There’s one question I get asked by friends and strangers more than anything else. No it’s not “what gel do you use?” contrary to popular belief. It goes something like this “Hey I was just wondering how you are able to travel as much as you do. I’d love to travel and work outside for a living. Can you share advice or tips on how to achieve this”? Well yes, yes I can.
It has to be said, this is going to really high level stuff. I can literally teach an entire course on every individual aspect of what I’m about to cover here. So let’s not pick anything apart. This is meant to serve as a general overview. Specifically for the people who are wondering where to begin their journey in the outdoor industry and how to travel for a living.
First of all, since the pandemic I think it’s actually easier than ever. Before 2020, remote job postings were rare and highly sought after. Now remote work is basically just the norm. The quickest way to get into travel and working outside is by taking your lap top with you working from the road. Get access to wifi when you can, communicate with your team and boss. Reassure them so they can rely on you from the road and make it happen! It’s an exciting time to be alive.
I realize most people want to earn a living doing what they love. You might want to get paid to travel or take photos. Maybe you want to quit your remote job make earn a living by becoming a vlogger or writer. I say follow your dreams! But you don’t always need to quit your day job to do so. You definitely don’t need to right away!
What are you doing after work? If you’re going to work for yourself or travel for work you might as well get use to 16 hour work days anyways. You should start right now. Punch out at 4pm at your day job and then spend 4 hours building your future job. It’s going to take time and hard work. There’s no sense in being broke and stressed while you’re building your dream job. In fact if you quit too soon, you might just be prolonging the transition into a full-time travel (insert dream job).
Invest in your portfolio like you would invest in an ivy league collage!
I didn’t go to art school or major in photography. If I knew one thing growing up, it was that the second I could get out of the classroom, I would never go back. There was a world out there and I wanted to see it. In my experience, hard work and real world experience is invaluable… and some thing simply can’t be taught in school.
That said, this isn’t about mainstream education though. What I mean by investing in your portfolio is this. You need to spend money at first. – That’s why it’s nice to have a job… use your downtime wisely. Oh, and vacation days! If you’re just starting out, you need to build your portfolio. You need to create work, and shoot the content that you wish clients to eventually pay you to shoot.
If that’s travel photography, or landscape, or writing restaurant reviews around the globe… Then you need to self-fund and build that portfolio up on your own dime. This can be daunting but this is no different than traditional education. You invest in an institution hoping to achieve a higher level of understanding of your craft. You receive proof of completion, and then you join the work force (if you’re lucky. I would argue that typically you still need to invest in your portfolio either way).
After you build a solid portfolio filled with a variety of high quality content you’re proud of, you’re ready to begin pitching your work to prospect clients, agencies, magazines, etc. Get comfortable pitching too. Because if you’re going to freelance, you’ll probably be pitching and acquiring new clients until you retire.
You don’t need a million followers you just need a solid base.
I get it, it seems like everyone has a million followers here, a 100,000 subs there. It can seem overwhelming. But you don’t need to be an influencer AND a photographer, or travel blogger, or this or that. You just need a base of people who love your work. Who will advocate for you and share your work with their network.
This comes with time and it comes from doing the work. This is a bit of a “chicken and the egg ” scenario but that’s why I invite you to build that portfolio and invest in yourself early on. You’ll have the opportunity to network and create a small base of friends, and followers as you create the work you wish to be paid to create.
That network will continue to grow as you continue to evolve as a (fill in the blank). Kevin Kelly has a book called 1000 True Fans. The idea is that you only need 1000 people who really like what you do to be wildly successful. 1000 is much more achievable than “a million” right? So first focus on just one… then ten… then 100. Your first 100 will be the toughest. Then it’s all down hill!
Friends are better than money.
That’s something I think is important to grasp in life as if in business. Money comes and goes but good friends will have your back for life. I’d sooner make a true friend then a bunch of money. But here we are, capitalism and all that. That idea benefits business too though. Friends will vouch for you, they’ll champion for you on your behalf. Some of your friends might even be in a position to refer you or even hire you!
There’s just so many unpredictable and sometimes unquantifiable way where your friends might support your business. You’ll have to make a lot of sacrifices to get to where you want to go. Don’t sacrifice relationships and friendship. Not only will it benefit your work, but you’ll have people around you to celebrate with when you achieve notable wins along the way!
Some of my greatest clients are my really close friends. Almost all of my business partners also happen to be friends that I’ve known for a lifetime or people I consider to be friends after working with them in a professional capacity. Don’t underestimate the power of being kind and making time for relationship in a capitalistic world.
Focus on improving the quality of your work more than the quality of your gear.
People think that you need the latest and greatest to be a pro. That couldn’t be further from the truth. At the end of the day, it’s a job, and tools are tools. I don’t upgrade my gear unless I absolutely have to. I have an aversion to spending money unnecessarily. You’re way better off focusing on how you can improve your skills and continuously improve your portfolio.
Imagine a paramedic who spent more time worrying about gauze and scissors than life saving skills and practices. Don’t get caught up on all that material stuff. Take courses, learn from others who have paved the way. It’ll make it a lot easier for you and your journey. It will also benefit your potential clients more. Your prospect clients don’t care what you shoot with. They just want to know they can rely on you to do the thing.
Never stop learning and pushing your creative limits. There’s only so much time in the day and I think you’re better off studying great photographers’ work, taking a course, reading a book, and creating new and exciting content. Especially when your competition is wasting time geeking out on gear. Think of it as your “competitive advantage”.
Don’t open doors that aren’t meant to be open.
Shoot what you want to shoot. Be bold, be creative. Don’t take a portrait session if you hate portraits. If you got into this to shoot landscape, shoot landscapes. Find every way in the world to shoot landscapes. The doors you push on will eventually open. If you push on doors that are outside of your preferred passion or niche just because they’re easier to open, you’ll open more and more doors down that path that will eventually lead you away from your main objective.
When you’re just starting out as a photographer it’s critical to try everything. Do it all. Have fun with it and learn what you love and what you don’t love. However, when you’re making the leap to pro. You need to be steadfast in what you want to create. Put on blinders and get comfortable with saying no. It’ll be hard at first but I promise you that you will be rewarded for sticking to it.
Ultimately, you need to learn to trust your instincts. If you follow your heart unapologetically, you’ll get there. The more you give yourself permission to try things and fail, the better you’ll get at putting yourself out there. The more you put yourself out there, the closer you’ll be at realizing your dreams to travel and work outside.