In the spirit of the summer and adventures to come, we caught up with Stephanie Dandan, a nomadic photographer who goes by [and lives by] Infinite Satori. Leaving her job and So Cal lifestyle behind, Stephanie embarked on her life’s dream- to live in different cities, in different countries, in different continents around the world. For three years she has documented her journey on instagram through inspiring, dream-like photos and a message that resonates: follow your bliss.
What inspired you to start traveling?
It has always been a dream. I was born with a wandering heart and gypsy blood. Since I was really little, I would wonder about the world and hope that one day I would be able to explore it. I’d always live for new experiences and random adventures. Whenever people asked me where in the world I’d want to live I’d always say in different cities, different countries, different continents throughout my life. But it wasn’t until a few years ago when I actually gained the courage to step out of the bubble and leap into the world that was waiting for me. That’s when the idea started settling in my head and it became reality. I decided to drop out of college and chase my dreams. And my dreams came in twos: Travel the world and do what I love. That was enough for me to run with. So I ran. I chased those two things without abandon and I never looked back.
Was it scary at first?
In the beginning it was. I remember being on that plane to Thailand almost three years ago, my first time backpacking on my own and I had no plans. I remember being a bit scared but more anxious on the plane for some time. Then I told myself it’ll be okay, everything will always be okay and that the universe is always guiding me. So ever since then, I always put my trust in the universe and followed my intuition.
What is Satori and how does it relate to what you do?
The dictionary defines Satori as sudden enlightenment or a brief moment of enlightenment. I first stumbled upon this word when I was reading two books that changed me, called The Power of Now and A New Earth. In the book, they described Satori as “the brief stepping out of the voice in your head, the thought processes, and their reflection in the body as an emotion. It is the arising of inner spaciousness where before there was clutter of thought and the turmoil of emotion.”
After reading that line, I got goosebumps and I felt this word resonating through every cell of me. I understood. I’d have these brief glimpses of “enlightenment” and pure bliss a few times each day. It’s simple, fleeting moments when I’m completely immersed in the present. No thoughts, no distractions, no emotions. Nothing but bliss and light. Those moments are when I feel infinite, when I feel the most alive. Through my love for photography and writing I found an outlet where I can take that Satori moment, hold it in my hands, and move people with it. I want people to see what I see whenever I have my eyes open or closed. I want them to feel at least a bit of what I feel or what others feel in that infinite moment because I know everyone experiences this, but they just tend to forget about it. They don’t savor each second enough because the mundane routines of life interrupts us from feeling the capacity of what human beings are able to feel. Through images and words, I want people to truly feel the infinitely pure highs of being human.
Do you have any daily rituals?
Daily meditations and when I’m on a steady flow, yoga every damn day.
As a photographer, what inspires your art and what are your most favorite subjects to photograph?
What inspires my art is the light, the road, and the humanity I find in it. My favorite subjects to photograph, are stories. These “stories’ come in human form, they come in light peeking through trees, they come in stars, in laugh wrinkles, in the passersby drifting into his own universe, in strangers smiling with their eyes, they come in happy children, they come in held hands and golden sunbeams and the scenes unraveling the moments we live for. Everything and everyone has a story. A story that is a reflection of all of us and I can only hope by telling these stories through images and words, one can see the humanity in us all.
Out of all the places you have traveled, which have been your favorite?
Yew. That’s always a tough one. It’s like asking me what’s my favorite song is. Each song I love has affected me in so many beautiful and soul- expanding ways, I found this to be true in each place I left pieces of my heart in. But to make this short and simple, I’ll say it’s an island in the Philippines I fell in love with called Siargao. I stayed there for 5 weeks and it was enough to make me want to grow roots and buy my own piece of land there. It’s magic, to say the very least.
What is the most rewarding thing about traveling?
Travel teaches you to become a better human being, it humbles you, it changes you, it helps you grow and makes you experience life with brand new, heightened senses. Travel is rebirth. Travel not just to go, travel to evolve.
When backpacking, are there any travel essentials you bring along?
I carry a total of 20 kilos on me including my camera gear and electronics. Sounds like a lot, but this is all I own for the next few years so I don’t mind. I’ve grown accustomed to the weight. My main travel essentials are my journal, camera, laptop, and passport, of course. Those things, I always keep close to me or secured because it carries all my work. The other things would be a good book, coconut oil (for oil- pulling, hair serum, body moisturizer, lip balm, and it just smells damn good) and a sarong (it keeps you warm on long bus rides, you can turn it into a scarf, a pillow case, you can lay down on it when you spontaneously find the perfect spot to read a book or sunbathe in, you can use it as a towel, you can cover yourself up while having to pee on the side on the mountain. It has its perks, evidently.)
How do you go about taking your trips? Are they carefully planned out or more spontaneously explored?
My trips are definitely more spontaneously explored. Sometimes I’ll do a bit of research before I go to the area, or book a hostel for a night or two in advanced if it’s high season but I usually take it day by day. Not planning your trips opens you up into the world of serendipity, synchronicity, and endless opportunities. You’ll never know where the road will take you next, and I live for that. There were plenty of times when someone or something completely steers me off a different direction and those are the best experiences. Suddenly you find yourself swimming in pitch-dark cave pools in Laos, or grinning ear-to- ear on the back of a scooter somewhere in the golden valleys of the Northern Thailand, or a jungle bar in the middle of a corn field with beautiful souls, or trekking with flip flops somewhere in the mountains and plains of Burma for three days, or swimming with whale sharks with someone you fell in love with, or tripping over a snake on the way to the waterfalls somewhere in the jungles of Cambodia. The best plan is having no plans.
How do you choose/research the places you travel to?
Websites like Tripadvisor, Hostelworld, and Travelfish help me out once I’ve decided on the next place I want to go to. But usually, fellow travelers and locals are my main influence on which places to explore next. When their eyes beam with light as they start talking about a place and it the raises the hair on my skin, it’s the sign to go.
Any favorite foods or beverages you’ve gotten a taste for through your travels?
In Thailand, pad thai, curry, Thai tea, and mango sticky rice is always a staple. In Indonesia, Gado Gado and tempe (fermented soybean) are my absolute favorites. I dig odd delicacies like century egg and slimy seaweed. And coconuts all day, everyday.
What advice can you give to someone who is craving to travel more, but feels bound to their daily routine?
If you want something bad enough you will find a way to hold it with your bare hands. Most people live their daily routines thinking that they can’t escape it, but all they really need is a little courage and a little push to get out of their bubble. If you want to travel, make the sacrifices. Give up all the unnecessary baggage in your life that is holding you down physically and mentally. Take whatever courage you have and just run with it. If travel is calling you, if you love it so much, if it keeps pulling your gravity the same way the moon pulls the ocean tides then you have absolutely no choice but to go. So go.