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The Stories Behind Your Favorite Posts of 2018!

Travel Writing

The Stories Behind Jess Wanderings Top Instagram Posts.

You don’t take a photograph. You make it. Or at least that’s what a man named Ansel Adams once said – and I’m not about to argue with him. While I always try and tell a story through the photos I post on Instagram, sometimes that story is a little different than the actual experience. Sometimes it’s a lot different! That’s one of my favorite things about photography. It’s art! You can use it to capture a moment in time, evoke an emotion, or to bring your imagination to life. But that’s not what this blog post is about. This post is about the stories behind your favorite posts of 2018. The good, the bad, and the ugly!

1. Paddle Boarding At Lake Tahoe

Paddle boarding at Lake Tahoe.

Paddle boarding at Lake Tahoe.

The first thing we did when we got to Lake Tahoe was blow up the paddle boards that we had driven 700 miles with just for this occasion. The second thing I did was drop my brand new iPhone in the lake – except I didn’t realize it. What I did realize was that my towel wasn’t waiting for me when I got back to shore. Instead, it was floating at the bottom of the lake, about five feet from where I had left it safely sitting on one of Lake Tahoe’s famous round boulders. It was then, that I remembered my phone had been sitting on top of that towel. I found my phone in the water a few minutes later and thus I learned two valuable lessons within my first hour at the lake: 1) The wind at Lake Tahoe is no joke, and 2) Don’t believe anyone that tells you the iPhone X is waterproof. What a story to start off with right?

For more about how to plan your own Lake Tahoe adventure check out Reno – The Best Adventure Hub No One Talks About, and 72 Perfect Hours In Lake Tahoe!

2. Midnight Sun At Stokksnes

Walking on water at Stokksnes, Iceland.

Walking on water at Stokksnes, Iceland.

We didn’t sleep in Iceland. It was June and the sun never really set. It would drop beneath the horizon for an hour or two, but never long enough to extinguish all the light from the atmosphere. By the time we made it down the long coastal road to Stokksnes we were completely punch-drunk. We’d lost track of the normal indicators of passing time days ago. Morning, afternoon, night – they all lost their meaning. The only thing we knew for sure was that we were tired.

It was around 1am when we arrived at a small parking lot littered with sleeping campers. Sleep was tempting. But this was our last 24 hours in Iceland, and there was so much more we wanted to see, so we payed the entrance fee and drove down the dirt road in the direction of the beach. Or at least we hoped that’s where we were going. The fog was so thick the road disappeared a few yards in front of the van. There was no beach. No mountains. We pulled over, not sure where we were, and walked in the direction of crashing waves. We stood there, barefoot and freezing, for what felt like a very long time. And then, without warning the fog thinned and everything came into view for a moment in time.

An hour later an aura of deep sleep still hung over the parking lot campers as we drove away, and I think we both wondered if maybe it had all just been a dream.

To plan your own Iceland photography trip check out Iceland: Adventure Under The Midnight Sun.

3. Swimming With The Fish At Blausee

Blausee in Switzerland’s Kander Valley.

Sometimes you come across a lake so blue, so stunningly beautiful, it’s hard to believe it’s real. And if you happen to be at Blausee in Switzerland’s Kander Valley, that’s because it’s kind of not. It’s a fish farm. The experience is more akin to a zoo, complete with entrance fee, gift shop, cafe, and lines of people waiting to get their photo taken in front of the jewel colored lake. There were however no swimmers. Confused, I asked an older gentleman organizing the boat tours if I could get into the water. He smiled and enthusiastically told me it was fine as long as he didn’t have to jump in to save me. Apparently he didn’t know how to swim. A confession I found amusing given that his sole job was to stand at the front of a boat and row people back and forth across the lake all day.

I stripped down and started making my way into the lake. Moments later the same man from the boat came running over to tell me that swimming was not allowed – but I could sit on a rock. Apparently something had been lost in translation during our original conversation! So in the end, I didn’t get to swim with the fish at Blausee. But I did get to sit on this rock while a million tourists took photos.

4. Magic and Mayhem At Ginnie Springs

Paddle boarding at Ginnie Springs in Florida.

Paddle boarding at Ginnie Springs in Florida.

I heard the truck before I saw it. The bass reverberated through the van as we waited to pick up our paddle board from the rental shop. Finally, a huge black truck with giant chrome rims rolled into view. It slowed down momentarily before continuing down the sandy road toward the springs. The bed of the truck was overflowing with half-dressed teenagers brandishing an arsenal of inflatable toys and beer. It was a clown car ready to explode with colorful antics. We had been traveling through the south for a little over a week, but it wasn’t until Ginnie Springs that I knew I was in for a different type of cultural experience.

Ginnie Springs is its own world. It’s like an all ages summer camp where anything goes, and competing interests manage to seamlessly coexist. It’s a quiet nature retreat and a frat party, a pick up volleyball game and a scuba diving school, a place to get away and a place to connect. And yet, I never did quite figure out where I fit in at Ginnie Springs – I was too busy staring at the clearest water I’ve ever seen.

For more about our Florida adventure or our road trip across the USA to get there, check out these posts! Want to experience Florida for yourself? Check out Road Trip USA: Southern Hospitality and Sand, Sun, & Fun In “The Real Florida”!

5. The Lap Of Luxury At Villa Honegg

Watching the sun come up over the mountains from the pool at Villa Honegg in Switzerland.

Watching the sun come up over the mountains from the pool at Villa Honegg in Switzerland.

The story behind this photo is the story of Timothy Sykes. And I’m not sure anyone could do that story justice. Suffice it to say, he is a self proclaimed penny stock millionaire that saw social media’s potential to expand his brand early on in the game. Essentially, Tim sells a lifestyle. A lifestyle that can be achieved from the edge of any infinity pool (including this one at Villa Honegg in Switzerland), anywhere in the world, as long as you dream big, study hard, and lastly – and this one is key – buy his trading courses. Or at least that’s what I thought.

Of course, few things in life are that straight forward, and Tim is definitely no exception. As it turns out, he is also extremely generous, community oriented, and has taken on a truly awe inspiring interest in charity as of late through his new organization Karmagawa. Maybe you’ve heard of them? They are saving the Rhinos in Africa, building schools for kids around the world, neutering stray dogs, and taking over Instagram, all while finding time to enjoy the finer things in life at the world’s most luxurious resorts and villas. Okay okay, I know I said I wouldn’t even try to explain it, but that’s the true genius of Timothy Sykes – love him or hate him, you can’t stop talking about him.

6. Ringing In The New Year With Friends in Oregon

Ringing in the New Year at Cougar Hot Springs in Oregon.

Ringing in the New Year at Cougar Hot Springs in Oregon.

This is the only photo on the list that was actually taken last year (2017). But to be fair, it only missed 2018 by a couple days, and I didn’t post it until a month ago, so I made the executive decision to let it slide.

I can’t remember exactly who’s idea it was anymore, but at some point last winter someone suggested that a big group of us get together somewhere to celebrate the New Year. No pressure to create content. No competition. Just a bunch of photographers hanging out in one place, enjoying each others company. It sounded like the type of idea that someone would throw out there, knowing that it would never happen. But to everyone’s great surprise (well for sure mine), one confirmation after another, we all agreed to meet up at a cabin in the woods somewhere in the middle of Oregon. In hind sight it sounds like the perfect plot line for a classic horror film. But it was exactly what it promised to be – a lot of PG rated fun featuring fireplace chats, stories, Taboo, and hot spring hangs.

7. Family Time On The Tour Du Mont Blanc

On the Tour du Mont Blanc trail with my family in early July 2018.

On the Tour du Mont Blanc trail with my family in early July 2018.

The idea to tackle the Tour Du Mont Blanc (TMB) as a family wasn’t new. We had been talking about it for years – long before I began traveling for a living. But just when it looked like it might become a reality, an unexpected heart attack (dad), wedding (brother), and career change (me), had derailed our plans. Now almost five years later, what started as a two generation family trip, had become three generations with the addition of my 10 month old nephew. If I’m being completely honest, when my nephew was born, I figured that was the final nail in the TMB coffin. We would probably never take another family vacation – at least not one that didn’t involve some sort of all inclusive Disney resort somewhere (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

But where there’s a will there’s a way, and in July our little motley crew converged in Chamonix to begin the ten day trek around the famed Mount Blanc. There were ups and downs—mostly a lot of up—and it was hands down one of the most memorable trips of my life, stories I could tell forever. This is one of maybe a handful of photos of me from the trip. The rest are pictures of my family, taken in terrible mid-day light, smiling for the camera on the trail, at the diner table, at the top of yet another pass, and of the thousands of photos I took this year, they are my favorite.

8. Van Life Views

Taking in a spectacular sunrise over Mount Shasta from the back of our camper van.

Taking in a spectacular sunrise over Mount Shasta from the back of our camper van.

I didn’t wake up like this. I didn’t even wake up to this view — but that’s not a fun way to start a story right? Because this view is just off a busy highway with semi-trucks whizzing by so close that the entire van shook with the force of a low-grade earthquake each time one passed. But there’s something about the back of the van when the doors are open – like a blank canvas begging to be filled with something beautiful. So on this particular morning we slept in a gas station parking lot along with a handful of other transients, then we woke up before the sun, drove out to this spot, and captured a scene that only makes sense in our imaginations.

9. Falling For Michigan

Autumn colors along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan.

Autumn colors along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan.

When you think of destinations famous for their autumn colors, Michigan probably isn’t the fist one to pop into your mind – and of course, that was the point. Quin has a serious aversion to the obvious choice for anything, and is always surprising me with ideas for trips to places that were never on my radar before. Perhaps none more surprising than Michigan.

We had planned on driving the van over from the west coast so that we could take our time and chase the colors wherever they were peaking. Then at the last minute I got a job at the beginning of October, and it looked like our fall colors trip would have to wait for another year.

But we just couldn’t shake Michigan, so the day after my job ended on October 15th, we hopped on a plane, flew to Detroit, and drove six hours to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was stunning! The contrast of Lake Superior’s bright blue water and the warm fall colors was better than anything I could have dreamed up. Thirty-six hours later Michigan had its first snow storm, and when we woke up the next morning, the colors were gone, replaced by the beginning of a winter wonderland.

10. Hanging On In Oahu


Of all the photos on this list, I think this one is probably the most misleading. Sure, it would have hurt to fall – but I wasn’t in any danger of dying. Although it appears that I’m hanging on for dear life to some janky rope dangling off the side of a treacherous mountain cliff, the ground is only a couple feet out of frame. Hence, the caption for this post: “Don’t worry. No Jesses were harmed during the making of this photo!”

What were some of your favorite travel stories from 2018? I’d love to hear about those moments that didn’t go according to plan, the times when everything came together, and everything in between! Travel stories can sometimes be more memorable than the travel itself.


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The Stories Behind Your Favorite Instagram Posts of 2017

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  1. Mike says:

    Always enjoy hearing the stories behind the great photos I see on Instagram! And you always do such a great job bringing the stories to live with you words. Have an awesome New Year Jess!

  2. Kris says:

    Great blog post Jess! Hope I can get out on more adventures with you this year. The Tour Du Mont Blanc was awesome. More fam vacations!

  3. Kim says:

    Your words re-create your presence in the moment. Your photography captures that moment. So happy I got to experience one of them with you. Happy 2019.

  4. Andrea Ference says:

    This is great Jess. As much as I love your images, and I do love them, it is your storytelling and infectious sense of adventure that gets me every time. I can’t wait to see what you get up to 2019!

  5. Fiona says:

    Just fab love the pics and the stories behind them. Keep them coming. From Australia with love xx

  6. Bela says:

    I so much enjoyed your stories ! Ha! Who knew everything was behind those amazing shots … indeed great stories ! described with a great sense of humor and honesty ! Thanks so much for sharing and can’t wait for many more adventures in 2019 !

  7. Erin says:

    I would have loved the actual photo of the vans surrounded by semis for a bit of a real life #vanlife fun. Fun to read more.

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi! That would have been good lol. I really want to get better this year about capturing more of the in between and behind the scenes moments. I think they would be a lot of fun to look back on in the future!

  8. Courtney says:

    Love love love all the behind the scenes of these shots! Hope you have a great New Year and can’t wait to see what’s in store for you for 2019!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thank you Courtney! I’m so happy to hear that you liked the post. It’s always a really fun one to write. I love looking back at all the little squares I’ve accumulated on instagram over the year and remembering all the stories behind them.

  9. Mr. Fusswinkel says:

    Such amazing photos but why only one picture per trip? Also, how do you know about this great places? Do you take all your own gear or do you rent it? And do you tent it too or do you just live in that awesome van? Oh man I have so many more questions for you. But here is my last one. What is skinny on van? Did you rent it or do you own it? if so do you convert it to be able to live in?

    • Jess Dales says:

      There is only one picture per story because this blog is about my top 10 Instagram posts of 2018 and a post is only one photo. Wether I take my own gear or rent it depends on where I am going, and how I am traveling there. But usually I bring my own. I camp if I am hiking into a location. I stay in hotels or the van if I’m not. The van belongs to @everchangingorizon, and he converted it to be livable.

  10. Carlos Muiña says:

    So Jess, the van that is in the picture, the one that you say broke down, what brand, year and model is it? Did you customize it and if so how much was the total package? I enjoy your posts and beautiful photos. I’m planning a trip around the USA next year with my dog. Thought about going up the east coast from Miami, cutting across the Great Lakes to Vancouver, then coming down the West Coast and then across the South back to Miami. Suggestions and ideas. What is the best time of the year to start such a trip? I have an Infinity convertible and don’t know if I should take it and stay at hotels or buy a van. THANKS!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Carlos. I’m a little confused because I don’t believe I ever said anything about a van breaking down, so I’m not quite sure what van you are talking about. But the van in this post is a Sprinter with a custom buildout. It is not my van, so I don’t have any other specific details – Sorry! What time of your you start, where you go, and whether you drive your car or invest in a van all depends a great deal on you, what you like to, what type of places your are planning on seeing, and the comfort level you are looking for. Whatever you choose, sounds like an amazing adventure!

  11. Kirtan P. says:

    "No Jesses were harmed during the making of this photo." Applies to all of your photos, LOL! Happy New Year, Jess; looking forward to your adventures in 2019!

  12. Zhanna says:

    I love all your pictures. The stories behind them make the whole picture complete. I’m still amazing how in the middle of big crowd and people constantly running here and there, you still manage to create that beautiful illusion that the place is completely empty, and you are the only one who is allowed to this paradise. Love it

    • Jess Dales says:

      Aww thank you so much Zhanna! It is so funny to think about the difference between the experience and the photo sometimes. But we actually manage to avoid crowds most of the time by showing up to places early or during the off season. Thanks for the comment! Happy holidays!

  13. Mark Dales says:

    Great blog! A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the words make the pictures! A great reminder that there is beauty and even adventure in just about everybody’s back yard. You just have to have the eye, the talent, and the (not inconsiderable) effort to make it look exotic. I’m glad you do.

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thanks! You definitely don’t have to travel far to find beautiful places. Especially when you live in Washington! Here’s to lots of adventures in the new year!

  14. Johnny says:

    Thanks for the back stories! Especially the one on van-life and not actually waking up to that. It really grounds my own expectations as I get more adventurous and also try to find my style in photography. Keep it up!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Glad you liked the blog Johnny! Really appreciate you taking the time to stop by and check it out. Photography is definitely not always as glamorous as it appears! But that just makes the finished product that much more rewarding. Best of luck!

  15. Shawn says:

    The places you’ve been are beautiful on their own, but you’re attention to the intimate moments and emotion that the camera captures is breathtaking. As a native of the Pacific Northwest, I grew up around breathtaking beauty, but you’ve done an amazing job of capturing those places and moments for others to see.

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thank you so much for the winderdul comment Shawn. I really appreciate it! I grew up in the Pacific Northwest as well, and no matter how many places I visit I always find myself missing it.

  16. This is such a cool spot ! I LOVE how you’re so transparent and funny at the same time. And your pictures, of course, are gorgeous <3

  17. Farah says:

    Looks amazing, Jess! Which hot springs is that in Oregon?

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hey Farah! You can find out more about that hot spring, including the name and location in my "The Ultimate Oregon Road Trip," blog. Unfortunately it’s currently closed to extensive fire damage last summer.

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Hi, I’m Jess, an outdoor enthusiast based in Seattle. I grew up exploring the Pacific Northwest, and early on was infected with the travel bug. I tried to suppress my wanderlust in pursuit of a traditional career path, but after a short stint as a lawyer, I left the confines of my office to get back in touch with my roots. Now, I wander the world taking photos, making memories, and sharing my love for travel with others!

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