Vagabundo Magazine | Travel Writing & Photography | Interview with Brendan Van Son

Brendan Van Son is one of the busiest digital nomads around and he’s just launched an online travel magazine. Fortunately, he’s taken time out of his busy schedule to tell us more about his new project and to to answer questions related to travel photography, travel writing and turning his passion into a career – all within this interview.

To quickly be catapulted to Vagabundo Magazine just click on any of the pictures you see in the article.

 Q1) With the exciting launch of Vagabundo Magazine (your new online travel magazine) what are some features that readers can expect to find?

Readers are going to get more than me. There are a lot of talented writers and photographers out there that are just not widely known yet. We’re hoping we can expose some amazing people doing incredible things in the world, and maybe even give them a launching point of their own into the industry. Aside from daily content we’ll also be publishing the first of our quarterly downloadable eMagazine in December which will also be available on a kindle.

Q2) One particular section I noticed almost immediately is your photo corner. For those considering submitting photos to your site (and others) – what do you think makes for a great travel photo?

A great photo involves, in my opinion, an interesting perspective. That doesn’t necessarily mean taking a strange angle, or simply tilting your camera as many people do. By an interesting perspective I mean taking an interesting subject matter and putting it in a light, or shooting it from a perspective, that isn’t normally shown. Quite often the difference between a decent photo and a great photo is simply getting lower than usual, or higher than usual. Of course, a clean technically sound image and a great subject always helps.

Q3) A lot of times the most memorable photos featured in travel magazines are those of locals. What are some tips you could offer aspiring travel photographers for taking better portraits of people interacting naturally?

Photos of people are tricky. It’s something that I struggle with as well, but something I’m working on. My advice is to never just snap pictures of people, that might give you candid moments, but it’s not right and you wouldn’t want someone doing that to you would you? I generally go up to a person I’d like to photograph and strike up a conversation. Then, at some point in the conversation, I ask if it’s okay for me to photograph them as they go about with their business. I look at that conversation like I’m asking for a date, be clever, charming and funny and ever if you don’t get a photo you’ll get a great bit of local interaction.

Q4) What kind of individual, reader or traveller does Vagabundo Magazine cater towards?

We are looking to cater to the more adventurous, open-minded, well travelled person. Generally we will be publishing articles from off the usual beaten path. Of course, someone doesn’t have to be well travelled to enjoy Vagabundo, we hope that it also appeals to the type of person that loves reading about adventure from the comfort or their homes, or people who are looking for a means to be inspired.

Q5) What are some guidelines for those looking to contribute to your magazine? What exactly are you looking for in terms of submissions?

We are looking for submissions from all over the world. But as I mentioned we’re hoping for stories from places in the world that aren’t written about so often, or at least articles of commonly written about locations written from a different perspective. Just like photography, we feel that a great article comes down to taking an interesting perspective. The other, more technical guidelines, can be found here:

Q6) Misadventures and Tales from Road are two other sections from your magazine. This kind of travel narrative provides for great entertainment and insight into what it is like to actually travel and experience moments of joy and woe. What do you think makes for a great travel story and one that you’d most likely publish on your site?

In reality, all travel stories are misadventure or simple tales aren’t they. However, we feel that for far too long magazines have fought against the use of 1st person perspective. 1st person articles can sound “play-by-play” and that’s why many have refused to use them. However, I feel that putting yourself in the 1st person present tense allows you to remember being in that moment. As a result, the writing is usually really dramatic and descriptive brings those who read the article right into the story with you. A great travel story quite often doesn’t come down to the situation, but how it is written. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had the most amazing, or horrifying, day of your life, if it’s written poorly it won’t make a great story. If written well, someone could write a beautiful story about a day where nothing happened. At Vagabundo Magazine we’re hoping to publish articles that bring the story to life.

Q7) What kind of articles will your magazine offer for travellers (or aspiring travellers) looking for inspiration?

As I mentioned, the articles that will be published will hopefully be of adventure, near secret destinations and people doing amazing things in the world. I think people will especially be touched by the “Helping Hand” section where we will be publishing stories about people helping out, or being helped out, while travelling. These stories tend to remind people not only that there is good in the world, but also that they can do a little good in the world. We’re hoping that we can publish articles that open the eyes of readers to the good that exists in the world, and how can that not inspire someone?

Q8) You mention in your about section that you’ve turned Brendan’s Adventures into a career. How does one turn a hobby they are passionate about into a lifestyle?

My mom always used to tell us as kids to find what you love doing in life and then find a way to earn money doing it. Unfortunately for my mom she didn’t realize that what I loved would keep me thousands of kilometres away year ’round. If you want to turn travel, or any “hobby” for that matter, into a career there is always a way. I think that what usually holds people back from doing what they really want is that safety net of consistency involved in regular careers. Once people put themselves out there and expose themselves, they’ll generally find that although it was hard to put themselves out there, and often quite difficult, it’s worth it in the end.

Q9) Can you recommend any specific gear for travellers looking to record their experiences as a location independent digital nomad? What is needed to get started and to originate materials that can be submitted to one’s personal site or travel magazine?

To be a digital nomad you don’t NEED anything. Yes, having a laptop is handy, but you could really do it using internet cafes, although it would be tricky. All you really need to get started in this industry is a will. It only costs about 60$ a year to host a website (and it is possible for free), so the only thing really needed is the will to work on it.

Q10) Finally, what are your long-term goals with the site?

I would love Vagabundo Magazine to become more than just a humble magazine. I would love it to become a travel community where people can congregate for information and great stories. What you’ll see from Vagabundo over the next couple months is just the beginning. Look for the eMagzines to start running monthly, the creation of a travel forum, and potentially a place where travel writers can post and receive constructive criticism from other travel writers. Who knows if Vagabundo will ever go to physical print, if it does then great, however that is not something that is a huge goal of mine.
Ways to keep in touch with Brendan’s Vagabundo Magazine include following on facebook, twitter and RSS feed.

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  1. says: Sofia - As We Travel

    I too find taking pictures of people a little bit tricky, because if you ask beforehand the person often changes and doesn’t act the same as before, since he/she is aware that they’re being photographed. Sometimes it just doesn’t look as natural and spontaneous as before I asked.

    I got a tip from another photographer to take a photo first, then ask, and if it’s ok you can keep the one you have and take a new one as well. I don’t know which is best, I guess it depends on the situation.

    Great interview btw, interesting questions.

    1. Sofia, I understand your dilemma. I take candid shots of people without them knowing from time to time. Sometimes it feels a bit shady but there are instances when it makes sense to do this. For example, in a crowded market where a vendor is busy would it make sense to interrupt them and disrupt a potential sale just to ask for a photo or to just go ahead and take it. I think it all depends on the situation.

  2. says: Grace

    Really cool interview Samuel! You are right Brendan IS definitely one of the busiest digital nomads out there. I wish him the best on his new venture- Vagabundo.