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An Interview with Manu Espinosa / Photographer

You need to deliver the best always, keep creating, learn new skills and be “unique”.

Early years

I was born in Xalapa, the capital city of Veracruz, located in the Gulf of Mexico. I grew up with various interests and hobbies. When I was young, I wanted to be a scientist, and was particularly interested in the field of genetics. Later, I got involved in the arts and wanted to take up acting. This was a major disappointment to my mom. I remember her crying for three days straight over when I told her I wanted to pursue acting.

Overall, I was relatively undistinguished in high school until I got an opportunity travel abroad for a year, to Italy, when I was 15. That trip forever changed my mindset; I decided I wanted to keep travelling for the rest of my life.

Introduction to Photography and Instagram

In university, I studied advertising and public relations, before going on to complete a masters in crosscultural communications and international marketing.

But my current pursuits didn’t start until around seven years ago, in 2012. I was hanging out with my best friend and cousin Arturo, and he told me about an app called Instagram. At the time, I knew very little about photography, but Arturo gave me some basic advice on lighting and composition, before showing me how to edit photos on different apps.

I created an Instagram account and started by taking pictures of my day-to-day life, while documenting my occasional travels. Thanks to Instagram I started taking pictures and caring about the quality and the storytelling elements behind each photo. Digital plays a fundamental role in my life and career, because all my work lives online. It’s all about travelling, taking pictures, and sharing my experiences on Instagram. I also shoot content for brands outside of the travel genre, but all content pretty much lives on digital platforms.

Living the Instagram Life

People tend to say “Wow, you have the perfect job— I wish I was you”, assuming all I do is get paid to travel and have fun. As much as I wish it were true (well, some “influencers” actually do that), as a content creator, running a professional Instagram account is really about being disciplined, planning ahead, reading and researching about the destination, and so on. It’s a full-time job to live in a city and share your experience through photos, and videos, and written chronicles.

Of course, I much prefer doing this to being locked up in an office. My job allows me to manage my time freely, and yes, as a travel photographer, I get to do what I love the most: meeting new people and discovering new places. And finally, as my own boss, I also have the power to decide whether I accept a project.

On Facing Challenges

Traveling all the time means you don’t get to see your family or your friends that much. And sooner or later that can be a problem. Another challenge is that as freelancer I don’t have a fixed salary, so I have to keep looking for new projects all the time. There are few things that feel certain… but that also makes things kind of exciting right? And finally, there’s always a lot of competition amongst travel bloggers, content creators, and digital influencers, so you always need to deliver the best work, manage to stay creative under pressure, learn new skills, and be “unique”.

Working with Brands

I am proud to say in Mexico at least, I’m well-known as a travel storyteller. Oftentimes, my name comes up when there are tourism-related projects. Brands normally reach out to me for everything from involvement in large, well-planned projects to consultancy requests where I need to build up a strategy from scratch.

I’m also very proactive when it comes to sourcing clients. When I’m planning a trip or have an idea for a specific project, it is on me to approach the brands and make a proposal.

I have a set of criteria when it comes to the partners I work with. First, they should be responsible brands, either socially or environmentally. Second, that they should be brands I use and love, or brands that I can see myself falling in love with. Finally, I look for brands that have a creative approach to what they do.

Travel Tips

In the beginning, when I started travelling, I wanted to have control over everything, to plan every single step. However, over the years, I’ve learned that it’s also great to incorporate and allow for spontaneity— to improvise and to be more flexible and reactive. I always do some amount of cultural research, though in recent trips, I allow myself to arrive and learn on the move. My best experiences travelling occur when I open myself up to enjoy the moment. If you want to have life figured out, just be annoyingly curious. Ask questions when you’re at your destination.

When travelling, I try to observe situations, talk to local people, and be respectful and friendly. I always try to be myself, though I am sometimes politically incorrect and occasionally transgressive —one rule of thumb is to be empathetic to new things and people.

In terms of eating while travelling, I’m fairly lucky. I have a strong stomach and my mom taught me to try everything when I was a child, so apparently, I have a universal taste when it comes to food.

Regarding rest, I find that I’m able to take naps and sleep anywhere and at any-time —however I do always feel a little tired. My advice on jetlag is to try adjusting immediately to the local timezone. Try not to think of “what time is it back home”, or “I would be asleep now.” Remember that you’re in a new place. Wake up early and go bed at a reasonable hour –even if it’s hard; in that way your body will be forced to adapt.

Packing Tips

I’ve always said that the only two things I can’t forget are my passport and money (credit cards), so those are the first things I make sure to have before leaving.

I always pack 24 hours before my trip, because I want to be sure to bring everything I need. Packing also makes me anxious, so I never try to wait until the last minute. When possible, I don’t check any bags, but for very long trips sometimes you have to bring a checked bag. I also carry a small backpack to hold all my electronics, such as my camera and laptop.

Traveling with Cause

Last year I was invited by an organization called Nomad Republic for one of their trips to Yucatan. Nomad Republic aims to create travelling experiences that have a positive impact in local communities, both socially and environmentally. I fell in love with their vision of travelling; in that first trip we built ecological stoves for a small community. Since then, I’ve asked to be involved in all their projects because I wanted other travelers to learn about these trips.

This year alone, I’ve traveled to Indonesia, Thailand, South Africa, and different regions in Mexico documenting animal conservation programs involving jaguars, elephants, penguins and white sharks —in addition to teaching English to local children.

My personal mission is to learn how to become a more responsible traveler. I would also like to spread the word as far as I can about “traveling with a cause”. I’m currently working on a campaign that involves beach cleaning and targets plastic waste, in order to bring more awareness to pollution and the bad state of our oceans due to plastic waste. My hope is that the campaign encourages more people to act on reducing plastic waste

On #GordosXElMundo

@GordosXelMundo is a foodie Instagram account I opened in 2017 with travel vlogger @AlanXelMundo.

Years ago, we were in Jordan eating a giant shawarma and he asked me… “Hey Manu what do you think about this trip so far?” I replied: “this is not Alan around the world anymore; this is chubbies around the world”.

It then took me a whole year to convince him to open an Instagram account dedicated to the food and drinks we try during our various trips. We also invite people to use hashtag #gordosxelmundo, and repost the best submissions on our account.

Favorite Pastimes

Well, aside from traveling, photography, and running— I’ve ran 7 marathons so far but have stopped to rest my injured knee, I love writing. I would love to write a book someday. I’m also very fond of animals—I’m the kind of guy who sees a dog in the street and can’t avoid petting and hugging it. But I also love cats or any kind of domestic or wild animal. Finally, I love eating and exploring local and international foods.

On Smartphones and Mobile Photography

Almost everything I know about photography I’ve learned through mobile photography. Nowadays, even if I have a professional camera, I create a lot of content with my smartphone—capturing, editing, and sharing photos and videos. My smartphone is basically my office.

I think it’s great that people can capture great images with their smartphones. For photographers, this is a challenge because anyone can be a good photographer with today’s smartphones.

Photographers and content creators always need to keep innovating to remain competitive, and it’s awesome to see technology push people to be creative. Technology and gadgets and wearables; they help me be more efficient both professionally and in my day-to-day life. I use a smart watch for running and my smartphone for just about everything else.

Why I Travel

It sounds very romantic… but I travel to follow my personal pursuit of happiness, and to share that happiness with others. And in the process, to try to inspire people to follow their own dreams.

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