For the past three years, my work has given me opportunities to travel the world; however, I cannot think of a single project as exciting as the one I’ve just embarked on. I’ll soon begin an epic 12-day Kyrgyzstan adventure that’ll challenge me in completely new ways!

I’m posting this from the Schiphol Airport, in Amsterdam, while on route to Kyrgyzstan. Not only is this my first true trip to Asia1, but it includes a unique challenge. I’ll not only produce images for Tourism Kyrgyzstan, but also a 2-3-minute video. It’s my first solo video project for a client, so I’ll be excited to share the results in a few weeks!

Circling back to the beginning, notice the title that says Kyrgyzstan Adventure. I am not just visiting a new country, but I’m embarking on an adventure. Check out this incredible itinerary:

Aug 24 – arrive Bishkek, walking tour and dinner, overnight Shah Palace
Aug 25 – transfer to Jyrgalan village via Burana tower. Attend Kyzyl-Tu yurt workshop, overnight Jyrgalan
Aug 26 – Festival prep with day trips near Jyrgalan – horse/biking/etc, overnight Jyrgalan
Aug 27 – Jyrgalan Festival, overnight Jyrgalan
Aug 28 – Sep 3 trek Jyrgalan – Arashan – Kichi-Kyzyl Suu 7d/6n, overnight Karakol
Sep 4 – Karakol day:  Paragliding, mountain biking and yacht cruise, overnight Karakol
Sep 5 – morning at Manas Games, transfer to Bishkek, overnight BUGU Hotel

I’ll be in Kyrgyzstan for twelve days and I’ll sleep more often in tents or yurts than hotels or guest houses. The highlight, undoubtedly, will be the seven day, six-night hike across the Karakol region. But I am looking forward to everything, including traveling alongside two travel mates that will join me for the entire experience.

Both Matt Gibson and Tim Leffel are travel writers and bloggers whom I’ve previously met through Tourism Jasper connections. In my short stint as the PR and Media Specialist with Tourism Jasper, I attended TBEX Toronto. At the conference, I attended Tim’s professional development session on travel writing. After I established my photography business, I completed a short social media campaign for Tourism Jasper. Matt was in Jasper that week, too, completing a separate project but we met to swap travel and industry stories over beer at my local pub.

Years later, we’re all on the same flight into Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan2.

Finding Inspiration for my Kyrgyzstan Adventure

When I first agreed to visit Kyrgyzstan, I could barely place it on a map. I didn’t know any details, so I googled some basic information. The first article I found was on an outdated Blogspot page and the story sounded oddly familiar. I scrolled down and confirmed how I’d heard it before. My sister wrote it.

Before getting married, she and a friend cycled across Kyrgyzstan on what must have been a truly wild experience nearly a decade ago. And bikepacking was definitely my biggest draw to Central Asia, but I’ll have to return another time to explore the region on two wheels. For now, these were my favourite inspiration resources:

Bikepacking Route: Tian Shan Traverse route info on Bikepacking.com | Editorial by Joe Cruz

Epic Instagram Feed: Max Claytor, who’s based in Kyrgyzstan

Other bloggers, photographers and vloggers who’ve visited for this tourism campaign:

Brendan Van Son | Be My Travel Muse | Sam and Audrey | Gregor Snell

Preparing and Packing for my Kyrgyzstan Adventure

I’ve ski toured the Wapta, cycled the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail, and completed lengthy hikes like Jasper’s Skyline and Tonquin Valley trails. I’m even an Eddie Bauer contributor, promoting its #LiveYourAdventure initiative. This isn’t just to brag, but to lead me to a rather embarrassing confession:

I haven’t carried a heavy backpack in years.

Neither my camera bag nor ski touring kit can be considered truly light weight, but I haven’t carried camping gear on my back since I hiked to Berg Lake sometime in 2012 or 2013. Yes, it’s been a while.

In a last-ditch effort to prepare, I booked a night at the Paradise Valley campground in Banff National Park. Two days before I boarded my flight to Kyrgyzstan, I tested my gear setup with a light overnight hike. Luckily, my countless hours3 outdoors on hikes, scrambles and bike rides made the transition easy. I’m still up for the challenge of multi-day hikes. If you are curious what I’m carrying with me to Kyrgyzstan, here’s a look at my packing list

Kyrgyzstan Adventure Packing List

Camera Gear

Sony A7Rii

Sony A6500

16-35 mm f/4 lens

70-200 mm f/4 lens

Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Lens

Gitzo tripod

Crane 3 gimbal

Batteries & chargers

Camping Gear:

EB Stargazer 2 Tent

-7C sleeping bag

NeoAir sleeping pad

EB Stormdown Jacket

IceBreaker long underwear

2L MSR Water Bag

1L Nalgene Bottle

Pristine Tablets

Personal Gear

Toiletries

Socks and underwear

T-shirts and jeans

Plaid Shirt

Rain Jacket

Swim shorts4

Camp towel5.

Left at home

DJI Phantom 4

iPad Mini

Benro Mach 3 Tripod

Spare clothing

Footnotes from Inspiration Kyrgyzstan

1 In 2016, I visited Jordan for a photography project with Tourism Jordan. Although it was technically the Asian continent, culturally Jordan is middle eastern. My trip to Kyrgyzstan is my first trip to a geographically and culturally Asian destination.

2 For aspiring photographers, writers and digital influencers that ask how I both began and succeeded in this crazy profession, heed this advice. I cannot stress how often the smallest connection has led to the largest opportunity so take every opportunity to improve your craft, network with others and contribute to the industry.

3 It’s wildly inaccurate to say countless hours. I obsessively crunch numbers whenever I am outdoors. I almost always know how many kilometres I’ve covered, how fast I’ve traveled, and how many metres I’ve climbed. I’m just too lazy to quantify the hours I’ve spent outdoors between my two most recent overnight hiking trips.

4 Since my first international trip in 2003, I’ve made a point to swim in every country I’ve visited. To date, there are only two notable omissions: Finland and Peru. I visited northern Finland during the winter, so all water sources were frozen solid. I’ve been to Peru twice this year, yet somehow I’ve never swam. I can’t truly explain it.

5 “Any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still know where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.” Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

This trip was made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.