29 Mar 4 ways you can get paid to hike.
The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness. – John Muir
As I embarked on my own journey of professional, “adventurepreneurship”, one thing that I hear quite from others is, “I wish I could just get paid to hike.” We live in a world that tells us that we can’t do certain things – and being paid for hiking is one of them. The good news is that shedding yourself of these limiting beliefs is as simple as asking yourself the following question:
Question: Do you know anybody or can you think of anybody that gets paid to hike?
Answer: Well, you now know me. So, technically, your answer is yes. Therefore, it is possible. Which means, you can do it too.
One person hiking for a living does not mean that there is not enough room in the wilderness to sustain others who might want to bring in an income in a similar manner. I know that every cell in your body is screaming right now, “But you can’t make a living doing what you love! Quit giving me false and idealistic hope, Anastasia!“… and I want to ask YOU… what good is that belief doing you? Is it keeping you in a job that you don’t want to be in? Is it making you fearful that you don’t deserve to pursue the things that you truly love in life? A belief is a thought that we think over and over again – that’s it. It doesn’t mean that it is TRUE. If I can be living proof that hiking for a living is possible for one person – I hope that I can be an example that hiking for a living… or leading an adventure inspired life… is possible for you too.
In this post, I’m going to share with you a few of the things that I have done to carve out my own, “adventure-inspired niche” in a world that told me for most of my life that it wasn’t possible.
1. You know a lot of stuff. Teach others.
I started volunteering with the Washington Outdoor Women organization about 10 years ago to teach backpacking. I’ve been backpacking for almost two decades, and it’s safe to say that I am obsessed with it. I spend ALL of my free time on the trail – and yes, that includes my own personal time, not just for, “work”. I started my backpacking career by learning the hard way – I had no clue how to pack my pack or carry a load that wasn’t half my body weight, but I learned… and as I learned, I got confident about what I was doing… and then I started to teach others. I started volunteering with Washington Outdoor Women because I wanted to share the gift of the wilderness with as many women as possible – I never even imagined that teaching backpacking could become a source of income.
With WOW, I teach a 4-hour backpacking class, and one of the things I noticed is that with only 4 hours of instruction, it gives the students a good taste of what backpacking is like, but most of the students don’t feel confident after 4 hours to plan their own trip. I looked around at class offerings at REI, and noticed that they were mostly classroom-based. I felt like there was a gap in the offerings, so I decided to teach my own class.
I now teach a 2.5 day class called, “Backpacking Basics”. I teach this class based on the curriculum that I designed as an instructor with WOW, but I’ve stretched it into 2.5 days… so instead of me talking a lot about backpacking, my students get to learn how to do everything involved in a backpacking trip. Then, on day two, we actually pack our backpacks and go on an overnight backpacking trip! It’s an incredible weekend and extremely empowering to watch women – some who had never slept in a tent before – realize their own dream of completing their first backpacking trip.
Maybe you don’t feel confident enough about backpacking – but what do you feel confident about… or where could you work to improve your skills? Could you volunteer for an organization like Washington Outdoor Women? Could you take classes? If you see yourself teaching backpacking, I can assure you – it isn’t just going to happen. You have to make it happen, but it isn’t difficult – just start taking steps!
2. Your talents deserve to be shared.
I have been a classically trained violinist for 34 years. Earlier in my musical career, I was on a traditional classical, “path” – AKA, the path that has been designed without taking into consideration that every violinist in world history is not the next Itzhak Pearlman.
As a child, I started volunteering with the National Park Service at a park called Hopewell Furnace. In this role, I wore an 1836 day dress and a bonnet and I performed simple hymns on my violin – usually in an outdoor setting.
I loved it.
One day, I actually told the Superintendent of the park that I wanted to volunteer for a living playing my violin outside. Looking back on my childhood, the days that I spent at Hopewell Furnace are, without a doubt, the happiest of my life.
And yet, even though my life’s path was so obvious at that point – those pesky limiting beliefs got in the way:
- It’s hard to make a living as a musician.
- You have to be a prodigy to be a professional violinist.
- You can’t play simple hymns, you must play extremely technical and difficult music.
- It’s very difficult to make any money as a violinist.
- You have to spend 8 hours a day practicing in order to be a musician.
It’s sad that I believed all of those lies. Because that is what they are – lies. Life according to somebody else is not life according to YOU. For the next 20 years – feeling as though I were a mediocre violinist living a life that I did not want – I would agonize over why I felt so unfulfilled. I didn’t realize that I didn’t have to be the “best” – because there was no such thing. I’m the best at being me, and that is all I ever needed to be. That’s all any of us ever need to be.
In the past week, I have received 5 gig-offers to perform my violin in the backcountry for adventure elopement weddings. I typically get paid anywhere from $500-$2000 per event. I don’t know many violinists who are bringing their violin into the backcountry for weddings, but all of a sudden, I find myself coordinating with some of the most incredible photographers and adventure elopement planners in the country – simply because I finally decided that hiking with my violin was possible.
I know what you’re thinking, “Well, that’s great for you, Anastasia, but I don’t play the violin.” And that’s fair enough – but what I’m suggesting is that you examine the beliefs you have about the things that you do, or the things that you want to learn how to do, and kick them to the curb. If you want to become a wilderness artist and design a line of greeting cards – does it matter that you didn’t go to art school? Does it matter that you aren’t Picasso? Isn’t it possible that the only thing that keeps us from realizing our own success are the things that we tell ourselves over and over again?
I know this: If I can go from a railroad police officer to being a Musical Mountaineer wearing a gown on the side of a mountain while performing my violin, then I know that everything is possible for you too. Follow what you love – don’t listen to anything that anybody else says (they aren’t you) – and just go for it. When in doubt, do the things that feel exciting to you. Your heart will never lead you astray.
3. Take photos. Lots of them.
I’m not an, “artist of the lens”, but I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented photographers that I’ve ever met in my life, so I think that qualifies me to share what I’ve learned about being successful as an outdoor photographer and/or adventure elopement photographer.
From working with these people, I’ve distilled down their message into a few key phrases:
- GET OUT OF YOUR OWN HEAD.
- Practice your art and make it your own.
- Share your story.
- Collaborate with others.
- Nail your niche.
The, “compare and despair” spin cycle runs rampant in the outdoor community, which includes the outdoor photography community. Do not look at other people’s photography and think that it means that, “somebody else is doing it”, so therefore you cannot be successful. Other people are not you. Other people do not see the world through your eyes. Follow your heart and capture the things that you love. Be you, and embrace who that is, without spending time demoralizing yourself for who you are not.
Takes classes and learn as much as possible, but do not think that you need every certification that has ever existed in the history of the world in order to be considered a, “real photographer”. You are who you say you are, which means that if you are a photographer, just say so. Ansel Adams wasn’t born as, “Ansel Adams – Most Famous Photographer In The World”. He created that by simply focusing on his art, rather than spending time thinking that he wasn’t good enough.
Your story sets you apart from every other photographer in the world. I often laugh when people say things like, “The market is so saturated.” Yes, there may be millions of photographers in the world, but there is only ONE you, and that is the only thing that matters. It doesn’t matter if there are 3 billion photographers in the world – they aren’t you. And you are the only person who can take photos – or do whatever it is that you do – exactly like you. Cherish your individuality and share your story proudly – even the parts that you don’t like.
I’m going to ask you a hypothetical question…If you had the choice between hiring two violinists for an event, which would you pick:
- Violinist 1 – Holding a violin. Appears to know how to play it. Seems nice. Reasonable prices.
- Violinist 2 – Hikes mountains with her violin. Used to be a park ranger and a police officer. Almost died in a car wreck. Left her job to pursue her dream. Wants to inspire others to follow their heart and blaze their own trail. Once wore a bonnet. More expensive than Violinist 1.
If you are a penny-pincher and you don’t care, maybe you would choose violinist 1, but I’m going to guess that most people will choose Violinist 2 (who happens to be me, so thank you for that!). Why? Because there is an emotional connection and a relationship with somebody that shares their story.
Note: Sharing your story must be genuine. I don’t share things about my life for shock value – I do it out of service and out of the knowledge that when I make a connection with somebody, I can truly relate to them and help them through the same struggles that I experienced.
Competition is dead. Collaboration is everything. If you think that you can, “go it alone”, then you are going to be doing just that – going it alone. I used to be jealous of other people who were successful, or people who were living my dream – now, I celebrate them and their success. When collaborating, make sure that it is a mutually beneficial collaboration. If you find yourself frantically, “pitching” collaborations left and right and getting no responses, that’s a hint that you aren’t looking in the right spot for a collaboration. You shouldn’t be, “riding the coat tails” of somebody else who is very successful – this needs to be a mutually beneficial relationship for both people involved. For instance, I work with a lot of photographers who want to have photos of my backcountry music in their portfolio. I will usually take a lot at the photographer’s work, and if it aligns with my own brand, I will happily work with them – they get awesome images for their portfolio, and I get awesome images for mine – win/win!
4. Gear Testing/Outdoor Industry Jobs
I feel SO incredibly fortunate and blessed to be a Seattle Trail Scout and a Gear Tester for Backpacker Magazine. I used to live with the belief that the outdoor industry was a hard to crack egg that would never let anybody else in. Well, guess what? When you live with that belief, guess what happens? You can’t find your way into the outdoor industry, because you are blinded by such a limiting thought.
When I started on my, “stuck to summit” journey, I made a point to scrap all of the beliefs that were holding me back – including the belief that jobs in the outdoor industry were reserved for, “lucky” people. I used to think that the entire world was divided into two segments of the population, “lucky people” and, “unlucky people”. Naturally, I had been shuffled into the unlucky segment.
LIES. All of it.
The only difference between somebody who is doing what they really want to be doing, and somebody who thinks that they are a, “victim” of life, is that they are choosing to believe that life is happening, “to” them, not, “for” them. I am not a victim, and I never have been. I did not get, “stuck” in a career that I didn’t want to be in – I created that reality, which meant that I could also create a new reality – one that I liked a whole lot better.
I didn’t even try to get a position with Backpacker Magazine. It found me. I released my limiting beliefs about myself, and started focusing on the things that I love: hiking, backpacking, and sharing my love of the wilderness with others. A friend saw an ad for the Backpacker position on Facebook, and she shared it with me. If I hadn’t been sharing my love of the wilderness with others, I would have never met her, and she would have never shared that with me. When you follow your heart and do the things that you love, the most beautiful opportunities present themselves to you.
So, my advice for, “cracking” into the outdoor industry is this: just be you. Believe that it will happen, and simply do the things that you love. Don’t frantically pitch yourself or send annoying messages to people. Don’t “try” in the traditional sense of the world. We were taught from a young age that we have to, “force” things to happen… or that we have to, “work hard” to get what we want in life. The true secret of discovering your path is when you stop, “doing” and start, “allowing”. This sounds crazy and woo, but TRUST me. Trust yourself. If you love testing gear – test gear on your own. Do you love backpacking? Start teaching your friends. Start a hiking Facebook group. Blog about your adventures. Spend your time hiking and sharing your story. Have fun with it. Keep following your heart and it will align you with the people that will lovingly welcome you into a place that you once believed you did not belong.
Set a Vision and Go For it.
Don’t be me. Don’t wait 20 years to realize that you aren’t doing what you want to do in your life. I didn’t realize all of the fears that were shackling me down – all of the limiting beliefs that I had about myself that were paralyzing me.
You were not placed on this earth to go through the motions. You were placed on this earth to become the person that you know that you are. You are brilliant, creative, fun, energetic, special, and unique. There is only one of you on this planet, and it would be a disaster to the entire planet if you do not have the chance to share who you were meant to be. This can be anything that you want it to be. If you want to open a guiding company and hike for a living – you can do it. If you want to be an artist and make wilderness-inspired mugs for a living – it can be done. If you want to write poems about nature or publish your first book about hiking – start writing. If you want to create your own line of outdoor clothing – it’s 100% possible. The only person that can ever prevent you from making progress on the things you feel excited about is the one that looks back at you in the mirror.