Roamers Corner! ... with Julia Schönstädt

Welcome to the Roamers Corner! A new interview series that spotlights how travelers, experts, and eco travel advocates we admire incorporate travel into their lives, to live more fulfilling and mindful lives.

Portrait of Berlin-born, London-based, photographer and director, Julia SchönstädtIn this first interview of the series, we sat down with our friend, Julia Schönstädt, to discuss her love of travel and the impact that the Covid-19 crisis has had on that. Julia is a Berlin-born, London-based, award-winning portrait photographer and video director. Her work on the penal system in Germany, ‘16 Bars Project', won The Guardian Student Media Award in 2014, and was published as a book in 2015 by Asso Verlag, Germany. For her work on travel, she collaborates with fellow photographer, Johannes Malchow. Together, they run the travel video collective, Mountain High Collective (@mountainhigh_collective).

RW: So, Julia, where is "home" for you?

JS: "Home" is a funny word for me. In German, we have another word for "home", which is "Heimat" or "homeland". For me, "Heimat" will always be Germany.

I’ve noticed that whenever I arrive back in Berlin, where I’m from, an inner voice inside of me shouts "home!". But, strangely, even though my family has asked me to come "home" because of the coronavirus crisis, I couldn't help but feel that my life is here, in London. So I guess, this is where my "home" is at the moment... And so, I stayed.

Having said that, the idea of "home" has always been quite flexible for me. I usually adapt very quickly and easily wherever I live. Whether I live somewhere for six months or many years, I always feel emotionally connected to the place I'm in. 

RW: How often do you travel and why do you travel?

JS: It really depends on work but I usually try to do a few small trips each year and a longer trip in between. I get itchy feet quite quickly!

The reasons why I travel are manifold. I feel most alive when I'm on the road, I love it so much! It fills me up with life, excitement, and thrill. It's kind of addictive.

For me, traveling the world is the best way to learn about it. I can read a million books about a country and its culture and customs but no book will ever be able to make me see life from a local's perspective. You can literally feel the country, speak to its people, eat the food, smell the scents, and be part of local life for some time. I always try to make sure to experience authentic local life. I don't like staying in fancy hotels very much. I do a lot of homestays and really make an effort to speak to people and spend some time with them.

Photo by Julia Schönstädt

By Julia Schönstädt

When I travel, I also like to work on photography or video projects that capture or support life in the country I'm traveling in. 

RW: What’s your favorite destination and why?

JS: I don't think I could pick a place as a favorite destination, there are just too many amazing places on earth. But I do LOVE the mountains so my default go-to is always somewhere with mountains, or somewhere with the option for mountains. I'm a real Heidi at heart! You can literally drop me anywhere, as long as there are mountains, I'll be happy.

Photo by Julia Schönstädt

By Julia Schönstädt

RW: What’s your craziest traveling experience so far?

JS: Two years ago I went on a 7-month road trip with my friend, Johannes, a fellow photographer. It was absolutely amazing. We drove from Germany all the way down to Kyrgyzstan. We passed so many exciting countries along the way. From eastern Europe, over to Iran and Uzbekistan, and all the way to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Originally, we wanted to go to Mongolia but we just took our sweet time and eventually we had to finish the trip in Kyrgyzstan. Mongolia was still quite far away! But yeah, it was insanely amazing and interesting. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything in the world. I do admit, though, that after 7 months of sleeping in a tent, I was very grateful to return to daily showers and a warm bed. Ahhh, the little things in life...

By Mountain High Collective.

RW: How has the current global Covid-19 pandemic affected your travels? 

JS: These are really mad times we live in, and it's sad to think that so many people are losing their loved ones. And I feel like we're just at the beginning of what's about to hit us. 

As for my travels, I'm very lucky because I'd just done a beautiful trip to the Scottish Highlands and a work trip to Germany before the borders were closed.

Johannes and I had been thinking about hitting the road again for a small project but we hadn't booked anything yet so we didn't have to cancel anything.

I think this situation has really highlighted the vulnerabilities of our global connection and the way we travel to the other side of the world as if we were just nipping to the shop.

Like a lot of people right now, I'm using the down-time to do a lot of creative development work. I think there’s something valuable in spending more time with ourselves with fewer distractions. If we allow it to be, I think this situation can also teach us a lot and we should all embrace this as a time of awareness and mindfulness. Meditate!

RW: Is the pandemic impacting your income and if so are there any ways our readers can support you in this time of hardship?

JS: Yes, the pandemic is affecting my income massively. Most freelance jobs have been put on hold so it's a little scary to see where this is going and how long it's going to last. 

Certain lens-based fields of work like virtual learning might see an there’s definitely still potential for work. I'm trying to stay positive...

Also, I've just written a short film script, so if anyone would like to support the art of short film and help raise awareness of social injustices, please holla! :P

RW: Of course! If you'd like to support Julia's work, please don't hesitate to contact her at :)

RW: What impact do you think the current crisis will have on the future of travel and sustainable travel?

JS: I hope that we'll come out of this crisis with a mindset of reflection. This should apply to many sectors and areas of our daily lives. The one really good thing about all of this is that nature gets a bit of a breather to a degree that would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago.

Some say that this is nature striking back and I can see where they're coming from.

It's fascinating to see how animals are already venturing into urban spaces where they aren't usually seen. 

On a bigger scale, I hope that it’ll give us that extra nudge to think about the consequences of our behaviors and habits, especially when it comes to travel. We've seen a growing global awareness even before Covid -19. I hope that we'll be able to use this crisis and subsequently turn it into something good, and learn from our mistakes. We simply cannot continue to live the same way we did.

RW: Finally, if you could travel now, what would be your number 1 destination?

JS: For my next trip, I would love to explore Nepal for a while. My travels have always drawn me East. I admire many ideas from the eastern school of thought. I would like to absorb some of that way of life and really get to grips with Eastern philosophy.

RW: Thank you, Julia!

Follow Julia on Instagram @j.schoenstaedt


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