A true explorer in every sense of the word, Rachel Rudwall has been to six continents, lived in three countries and has visited almost 60 nations. She’s an EMMY-nominated camera operator, a TV host, producer and social media influencer who has worked with top clients including National Geographic, Travel Channel, Fodor’s Travel, A&E and ABC, merely to name a few.
With the weather warming and our sense of adventure sprouting, we thought of Rachel as the perfect go-to for chatting (and inspiring) all things travel. We’re excited to share more of our conversation with this woman conquering the globe — including what’s the hardest and greatest part of traveling so much — with you, below.
Darling Magazine: Where is a place you’ve visited that you could visit a hundred times over without ever getting bored?
Rachel: Lots of places beg to be visited over and over again. Take Japan, East Africa, or Iceland, for example. Africa’s wildlife and vistas are primordial and breathtaking. Japan’s culture and food inspire the imagination at every turn. Iceland’s landscapes feel like Earth as it first formed—raw, violent, and magical… It’s tough to find a place I don’t want to return and explore further.
DM: From parahawking to ice climbing, you’ve done some crazy stunts, but what’s the most extreme thing you’ve done on one of your travels?
Rachel: The most extreme things I’ve done were all in Zimbabwe. Blessed with rugged natural beauty AND loads of wild animals (read: predators), Zim offers tons of ways to live on the edge. In a span of just three days in the Zambezi National Park, I swam at the top of the world’s largest waterfall, Victoria Falls; got charged by a hippo while canoeing the Zambezi River; came face to face with bull elephants in “musth,” a period of aggression related to mating and social dominance; zip-lined and flew in a helicopter over the Victoria Falls gorge; and sped around croc-infested waters in a speedboat.
Oh, and I slept in a tent surrounded by baboons every night. Those creatures are spooky.
DM: What advice do you have to those looking to travel on a tight budget?
Rachel: Stop drinking Starbucks, or hitting happy hour, or buying those extra bikini tops at Target ‘cause they’re “so cheap, I can’t not!” If you want to travel, but are worried about how much money you’ll have, be an active participant in every financial decision you make during the months leading up to your trip. Every dollar you save can equate to a wonderful experience on the road. I mean, let’s be honest: you’ll never remember the latte you had before work nine months ago. You will, however, remember the time you caught sunrise from a hot air balloon over Australia.
DM: If you had to pick one, would you stick to producing or hosting travel shows? Why?
Rachel: If I had to choose one, it would be hosting. While my producing experiences have taken me on crazy adventures, they’ve always required that I hold a camera between the subject and myself. They’ve placed a physical barrier between me and the people or places that I’m striving to understand, and that barrier — for me, anyway — is the lens.
When I have the chance to work in front of the camera, I’m afforded the opportunity to truly connect with my surroundings and the people around me. I’m able to forget the gear and live it.
DM: What’s the decision process like when you’re figuring out where to go next?
Rachel: Sometimes, I go based on weather. For example, I explored Tanzania last February because it was the best time of year to climb Kilimanjaro, and I hope to visit Japan during cherry blossom season. Other times, I base my travels on festivals or social events. Sundance is a great winter festival in Park City, Utah, while Oktoberfest is a must if you’re in Germany in the autumn. Sometimes, I go strictly because my work tells me there’s a story, and said story must be shot on X Day during X Month of X Year. The most fun, though, is booking tickets someplace simply because there’s a flight deal that suddenly pops up on my radar. Spontaneous bookings are a thrill!
DM: What’s the most challenging part of traveling for you?
Rachel: For me, the most challenging part of travel is the distance. The distance from the people I love and the routines that keep me balanced. It’s tough to be away for weeks or months at a time when my husband is back in California. It’s also difficult to be away from friends, and familiar food, and work outs, and normal sleep, and all the things people take for granted at home. The constant shifting and adaptation take a toll on the body.
DM: And the most rewarding?
Rachel: Every time I go somewhere, I’m forced to reevaluate my understanding of the world. I’m prompted to rebuild my perspective based on new information and experiences. And every time I come home, I find myself envisioning the world differently, with new faces, new relationships, and new sunsets engrained in memory, as well as renewed confidence in the fact that we’re all interconnected.
… every time I come home, I find myself envisioning the world differently, with … renewed confidence in the fact that we’re all interconnected.
DM: What are your top 5 travel essentials?
Rachel: I’m going to assume my passport is a given here, and list five more items that you may not immediately assume.
- My smart phone. That bad buy is my trip-planner, my on-the-go photo editor, my internet connection, my phone book, my note pad, and my camera if I don’t have my Canon 7D with me.
- Comfortable shoes. Whether you prefer to go with stylish or casual, you should always have a pair of good walking shoes.
- My Robdechi Hybrid Scarf. It not only functions as a scarf; it also packs a hidden neck cushion, an eye shade, a zippered pocket for passport and phone, and a sewn-in micro-fiber cloth to clean sunglasses or camera lenses.
- Global Entry & TSA Pre-Check. If you plan on traveling outside the US in the coming 5 years, DEFINITELY look into Global Entry. Global entry is a trusted traveler program that allows you to skip passport control and customs lines on your way back into the country. If you’re approved for Global Entry, the approval lasts for five years, and comes with complimentary TSA Pre-Check, which lets you keep your shoes on, belt on, and laptop and liquids in your bag when passing through TSA checkpoints at the airport.
- Granola bars. No one likes a hangry traveler.
Does a life on the road excite you? Why or why not?
Images provided by Rachel Rudwall