I booked tickets to Bogota, Colombia just last week. I couldn’t contain my excitement as I hit “purchase” on my tickets. After one long year, the world is slowly opening back up and it is welcoming us with socially distanced outstretched arms. But I made a rookie mistake in the midst of all my excitement. My enthusiasm got the better of me and I failed to do my research. My Colombian bucket list cities were Medellin and Cartagena. So I quickly made amends, and now I have the right tickets to the right destination. If you know me, you know that travel is a huge passion of mine. Aside from my business and entrepreneurial interests, traveling is what makes me feel most alive. This is why I’m so excited for my conversation with Rachel Rudwall all about becoming a travel producer and being a global citizen.
Becoming a Travel Producer and Being a Global Citizen
If you need something to fuel your wanderlust, this episode will do the trick. Rachel Rudwall is an Emmy nominated on-camera host, producer, camera writer, and photographer. She has traveled to all seven continents, lived in three countries, and visited nearly 70 nations. Rachel has crossed off bucket list itineraries from climbing Kilimanjaro, scuba diving with bull sharks, and ice climbing for a TV show. In other words, Rachel is kind of the bucket list queen.
Falling in Love with Travel
Rachel’s love of travel started from a very young age. She was lucky enough to have curious parents who stocked their family bookshelves with issues of National Geographic. Coming from a small town in Ohio, Rachel saw college as her opportunity to scratch her itchy feet.
“I wanted to have some adventures in life. I’m going to try to make that loan money and scholarship money work for me. So I studied International Studies and foreign languages. And that created space for me to discover that if I studied abroad, then that’s actually going to be cheaper than if I stay on campus in Ohio.”
That thirst for travel and undergrad-level resourcefulness provided Rachel with an anchor that she really needed. She felt herself getting angsty as her curiosity blossomed, so she built her studies in a way that allowed for exploration.
Becoming a Travel Producer
Rachel secured a dream internship during her junior and senior years in college. The internship was for a travel company that sent her to 16 countries during the summer. Her job? To produce content for what was then known as “video podcasts” on iTunes. That was when she knew she had wanted to become a storyteller. She wanted to focus on travel content and international immersive storytelling. And so her hustle began…
“I spent the next year reaching out to people in the production universes in LA, New York, and DC. I said, ‘Hey, I would love to learn from you and just got back from this summer traveling these places. And if you have 15 minutes, I would be really grateful to learn of your experience as a storyteller.’”
Eventually, those conversations uncovered her desires to get into producing, camera hosting, moving to Los Angeles, and moving her way up the creative ladder.
It’s easy to fall in love with Rachel’s balls to the wall story. Her confidence is admirable and something we all wish we could just have a little slice of. But one thing that Rachel wants to leave you with is this…
“If you’re interested in storytelling, whether it’s video production, writing, or any number of things, you certainly don’t have to go to school for it. And beyond that, nowadays since phones have great cameras and there are so many media platforms that make writing and publishing publicly possible, start by doing that. You’ll be bad at first–I was very bad at first. Anytime you’re new at something, it won’t be your best work. But if you want to learn and you want to get good, just start. Storytelling is something you learn by doing.”
How to Become a Travel Storyteller
As far as dream jobs are concerned, Rachel seems to be one of the lucky ones. However, Rachel’s success had very little to do with luck and a lot to do with perseverance. In fact, if you’re hoping to become a travel storyteller in 2021, the odds are in your favor.
“There are lots of folks nowadays who are producing really excellent, high-quality travel video content and it only lives on their social media channel, their Instagram, their Reels, or their YouTube. Or maybe they’re producing it for clients like hotel chains or a Tourism Board, and those clients might have it live on their websites or their social channel.”
If you’re producing exciting and intriguing content that presents a unique point of view, the opportunities to continue telling stories and getting paid for them are endless. Once you have a steady growth of views under your belt, more doors will open for you.
But if you want to travel down the more traditional route of producing content for TV or streaming services, Rachel suggests getting involved with production circles on Facebook groups.
“I know Facebook isn’t as global as it used to be, but there are really great Facebook networking groups. And you work your way up that way. You can have a plan of becoming a producer, you can have a goal of being a camera operator, and work your way up to eventually director of photography.”
There are multiple pathways that exist today that didn’t exist in the past. Because of the opportunities that social media has provided, it has never been easier to capture the attention of decision-makers who might be interested in buying their own custom content.
Advice from a Professional Travel Storyteller
So Rachel has you feeling inspired to take your travel storytelling to the next level. In this episode, she shares her top tip for honing the craft and mastering the art: know who your audience is.
“Until you know your audience, you aren’t going to do a good job of honoring whoever seeing it.” Rachel emphasizes. The way you create a Reel should be immensely different from the YouTube video you produce. Knowing who your audience is and what they like will not only determine what you shoot but how you’ll put together all your content into a final product.
Pushing Past the Fear and Accomplishing Your Goals
Part of what makes Rachel so admirable is the way she seems to confidently face what many of us would consider fears. Whether it’s reaching out to someone, pitching to work with a company, or even exploring places that the news media has shrouded with doom and gloom, Rachel seems to face it all unafraid.
“The first thing I would say is, being afraid is normal, and it’s a part of life and I’m scared all the time. If anybody ever tells you that they don’t experience fear, they’re probably fibbing. But you do have the power to choose what you’re going to do as your next step when you are afraid.”
To Rachel, fear is a sign that something matters. It’s a sign that you’re either excited about something, you value it, or you want to honor the opportunity. If something intimidates you in a big way, Rachel suggests asking yourself a series of questions.
“What’s the worst that could happen? You send that email and they don’t reply. Okay. Did you lose anything by trying? Nope. But if they do reply, whole worlds might open up to you. You have no sense of what can happen until you do the thing.”
But the most important question Rachel wants you to ask yourself is: what scares you in a good way?
That fear that you have… does it give you a jolt of energy? If it does, you might have more to gain by taking the risk and pursuing it than you have to lose if you don’t.
Becoming a Global Citizen and a More Responsible Traveler
As someone who has traveled the world for a living, Rachel is a forever learner who is committed to becoming a more responsible traveler. This is something that every one of us who loves exploring the world should incorporate as a part of our overall travel education.
“I’m learning. And so anything I share here has been learned because of the wisdom of other people. And there’s still more to learn.” Rachel discloses. But she shares a few bits of wisdom in this episode. The first being the importance of being aware of our impact on local communities and landscapes. Rachel suggests doing this by limiting your impact on sensitive or fragile environments by staying on pre-formed trails. “If a trail exists, follow the trail through the park system, so that you’re not impacting wildflowers or sensitive soil. And leave no trace.”
You can also aim to spend your dollars on local businesses, small businesses, and boutique hotels. “When I’m traveling on my own,” Rachel recalls, “I get really excited to experience with local tour providers and go into mom and pop shops, and eat at the roadside stand.”
Finally, another thing that Rachel shares is that we can all do better by acknowledging the indigenous lands that we are on. “Be aware of whose land it is that we are visiting, that we’re visitors on or in, be thankful for it to provide support where possible, and to be aware of local practices and sacred spaces.”
The Future of Travel Careers
It’s hard to say what the future holds for travel. Travel is one of the industries that was hit the hardest in the tumultuous year otherwise known as 2020. But there’s a silver lining to every bad situation. If 2020 taught us anything about travel, it’s that we need to reevaluate the way in which we go about it. It challenges us to bring our responsibilities and involvement into the travel equation. And as travel content creators and storytellers, it begs the question of what exactly we’re trying to encourage with our audience. I couldn’t think of a more fitting guest to walk us through these tough travel questions than Rachel. As a professional travel producer and global citizen, Rachel isn’t perfect. But she sets a great example for what aspiring travel storytellers should keep in mind when it comes to pursuing their careers and traveling responsibly
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