling and wars. As Dalai Lama says: ‘Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive’.
*Photo credit to Bertrand Gossart.