Slides + Video – Transitions As Opportunities – TBEX Stockholm Keynote

Wow, what a privilege it was to take the stage as the closing keynote speaker at TBEX Stockholm in my stunning city.

I’ve held sessions at various TBEX events in the past; mostly around the topics of travel photography as well as blogging in your backyard based on my work with Slow Travel Stockholm.

However, closing the entire conference was so memorable on a whole different level. Only two other colleagues (and friends) knew exactly what I was going to be talking about.

So I want to use this opportunity to publicly thank them for their support and assistance as we moved my concept of the talk into its final delivery.

Leigh Shulman – My dear friend, colleague, and writing mentor behind The Future is Red. Leigh was with me every step of the way when I initially wrote the script and called her in to read through it and guide me through the process of tightening its sensitive message, answering any lingering questions that may arise, and making sure my message came across as succinctly as possible without any misunderstandings. Leigh runs writing retreats called Creative Revolution Retreats which are held in Central America, and I can’t wait to join her on one of her retreats too!

Shane Dallas – Or better known as The Travel Camel. The first time I met Shane, we hit it off right away, and he’s one of my good friends and all-around favorite people in this travel photography, travel blogging world. And if you’ve ever watched Shane present on stage, you will know he is the master of delivery, timing, and cadence. He has over 25 years experience as a public speaker in addition to being a fantastic photographer. So before I gave my presentation, I ran it through Shane to get his expert advice on its in-person delivery and flow.

So, Leigh & Shane, thank you so much for your wisdom and guidance. Absolutely honored to have you two as friends and professional mentors as well.

Lola Akinmade Akerstrom jumping at Mount Pilatus, Lucerne, Switzerland

On to the keynote itself…

My husband was in the crowd and he brought along a camcorder so he could capture this moment. I am so grateful he did because in addition to the speech itself, what he recorded was an extra 15 minutes (starting from 44:30) at the end of me giving and receiving dozens and dozens of hugs from friends and colleagues in the audience who had come down to express how much they had connected with the talk.

Those 15 minutes
were the most memorable moments forever etched in my mind and heart. We are all going through transitions in our lives and careers and I was grateful to be the conduit to publicly address what we’ve all been battling privately.

Here is our own unofficial video (I come on , the presentation slides themselves (hintGerard Butler and Bono make prominent appearances), as well as the script which I used as my guideline below.

Watch the video

The Slides

The Script

I want to share a few words with you that we’re all familiar with.

YOLO – You only live once

FOMO – Fear of missing out

RTW – Round the world

Live like a Local


Glitch Fares

These are buzz words within our travel blogging community. Words that define the spontaneity of travel and sense of wanderlust that inspire our work as bloggers.

In a sense, we live and breathe travel.

That shared need to constantly be on the road, exploring, reporting back with enviable selfies

Now, I want to share a few more words with you.

“I love you”

“Will you marry me?


“It’s not you. It’s me”


“Please accept my condolences”

“It’s terminal”

These are words that can completely change your life.

Life is short and I’m not here to tell you how to live yours.

Life is also unpredictable and we can’t plan for or forecast every step of the way.

I’m not here to re-spark the debate about having kids versus not having kids.

I’m also not here to talk about leaving it all to be digital nomads or entrepreneurs.

I’m here to talk about transitions – both the transitions we choose to make and the transitions that are forced upon us by life.

More importantly, I’m here to encourage us to start seeing transitions as tremendous opportunities instead of the scary things they actually are – Major Life Changes.

We need to start discovering the opportunities that lie within those challenging and oftentimes rewarding transitions to fully live out our passions.

I have been within the travel blogging community for over 10 years and I have seen friends and colleagues go through all sorts of transitions in their lives

From getting married and having babies to public breakups, dealing with sickness, and grieving the death of loved ones.

I have seen the uncertainty behind those public smiles. The fear behind the public face.

I have battled some of the very same feelings as well.

Because transitions – major transitions – are very scary things.

They cause anxiety.

And even though we may not want to admit it, there are three main reasons why we as travel bloggers fear transitions:

(1) We fear transitions because people would think we have settled.

Do you know what kills a travel blogger’s street cred?

Nothing kills a traveler’s street cred quicker than “not traveling”.

Especially if they are rosier life reasons like falling in love, getting married, and having babies.

That’s why many of us still hop right back on the road prematurely.

Not giving ourselves enough time to fully accept our transition.

We can’t let anyone think we have “settled”.

(2) We fear we will no longer remain relevant

Remember the Baby Boomers?

You know who irritated the heck out of “Baby Boomers”?

Generation X

And you know who’s currently getting under the skin of “Generation X”?


An editor once wrote back about a pitch I submitted not appealing enough for millennials.

In the past, I would have tried to rewrite the pitch to make it appeal to “millennials”.

This time around, I just laughed, thanked them for their feedback, and moved on.

Transition is inevitable. We need to embrace who we are, find our own place, and dig in.

Growing older can also induce this fear of transitions.

This fear that all we’ve worked so hard to build is not longer relevant in today’s new social media landscape.

So we keep pointing out the “faults” of the younger generation.

We can choose to become bitter by fighting the inevitable and risk destroying all what we’ve worked so hard to build.

Or, we can choose to elegantly transition into this next stage of our lives.

(3) We fear we will no longer be perceived in the same light before we became caretakers.

Even if you’re pretty certain you don’t want little critters of your own, you may very well have to play the role of caretaker for someone you love – maybe a friend or a family member.

People and even clients already make assumptions for you before ever approaching you – oh, you have kids so you’re probably too busy so we won’t ask you.

What happens to us avid travelers when life hands us more responsibilities?

When we need to break away for awhile to take care of loved ones?

An aging grandparent?

A sick parent?

A dying friend?

Responsibilities could also be as light as house-sitting someone else’s cat or dog for awhile.

But regardless of the weight of that responsibility, it momentarily transforms our role into one of caretaker.

In an excellent article for The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter about the value of caregivers, she says providers of physical and spiritual care are just as indispensable to our society as providers of income. So why don’t we treat them that way?

She ends the article by saying this : “If we do not care for others, who will care for us?” We should answer those questions by reinventing ourselves yet again—competing fiercely, but caring deeply, too.”

The key phrase that jumped out at me was “reinventing ourselves”.

And that phrase right there is the first step towards how we tackle transitions in our lives and approach them as opportunities.

(1) Transitions are opportunities to transform or reinvent yourself.

How many of us are subconsciously defined by what we do and not realize it?

When I moved to Sweden, my first major transition started from having to shed the comfort of being a well-paid programmer to the uncertainty of becoming a freelance travel writer and photographer.

It wasn’t until I sat in an Swedish language class and saw that no one cared that I was a programmer that I realized how much I’d let what I do define me. It forced me to peel off that programmer jacket.

We were all at the same starting point – trying so hard to learn a foreign language in a country we weren’t even sure would fully accept us.

Think about it…

How do you introduce yourself when others ask you who you are?

Do you pick your “work” first or your “character” traits first?

It was through this transition from the certain to the uncertain that I fully realized my own five core strengths:

  • Problem-solver
  • Creative
  • Team player
  • Versatile
  • Quick study

That’s what transitions do.

They bring who you truly are to the surface based on how you react to the transition.

If what is brought to the surface are traits you don’t like, there is an amazing opportunity right there to start working on those traits and reinventing yourself.

(2) Transitions are a second chance to drop the “façade”

Meaning, life is too short to be someone else.

They  are opportunities or second chances to shed any personas or facades you had on that were weighing you down.

Are you playing “extrovert” when you really are an “introvert”?

You can only play a different person or perform for others for so long.

Your true self will feel constricted and pushed beneath this weight.

Going through a transition period can help you break free of that.

After having my first child, I was still trying to prove to myself and the world that I could still do it all so flawlessly.


How many of us feel our value subconsciously drops when we become caretakers?

That led to a post wrote in 2013 about why I don’t want to be superwoman after I physically collapsed during a conference in Italy.

In that post, I wrote:

You see, one of my weaknesses is this constant overbearing need to “produce”. To stay productive. To create. To work. To do something. Because I am my biggest competition, I’m always trying to see how much more I can do. How much more I can produce without keeling over.

This worked when I was single and childless. This doesn’t work when one is married with a newly minted infant. Yes, there are super women out there who seem to handle family, marriage, career, and everything with supernatural ease. Who seem to have mastered time management, and on the surface, seem to have all the answers.

Since I’m not privy to what truly goes on behind their own scenes – maybe strained marriages, sleepless nights, unbelievable fatigue, undue pressure to always stay relevant, I have no idea –  I’d rather leave being superhuman to others.

Going through a transition period will help you break free of that pressure if you seize the opportunity.

(3) Transitions are opportunities to connect with and create communities

Transitions are often detours – oftentimes more scenic and rewarding detours.

And they can eventually get you back on your path and passion in a much stronger way than you’d ever anticipated.

Because of shifting responsibilities and transitions, sometimes we have to create a temporary home base for ourselves.

We settle into communities or sometimes create our own communities.

When I moved to Sweden, I missed the physical community of networking with others in my field, so I built one. A new community through Travel Massive and by launching the Nordic Travel Bloggers (NordicTB) collective here.

Now I have a question for you:

For those of you who have a base you often return to, have you contacted with your local tourism boards?

Do they know you exist in their backyard?

Now this doesn’t have to translate into work opportunities right away but knowing you’re there opens up possibilities to build strong relationships.

“Patience is key. We develop relationships not for immediate gain but for long term community which ultimately leads to work and other opportunities”…Leigh Shulman, Writer, The Future is Red

This is how my relationship with The Swedish Institute which runs Sweden’s official website and image abroad started.

I was transitioning to a new foreign place and my natural curiosity as a traveler took over and helped me discover and get beneath my new home by sharing everyday photographs of Sweden.

This caught their attention.

Who was this foreigner who was so curious about her new home?

While we always think the grass is greener on the other side, there’s a reason they keep flying bloggers and journalists into your backyard because the grass is greener on your side of the fence.

“It’s most important to have the attitude of a traveler: curious, interested, constantly seeking new experiences, and paying attention to the little details.

No matter where you live, there are beautiful places to discover in your own backyard and in your region; you just have to be open to finding them.”…Christine Amorose, C’est Christine

(4) Transitions are opportunities to give your passion roots

Transitions are opportunities to discover where your true passions lie.

While travel brings us all together, “to travel for the sole sake of travel” isn’t the sole purpose of our existence.

I would love to share three examples  from within our community with you. And there are dozens more I could share as well.

Akila & Patrick – The Road Forks –> Atlanta Food Walks 

Beth & Randy – Beers & Beans -> Speakeasy Travel Supply Co

Leigh Shulman –  The Future is Red -> Creative Revolution Retreats

Transitions give you opportunities to build expertise with some form of anchoring.

Our passions grow roots through patience, communities, the connections we make, and the moments we take to fully and adequately focus on our true selves.

Think of building a house.

You really can’t raise its walls if its foundation is constantly flowing.

(5) Devastating transitions are opportunities to truly reflect and reprioritize

There is no right or wrong way to mourn loss.

As long as you’re not physically or emotionally harming someone else, we each go through this differently in our own ways.

This transition is often the most heartbreaking.

No one needs advice beyond warm comforting arms surrounding them and letting us know everything will be okay in the end.

It’s okay to take a break , to step back from it all, and reassess your offline relationships.

Your loved ones around you who crave your attention while you’re Instagramming away for hours.

Oftentimes, while our loved ones want to see us happy and doing what we love, they also want us to be there for them in their deepest times of need.

They may not say this out loud, but they feel it in their souls.

Those few hours they have left.

And the choices we make.

My friend Pamela MacNaughtan behind Savoir Faire Abroad had an emotional heartbreaking year which ended with the loss of her father in 2015.

He had battled Alzheimer’s and she made the conscious and loving decision to take a full year off traveling to go spent his last year with him, even when his condition had progressively worsened and his memory faded.

Before then, she’s already started losing her passion for travel blogging.

In a heartbreaking post which you all should read and which I will share with this presentation, she writes:

My dad’s Alzheimer’s got worse, and my mind began to drift away from travel and towards my family. A part of me began to worry that if I was on the road all the time, my dad would forget who I was. Understandably, that thought was unbearable. I slowed down, relocated to Québec City, and took mini trips.

I eventually moved back into my parents house to help my mom take care of my dad. I stopped blogging. I stopped travelling. I stopped being social.

When my dad died eight months later, I was heartbroken and deeply bowed by my grief. Several months later I decided to travel again. My hope was that getting back on the road would somehow cure me. I would step off the plane in Hong Kong and magically become the woman I was in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

I wasn’t.

In Chiang Mai, I realized that I was not the same person, and that was okay. When life knocked on my door, it brought along challenges and experiences that would change me and the way I lived, and viewed life. Similar to my old familiar guesthouse in the old city, I was not the same person, and that is okay.

I still had anxiety when I was around some groups of people, but I was comfortable with others and began to work in cafés.

It was exciting. I loved the vibe. I re-vamped my travel website and picked up a project (Urban Guide Québec) I had stopped when I was caring for my dad.

I was productive and passionate for the first time in years, and it had nothing to do with travel blogging.

Transitions reprioritize our lives even when we’re not ready.

Out of such sadness came one of Pamela’s passions – Her love for Québec City.

She now runs a beautiful site called Urban Guide Québec.

So to summarize,

Travel itself isn’t the answer.

It is the avenue we choose to live out and express our passions.

Ask yourself this question:

What would you still love to do that you can bring both on your travels or do at home?

Chances are you were a writer first, a photographer first, a foodie first – before becoming a travel blogger.

Those unique traits you can do both while traveling and while at home are the semblances of your true passions.

Many of you know Candace Rose Rardon – an amazing travel illustrator.

I bet you Candace Rose Rardon would still be creating amazing sketches if she wasn’t traveling.

I want to share this powerful quote from our very own Jodi Ettenberg.

Travel itself is not an answer. It can’t save you from yourself, or the demons that you have. You will bring them along with you as you roam.

You can’t absolve yourself of your responsibilities or the monotony of routines that will reappear the minute you stop moving.

And if you travel to escape darkness, it will eventually find you…Jodi Ettenberg

We need to stop subconsciously apologizing for our life transitions

Oftentimes we feel like we’re letting our readers down and have to apologize and explain why our lives have taken a different turn.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

But do you know who does transitions unapologetically well?

Recognize this guy? – Nomadic Matt.

Here are just a few sample blog posts from Matt’s transitions so far:

May 2016 – Why I left New York and moved to Austin

May 2016 – Why it’s time to hang up the backpack

March 2016 – The Long Road Ahead: Finding a new balance between work and play.

November 2015 Starting again in Chiang Mai – The city that inspired me to travel the world

April 2014 – How I finally came to terms with the homebody inside me.

October 2013 – Home: The death of the nomad

January 2013 – The end of my solo travels

August 2012 – And then, I didn’t move to Stockholm

July 2012 – And then, I moved to Stockholm

March 2012 – And this is where this journey ends

Transitions are a chance to grow and explore more of what you want and leave behind what you most definitely don’t want.

We need to elegantly own the choices we’ve made, be unapologetic about them, and be honest with ourselves.

Unless you travel for the sole purpose of acquiring selfies, most of us travel because we are curious beings.

That innate curiosity to see, explore, experience, and share it with others is what drives us to this lifestyle.

Do we suddenly become less curious just because we have to stay in one place for awhile?

If so, maybe it’s time for us to reassess our motives for travel and to be completely honest with ourselves.

About two years ago, travel journalist, photographer, and friend Ellen Barone recently wrote a thought-provoking piece – Where would you go if you only had a few weeks to live?

The response I left on her blog was this:

If I were to travel till the end, every single day and journey would be spent with my family traveling alongside and exploring with me.

The older I get, the more I realize time with the ones dearest and nearest to me takes priority.

It’s not about giving up dreams but it’s about sharing them.

Transitions are inevitable.

As the “great 21st philosopher” Bono (of U2) once said: You hurt yourself, you hurt your lover, Then you discover, What you thought was freedom is just greed.”

There’s a very thin line between freedom and selfishness.

We shouldn’t live lives of regret but rather, expand our approach to tackling life changes as they come.

We need to become serial opportunists because at every end, there is a beginning.

So I want to share this powerful quote with you from the blog, Marc and Angel Hack Life in their post titled 40 Lessons for Finding Strength in Hard Times:

New opportunities are out there waiting for you. – Nobody gets through life without losing someone they love, something they need, or something they thought was meant to be.

But it is these losses that make us stronger and eventually move us toward future opportunities.

Embrace these opportunities.

Enter new relationships and new situations, knowing that you are venturing into unfamiliar territory.

Be ready to learn, be ready for a challenge, and be ready to experience something or meet someone that just might change your life forever…. Marc and Angel

I did.

Thank you all for this honor and privilege.