• Amba Brown

The Path of a Travel Photographer

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

In this inspiring interview, 23-year-old Lauren Dahlhauser talks about the path she paved to happiness after school. While Lauren notes she might not know exactly what she'll be doing job-wise forever, she explains "...it will involve one or more of the things that bring me great joy in life: traveling, photography, kids, writing, and/or new adventures."

Hearing Lauren's story and advice to new graduates, my inspiration was sparked at a new level! It can definitely feel tricky working it out, but the key is really quite simple. Just like Lauren, a graduate that was unsure where her path would take her, she found it by listening to her passions.

Did you know what you wanted to do when you finished school?


When I finished high school, I wasn't certain what career path was right for me. I just knew that I was interested in photography and art in general. I knew I also loved kids, so I decided on elementary education as a backup plan.

Although I started out at Ball State University as a fine art major, by the end of my freshman year, I recognized a few other passions making themselves known in my heart. I realized how much I loved people, how much I enjoyed writing and storytelling, and how huge of a desire I had to travel the world. I also felt that I wasn't getting my money's worth out of an art degree. Photography already came naturally to me. Although I saw some benefit, I didn't need to take a bunch of other unrelated art classes costing me hundreds of dollars in art supplies or be measured by grades on a topic that was completely subjective to discover my talent and love of photography and storytelling. I also didn't have huge hopes of an art degree getting me to where I envisioned myself later in life: traveling the world, meeting new people, and photographing my and other's adventures along the way. Whatever job, part/full time, I'd have in the future was going to involve some or all of the things I loved most. It would be fulfilling.

So, I made the switch to Photojournalism. I graduated with a B.S. in Photojournalism in May of 2015. Graduation came quickly and then, reality set in. It was time to create my own path in life. The world was mine. So much freedom, yet so much responsibility. I was standing on the edge of the world and it was up to me to pave my own way. How daunting and exhilarating all at the same time!

Just before I graduated, a professor suggested I consider applying for a position he thought I'd enjoy right out of college with Rustic Pathways. Thank goodness he did, because deciding to look into this company, apply, and get the job, changed my life. I am a year out of school, but I worked as a Photo Guide for Rustic Pathways for the first two summers out of college. The company provides 1-2 week programs for high school students around the world year-round, but their major season starts and ends in the summer. I was hired as a Photo Guide (aka Program Leader with the added role of a photographer) both summers.

How did you decide on your current job?

Currently, I am not working for Rustic Pathways because the summer season is over, but I am considering one more summer with the company at some point down the road. It’s an incredible job that allows me to travel, but it is also a lot of work and it interferes with my strong desire to grow my own lifestyle and portrait photography business. When I am away for full summers at a time, I am unable to book weddings and other photo sessions. I feel a strong pull to focus on my photography business now.

My photography business (www.laurendahlhauserphotography.com) goes through periods of stagnancy and is unable to grow while I am away. The travel experience and personal growth I have gained throughout my summers as a Photo Guide with Rustic Pathways have been SO worth it, I just think it’s time for me to try some new things. I do know that, come time to apply in the Winter, I can always reapply for a position with Rustic Pathways. You cannot go wrong working for this company.

Please describe your current job?

My job as a Photo Guide with Rustic can be best described as a glorified tour guide position. You are in charge of a new group of high school students (ages 14-18) every one to two weeks in one country for a whole summer. You have to be 22 to apply and the company looks for passionate, driven leaders with a love for youth, traveling, and culture. I was the minimum age for the position two summers ago. I worked in Morocco, Africa Summer 2015 and then in Australia Summer 2016. It was the perfect path for me right out of graduation.

It allowed me to travel on little to no money while making money, growing as a leader, photographer, and traveler and building a global network of friends. It made me feel like, even though the world was at my feet and, outside of deciding to work for Rustic Pathways, I didn’t know what steps to take next, I was on the “right” path. Even if my job as a Photo Guide for Rustic was temporary, I was getting something out of it and I was impacting others while doing so. These were fulfilling aspects to me.

What's the best thing about your job?

To be able to say I’ve done and seen some of the things I have at my age is absolutely incredible. Rustic Pathways has given me so many opportunities to grow as a person and to see the world like I never thought I would at my age.

Graduating college and being poor and having a massive amount of loans to pay off can really limit you (...if you let it). Rustic Pathways allows you to see the world and do good in the world without needing a huge amount of money to get there.

You meet so many incredible people. I could go on and on about the benefits of being a Program Leader or Photo Guide for Rustic Pathways.

If someone wanted to do your job how would they go about pathing their way to it?

I don’t know when positions for gap year programs or spring break programs that take place between summers open up, but I know positions for summer programs open up on the RP website in November or December. (I’m not 100% certain on the exact date...). Other positions (full time and intern) are listed on the website throughout the year as well.

Go to https://rusticpathways.com/ to find out more about the company, who they are and what they do. Open positions link: https://rusticpathways.com/who-we-are/careers/open-positions/

Photo credit: @Laurend211

One piece of advice you would give to high school leavers today?

DO NOT FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TO HAVE IT ALL FIGURED OUT UPON GRADUATING.

High school or college. Going into college, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. I just knew my interests. Sure, my story is that I chose to attend a public college and I switched my major once and then I graduated in four years' time.

You may be thinking, “well you ended up figuring things out and you have a degree now, I don’t even know what college I want to attend or what I’m really interested in or where I see myself in the years to come.” THAT’S O.K.

Maybe going to college right out of high school isn’t right for you. Maybe you need to take time to figure out what lights you up inside. It’s better to take that time off to figure this out than to waste money on a major your parents are sure will make you enough money down the road. No matter how much others may be convinced or try to convince you, wealth does NOT equal happiness. I promise you this. I’m 23. I’m poor. Student loans suck. But I’m happy. I’ve SEEN THE WORLD. I am rich in experience. I’m taking life one step at a time. You should, too. Whatever path you decide to pave for yourself, remember that you don’t have to compare your life path to someone else’s. What’s right for them may not be right for you. What is right for you may not be right for me. You don’t have to have a lot of money to be happy. If you are letting your passions drive you, happiness will automatically follow.

Sure, it’s going to be scary sometimes and you will be unsure of what step to take next at times, but this is why you surround yourself with people that support you in what you do and will encourage and support you through every step of the way. Don’t get caught up in the trivial. What it comes down to is your happiness and finding a job that will be fulfilling to YOU.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years' time?

If I’ve learned anything in the last year or so of graduating college, it’s learning to accept that no matter how much I try to plan out my next few years, life happens. Things don’t always go as planned. And they don’t have to. It’s good to have goals and to have a vision for where you want to be in the years to come, but it is not set in stone. You must be open to new opportunities that arise out of nowhere that you weren’t even aware existed when you first sat down to make that 2 or 3 or 5-year plan. Months before graduating, I didn’t even know Rustic Pathway existed. My original plan was to pursue a career in magazine publication. I didn’t really know what magazine. I didn’t really know what kind of writing or photography. I just thought, well, I am getting this degree, I might as well use it. Then a professor randomly emailed me about this Photo Guide position with Rustic. I looked into it and my life was changed. Where do I see myself in 5 years? Well, at that point I’ll be 28. This is crazy to me. I don’t know what I’ll be doing exactly job-wise. Rest assured though, it will involve one or more of the things that bring me great joy in life: traveling, photography, kids, writing, and/or new adventures. It feels like 5 years isn’t a lot of time to accomplish anything, but if I backtrack 5 years from where I am today, I’ve come a very, very long way. I’ve been to some incredible places and I’ve crossed paths with some pretty inspiring people. I can’t wait to see what the next five years have in store.

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