Lola Akinmade Åkerström’s photography and travel writing are often characterized by vibrancy and hope. In college, she specialized in Geographic Information Systems, and her affinity for the geosciences and maps meant she was born to travel. She is the 2018 Travel Photograher of the Year Bill Muster Award recipient, and her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, BBC, CNN and other leading publications.
1.)Where was the first place that you traveled that made you think WOW—travel is amazing (think history book come to life or …..)
I would say spending three weeks in Fiji volunteering with an expedition race. Even though I’d been traveling solo before then, that was when it really clicked for me that I could travel and make it my living through writing and photography in a way that was attainable.
2.)If you had unlimited resources, where would you go and what would you do?
I would go right back to the South Pacific with my family and island-hop for at least 9-12 months, visiting all the island countries and spending 3-4 weeks on each one. That would be the ultimate dream!
3.)What were you afraid to do and how did you find the courage to overcome it?
I call myself a cautious risk-taker. Meaning I have no intention of bungee-jumping but I love zip-lining. But the biggest risk or chance I took was moving to a new country, dropping a stable career as a programmer and starting from scratch as a writer and photographer while learning a new language – Swedish – in a closed-off society.
It was at that moment I realized how much I’d tied my identity to what I did in the past as a living until it was completely stripped away.
I’ve done everything from black-water rafting in caves, jumping off cliffs, trekking in Peru, chasing Northern Lights in the Arctic, husky-sledding and more, but that transition from the US to Sweden was one of my most vulnerable moments which I documented here – “Letting go of past lives”.
Not only am I well-integrated now, I’ve written a book on Swedish culture called LAGOM that is available in 17 foreign languages and sold in 50+ countries.
4.)What apps do you use regularly that make your life easier?
Google Translate because I’m always reading at least one item in a foreign language.
Oanda Currency because I’m always sending invoices to various international clients and working across borders.
WhatsApp to connect and have conversations with my family and friends across multiple continents all at once.
5.)What place do you wish more people have seen?
There are so many amazing places in this world but Greenland and Faroe Islands are quite spectacular because they truly remind us all just how small we are in the grand scheme of life. The landscapes on the Faroe Islands and the icebergs in Greenland are otherworldly and ethereal.
6.)Best advice you have been given and by whom?
There are so many words of wisdom I’ve learned over the years from so many inspiring people, but I think the perspective-giving one I love actually comes from my native language: Yoruba. It says something along the lines of the sky is big enough for all birds to fly comfortably without colliding. So, I personally operate from a mentality of abundance and openness, as opposed to competition and perceived scarcity. It truly is a freeing and liberating way to process the world.
7.)When were you surprised by the kindness of strangers on a trip?
There are so many times I’ve met wonderful souls but a particular experience I would never forget once happened in Luxembourg. I walked into a small store and the owner/older lady at the counter immediately went into a racist tirade, screaming I needed to leave her store at once and that she had windows I could look in from… Utterly shocked and confused, I left her shop and started walking away. A few meters and I’d started crying silently because that was the very first time someone just looked at me and decided I was “substandard” and “unworthy”.
While walking away, I heard someone screaming “Mademoiselle! Mademoiselle!” It was another older customer who had been in the store and had run after me. After she caught her breath panting, she apologized saying “We’re not like that. I am so sorry you had to deal with that. Please believe we’re not like that.” in broken English.
That small gesture from a complete stranger is what has allowed me to give people benefit of doubt to this day.
8.)What inspired you to travel for extended periods of time or live in a new country?
I actually don’t travel for months on end because I have a young family but I travel with intention and I slow down my pace on location. I love listening to what a place wants to tell me about its people, its culture, what it values, and what it frowns upon. And to listen, one must slow down and stop so the other party can open up and pull you in closer.
9.)I travel because….
I love exploring culture through food, tradition, and lifestyle. For me, travel is about being an open-minded sponge to not only soak up other cultures in respect, but to also squeeze some of myself and my culture out in return to foster understanding, break down bias, and break through prejudices.
10.) My favorite travel or business book is…
11.) How about hotels? What’s your favorite or one you’d recommend?
My two favourite brands are Four Seasons and Marriott. I’ve worked with both brands and really, truly enjoy their properties.
Lastly, can you please recommend a resource for up-and-coming travel writers; this could be a course you know, a book, conference etc.
I would highly recommend this book – How to Sell Travel Stories. Join different travel writing communities on Facebook so you connect with your peers. Attend conferences like Travel Classics. I would also say look at the pitching charts I’ve been compiling since 2008! There is a lot you can learn in terms of the process and progression of working as a freelance travel writer.
Based in Sweden, Lola Akinmade Akerstrom is also editor-in-chief of Slow Travel Stockholm – an editorial site which encourages travelers to explore Stockholm deeper and slowly, and was the photoblogger for Sweden’s official website.
Stay up-to-date on their travels through:
Our next Travel Influencer interview will be up in a week, follow the series here.