How to fund travel, with Gene Pembroke
A few months ago whilst meandering around a local street market we came upon a photography stall with some stunning travel shots. Automatically intrigued we took a closer look only to find each image came with a story of how it had come about. There were beehives from Tajikistan, midday prayers in Cairo and coffee makers from Europe. We were totally transported to each of the places and our bucket list became a whole lot bigger! Naturally we had to learn more about these pictures so we struck up a conversation with the artist, Gene Pembroke, who is a fascinating individual. We were so inspired by his story we just had to interview him so you can all hear it too! So enjoy, be inspired and check out his photography.
When was your first travel experience? Where did you go, what did you do?
I saw a lot of the US when I was little, and some of Canada and Mexico as a teenager. My first overseas trip was Thailand, and it got me very excited about going places, such as everywhere, for the rest of my life.
What has been your most unique travel experience?
Probably working in a foreign place with local people. It’s the best way to immerse oneself, and provides a special perspective. I picked apples in Ireland alongside some seasoned orchard folk , and worked with some lively people doing the graveyard shift at a Belfast meat-packing plant as well. I was an extra in several movies and television programs in Egypt too, with local actors. That was loads of fun and very interesting. Other than that, maybe firing a Kalashnikov on a beach in Yemen or being just a meter away from a whale doing a spy-hop in Antarctica.
How do you tend to travel?
Walking, cycling, seaplane, bus, train, tractor, donkey cart, zip-line, camel, horse, hitching…
How do you choose where you go?
Randomly, usually, but many places I read about when I was little are eventual goals.
What’s life like on the road for you?
I simply love it. My life at home also involves a lot of road travel, so I am used to it. Including the US, I am on the road 9-11 months per year. It’s not for everybody, but apparently it’s for me.
How do you fund your traveling?
After a few years of wandering around on trips funded mainly by experimental pharmaceutical research (I was a lab rat, basically), I started to show my photography at galleries and festivals. People started to appreciate the images, and surprisingly, began to buy them. My photographs are now my sole source of income.
When did you first decide to start selling your travel images and how did you go about that?
Accidentally, and after traveling abroad for several years. I was very motivated by my dislike of the jobs I was getting, and wanting out of the lab rat business. Freedom is very important to me.
One day I applied to a local art fair and set up a booth of my images. In one weekend I made about the same as three weeks at a job. There ya go.
Do you just sell in person?
Pretty much, as well as on my website, 35slide.com. I’m working on a couple of books as well.
Where’s next on your hit list?
I try to just let it happen. I have some places I’d love to get to (Iran, Svalbard, Greenland, Socotra) but every year is different and pretty random.
What is your advice for anyone wanting to quit the 9-5 and live this lifestyle? Can anyone do it? What does it take?
If somebody is not happy doing the job they have, I would say go for it. Happiness is a big thing.
I suppose there are all sorts of ways these days of converting travel into a livelihood,
but doing it with photos at art shows is a pretty crowded field. The money is so-so, but getting paid in freedom made it an excellent career shift for me. It’s just like anything else: Hard work, organization, commitment and luck are key to making it happen.
And of course, for photography, interesting images help. Uniquely interesting images are even better, but of course do not necessarily mean better business. There are plenty of photographers out there making more money than I selling what I would consider very generic travel photography. One can go that route too, and it would probably prove to be the safer choice, and a more lucrative one. In my case, however, taking the photographs actually has nothing to do with why I travel. It just helps me continue to make the journeys possible. So I just want to keep doing what I have been doing, wandering as much as I can, and if now and again I get some images that people really appreciate, that’s cool too.
We absolutely love meeting people who have managed to make their dreams reality. Gene is so laid back and personable he makes everything seem effortless! Obviously as he has said, hard work and determination is still an essential element to achieving success in this field but what a wonderful lifestyle!
Have you quit your job to travel full time? How do you fund your escapades? We’d love to hear more about your adventures and we hope you’ve been inspired as much as we were by Gene.
Make sure to check out his website to fulfill your wanderlust and see some stunning images from around the world.
Steph and Rich