Travel and making a career from it

Over the last 15 years I’ve travelled extensively through Africa, Europe and now Australia.

It started as a selfish passion; a chance to escape the UK’s cold and dark shores during the winter months and head to the opposite side of the world to reap the rewards of sunshine and the lifestyle of the Southern Hemisphere.

As I grew tired of the trodden backpacker routes I ventured to further afield and embarked on celestial expeditions through Africa, chasing eclipses to lands I’d never dreamed of visiting; in 2000 to Mozambique and 2001 to Botswana.

These magical, mystical happenings in the sky offered the perfect opportunity to venture to a distant destination only dreamt about on maps, sprawled across a table at home.

I felt like an early explorer, venturing down trails not knowing what lay around the next corner. It was exciting, fresh and raw – the sort of travel I was made of. Forget the hostels, nightclubs and Greyhound buses – this was back to basics – corrugations and dirt roads, camp by the side of the rivers and wake up to a crowd of curious locals!

But where the pioneers of travel had been equipped with merely a compass and drawing pad, I’d utilised technology to capture and share the moment. A GPS and film SLR camera getting me to the right place at the right time to witness and photograph one of the spectacles of our universe – a total eclipse of the sun.

With two mini-expeditions complete, my desire to see the rest of Africa was in full flame. My next adventure would take on the darkest and most dangerous continent in the world alone. It was travel, but travel with a purpose.

Afritrex – a 12-month fundraising expedition to circumnavigate Africa in a Land Rover, and along the way climb five of the highest mountains and run five full marathons. Training, adventure, challenges, logistics and unknown situations – enough to whet even the most insatiable nomadic appetite.

By documenting these adventures my travels had entered a different realm, one of voyeuristic pleasure to people around the world. Whereas before they were my own keepsakes, now my blogs, photos and videos were a source of motivation – a catalyst for the undecided to get off the couch and pursue those distant dreams.

And that’s when blogging became more than just a diary; it was now a source of income and one that regularly needed filling with posts, photos and videos. A multi-dimensional interactive record of experiences and adventures for the Internet consumer and Expeditioner alike.

Winning Tourism Queensland’s Best Job in the World gave me more fuel. The opportunity to travel around a new part of the world, documenting my adventures but this time someone would pay me to do it. Six months of learning to take better photos, edit videos, have some wild experiences and explore the entire Great Barrier Reef with 8.5million people around the world watching it through my website. Suddenly those photos weren’t just for my own album.

Best expedition

Best expedition

I’ve always taken photos whenever I can. Being there to capture a hippo yawn in Botswana, watching a fisher boy catch his dinner in Gambia, witnessing the sun set into the dusty deserts of Sudan or snapping a Cleaner Wrasse feast inside a Coral Trout’s mouth – all worthy of more than just a memory, something to share with the world.

I’m not a brilliant photographer, maybe only just an average one, but I love trying to get ‘that’ shot. I’ve worked alongside true experts – film producers with an eye, cameramen who know all about f-stops and underwater photographers who always get their exposure spot on, and every time I watch them, I learn a little more. Tips, tricks and secrets that one day may help me bring it all together for my perfect travel photo.

As DSLR video has developed I use it more and more to capture my footage, switching lenses to suit, shooting and editing everything myself. My motto “to have everything I need in just one bag” – my reliable Crumpler backpack. The day I need more than that, I’m no longer a travelling digital journalist, more a film crew without the people.

Having the next adventure planned or flight booked keeps life from becoming sterile.

Next up – I’m writing this on the way back to Cairns having just seen my fourth Total Solar Eclipse – another chance to snap away at the moon passing in front of the sun but this time in Australia.

Total eclipse

Total eclipse

And from there it’s back to the mountains, again in Australia. An ascent of the highest mountain in each state in the shortest ever time in April 2013. I’ll fill my backpack and take to the trails, running up each and documenting my adventurous challenge as I go.

Life is out there for the taking, get outdoors and take it on. We only have one chance on Planet Earth – make sure it doesn’t eclipse you.

Follow my adventures on Twitter @bensouthall or on my new website (launching mid December 2012)

Ben 🙂

Published by Ben Southall Dec 7, 2012