Lola Akinmade's photography is simply stunning. She reveals beauty in ways that only a camera can capture. Just as impressive as her photos are all the places she's visited to take them. Lola has traveled across Latin America, Asia, over 30 countries in Europe and regularly visits her country of birth, Nigeria. In addition to travel photography, Lola is a travel writer and has submitted to several travel magazines. She has received numerous awards for both her travel writing and photography.
In this interview Lola discusses how she became interested in travel and got her start as a professional travel writer. She also offers advice to those who share the travel bug.
Most importantly, Lola demonstrates that when traveling to far away places, a sense of personal and spiritual grounding is important. We are so happy to have spoken with her. Here is what she shared...
Many people think of traveling as an opportunity to learn about and renew yourself--people gain a lot by traveling. You’ve traveled to industrialized nations as well as developing countries. Do you think that what a traveler stands to gain or contribute varies in different settings? If so, how?
While many of us see travel as a way of gaining new insights into different cultures, as a traveler, you contribute by being a cultural ambassador of sorts. You courteously introduce people to your values and your lifestyle without disrespecting or devaluing theirs.
Traveling through both industrialized and developing nations serves as a reminder that we’re all the same in terms of our intrinsic need for individualism and propensity towards prejudice. Travelling to regions where there may not be preconceived stereotypes of a certain group of people means the cultural interaction is much more organic, more pure.
Any tips for those of us traveling on a budget?
I think a common misconception is that travel is “expensive”. The word “budget” is extremely subjective. Budget could mean a $10/night shared dorm room for a frugal backpacker or a $50/night three-star hotel for a digital nomad.
The first tip would be to define your own meaning of the word. Once you’ve outlined what you can or can’t live without--preferences--while travelling, then you can start finding cheaper alternatives to the things you do need and ways of phasing out the things you don’t need.
Also, here’s a particularly popular piece that shows you ways you can also travel for free!
How did you become interested in travel?
Ever since I was a little girl growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, I’d always been fascinated with geography. Yes, National Geographic played an early role as well. I loved maps and was always curious about the world. They brought the world to me through magazines and television shows, inspiring that little African girl’s dream to someday work for them.
My father also worked as a geologist for many years and I loved listening to tales about his international travels. Those stories fueled my wanderlust and kept stoking it until it became a matter of when travel would happen, not if it would.
Ironically, I’ve spent the last 14+ years working with interactive maps almost daily as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) developer.
How did you get involved in travel writing? What are some of the outlets you write for?
My very first foray into travel writing came when I volunteered with an expedition racing organization called Eco-Challenge back in 2002. As a field journalist, I wrote up dispatches and interviews with the competitors from deep within the Fijian jungles. Saying it was the experience of a lifetime is a gross understatement.
Then I discovered the Matador Travel community and submitted my first article to Senior Editor David Miller. He was willing to take a chance on me, providing topnotch mentoring throughout the editorial process and offering encouragement when I struggled.
So far, I have contributed to many publications such as National Geographic Traveler, Vogue UK, Travel Channel’s World Hum, Forbes Traveler, Fodors.com, United’s Hemispheres and many more...
The Matador team has put together a fantastic program – MatadorU – guaranteed to help aspiring writers grow and become published travel writers.
Do you keep a personal journal? How often do you write in it?
I do keep a blog, www.lolaakinmade.com, and I used to keep a personal journal but not anymore. The only exception is while traveling. Then I’ve got at least 1 or 2 journals for each trip.
Now that I’m transitioning into fulltime freelancing at the end of this month, I’m hoping to find more time to get back to daily journaling.
I strive to write every day. Even if it’s just a few lines of random musings.
Do you have any words of advice for people interested in travel photography and travel writing as a career?
There are so many talented writers and photographers out there. This fact can inspire you to pursue those very dreams or even intimidate and discourage you. My very first advice is to be realistic in your expectations. Everyone wants to get paid to do what they love and standing apart from the crowd is going to be your biggest challenge.
That said, find ways to nurture and develop your photography and writing. Start promoting your photography online through outlets like Flickr. Enter contests. Submit your work to photo editors.
Be proactive. Be your own sales and marketing team.
For budding travel writers, write as often as you can. Develop a platform to showcase your work. The Matador editorial team recently put out an article “How Do You Advance as a Writer?” that’s worth checking out in addition to the travel writing course at MatadorU.
It ultimately boils down to resilience. Are you willing to stick with it when the going gets tough?
I absolutely love photographing people and connecting with them through the lens. I tend to capture the lighter side of our emotions. Those feelings of elation; of hope, of utter happiness. Those fleeting moments of absolute bliss even in the midst of the worst conditions. In travel photography, portraits are the most difficult to attain. You’re contending with strangers with different cultural rules, various social norms, and diverse traditions. Navigating those cultural differences with finesse is a skill that comes over time through trial and error.
I do have a preference for color photography because we live in such a vivid world, and color instantly sets the mood of a photograph.
What do you like the most about photography?
Similar to painting, photography provides you with a blank canvas and millions of opportunities to create, compose, recreate, and recompose your perfect vision. There’s an instant gratification that comes with looking at a beautifully composed photograph seconds after you’ve just snapped it.
Is there anything you’re particularly interested in seeing or learning from Live Unchained the anthology and movement?
Live Unchained is such an exciting movement that needs and deserves more coverage.
I love the concept and it’s time for women of color to start living out their dreams and talents. Reminds me of a speech by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie on “The Danger of the Single Story” and her thoughts on the infusion of characters like her, like me, into modern day literature.
Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?
Living unchained means living your authentic self to its fullest potential. It means developing your values, your belief systems, and being able to defend them when cornered. It means making choices that are focused on growing you into the best individual you can be – spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically.
If responsibilities are tying you down and other obstacles are preventing you from truly living the life you were meant to be living, start taking baby steps towards those passions.
A full life can only be realized if the “real you” shows up to participate.