What are my top three favorite places I have been?
As an adventure travel photographer and writer, I find myself traveling constantly for my work. I have been shooting for 16 years and so far, my work has brought me to 65 countries and 6 continents. I grew up in a family that was stationed abroad and was always surrounded by different languages and cultures from a very young age. I lived in Indonesia as a child and traveled a lot, so I was sort of born into my wanderlust you could say. What I love about my work is that it is constantly evolving and is always exciting and I grab my inspiration from everywhere and anywhere. Usually, I am fueled by hearing about an obscure location or adventure that I would like to go on and then I will conceptualize a shoot there just so I can go. The overall theme of my work is “Adventure” and I think that I embrace the unknown and the whole process of getting to the actual photo taking. I definitely have a plan and a vision going into a shoot, but I love having the “unknown” factor. That is the best part!
Because my time is so precious, when I do have a window of time to take a trip, I usually like to go somewhere I have never been before. It may sound like a lot when I say I have been to 65 countries, but when you factor in that I am 37 years old and I have only been to ¼ of the countries this planet has to offer, I think that I have a lot of work to do and so many more places to go in the next 50 years.
Whenever I talk about my travels and where I have been I am frequently asked by people the same question, “Where is your favorite place you have ever been?” I always respond by asking, “Well, for what reasons? For love, adventure, relaxation, beauty, photography…? Be more specific with that question.” But no matter what their response is, I find myself falling back on the same three places over and over again; Bali, India, and Peru. I then realized that these 3 places are the rare three that I find myself revisiting over and over and never getting tired of. Usually, after I have visited a place it has been crossed off my list and I don’t necessarily feel the need to go back. I mean, I only have so much time in my lifetime to conquer all of the places I want to go to on this Earth. Most of my favorite images I have ever taken have been in one of these three countries and when I step off the plane, they just feel like I am coming back home in a way. So I decided to break down WHY I find these countries to be my favorite places in the world to visit and to actually answer this frequently asked question, (for myself as well), once and for all!
When I think about the similarities between Bali, India, and Peru these common denominators pop up. All three are inexpensive to travel around in. All three have very unique and colorful traditions. All three have very colorful cultural clothing that people still wear and the people are very spiritual. All three feel very exotic and have multiple, unique languages in their countries. All three countries feel like you have stepped back in time in certain places and you can definitely get “off-the-grid.” All three have AMAZING food! But I think my favorite reason of all is that all three countries are very diverse and have vastly different landscapes within them to go visit. There are times that within their borders, you feel like you have literally traveled to another world, yet you are still within the same country. For a professional travel photographer like myself or really for anyone who wants to come back from their trip with AMAZING photos, look no further, because either of these places will not leave you feeling disappointed!
Although Bali itself is not a country (it is within Indonesia), it feels like a completely different country from the rest of the 18,000+ Indonesian islands. The main reason for this is that it is predominantly Hindu, where the rest of Indonesia is Muslim. I describe Bali as a “hippy” sort of island. Everyone is very spiritual, accepting, loving, happy, calm, and living on “island time.”
There are few places in the world where you can still go visit and feel like you have stepped back in time. Bali to me despite its popularity and rapidly growing tourism, is one of those places. What I love about Bali is that it always feels like home every time I land here. There is something nostalgic and romantic about being here and I think it has to do with how all of your senses go into sensory overload from the mixture of frangipanis and incense that fills your nostrils, to the gamelan music in your ears, and the visions of colorful flowers and traditional sarongs that people wear. It’s like how a certain smell or song can bring you right back in the moment you were as a child and make you smile. Bali has that effect on you.
Despite the creature comforts that we all are used to like cars and the internet, people still live simply here and spirituality is just part of their everyday life. As you walk around every morning, you see women weaving prayer offerings out of palm fronds and men placing them with incense and rice and flowers at the feet of intricately carved statues. People still come to Bali to experience a lost world of temples and rice paddies and although many of the famous rice terraces have been replaced by luxury hotels, it still has maintained that old world charm.
Having spent a ton of time in Bali, I can say that there is a diverse amount of activities to do here on such a small island. Bali boasts amazing beaches and sunsets on all sides to relax and sip cocktails on. If you are an avid scuba diver, you can dive the famous shipwreck, the USS Liberty, or take a ferry to the Gili Islands to stay in a beach villa and get certified in one of their many dive shops.
You can spend a week in their cultural center, Ubud, in the center of the island surrounded by jungle. The town is divided into art districts like the painting district, woodcarving district, silver, egg painting, batik…you name it. There are artist colonies in each section where artists live and just create art all day long. There is so much art being generated on a daily basis that it is just overwhelming. I want to fill a shipping container someday to bring it all home with me! You can hike through the jungle and then enjoy one of their many pampering spas here, like the Mango Tree Spa, where you enjoy a 4-hour massage and scrub down in the middle of a jungle up high in a tree house!
Ubud also has the Sacred Monkey Forest where monkeys are unafraid of you and you can feed them and hang out and walk around. If you love wildlife, there are tons of places where you can interact with their local species and even a Bird Sanctuary there in Ubud. The shopping is cheap and amazing here too all over the island.
If you want to really get out of the hustle and bustle and experience the Indonesian way of life, hire a local driver to drive through the remote villages, checking out rice paddies and temples that dot the countryside. The mountainous village of Munduk is an awesome escape from the hustle of Ubud and you can stay at an eco-resort and take classes like learning how to play Indonesian instruments or dancing, weaving, trekking, spiritual discussion hour or cooking classes. You can hike to an ancient village to the holy hot springs (since Munduk is on a volcano), or visit waterfalls and that is just the beginning.
Bali has two Sea Temples you can go visit, one of them, Pura Tanah Lot, that looks as if it is floating in the ocean at high tide. The amount of temples and ancient architecture in Bali is staggering and such a beautiful backdrop for some of the modern ways of life. And if for SOME crazy reason, you find yourself done with Bali, you can always hop on an ancient Phinisi fishing boat cruise and sail around some of the other nearby spectacular islands where you can see species like giant fox bats and komodo dragons that don’t live anywhere else on Earth.
It is reassuring to know that places like this still exist on Earth. That there are still lands untouched by humans and ruled by nature. Places where the days and nights stretch out into infinity and where you can still go back and find a simpler place in time. These are some of the many reasons why Bali will always be a magical place for me and I think the photos will speak for themselves.
For more on Laura's travels to Bali check out