Lessons from the road: A Q&A with travel photographer Autumn Carolynn

A woman poses next to a book
Autumn Carolynn's new book "Traveling in Wonder: A Travel Photographer's Tales of Wanderlust" looks at her experiences as a travel photographer, flight attendant and travel agent.
Courtesy photos

Travel can be daunting, especially in a world still reeling from the impact of COVID-19. However, whether it be a road trip or a once-in-a-lifetime excursion, travel can also be a chance to learn about yourself.

Minnesota travel photographer Autumn Carolynn’s new book “Traveling in Wonder: A Travel Photographer’s Tales of Wanderlust,” explores that theme of discovery and offers insights and tips for travel.

Carolynn, a former flight attendant and travel agent, spoke with MPR News arts reporter Jacob Aloi about a book that’s part memoir, part travel log.

Carolynn will also be hosting two book events this weekend, one on Feb. 24 at the Northrup King Building in studio 332 from 1-3 p.m. and another on the 25th at the American Swedish Institute from 2-4 p.m.

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This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.  

Tell me what inspired you to publish this book

Carolynn: When COVID hit, and it was 2020, I had a period where there wasn’t a whole lot going on. And so, I had all of my travel journals and all of these pictures that were just sitting in my closet, and no one had ever seen them before. And I just decided to go through and write everything that I had in my travel journal in a Microsoft Word document, and then go through all of the different pictures that I had on my MicroSD cards.

And it became this idea of, you know, maybe someone would be interested in this, but I’m not quite sure. And then it just kind of flourished and took off ... it’s four years later, and I’m just so excited. 

The book is broken into four major parts. It walks us through your journey in traveling, first as a student studying abroad and then as a flight attendant, then as a travel agent, and now as a travel photographer. Where did that love for travel first start? 

I started when I was really young, the first time that I ever flew on an airplane, I was six weeks old. And I flew down to Florida to visit my grandmother.

So, growing up, I was always on flights to go and visit grandma. And then my mom had this idea that for every spring break, she really wanted us to go to a different state or a different monument. So we went to Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon and things like that. And it was all road trips.

And then when I got to be older, I just remember being like a little kid and being in that plane, and sitting in my seat and getting those little airplane wings and just looking up at the flight attendants. And wishing to myself that I would be one day, and then it actually happened. 

What are some tips you’ve learned over the decade this book takes place? What are some tips you would impart to people as they begin their travel journey? 

My number one tip that I would say is for everyone to just start slowly.

For example, I have anxiety. And one of the things that, you know, when I get out of a rut from traveling a lot, sometimes it’s like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna go to the next town, and I’m gonna go to a new grocery store, or I’m going to explore something completely different from my regular day to day life.’

And then I build up that courage and that self-confidence of ‘Oh, yeah, I can do this.’ I can travel and then just those little baby steps, doing something small each day that’s new and different.

And then challenging yourself. So that way, when you do book that trip abroad for the first time, and you’re either flying solo or meeting up with people there, you have that confidence in you to say, ‘oh, yeah, I can do this. This is easy.’

‘Traveling in Wonder’ is not just a travel journal. There are also reflections on how travel has helped you deal with trauma and anxiety and things in your past. I’m curious: What are some ways travel has helped? 

The number one thing would be that I often used travel as a crutch for me to escape reality. Because when I was traveling in different places, I wasn’t thinking about all the stuff that was making me nervous.

I was thinking about, ‘Oh, where am I going to go for lunch next, and I need to meet up with these friends that I just met at the hostel later on today and have to remember to go and meet up with them later.’ I’m much more in the moment when I’m traveling.

However, I learned my lesson. When I got home from traveling, I would kind of almost go into this deep depression because I would really just miss being constantly traveling — because I had to sit with my feelings and I had to sit with what anxiety is when you're not constantly on the go.

And I feel like now I’ve learned a lot of skills and different ways to cope with that anxiety. So that way, when I come home from traveling, I’m not so depressed.

And also when I am traveling, I’m not so much on the go that I can take my time and that I can learn to be nervous in those different places — and I can learn to just sit with my feelings and I don’t have to constantly be changing my minds and folk refocusing what I’m looking at. So that way I’m more focused on what’s in the moment. 

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.