Every month we introduce you to an inspiring woman who travels and this month it’s time to feature another one of our own writers: Rose Palmer. She might have only recently joined the team, but ever since she has inspired us with her wonderful stories and dreamy photos from South America.
To find out more about Rose, how she got into travel writing and how travel has impacted her life, read on!
Who are you and how did you get involved with Travelettes?
My name’s Rose and I am from the UK. I got involved with Travelettes when I moved to Buenos Aires in Argentina earlier this year. I was looking to document my experiences of traveling around South America and a journalist friend from New York forwarded me an ad that Katja had posted on Facebook. I applied and joined the team in May!
Cycling through the Valley of the Moon in the Atacama Desert
What’s your travel story – how did it all begin?
When I was young our holidays tended to be in the UK and determined by the weather because my dad was a farmer. If there was going to be rain then he could leave the crops for a few days without having to irrigate them! We used to go to the black mountains in Wales, to Salcombe in Devon, or camp in our field and eat stinging nettle stew. I have such fond memories of these trips and it reminds me that you don’t have to go too far afield to have an adventure.
My first big trip was to climb the Himalayas in India when I was 17 – I went with a group of school friends. I remember being in awe of the scenery but also very homesick. It took a while for me to be able to travel without missing home too much – it’s not really talked about as an issue, but I think it probably affects quite a few young women.
As I’ve got older, I’ve realized that I enjoy traveling most when I immerse myself in a place, rather than trying to cram in lots of different locations, only scraping the surface. That’s why I’ve chosen to live abroad – first in Moscow and now in Buenos Aires. I think I get the best of both worlds this way – a chance to really get to explore a new city and country but also the opportunity to travel to new places that are now on my doorstep.
At the top of Stok Kangri in Ladakh (6153m), Northern India
Wading through a stream during our two-week trek in the Himalayas
You’ve moved from the UK to Argentina – how come?
I’d been working in the same job in London for a while and was coming to the end of a PhD. At the same time, I’d been dreaming for many years of pursuing photography and documentary-making but could never quite find the courage to leave my comfortable 9-5 for the perilous terrain of a freelance career.
I remember having lunch with a group of friends and we all decided that we’d move abroad together to a paradise somewhere (you can read more about that here). Although everyone else flaked out, that’s really the moment when my boyfriend and I decided we were going to do it! We agreed that we’d leave once I finished my PhD, which gave us about 10 months to plan.
What have you learnt from it so far?
It’s been an incredible experience so far. The biggest learning curve has definitely been getting to grips with the Spanish language! I’m by no means at the point where I could eloquently discuss complex topics (for example the ethics of travel to places like Iceland), but I can understand a lot and can hold a reasonable conversation.
One of my aims for my time in Argentina is to work on creative photography and documentary projects. Being in a new, unfamiliar place and traveling through South America has been so inspiring – I’ve honestly never seen landscapes so sublime and it’s fascinating to explore the culture. I’ve been taking photos all the time and I am definitely improving (in my opinion at least)! And now that my Spanish is a bit better, I am beginning to collaborate on some video projects with an Argentine news organization. Watch this space!
The other thing I’ve learnt is that I can live with less. Managing to survive 8 months with just two suitcases makes me realise how much extraneous stuff I own. When I left my flat in London, I had to store piles and piles of boxes – time for a clear out I think!
How are you able to incorporate travel in your “normal” life?
I work freelance and the work I do (communications, video editing, budgets for research) can all be done remotely. I’m really grateful that in my previous jobs I developed these skills and built good relationships, which enable me to do this. I hope to eventually make a living from photography and documentary work but for now this source of income keeps me afloat!
If you’re dreaming of living and working abroad, but are currently in a job at home, I’d highly recommend thinking about what transferable skills you can develop to enable you to work freelance while away.
A festival in Cusco, Peru
What makes a happy expat life for you?
Friends! It takes a while to make them in a new place, but once you do it enriches the whole experience.
What are some of the places that fascinate you particularly?
Russia is probably the most extraordinary place I have ever been. I worked in Moscow as a journalist for 9 months and it was an eye-opening experience – the history, architecture, culture and people are so fascinating. I remember getting into St Petersburg at 7am and being offered a shot of vodka on arrival at my hostel; chatting to the drivers of gypsy cabs who would take you anywhere in the city for 200 roubles and who told me life was better under the Soviet regime; meeting Dennis, a man with tattoos of pistols on both arms, who I suspect may have been a gangster; seeing men dressed as Stalin marching about outside red square; the initial hostility and then warmth of people once you got to know them; how dill was served with absolutely every meal; ice-skating alone in red square; seeing Lenin’s embalmed body; going to a restaurant with a live cow in the middle of it; the incredible nights out; and the terrible ‘face-control’ door policy to prevent people deemed unattractive from going into clubs. It truly is the most unique place.
A proud Cossack on the metro and the Russian winter
Ice skating alone in Red Square
How did you start writing and taking photos – and how does it maybe change the way you travel (and vice versa)?
I got given a Polaroid for Christmas when I was about 10. I remember my grandma and I would dress up my sister, so I could take photos of her for my home-made magazine. I’ve always had a camera pretty much ever since then, though I mainly just used to take photos for the sake of remembrance. It’s only recently that I’ve started focusing on composition, lighting and finding my own, unique style. I’m also thinking more and more about not just taking cool pictures, but about how I can tell stories about people and places through photos.
Getting into travel photography has made me much keener to get off the beaten track so that I can get shots that haven’t been replicated by tourists thousands of times. It has also definitely made me more annoying as a travel partner as I tend to wander off and want to spend much longer in places! I haven’t yet traveled alone, but it’s becoming more and more appealing!
I came to writing much later than photography. In fact, I never thought I was any good at it! I did a course and then worked in broadcast journalism, which definitely helped. That, combined with writing a PhD of over 80,000 words, gave me the confidence to start putting pen to paper about my experiences and travels.
Uyuni salt flats at dawn
Miner in Potosi, Bolivia
Feeding pigeons in La Paz
What makes an interesting travel story for you?
The travel stories I’m most interested in are always about the lives of ordinary people from cultures and contexts completely different to my own. I love to learn who people are, what they do and how they relate to the environment around them. I get a bit bored by the constant idealization of travel – pictures of glamorous Instagrammers in the same spots – it just feels quite superficial. I’m much more interested in getting to know the people living and working in particular places and I’m trying to incorporate more of this into my writing and photography.
I love picking up on unexpected details that make me smile. I’ve just got back from a trip to the Atacama Desert in Chile, where I was lucky enough to visit ALMA, the world’s largest telescope array situated on the Chajnantor plateau 5,000m above sea level. When we arrived at the top, the engineers who were wearing boiler suits, had oxygen tanks strapped on their backs and were moving antennas worth millions of dollars, were listening to Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ at full volume. The science and views were amazing, but it’s this human touch that I won’t forget.
ALMA Observatory, Chile
What are your priorities when you select your next destination?
I’m normally quite spontaneous when it comes to deciding on destinations but good food, opportunities for adventure and interesting culture are always important to me. I’d love to do a food tour in Israel – I’m utterly obsessed with Yottam Ottolenghi and want to visit the lands that inspired his extraordinary recipes! I also want to return to Ethiopia – I spent a week visiting families there as part of my PhD but there so much more of the country I want to see, the Simien Mountains, the Omo tribespeople with their extraordinary face paint and the city of Addis Ababa. I’m also desperate to visit Japan!
School children in Ethiopia
Where do you feel most at home?
Home to me will always be my parents’ farm in Worcestershire. I grew up running about in the fields and I think this upbringing inspired my sense of adventure!
What’s next? Do you have any trips or projects coming up you’d like to share?
I’m going to be in Argentina until April next year so am trying to fit in as many trips as possible before I leave! I’ve already lined up wine tasting in Mendoza and whale and penguin watching in Península Valdés. I’m currently planning to drive the 1,200km Carretera Austral in Chile with some friends early next year – it’s supposed to be one of the world’s most beautiful road trips. And before my boyfriend and I leave the continent we are planning to do a trip through Colombia and Brazil.
A mother and infant from Alexandra township in Johannesburg
Aside from traveling for pleasure, I’ve also got a couple of international documentary projects that I’m looking forward to working on. I’m heading to Germany to film at a first entry refugee camp where they are offering vulnerable families psychological support. And I’m also working with a friend on a feature length documentary about mothers supporting new mothers in a township in Johannesburg. Watch the trailer here.
Thanks for your time Rose, can’t wait to read more of your stories soon! For now, check out Rose’s contributions here!