Loving Long Distance
Anna Mazurek on travel and living with less
by Brittani Sonnenberg
WHEN IT COMES TO casually competitive dinner party conversation about travel, you do not want to go up against Anna Mazurek. Sure, you might have spent a few weeks camping in Iceland. And that ghost story from your Big Bend vacation six years ago is pretty great. But have you photographed the Dalai Lama? Twice? Traveled to 46 countries? Lived in five of them? Visited the Taj Mahal more often than most people visit their cousins in California?
Luckily, Mazurek is not out to make you feel lame about where you haven’t been: she’s all about stoking your urge to go where you heart desires. Her travel blog, travellikeanna.com, is packed with inspiring advice about budgeting, accommodation, and handy guides. Her jaw-dropping Instagram feed is a vacation in itself. But as Anna would say: forget living vicariously. Figure out how to grab that dream for yourself, and don’t let go.
I snatched an hour with her at Brentwood Social House. True to her minimalist predilections, she sipped water while I picked her travel-guru brain.
When did you fall in love with travel?
I always wanted to travel, to be the girl with the cool stories from abroad. My aunt was a big inspiration: she traveled all the time when I was growing up. I began traveling in college, when I spent a semester abroad in England. Before that, I’d only flown twice. I was terrified, but the way I dealt with my fear is the way I’ve dealt with all kinds of fear since: you just focus on the tiny next step. So I only thought as far as getting on the plane. I could manage that much. And I haven’t sat still since I took that first step.
A lot of people think traveling alone would be lonely or dangerous. How do you handle it?
I prefer traveling alone. I hate waiting around on people to do something. It’s hard enough to get your friends to commit to dinner, let alone to plan a major trip! At some point I decided I wasn’t going to let my friends’ schedules hold me back: I wasn’t going to cancel a trip because a friend couldn’t make it. Now I just tell friends where I’m headed, and if they want to join me, great! I love the freedom of that.
You meet tons of people when you travel. I trust people more when I travel: you have more in common with fellow travelers than you often do with others in your hometown. On my last trip to South America, I met some Australians that I traveled with for two months; it was wonderful. But being alone has never bothered me. When I first got started as a freelance photographer, I lived out of hotels for a year and a half. Your camera can be a shield or an entrance ticket.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned on the road?
Traveling in India and throughout Asia has been my biggest learning experience. It’s an attack on the senses: bright colors, beauty, poverty, kindness, and heat. It taught me to embrace minimalism: separating my needs from my wants. I learned a lot about Buddhism, too, which has made me much calmer. These days I don’t kill spiders, I take them outside; I see all life forms as living beings.
Tell me more about becoming a minimalist. How has this philosophy evolved for you?
People have so much stuff. When you travel, you’re a slave to your luggage. Even now, I have to travel with 30 pounds of camera gear. I used to be the girl with two enormous suitcases, the kind of girl guys would have to help in the airport. I began paring down to the bare necessities, and now I travel light. It makes you feel a lot more free.
A lot of people fantasize about a life like yours. How have you shaped your work around travel?
“There’s a clarity that comes from being 5,000 miles away from home, away from the people that most influence you. The timing will never be right. You just have to go.”
When the recession happened, in 2008, and magazine work dried up, I was forced to make a change. I figured it was life telling me to go travel, to go do those things that I wanted to do. It’s another way to think about ambition: how are you going to find a way to do what you love? Some people say travel is running away from your problems, but travel itself doesn’t help you solve anything: you still have to confront yourself when you’re abroad. There’s a clarity that comes from being 5,000 miles away from home, away from the people that most influence you. The timing will never be right. You just have to go. You learn self-reliance, even as you learn to be open to spontaneous connection.
When people find out that I’m a travel blogger and photographer, they tell me lots of little stories. Sometimes travel has represented the happiest or most important times of their lives. Sometimes not traveling has been their deepest regret. When I went to get travel vaccinations for South America, a doctor opened up to me about how much he regretted turning down the opportunity to be a doctor on a cruise ship. Their regret becomes my inspiration.
The thing preventing most people from traveling are their priorities. You can always arrange things differently. You can learn how to shift your spending to afford travel. You can learn how to be in your element. When I travel now, I move where I’m inspired to go: I take photos, I climb things, I wait for the light to turn just right. I’m not a fan of the package tour. I like going rogue.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. See Mazurek’s photography at annamazurekphoto.com, get her advice at travellikeanna.com, and follow her on Instagram at @annamazurekphoto.
Read more from the Travel Issue | May 2017