Chasing Waterfalls with Photographer & World Traveler Seb Telmer

Globetrotter Sebastian Telmer opens up about his adventure-filled life, and shares his tips on how you can incorporate more travel into yours.
All featured photos are taken by Sebastian Telmer.

Judging by your Instagram feed, you seem to lead the life everyone dreams of living. You’ve travelled all over the world, and are always on to the next adventure. Can you tell us how this all got started? What part of the world do you come from and what led you to this vagabonding lifestyle?

I come from a family that has always prioritized traveling. My first trip occurred when I was only 7 months old, to Prague, where—fun fact—my dad apparently changed my diaper on a street corner in the middle of the city.

I was born just north of Copenhagen, Denmark in Scandinavia. We have family in Cape Town, South Africa, so one of my earliest memories of traveling is from a visit my family took there when I was about 3. I don’t remember much from the trip itself, but I recall the journey. We flew on Boeing 747 and were seated on the upper deck by the window. I remember lying on that windowsill, staring out at the moon, convinced that my grandad—whom I’ve never met—sat on the moon, watching over us.

I’ve been fortunate to visit Cape Town quite a lot over the years—over 10 times, I think. Those trips have definitely inspired me to continue to pursue travel, and with a mom and dad who value travel so highly, I’ve grown up hearing their stories and thus always being inspired to travel and make my own memories.

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What was your childhood like? I read your father was highly influential in your decision to pursue photography. Can you tell us about your relationship with him and how that helped guide you to where you are now?

My dad has been a photographer for 30+ years; he’s shot for the news, covered travel for the Discovery Channel and even worked on TV commercials. I remember one day eyeing one of his impressive, weighty cameras that he kept at home. After asking his permission, I went to pick it up, but I couldn’t manage to even lift it off the ground. It was huge. Heavy and professional.

When I got a little older I was allowed to play around with a smaller one of his cameras. Eventually, after my confirmation, I bought my first, very own camera: a Canon 500D with a 18-135mm lens. The first thing my dad told me was that I should shoot in manual mode. I had no clue how to fully operate the camera, let alone comprehend how to “shoot in manual mode”; so, I sat down for an hour until I was able to look through the viewfinder without having to looking at the buttons to change the aperture etc.

I have gone for countless “camera-walks,” as we call them, through the forrest in our area. He’s even brought me along on some of his assignments. He means a great deal to me, and I still turn to him for his opinion, advise, and for general questions I have.

How many places have you been? Any favourites?
I keep track on this app called Been; according to it, I’ve visited 7% of the world, and 22% of Europe. This isn’t a huge amount, but I’ve been quite around Europe. Some of the trips that stand out are those to South Africa, Qatar, Costa Rica and India.

India was amazing. I was part of a Global Society Class at my high school, which is what got me to India. We visited the New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra area; among other things, we got to see the Taj Mahal and to be apart of the Holi Festival. I have to go back as soon as possible!

South Africa has a special place in my heart. Not just because I have family there, but because I really love the vibe there. Cape Town has this unique quality; it’s a bustling city, but it also has these grand mountains and epic surf spots. It’s a place I hope to live for a while one day.

I  also went to Costa Rica as a part of my gap year trip. Together with 3 friends we drove around the country for about 23 days. We had nothing at all planned; every morning we decided where to go and off we went. It was an amazing experience with great memories.

Then there is New York. It is the only place I’ve been in the US, but after Costa Rica we went there for 17 days. What can I say? It’s New York. I love the place, and it’s also on my “Have-to-live-there-at-some-point” list.

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Having interacted with so many different cultures, what’s something you’ve found to be true across mankind, globally?
If you’re open and honest with the people you meet, they, in turn, will lend a helping hand and treat you with kindness.

Can you share a funny story from one of your travels ?
In San José, a guy offered us a lollipop out of nowhere. An actual lollipop. When we declined the offer, he followed up with, “You guys want any coke then?” That came as a bit of a surprise. We declined that offer as well.

How has your traveling impacted you? Do you think it’s for everyone?
Yes, I do. Getting out and seeing the world allows you to experience different cultures, meet new people, and really embrace being outside of your comfort zone. It truly widens your perspective, and I think that’s so important in our globalized world.

Travelling encourages growth and self-development. This isn’t something you’ll necessary notice while you’re in the thick of it, but it’s definitely something I find when I return home. New ideas come to mind; I think a little differently. Most of all, I always feel incredibly motivated and inspired.

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What would you say to someone who says they can’t afford to take the time or spend the money to travel?
You can make travelling simple. Exploring, having a real adventure, doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money. You can find cheap tickets online; travel out of season; head to places that the masses might overlook. In New York last year, my friend and I had $1 pizza almost every night because we were running out of money. In Costa Rica, we bought groceries at the super market that lasted for days. In the end, if you really want to get out there, you’ll find a way. I know that sounds simplistic, but it truly can be that easy. Take it from me, I’m just a university student, supporting myself as a tennis coach, trying to take my photography as far as I can while seeing the world. I’ve simply made the choice to make travel a priority, and a high ranking one at that.

Also, read the 4-hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. His premise may sound too good to be true, but give it a try; it’ll widen your perspective.

What’s your stance on social media and the perhaps overly-curated/polished aspect of it? Do you think we should we be posting more about our struggles?
Look, I think it’s definitely an issue, but if you remain critical of the media you consume, I think you’ll be able to detect a lack of authenticity when it presents itself. Personally, I try to emphasize the positives, focusing on storytelling and sharing my reflections on the world around me. I find that there’s so much negativity in the world and I simply don’t feel like contributing to that narrative. It’s up to the individual to decide how much they want to share, but ultimately it’s a balance. I don’t honestly give it too much thought. I do my thing, and hopefully people will like it.

Are there any mentors/gurus you follow?  
In fact, I’m quite into self-development and that kind of thing. I listen to a lot of different podcasts, of which I’ll definitely recommend The Tim Ferriss Show, The Rich Roll Podcast, The School of Greatness and The Chase Jarvis LIVE Show.

Any inspirational books you’ve read that you’d recommend?
I’m currently reading Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia. Besides that I’m deciding whether to dive into Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body or his newer book Tools of Titans.

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Do you have any life mantras?

“If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”Ben Brown

I tell my self this one when I’m at work, having edited photos all day when I should be preparing for an exam. Or whenever I feel like it’s an uphill battle. Those moments pass very quickly though.

“Work hard(er) and be brave.”Casey Neistat

He also proclaims that in any given room, you can always be the one that works the hardest. Other people might be better looking, be richer or have more talent, but you can always work harder inspire of that.

“If nobody is laughing at your dreams, they aren’t big enough.”

“Do what you can do as well as you can do it every day of your life and you will end up dying one of the happiest individuals that have ever died.”Howard Lyman

“You don’t control what happens to you, but you control how you respond, so you might as well respond in positive way.”

Where are you off to next?
In one week’s time I’m off to the Czech Republic to go skiing. It’s a press-trip for a skiing site – I’m looking forward to it! Besides that I haven’t got any trips planned, but I hope to visit either Iceland or the Faroe Islands later this year. Hopefully I’ll also be taking a road-trip when summer arrives. Oh, and Asia if I can squeeze it in.

Parting words?
Learn as much as you can, get up early and always chase waterfalls and sunsets. You won’t regret either.

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