An Interview with Lola Akinmade-Åkerström

Lola Akinmade-Åkerström has an amazing freelance writing and photography pedigree–from National Geographic Traveler to Travel + Leisure to The San Francisco Chronicle, Lola has worked with plenty of editors in the business. In our interview, Lola talks about her work as a freelancer and how she made it a full-time profession. Check out Lola’s portfolio online at her website!

How did you get started in the travel writing world? What first opened the door for you?

I’ve always been a passionate traveler but it wasn’t until 2002 when I spent three weeks in Fiji with the Eco-challenge expedition race as a volunteer field journalist did I get turned onto travel writing, specifically writing about “place”.

As a field journalist on their web team, my job was to follow the competitors as they navigated remote parts of Fiji, writing up stories about different villages, landscapes, doing interviews, and writing up press releases for the website daily – http://lolaakinmade.com/2008/06/14/eco-challenge-fiji-2002/

In terms of actually taking that budding interest to the next level, I found Matador Network in late 2006/early 2007 where I got to publish my travel stories and photographs online which added another layer of visibility to my work.

From there, it began to grow.

Where do you see your career as a writer being three years from now? How will your income mix change and what are you doing to adapt to the changing media landscape?

Three years from now, I do see myself continuing what I love to do – writing and photography – and taking both to even higher levels in terms of quality, reach beyond travel, and wider audience. I’d love to be involved in a couple book projects, all the while keeping my finger on the pulse of the media industry as platforms continually shift.

One of my clients is Sweden and I freelance for them as a writer and photographer. So I see myself consulting for various DMOs and tourism boards helping them with various campaigns, initiatives, and more to improve overall quality of work.

I would love to have meaningful brand partnerships (like Nikon or Panasonic for photography, for example) that go beyond just the typical traffic and numbers game, but actual real person-to-person reach and influence. I have a good social media presence across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and a few more, but I obviously can’t be on or follow every social media outlet.

Knowing what you do now, if you were starting from scratch today to become established as a travel writer or blogger, what steps would you take to ensure success?

I’m still learning everyday as a writer and photographer who also blogs, but knowing what I know so far, I would have reevaluated how much energy and time I spent for very little gain in the beginning of my career.

All the time I’d slaved away on someone else’s project could have easily been spent building up my own business and/or blog. Not to say I don’t love working with startups, passion projects, and supporting colleagues, now I know better that time is money and money is time, and would have reprioritized better.

Lola, you’re a highly accomplished freelance writer. What advice would you give to someone near and dear to you who wanted to become a freelance travel writer—assuming they had zero credits to their name?

I often get emails asking the same questions. First and foremost, forget those bylines for now. They will come organically and as one gets that first byline, it’s often a snowball-effect that opens up more doors.

Here are the first three things they need to focus on:

First identify why you want to be a freelance travel writer – Is it for press trips/free perks (which I rarely take). Is it because it sounds like a glamorous lifestyle? (I personally try not to glamorize travel). Are they truly passionate about it? Because if you’re not passionate about something, whatever it may be, you won’t have the resilience to stick through the tough times.

Don’t quit your day job – I didn’t quit mine until 2009, and I’d been freelancing 2-3 years before then on the side. Again, this harkens back to passion. If you’re passionate about something, you’ll do what it takes to keep that passion alive on the side until you feel you’ve got enough traction to pursue it full-time.

Visibility is key – This means getting your work out there so others have the opportunity to see it. If you’re still journaling offline without any web presence such as a blog for your travel musings, how are potential editors/partners ever going to discover your talent?

What’s the connection for you between travel writing and travel photography? In your opinion, do the two aim to do the same thing (show a new place/introduce a new culture), or do they have different purposes?

Travel writing and travel photography for me complement each other nicely and I’m fortunate and grateful to be able to do both and sell both. For me, travel photography captures a sense of place which even the most evocative prose may miss sometimes, and I also love capturing people and places in their simplicity which are beautiful enough. I don’t think they have different purposes because they both aim to take readers/viewers along the journey. But sometimes, simply showing that old lady with lines of wisdom etched all over her face is often a stronger visual than trying to describe those age lines.

Tell us a little bit about Geotraveler Media, the multimedia and travel consulting firm you run. How did you get started with that and how has it helped you further define your niche in the travel industry?

I fancy myself a Jane of many trades – writing, photography, social media, art, web design, programming, travel consulting – and I needed an umbrella company to handle all aspects of my business activities, so when I moved to Sweden, I moved my company which used to be called Lemurworks, and rebranded it as Geotraveler Media.

Before becoming a fulltime freelancer, I worked as a GIS application developer/System Architect for 12+ years and have a Masters degree in Information Systems so my background is very technical.

But I also have a creative side as well. Many may not know that I’m the cartoonist behind Office Supplies – The Comic ©, and oil painter behind Art by Lola.

So in addition to providing writing and photography services as a freelance travel journalist, my company also provides various consulting services including social media, content, and brand visibility, as well as web design/programming services and the occasional painting or two.

So in summary, I add my own creative-technical spin on problem solving and finding solutions for my clients.

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Lola Akinmade Åkerström is an award-winning writer, photographer, and blogger based in Stockholm, Sweden. Her work appears in many major travel publications around the world such as National Geographic Traveler (US & UK versions), BBC, CNN, Travel + Leisure, Lonely Planet, New York Times Online, San Francisco Chronicle, Fodor’s, Matador Network, and many more – http://www.akinmade.com/articles.

Interview conducted in September, 2012 by Kristin Mock.

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