How to Wanderlust While You Work

Wanderlust photographer Melissa Gayle shares insight on building a career while following your heart.

Melissa Gayle Fuller is this year’s summer festival photographer. For more information on Wanderlust Festivals, click here. 

“I’d rather be in the mountains thinking of God, than in church thinking about the mountains.”  — John Muir

Meet photographer Melissa Gayle Fuller, expert on living the life of your dreams and following your heart. Spending most of her time on the open road capturing radiant and colorful moments, people, and landscapes, Melissa has always felt most at home with nature, rolling down windows, and leaving doors wide open.

“I think that the sounds and feel of free-flowing wind and air are really tied to my nature in a deep, inextricable way,“ she says. Looking at Melissa’s photography, it’s clear she enjoys a life on the go. But she couldn’t always call the road her office—before she was traveling, Melissa was working in the Art Department at Pixar Animation Studios. After six years of steady employment, she decided to take the leap and make travel her work.

“When I worked at the studio, I would fantasize from my desk about what it would feel like if someone cut a giant square in the roof and rolled it back like a sardine can,“ Melissa says. „I knew my river of growth water had run dry, and it was time to get into the world again.“

Going Off an Instinct

Like many „wanderlust-ed,“ she was exhilarated by the notion of being her own guide and having the freedom to follow a creative vision wherever it might take her. The artist began capturing moments through imagery as a child, explaining that she first used a camera at ten years old on a trip to Disneyland.

“It was a Minnie Mouse one, with flash cubes you had to throw away after use,” she reminisces. Melissa began to explore film photography in high school, and discovered what she describes as a “pure passion.” Following that passion, she found the trajectory of what has since become a career. She tasted her first combination of work and wanderlust in college, when enrolled in Semester At Sea: A program in which you travel to 10 countries in 100 days.

“I was rushing around in each country trying to hone my skills, looking for places to develop my negatives,“ Melissa explains. „Then I’d review them with the photography teacher between ports.” Melissa’s passion for adventure is acutely illustrated within the subjects and composition of her art. Her photographs have an organic feel and an expansive understanding of space, as though they are not contained by the frame.

“Making a photograph kind of just happens sometimes, and other times you have to set up the composition,” she says. „My job as a storyteller thrives on making relationships with people who don’t just do what I do and that is the sweetest part of exploring for a living.”

Melissa has a knack for capturing those fleeting moments you wish you could hold onto forever. She tells us, “I have found that just being prepared with a camera is the best way to get the types of images you want to create. I bring along some sort of camera with me on every backpacking trip.”

On taking the steps to let her heart be her guide, she says “I have made the decision [to let my heart decide] several times in my life. Once, my good friend Angela Petrellea caught me marveling at how fast time was marching on and she stopped me by saying very slowly, ‘Girl, life is long. It is short—but it’s long.’ Something about that gave me permission to stop worrying and understand that you can fall in and out of different modes of life.”  

Life on the Road

Listening to Melissa, it’s clear that combining work with travel has allowed her to expand her life in new, unforeseen ways. She explains that one of her favorite parts of traveling is experiencing the foods that various cultures have to offer. 

“I don’t always choose what people would call ‚healthy food‘ when I travel, as I am really fixated on eating in a local fashion,” says Melissa. “I try and eat fresh all of the time. I want ingredients to have as little processing as possible wherever I go. Sometimes that involves decadence: Local beer, eating too much cheese or fresh baked bread. Ask local people what is good and fresh—you would be surprised how people light up when they hear what you are looking for and help to point you in the right way.”

As for activity, Melissa is always on the move. She spends her off-hours practicing yoga, hiking, surfing, running, biking, snowboarding, scuba-diving, stating that she likes to be versatile in her physical activity.

“I try and do one active thing every single day and be versatile in all of the activities I do,” she explains. „It helps to be adaptable and seek the activity that will get you out there.”

In terms of advice, she urges other travel-hungry folks to “get outside and go to places where you are forced to lose service.“

„Wherever you are, be all there,“ she says. „Feel all of your senses when you are outside. Take a walk at lunch and just feel the sun on your skin. Take your laptop outside and see how that changes your perspective. Roll your windows down and keep them down. There are ways to include the outdoors in everything you do that aren’t major. Find those cracks in the matrix and get out!”

Catch Melissa this summer as Wanderlust’s festival photographer. View more of Melissa’s work on her website and Instagram

jillianJillian Billard is a poet, yoga teacher, cellist and avid wanderer. A native New Yorker, she is often caught daydreaming of sprawling green fields and mountains. She trained and received her ashtanga yoga teacher’s certification in Goa, India and works at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in Brooklyn. You can often find her with her head buried in a book, doused in lavender. Follow her on her (very newly developed) Instagram page for class schedules and updates at @jillboyoga