Travel With Photographers: Kirsten Alana

Travel With Photographers: Kirsten Alana

Last year, I traveled to the state of Goa in India with Leave UR Mark, an organization that offers amazing opportunities for volunteers and travelers in India, and stayed for almost two weeks. It was my second time visiting India, and proved to be a vastly different experience than my first trip to Agra and Mumbai.

My first night was spent in Panjim (locally, it’s known as Panaji), in the historic hotel called the Panjim Inn, with a dozen other photographers and bloggers. I still remember the thrill that first morning: I woke up and threw open the stained glass French doors to find the bustling streets before me.

Panjim is the largest city in the state, but it looks more like a village with Portuguese influenced architecture, so there was a charm to the view out my window that immediately captivated me. The area is known as Fontainhas and it’s somewhere I’d happily spend more time in because of the blue & white Portuguese tile, the charming architecture and the fantastic boutiques.

However, after a few days, our group split up. Some moved on to a place called Casa Menezes, a historic guest home older than the Taj Mahal, and some to Fort Tiracol, a fully restored historic luxury boutique hotel, before we all switched around and had the experience of staying at multiple properties.

Both places are admirable as much for their charm as for their food. Both were amongst the best I have had anywhere in India in terms of food and certainly in Goa. In fact, Casa Menezes was the home of our food bloggers for the entire trip. The owner David made sure they had incredible meals at the Casa but he also introduced them to businesses all over the area ranging from the man who makes his bread every day in an 80 year old stone oven, to the spice farm with such delicious curries.

The owner of Fort Tiracol works with expat chef and local-legend Christopher Saleem from Elevar, to ensure their menus are innovative yet authentic and his own restaurant not far from the Fort near Ashwem Beach was in fact the site of the very best meal I have ever had in India!

We did do more than eat! After all, myself and a few of my colleagues are not food bloggers.

One of the most memorable things we did was seeing Goa from a hot air balloon with one of only two female pilots in all of India. Her name is Rita, and she and her sister are the only women in India who can pilot a hot air balloon.

Rita was trained in the UK and has 16 years of training. In a country that doesn’t have a great rights record with regards to women, I was thrilled at the chance to see her being such a boss. Her calm competency in directing the men who work with her and her lack of emotion when needed, coupled with her vibrancy of emotion when it was the right moment to bring out aspect of her character was just amazing to witness. She was the kind of woman that, had I met her when I was younger, would have had a huge impact on my career choices. Meeting her as an adult woman, in the week following the US elections though, was no less powerful and when our 40 minutes were up I wanted desperately to find a way to extend our time with her! It was totally worth the 3am wake up call.

My favorite night of the trip was spent at a place called Olaulim Backyards - a most exceptional piece of property fronting a lake, featuring a guest house, pool and outdoor bar. It was so fantastic yet laid back, that it seemed like something from the set of a movie, perfectly executed as a set not a real life place. The perfectly weathered boats were ours to take out on the lake for photos as the sun set, birds filled the air and a temple emerged from the haze on the far side of the water. It was all together completely surreal and after dark we shared the best wine, local beers and food which, again, was all just incredible. I walked away wishing we could have stayed a few nights there, not just a few hours!

As an avid traveller, I have a few essential items that I always make sure to take with me no matter what. They’re all crucial to have to ensure I stay healthy and sane on my trip.

  • A couple of cameras and my iPhone. I make sure my iPhone is unlocked so I can utilize a local SIM card if I am in a destination for long enough. I use the iPhone to take notes about each place I visit and I use it to create Boomerang videos and videos with the Cameo app by Vimeo.
  • Bose QC 35 headphones are essential for getting through a flight. The noise canceling helps me cope with jetlag.
  • Airborne and Emergen-C go into my carry on as well as my suitcase, and are taken every day, so that I have a better chance of not getting sick since my body tends not to handle the stress of travel very well!
  • I also always carry a little pouch with things like lip balm, lotion and Kleenex; the odds and ends you end up needing during daily life no matter whether you’re at home or traveling!

While I certainly am blessed to have a lot of perks as part of what I’ve chosen to do for a living but there are also a lot of sacrifices that happen behind the scenes that don’t ever make it to my Instagram feed. And unfortunately, I wouldn’t categorize my life as one of financial freedom. Yet.

Because I work as a travel photographer, when I am traveling I am working. I’m not on a perpetual vacation! When I do vacation with my partner, he and I have saved up the money to travel by living frugally between trips or we utilize rewards credit cards which we then pay off after our trips. I think there are a great many other people doing what I do who actually are better at handling the financial side of this lifestyle and I am trying to learn from them. And my partner, in fact, as he’s much more savvy than I am at money matters.

3 day itinerary of places to stay/eat/see/do/shop

  • Fly into Vasco Da Gama, stay your first night at Panjim Inn. Eat at their restaurant or at nearby Black Sheep Bistro.
  • Day One: Spend the next day walking around Fontainhas, exploring and buying all the wonderful things at Sacha’s Shop before driving to Casa Menezes in time to have a cycle through the local villages and then dinner with David before spending the night at the Casa.
  • Day Two: If you didn’t make it in time the day before, do the bike ride through the local villages with David, stopping to visit with the local baker. Then drive to Fort Tiracol, stopping for a meal at Elevar and some shopping in Arambol. Eat dinner at the Fort’s restaurant that night and if Paneer is on the menu, make sure to order it.
  • Day Three: The next morning, enjoy watching the dolphins from your balcony or the breakfast area before walking to the local village or down to the beach. There’s also an early morning dolphin boat ride that you can arrange with the front desk.
  • Fly home!

Alternately, come to India with me this October! I’m co-leading a trip to the country with Leave UR Mark, and my friend Erin of the blog The World Wanderer. You can learn more here.


Kirsten is an award-winning former wedding photographer based in NYC who has worked on every continent but Antarctica for travel and lifestyle clients ranging from Capital One and Four Seasons to Ted Baker and Stoli. During her career, she's taught photography at conferences in half a dozen countries and tested cameras for Samsung, Leica and Olympus. Raised in the USA, she's lived in every major region of her home country and visited all 50 states while completing stints abroad during her half decade as a nomad. Her favorite countries are France and Scotland.


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