A Passion for Travel Writing and Photography

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Coming from a family of travelers spread out on several continents, Stockholm based Lola Akinmade Åkerstroem took her first trip abroad before she turned one year old. Since then, and after more than twelve years of working professionally with  integrating Geographic Information Systems (GIS), she has been living her dream, exploring six continents as a travel photographer and writer.

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To Daily Scandinavian Lola tells that she’s always written stories, mostly fiction, but it wasn’t until 2002, when she was working with an expedition in Fiji, that she truly realized she could combine her love for going around with travel writing and photography. She was writing travel narratives about the culture, the places, the very expedition and the teams, and it seemed to come naturally to share her experiences with the world.

Since that time in Fiji, and in particular since 2007, Lola has contributed to several high profile publications and now work as a travel writer and photographer fulltime – http://www.akinmade.com/articles

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One day while researching round-the-world trips, she stumbled across a budding online community called Matador Travel. They published my work and over time, I became one of their editors and also taught their travel photography classes. Today, Matador Network is one of the largest interactive travel magazines and coolest communities on earth.

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After collecting enough online clips including creating a website for showcasing work, Lola felt confident enough to start pitching to various print outlets with links to online samples.

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In terms of photography, Lola’s work started to gain some traction after one of her photos was published in Vogue (UK) and on National Geographic’s sites.

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Today, her photography is represented by National Geographic Creative and she was featured in a 1-minute vignette in collaboration with National Geographic Channel and South Africa Tourism called Through the Lens.

A traveler and a story gatherer’s biggest challenges
“To me the biggest challenge is time and having to leave my very young family behind for extended periods of time. I’m also very fortunate to have a job where, sometimes, I can bring them along. My daughter has racked up quite a couple of stamps in her two years on earth, and my two month old son will get his first soon.”

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The challenge in terms of research is trusting whatever information I find online and being able to parse out what truly and accurately reflects a place. So I usually tend to travel with minimal research on must-sees and so I can organically soak up a place and travel through it slowly.

In terms of production, I’m often backlogged editing all those thousands of photographs I have so I think I need to hire another intern soon,”  Lola says smiling.

View of Östermalm
A changing industry

According to Lola the industry is rapidly changing and it is important to adapt and grow with it too. “Today people are giving away high quality photos for free so trying to make money on just selling photos can be tricky if you don’t have a strong business model.

The biggest challenge most photographers have is building a sustainable model that perseveres through these industry changes. Many people are afraid of marketing themselves, and I’m gratefully that I am able to bring my experience as a consultant and system architect into this field with me.

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That’s also one of the reasons why I’m slowly building my image bank with thousands of images online.”

In fact Lola Akinmade Åkerstroem has a company called Geotraveler Media which is an umbrella company for all her creative work. She personally don’t believe in doing just one thing, especially when someone is a naturally creative person. She doesn’t believe in putting all her eggs in one basket so to speak. So as a freelancer, she shift from skill to skill based on natural ebbs and flows.

What do you find most interesting when writing about Scandinavia or other places?

“I often say that expats are keen observers, mostly because they inhabit that space between mere tourist visiting a place and a born-and-bred local. So expats are good at observing the nuances locals often take for granted. This directly translates into my writing and photography. Because of my innate curiosity, I’m always observing, always listening, and always isolating subjects.”

Once Lola had a phone interview with a Swedish client for some freelancing work. He had found her by googling about Sweden and reading some of her articles. He liked her tone and style but after a while he couldn’t hide his curiosity.

“So…why do you write so much about Sweden?”  he asked.

“You know, because I am African,” Lola replied.

“I read between his lines and chuckled,” she continues. “I proceeded to tell him I write about places. Wherever I find myself for extended periods of time, I don’t just exist. I need to get beneath it, understand how it flows culturally, and learn from it. I don’t just quietly exist in Sweden. I explore it deeply.”

What travel authors or books might you recommend and/or have influenced you?

“There are so many books and authors I enjoy and too many to list. From authors like Chimamanda Adichie to DH Lawrence. One of the books I really enjoyed was “An African in Greenland” by Tété-Michel Kpomassie. I would love to retrace his steps and maybe travel alongside him back. I would love to pen a book someday about my own travels and explorations.”

What is your biggest reward of life as a travel writer?

“The most rewarding is being invited into people’s lives and given the privilege to share their everyday stories through words and photography with others in a respectful way.

If you should entertain friends coming from abroad to Stockholm for the first time what would you like to do?

“I’m a huge fan of Stromma’s brunch cruise because it encapsulates so much of the best of Stockholm in just three hours – viewing the beautiful city and its islands from the water while tucking into traditional Swedish food and sailing through the archipelago in a laid back fashion.

I’m a big foodie so I’d take them to sample Swedish pancakes and pea soup on Thursdays, explore my favorite saluhalls, as well as try various cafes in town to fika like a local.

For business people who might have only one day to explore Stockholm, and should recommend only one museum worth visiting (though there are several), I would say the Vasa museum which houses the 16th century warship of the same name. You get a grand sense of Swedish history by just glancing at the impressive ship.

You can also grab lunch around Medborgarplatsen so you can get a quick snapshot and slice of the diversity of people that call Stockholm home as they mill around this popular square on the island of Södermalm.”

Lola Akinmade Åkerström
As a Stockholm-based writer and photographer, Lola Akinmade Åkerström’s work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Travel + Leisure, Slate, Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, several in-flight magazines, and many more – http://www.akinmade.com/articles.

Her photography is represented by National Geographic Creative. She was also in South Africa on a photography assignment for National Geographic Channel shooting a vignette called “Through The Lens” which airs on Nat Geo channel across the globe.

She is the editor-in-chief of Slow Travel Stockholm which is dedicated to exploring Stockholm slowly.

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All photos (except image photo on top): Lola Akinmade Åkerstroem