Struck By Wanderlust: The Start of a Travel Photography and Writing Career - Mark Iandolo

October 8, 2015


This is a story of wanderlust, of seeing the world’s beauty and of overcoming the obstacles that stop you from pursuing your dreams. This summer, I quit my job and decided to follow my rediscovered dream: to tell stories. The following is an account of my journey toward that journey.


TWELVE DAYS TO INSPIRE A LIFETIME

In 2011, I spent twelve days in France and Italy. It was the first time I had traveled internationally and it left an indelible impact on me. To this day, I still dream about that trip.

The cathedrals of France and their intricate details set amidst imposing and awe-inspiring size. The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain – famous global landmarks that truly lived up to their billing and even surpassed them in my mind. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, a place on such hallowed ground that I almost had a tear in my eye during my entire visit.

“Chercher” is a French word that means “to look for.” When you see sights like these, you realize you want to spend your whole life looking for sights that take your breath away.


TWO MORE WEEKS IN WONDERLAND

The next year, I wanted to find similar beauty. I wanted to get lost on the streets of some far-away city, have my jaw drop at the wonder of some far-away landscape, have my tastebuds water at the perfection of some far-away food. I set my sights on Ireland and Scotland, a trip I had been wanting to make for years.

And here’s where my first obstacle came, where “reality” made its initial mark. After careful funds-planning, I decided I just didn’t have the money for an international trip. Looking back, I can mark this as the moment when the war against my wanderlust began.

I decided to look domestically, to my home country, for that beauty. I found it in a rugged but charming haven – the Pacific Northwest. I was set to start an internship there that summer, and so for two weeks beforehand I toured its cities, its rainforest, its waters, its wildlife. 

The first stop on this journey began south of the traditional northwest, in a city where everywhere I looked, I saw vivid color, sprawling views and detailed architecture. Though it’s known for its fog, almost as iconic to the city as its big red bridge, San Francisco delivered nothing but sunshine and blue skies during my few days there.

After San Francisco, I headed north, to Seattle and the San Juan Islands.

These northwest locales, in June, became an interesting case study for the new explorer. My previous trip, to Italy and France, was filled with perfect weather. But in the great northwest at this time, summer had not fully taken hold.

The weather could turn on a dime. Beautiful blue skies and vibrant green forests could mix together into a dull, cloudy gray. For the new wanderluster, that could be daunting. But instead, this constant mood change had the opposite effect: it kept me searching, kept me wandering, because it gave me the opportunity to find unique sights. I never knew what the next corner would bring sight-wise, or what the next minute would bring weather-wise. It was thrilling.

And so I sailed Seattle’s lakes and wandered its harbors and historic districts. And so I hiked the San Juan Islands’ hills and jungles and cruised its inlets.


The Grind

My first two vacations as an adult, both about two weeks long and filled with sun-up to sun-down exploration, filled me with happiness and let my eyes take in the wonders of the world. After seeing so many photographs, in everything from National Geographic to Flickr to Instagram, I saw this wondrous world with my own two eyes and saw the stunning architecture, history and culture mankind has infused it with.

The next year, I finished graduate school, moved to New York and began a career in marketing. My time in New York was filled with many things – Central Park walks, fall foliage hikes, Chrysler Building adulation – but one thing disappeared from my life. The long, exploration-filled, wanderlust-soothing travel trip. There simply wasn’t time. There simply wasn’t money. “Reality” struck again.

And so I made do with what I had.

For a year, I took every opportunity I could to fill my heart’s desire to see and discover new sights, new places, new memories. I watched an Army football game at Michie Stadium. I drove almost a day straight so I could spend a few hours on Notre Dame’s campus to see them beat rival USC at home for the first time in a decade, only to drive home right after. I learned how to ski. I tried to make the most of my weekends.

In the summer of 2014, I visited Boston. As a history buff and a lover of good architecture, I enjoyed walking the Freedom Trail and biking from neighborhood to neighborhood.

After Boston, though, a whole year went by in which I made only one trip. In November of 2014, my parents and I headed to Sweden, where my brother played professional volleyball. Four days for an international trip to a land with cold weather and overcast, short days wasn’t the perfect dream.

But it was a travel opportunity. I only had a few hours in Copenhagen, a few hours in Gothenburg, and even a few in Helsingborg after we accidentally put regular fuel in a diesel fuel car, broke down on the side of the road and had to take a train to the closest town. But still, it was Europe. It was Scandinavia. It was natural and architectural beauty that my eyes had never seen and would likely never see again. I watched the sun set over the Kattegat in Falkenberg, Sweden – who would have ever thought? I spent an evening at a Christmas festival in a place I had never even heard of until the day I went there. My trip was short, but it was worth it, because it was was the only thing I did that year.


THE LIGHT GOES OUT, THE LIGHT COMES ON

New York took its toll on me. I loved to travel and explore, but after a while, I just couldn’t find the energy. Cold weather, tiny apartments, cost of living – it just sapped the life out of me. Gone were the dreams of exploration, replaced by nights and weekends filled with Netflix binges. Were the obstacles too large, had “reality” won? Wanderlust turned to wonderlust. I wondered and wondered. What was I doing? What did I want to do? I made a list of interests and turned to every creative outlet under the sun. I read comic books, watched movies and binge-watched classic television shows. I took a turn at drawing. I began to actually learn photography instead of just snapping photos with a point-and-shoot. I slowly turned into a mad scientist, making giant diagrams with sticky notes on the walls of my apartment filled with ideas of what could actually be my life’s calling.

I did this for months. I don’t know what the clicking point was, but one day it all started to dawn on me. It was all connected. The drawing, the photography, the superheroes, the nights spent re-watching Saving Private Ryan and shedding entirely manly tears when Captain Miller tells Private Ryan to “earn it.” All these creative outlets had connective tissue – they were all different mediums of storytelling. Whether you write/draw a comic, whether you take a picture, whether you make a movie, whether you write a blog, it’s all a story. As I thought about this, I suddenly remembered that when I was 6, everyone in my second-grade class got to write and draw their own story once a week – and I absolutely loved it. When I was 13, I got 50 pages into my own novel about orcs and goblins. When I went to college, I decided to major in history – well what is history if not a bunch of true stories (well, supposedly true anyways).

And so I realized, in general, that three things moved me the most in this world, three things stirred the most passion in my soul. Stories and the aforementioned wanderlust, as well as a third thing. One night, in one of my gotta-consume-em-all story binges, I re-watched the ending of Schindler’s List. And I cried like a baby. Thousands of people alive because of one man. And I thought back to my favorite part of every Notre Dame home football broadcast – the “What Would You Fight For?” pieces that documented a Notre Dame student, graduate or professor that was working toward making this world a better place. Call it naive, call it cliche, but I realized there just had to be a better way for me to make a contribution to this world and to my neighbors. I so thoroughly enjoyed taking in this world’s beauty, and the beautiful things humans have created on this planet, wouldn’t it make sense to find a way to help that world?

And with that, I stood up and fired back at the obstacles in my way. I quit my job and left New York. I had no idea what my specifics were, heck I still don’t. I wasn’t sure what kind of stories I wanted to tell, or in what medium, or with what skills. I had no idea what I could do to make this world a better place, heck I still don’t. But I hoped that I could find a way to overlap those two ideas. 


A NOMADIC SUMMER

I spent this past summer wandering the United States and visiting friends, family and loved ones. My travels took me to California, Florida and Georgia. I had one simple goal: learn every day. In the spring, I had slowly made the transition from story consumption to learning everything I could about various methods of storytelling. During the summer, I went full steam ahead on learning, with photography at the forefront. I tell you, YouTube is an amazing thing. I ate up everything I could, hours upon hours a day about photography. I bought a DSLR and practiced whenever I could.

During my stay in California, the most striking visuals came during a day trip to the Channel Islands with a friend of mine.

Florida in the summer: hot, humid, rains every day. That about sums it up. But yet every day Florida still impresses, because of its authenticity, its visuals and, well, its palm trees. I spent five weeks there with friends, continuing my deep dive into photography and storytelling.

As the summer came to a close, so too did my time in Orlando. I would spend the next month in Alpharetta, Georgia housesitting for my family. But, first I just had to make a trip to Savannah – it’s a photography lover’s heaven. It’s also way out of the way, yet I convinced a friend of mine to road trip there with me.

Savannah in the summer. The perfect recipe for a wanderlust-stricken, travel-starved, eyes-wide wanderer. Savannah delivers everything you’d think of if someone asked you to create the perfect southern city in America. Historic architecture and cobblestone streets. Live oak trees with hanging moss that create a forest-like canopy in an urban locale. And Savannah employs quite a method for helping you explore: an open container law. I can’t even begin to describe how great it is to walk out of one bar and into another with your beer. Or step outside with your beer to watch the sun set over River Street. Or… you get the idea.


GAME TIME

After Savannah, I nested in Georgia, locked myself up for a month, and decided to unlock the next phase of my life. I completed the “consumption phase” and I completed the “learning phase.” Those two aspects will always continue to play an important role in my life – I thirst for knowledge and skill, and man I love a good story. But now, I needed to make the next step. I needed to “do.” You can watch every movie, read every comic, troll Instagram for every good photo, but if you never go out and make stories yourself, what’s the point?

And so I built a website. And, in a bold moment, I rashly booked a one-way flight to Europe.

My favorite song of all time is “Grey Street” by Dave Matthews Band. In it, someone is stuck in life and can’t seem to make a change. “I dream myself a million times around the world, but I can’t get out of this place.” Stuck in a rut – I can understand that. But there’s another great quote from that song. “There’s a stranger speaks outside the door, says take what you can from your dreams. Make them as real as anything.” There’s a metaphorical voice, telling the song’s main character, telling all of us, to follow our dreams, make our dream our “reality.”

So this October, I plan to begin traveling, taking photos, and telling stories – and never stop. Operation “Struck by Wanderlust” is a go.

I still don’t know exactly how I can help make this world a better place, but I guess I’ll start by trying to inspire wanderlust in others and help people see the world’s beauty.


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