Career transition on the road with Jim O’Donnell

Panama City at Dawn

Currently making the move from a career in Archaeology, 42 year old Jim O’Donnel is pursuing his dream of becoming a travel writer. In this On the Road interview from New Mexico, he shows us that career transitions are possible and worth it!

  •  Tell us a bit about yourself and how you started to travel. Do you remember your 1st travel experience? Why are you (if that’s so…) passionate about traveling?
El Rio Grande del Norte

El Rio Grande del Norte

My first travel experience came from books. My family wasn’t much for traveling. We did a good amount of camping in my home state of Colorado while growing up but that’s about it.  My family are very rooted people. They were also very bookish people, however, and I learned to read at a very young age. Books were everywhere in the house and a lot of those were travel books.  I remember reading Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, Robert Byron, Fermor and Lewis and Clark among many others. Those were my first travels, inside those books. I paid dedication to that literary inspiration for my travels in the name I chose for my website.

  • Now that we know where do you come from… could you tell us where are you heading to? Which are your plans for the future in terms of traveling?

I’m not really interested in racking up checkmarks on a list of countries or hitting all the “must see” locations. I’m more interested in a deep experiential sort of travel that allows me really connect with a landscape, an environment, a culture or a language for example.  Moving through places at a rapid pace is not of interest to me. I’m working on some plans that will take me on some walking and paddling journeys in Scandinavia, France and Panama.  I’d really like to get back to India at some point. I’m a single father and would really like to start taking my kids with me on some of my trips.

  • What do you think of traveling with a purpose or meaning in mind? What do you look for when traveling long term?

I want to learn something when I travel and then I want to be able to share that learning and experience with other people. There are so many lessons we can all learn from each other and I want to help share from one culture to another. That is the whole reason I started my website, to share my experiences via writing and photography with both those who don’t travel as well as other travelers. This was one of the reasons I walked across Finland and then wrote my book “Notes for the Aurora Society”.

  • How do you fund your travels? Have you found a job or income source that allows you to be on the road fulltime? Tell us what you do for a living.

After a career as an archaeologist and then in conservation, I’m currently making the move to full-time work as a writer and photographer. The transition has been slow but it is working out.  Basically, I looked around and thought…what in my skill set will work best to keep me on the road for the rest of my life? I intend for my career as a travel writer and photographer to keep me on the road and hopefully starting having enough money to take my kids!

  • Did your job, studies, volunteering experiences or other projects help you to travel the world? Where have you been thanks to those? If so, tell us a bit about those experiences.

My career in archaeology took me far and wide, working all over the western United States, northern Mexico, Peru, France and Egypt. That was a fantastic way to live, seeing places most people will never see.  I remember surveying remote forests in eastern France on foot, for example.  We were mapping an old Roman road but deep in those forests we kept stumbling on old World War I and II battlefields – stunning stuff few every see.

Whenever I’m on the road I still seek out historical and archaeological sites.

O'Donnell on Wheeler Peak, New Mexico, USA

O’Donnell on Wheeler Peak, New Mexico, USA

  • What would you recommend to someone who wants to follow your steps? Which kind of training or studies is necessary? Would an investment be needed in the first place? Please, give 3 pieces of advice (you wish to have known before starting) of what to do and what to avoid in order to succeed.

My advice is that you have to just get out there. You have to have some experiences under your belt. Hit the road. Plan a trip. Talk to people.   It took me a lifetime of playing with cameras to gain the skills I have now – and I have so much more to learn. The same with writing.  You want to write?  Then write. Spend a lot of time reading and writing and developing the skill and the voice that suits your goals. Avoid naysayers and disbelievers

  • What does a perfect day in your life looks like? Do you follow any particular routine?

A perfect day in my has me outside on the land, moving my body, meeting new people, seeing new things, taking pictures and filling my notebook. That perfect day ends, of course, with a cold beer and a nice meal.

  • Where do you come from originally and where you call home now? Can you give us some local tips we cannot find in a guidebook but you highly recommend about your hometown?
Panama City at Dawn

Panama City at Dawn

I was born and raised, 4th Generation, in southern Colorado. Pueblo, Colorado specifically. I’ve based myself in New Mexico since 1989 however and currently live in Taos, New Mexico.  I consider Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado as one place given the similarity of the landscapes and the culture.  If you pass through Pueblo and want a truly local experience, you have to breakfast at The Pantry. In Taos, drop by Toribios on the north side of town for a burrito before driving about 20 minutes north to Cebolla Mesa and a fabulous hike into the 900ft deep Rio Grande Gorge.

  • Do you read, write, draw, listen to music, sing, watch movies or do something else while traveling? How do you interact with technology these days and which gadgets you definitely take with you everywhere? What is your favorite book? And movie?


I pack as light as possible. There is nothing more detrimental to a good travel experience than carrying luggage.  Forget it.  I place my journal, pens and a few books into a ziplock.  My iphone rounds it out.  That’s all I need.  Oh!  And the camera….I can’t forget the camera.

My favorite book is “Utz” by Bruce Chatwin.  “Far Tortuga” is a close second. My favorite movie is harder to nail down but “Empire of the Sun” remains close to the top.

Deslandes River, Haiti

Deslandes River, Haiti

  • Do you keep a bucket list? Which are your (craziest) dreams? Where are your favorite destinations on earth?

I do have a bucket list but it is ever-changing and ever growing.  My bucket list is a beast unto itself.

There are a lot of short-term trips that I’d like to do but I have a number of BIG things that I would really like to do in the coming years.  First, I want to do a whole travel project around Scandinavian-Muslim interaction in the Middle Ages.  If you know of anyone willing to fund such a crazy project, let me know.  Second, I want to do the whole Santiago de Campostella route on foot. At some point, I’d really like to spend a year traveling in China.  Those of course and completing the book (my first novel) I’ve been working on for the past few years….

Dawn. Karnataka, India

Dawn. Karnataka, India

Get to know Jim better in his travel blog, twitter or Facebook!

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  1. karan

    hi this is vary inspirational, i want to be a traveler and i want to travel rest of my life, i hope this will come true.

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