Travelers: Kirsten Alana

Kirsten Alana. photo: Dante Vincent

Los Angeles-based Kirsten Alana is a traveler, photographer, blogger, and digital marketing consultant. Alana began a professional career in photography during college, while also studying broadcast journalism. In her twenties, Kirsten concentrated on portrait and wedding photography before turning her lens to travel full-time in 2010 and launching a travel-focused blog that was called Aviators and a Camera. Her photography has been featured by print publications across the globe and used online, as well as in print by outlets, such as CNTraveler, Travel+Leisure, AFAR, BBC Travel, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Grazia. Kirsten has participated in several of the most awarded social media campaigns in the travel industry, such as the #Blogmanay phenomenon and the LAN Airlines #OnlyInSouthAmerica campaign. Brands seek this innovator out, because Alana is adept at presenting their businesses in a way that is accessible without being depreciated. Kirsten's career has taken her to more than 60 countries and all 50 states.

Travel on with ConciergeQ's interview series TRAVELERS, featuring travel photographer Kirsten Alana.

ConciergeQ: What is your first memory of traveling? 

Kirsten Alana: We did a lot of road trips between Vermont (where I was born and raised) and Michigan (where my mother’s family was) when I was a child. We drove through Canada as it was the faster route. This was before 9/11 and the more extensive border control that’s in place now. Back then you could go to Windsor or Montreal just for lunch. It made me feel as if “travel” was just a part of life, not something special. But then I embarked on my first international trip that required a passport at 12 years old, when my mother took me to England. We based ourselves in London and spent 10 days taking day trips to places such as Stonehenge and Canterbury. I think that’s when I really began to see travel as something that could open my world to people and things which were different. It made me crave that level of learning and sensory stimulation that I hadn’t experienced via our Canada road trips or in school. At that time, English people still called a television the ‘tele’ and London had an international feeling to it that I’d never experienced in the USA or Canada. Landmarks like Canterbury Cathedral and Piccadilly Circus dwarfed those which I knew of in the USA. I went from being a girl raised on farms or around strip malls to someone who began to understand what old really meant and who looked at cities in an entirely new way. Nothing that came before had ignited my curiosity about the world to the same degree and sometimes I think I’m still chasing that original wonder. 

CQ: Share a favorite travel memory. 

KA: Choosing just one would be like a mother choosing a favorite child. But the first that came to mind when I read this question occurred a few years ago at Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan. The Bedouin tribes that still live in tents in that area are integrated into the entire experience, not just a sort of add on or a token. Which I’ve seen happen in other destinations. One night we lay on the roof, looking up at the stars, with a young member of the tribe so he could tell us his culture’s stories of the constellations. Another day after a hike to learn from him about native plants, we had tea with his family in their tent and the women showed us how to make bread. Suleiman’s smiling face is always amongst those I see when I think of how important people are to travel. 

CQ: Tell us a travel tale… 

KA: After more than a week in India touring palaces, shopping at boutiques and dining in historic hotels -- the luxury!! -- we ended with a rickshaw ride deep into the heart of The Blue City of Jodhpur. Our bones nearly shaken apart from the jolting down narrow alleys and past free-ranging cows, we were let out to wander before eventually being kindly invited into the home of a multi-generational family with our local guide, Yogi. Encouraged to see their home as ours, we were able to climb to the roof so we could overlook the tetris-like arrangement of buildings that make up the oldest part of the city. From four or more stories above ground we could see Jodhpur’s roofs undulating before us like a man made swell of ocean waves. Before we entered, we had followed the rickshaw ride with a stroll through the streets as the neighborhood was still waking up. With fewer people around to distract us, the details of homes were more apparent. Like mini billboards advertising the personalities of those living within. Some were made of smooth walls decorated only with blue, pink or white paint. Some facades featured elaborate paintings of deities & architectural elements that stood out in stark contrast to the less-decorated homes. I watched a man in what appeared to be no more than a t-shirt and boxer shorts, read the newspaper on his stoop for a very long time. He was either completely oblivious to our cameras or politely ignoring us, not unlike someone might on a stoop in my former home city of New York or on a balcony in another city. Another woman in a red sari kept playing hide and seek with us, the fabric twirling to conceal or reveal her in varying degrees. First she was in a doorway, then an upstairs window. By the time we did make it to the rooftop - that view, as great as it was, couldn’t hold a candle to the fascinating stories playing out at street-level. I wanted to stay all day to watch the city unfurl its layers, going from sleepy to bustling, and back again. Like an onion rendered in the jewel-toned colors of India. 

CQ: Which film has inspired you to travel?

KA: Out of Africa really bit me with a certain type of travel bug that never let go. I had read the book and seeing the movie was a sort of completion. I recognize it as a problematic colonial story of Africa that told a very one-sided story. And yet it did imbue me with an intense desire to know locals, to experience Africa for myself. To know the other side of the story. Everytime Meryl, as Karen, said, “my Kikuyu,” I would bristle at the horror of implied ownership and yet desire to know people who were that different from me, that intimately. And of course to go on safari, to see animals, not just in an American zoo. Nature documentaries have kept that desire alive but it was Out of Africa that also sparked in me that first desire to see wild animals in their natural habitats. 

CQ: Where would you like to visit in the near future? 

KA: I am not making plans for the near future because I don’t want to be disappointed or feel even more let down if this pandemic goes on much longer than we all believe it will. I also believe concern over, and work to reduce, the toll in human lives--is more important than my need to travel. 

But a destination I still dream of, is New Zealand. When we moved to California in 2018, I was excited that it was finally not as far away as it had been when we lived in New York. Hopefully, that will be to my advantage someday with a flight deal or some other “perk” of being in closer proximity! And now I have a girl crush on Jacinda Ardern.

I also hope to one day return to getting to know Scotland and France. They’re my two favorites that I’ll never tire of exploring.

CQ: Which TRAVELER should ConciergeQ interview next?

KA: I’d like to nominate my friend Jessica van Dop, aka The Dining Traveler. She tirelessly champions places like Puerto Rico, which is so often misrepresented or misunderstood. Her book, The Dining Traveler Guide to Puerto Rico is one I have really enjoyed escaping into during this pandemic. The perfect armchair traveler tome.

Photos and video are courtesy of Kirsten Alana ©Video: Kirsten Alana takes you to Tanzania. 

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