Mastering the Art of Solo Travel with Laura Austin

I’ve never met someone quite like Laura. She’s quiet, cerebral, intelligent with a insatiable thirst to create, discover, and experience. Always on the go, always for herself, even when she’s shooting for a client. Because Laura has mastered the art of traveling solo, we found it fit to produce a travel book based off her explorations. SOLO is a travel guide that focuses on the intellectual merit of hitting the road alone. Featuring images from her many jaunts she takes alone, SOLO will be available for purchase at Agenda Festival this weekend – be sure to swing by our booth at D23 to grab yours or order here.

I asked Laura all about her experiences as a solo female traveler. Check out what she has to say below.

Q&A

LF: What inspired you to create SOLO?

LA: Solo travel seems to have become what I am most known for, or at least what grabs people’s attention. Every time I go on a solo trip I always get people asking me questions like, “Do I get lonely? Am I scared to travel alone as a female?” My solo trips serve a much deeper purpose for me than just going to cool, photogenic place and I wanted to share that side of it with others. Social media isn’t necessarily the best outlet to get deep and philosophical, as that tends to come off as preachy and is easily dismissed. It needed to be something tangible… Something that people could hold in their hands, flip though, read, and re-read until the sentiments on the pages resonated with them.

LF: How have your solo travels informed your photography work?

LA: Hmmm. This is a question I have never really considered. Since most of my work these days is commercial, solo road trips allow me to shoot photos just for my own sake. It reminds me why I picked up a camera in the first place and reignites my passion for the craft. That trickles down into my professional work and keeps me from getting jaded.

LF: Describe the first time you traveled alone. Where did you go? How did you feel?

LA: The first time I did an extensive trip on my own was in 2008 when I had to move from Vermont to California for a job. I packed as much as I could in my little car and drove across the country by myself in 3 days when I was 18 – which was pretty insane, as I had to drive 15 hours per day to make it to California in time to start my first day of work. I tend to not count this though because I did this trip out of necessity, not for personal reasons. This trip mainly just involved driving as fast as I legally could, sleeping in my car at rest areas, eating horrible fast food, and being fueled by Red Bull.

My first intentional solo road trip was in 2014 after going through a rough patch in a relationship and feeling like I needed to get away to avoid breaking down. You can learn all about that trip in SOLO.

As far as how I felt… Solo travel provides an incredible sense of freedom – freedom from distractions, other people’s opinions, and obligations.

LF: In your experience, which out of the countries you’ve traveled to is the best for a solo trip? Why?

LA: I’ve done the most solo travel in the US, just because it is easy for me to get in my car and go whenever I need to escape. The geography in the United States is so diverse, so you can seek out whatever it is that you are attracted to. If I had to pick somewhere abroad, I would probably say Iceland. That place is magical and transformational. There is so much beauty to absorb there, and the locals are so friendly, so if you ever got stuck in a sticky situation I am sure they would be more than willing to help.

LF: Have you ever felt frightened while traveling alone? How did you overcome this fear?

LA: I’ve psyched myself out a few times… Thinking that a stranger was eying me in a weird way as I was eating alone in a restaurant… Worried how safe I would really be sleeping alone in the front seat of my car at a rest area in the middle of nowhere… Getting the heebie jeebies in questionable motel rooms. But in all those situations I just let my imagination get the best of me, and nothing bad actually happened. I’ve travelled alone enough at this point that I’m pretty comfortable in most situations by myself now, but not to the point where I’ve let my guard down. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings and avoid obviously sketchy situations, especially as a young female on your own. Living in fear is a miserable existence. I’ll never let the idea of all the possible negative outcomes inhibit me from doing something I really want to do. You just need to be smart about it.

LF: What has been the most rewarding moment during your time on the road?

LA: Oh man, so many come to mind… But I’ll just pick the one that popped in first. When I was staying in Sedona, Arizona I woke up at 4:30 AM and drove to the base of the hike up to Cathedral Rock, the most iconic landmark in the area and usually a heavily trafficked area. It was still dark and cold when I started the hike, so I put on my headlamp and started the steep accent. This is a pretty gnarly hike even just to do in broad daylight as a majority of it is spent scrambling up steep rock faces, pretty much rock climbing on certain sections. So doing it without a single other soul around in the dark was sketchy to say the least. After an hour of climbing, I made it to the top, a saddle between two giant red-rock pillars. I sat on the edge of a cliff and watched the sun rise over all of Sedona. I was laughing the entire time with the most stupid grin spread across my face. It was a moment of pure and utter bliss. The sense of accomplishment for doing the hike in the dark, the beauty of that sunrise, and tranquility of being up there utterly alone blew my mind. Hands down, one of the happiest moments of my life. I didn’t encounter another person until I was just about back to my car and I still had that shit eating grin on my face.

LF: Has your independent approach to seeing the world affected any of your personal relationships? Have you had loved ones worry about you?

LA: Worried about me? Nah… I grew up as a pretty independent daredevil. My parents specifically have grown to expect this sort of behavior from me. Sure, maybe they might be worried about my safety in their own heads, but they would never vocalize this to me. Both my mom and dad have always been supportive of whatever seemingly-outlandish thing I’ve been compelled to do. But they probably also know that no matter if they told me it was a good idea or not, I am stubborn enough that I would do it anyway. So shout out to Paul and Katherine for encouraging and enabling me to always forge my own path.

LF: There’s six months left in 2017. What locales do you hope to see before the year closes?

LA: Japan is currently at the top of my bucket list. I’m not positive if that will happen this year or not. I know I will end up going there eventually. I tend to just go wherever the wind blows me when opportunities present themselves. I enjoy the spontaneity of that, so we’ll just have to see which direction the wind is blowing next.

LF: How fast do you live?

LA: Try to keep up and you’ll find out.

It’s All Gucci…