Anna Riedel-Jahn & Lucas T. Jahn

Two travellers who choose the road less travelled by to create travel documentary films
What are the resources you relied on while learning how to make documentary films?
Lucas: I think the inspiration for making videos came from my father. When I was young, he would always shoot videos of each of our family vacations and edit them together into a holiday film – no narration, just capturing moments. About 15 years ago, I must have picked up my father’s old video camcorder for the first time and started experimenting with making videos myself, using basic editing software I didn’t understand half of it. Since then, it was mostly trial and error, resulting in very basic videos – just music, no voice-over and little to no understanding of any settings. I uploaded some of these videos to YouTube with minimal success, but that didn’t matter much as it was fun to create them. But over time ‘YouTube University also provided me with a wealth of knowledge. I learned a lot about sound design, composition, editing shortcuts, the use of movement and so on. When Anna and I went on our gap years, we slowly started to implement all these learnings. At some point, we realized how valuable a good voice-over is to provide context for viewers. So we decided to try something out: create one long documentary-style travel film about our one-year trip through Australia. People started to watch and enjoy the video, and the rest is history!
You believe in taking the road less travelled; do you think it has helped you in your journey as an adventurer? Also, those paths often come with tire punctures, complete isolation and nothingness insight. Has there ever been a moment when you thought you’re not going to make it this time?
Anna: We definitely prefer nature and wildlife over crowds of humans. We visited Rome a while back, and even though the historical sights are marvellous to look at, each day was very draining because we had to push and shove our way through throngs of people.
So taking the road less travelled is an obvious choice for us. We like to say that this is where we can enjoy ourselves ‘alone together.
Lucas: Traveling in the wilderness is also an excellent lesson for living in our modern world. Millions of people are miserable despite living seemingly wealthy, fulfilled lives. Consumerism can really be a curse as it makes us unaware of what we need. When we travel through nature, a toilet and a shower are often luxuries. We once went for three weeks without a shower in Canada, washing ourselves in glacial rivers while winter was approaching. At another point, temperatures dropped to -18° Celsius overnight, and our drinking water container froze solid inside the van we were sleeping in. Those are extreme examples, but travelling in such a fashion helps us to stay grounded.
Anna: But of course, we’d be lying if we would claim this style of travelling was always fun. We already had our fair share of mishaps. One of the most critical situations happened on the Gibb River Road in Australia – a 660 km gravel wilderness trail. Halfway through the journey, we realized we had a fuel leak. A little stone had caused a hole in our fuel tank, and it was leaking. By chance, we met a mechanic at a campsite, who remarked, ‘keep your fire extinguisher handy’. In the end, we managed to fix the hole ourselves – by draining the entire tank, catching the fuel with our cooking pot, and applying steel glue to seal the hole. The whole process took more than 14 hours in the sweltering heat of Western Australia.
Lucas: While we travel in the wild, we are also always prepared. We carry a GPS beacon at all times, so if something should happen, we have a way to call for help. And otherwise, it’s always a good idea to stay calm. As long as you remain rational, you can solve almost every problem.
As mentioned in your video ‘A Life of Adventure’, “travelling in nature changes our outlook on life, it helps to focus on what truly matters”; how has it changed your outlook on life?
Anna: Most importantly, we have learned that we don’t need much to be happy. A lifestyle of minimalism can be very healthy as all the ‘stuff’ we accumulate over the years tends to weigh us down. As soon as you are on the road, you understand that it is very little you actually need. We have also realized that money is always just a means to an end. Money in itself doesn’t provide happiness, but of course, money is essential to enable you to do the things you love to do, such as travelling.
Lucas: Happiness for us is spending time together somewhere in nature, sitting at a campfire in the evening, looking at a million stars in the night sky. Watching these stars also provides us with a perspective of our insignificance as humans and helps to reduce our human bias when evaluating things. Humans are the dominant species on this planet, but it is precisely why we should take care of its other inhabitants. We have learned to have a deeper appreciation for the diversity of earth’s wildlife.
Anna: And we must protect that diversity, which every one of us can contribute to. As simple a step as picking up some garbage on a beach may have an enormous impact on the local wildlife. Others will see you, feel inspired by it and also start picking up litter. So, this is basically the butterfly effect at work.
With your travel documentaries, you help people to see beyond the social media travel life. You help them to seek the depths of a place and not just the displayed beauty. How do you compose your frames to capture these elements while filming?
Lucas: Yes, in our social media world we are mostly looking at the highlight reels of other people. Luckily, in the last few years, there has been a slow shift towards some more realism, but on average, people only post their best moments online. We are not completely innocent in that regard either. Of course, our documentaries are highlight reels as well – but we try to balance that with showing our mishaps and struggles. It’s raining cats and dogs? Let’s strip naked and swim in the ocean! Did we get horribly stuck in the mud with our car? Let’s include this as a valuable lesson! Our best stories are often shaped by our mishaps. And we have learned that there is very little that cannot be remedied with a laugh.
Anna: We also try not to over-romanticize our travels in our videos. Not everything always works smoothly, sometimes things go wrong. The same applies to our videos as well. Often, we have exactly one chance to capture a moment. If the image is blurry, so be it. Our focus is much more on telling a compelling story than having every single shot perfectly exposed and composed. Realism can go a long way to inspire others that such a trip is possible for them as well.
“Because a life of adventure is the only life we want to live.”
What is it about a place that fascinates you while filming? How do you pick your destinations?
Lucas: We look primarily for places that won’t be overcrowded. So far, we have visited some of the countries with the lowest population densities globally – Namibia, Botswana, Australia and Canada. Here we can get lost in nature, and of course, that is also what we try to capture in our documentaries. Our focus is firmly on everything involving wilderness and wild animals. It is also why we don’t shy away from travelling hundreds of kilometres on very rough roads, which is part of the fun, although it can be exhausting.
Anna: At the same time, our interests are varied. We are also fascinated by history and culture and love to explore ruins and lost places or taste all the locally available fruits. In the end, we are trying to discover the wilderness of every country we visit. Even in highly urbanized places such as Singapore, it’s often just a short boat ride to an island teeming with jungle.
Do you think it’s essential for travellers to go beyond the well-known places to see and understand a region and its culture? 
Lucas: It all depends on the intention of a traveller. Some people simply want to relax during their holiday. They may book themselves in an all-inclusive hotel and not be bothered about which country they are in. Everyone has to make their own decisions when it comes to travelling. But if someone intends to learn more about a country and its people, staying in an all-inclusive resort or visiting just the capital’s main sights won’t do the trick. In many countries, the capital is not representative of the rest of the nation at all.
Anna: At the same time, ‘understanding a culture’
is always challenging and rarely possible even if you visit more than the main sights. Every one of us travels with our perspective, which our upbringing and past experiences have shaped. To truly understand a country, one likely has to live there for a prolonged period. But of course, learning is always possible, which is often done while talking to locals or visiting sights that are not on every tourist’s to-do list.
You usually mention the pollution caused by other tourists. What measures do you take to travel mindfully?
Lucas: Generally, we don’t want to point the finger at other tourists because it is not always them, causing pollution or leaving garbage. Sometimes it is the locals who do not know any better. But, no matter who is responsible, we get really furious when we find empty beer bottles and plastic packaging on a garbage-strewn campsite.
Anna: But in reality, pollution is a global issue. Ocean currents transport trash everywhere. Traces of plastic, tires, fishing nets, bottles and so on can be found on the most pristine beaches and even on uninhabited islands. There is no easy solution for this problem, as countries worldwide need to rethink their consumerism habits, we included.
Lucas: Luckily, tourists can have a positive influence too. The most basic principle to follow is ‘pack in, pack out’. If you travel somewhere remote, always make sure to take your trash back with you. Or even better, if you see garbage somewhere in the landscape, pick it up and carry it out. Spending 15 mins cleaning up a beach or a campsite is all it takes. Other people will see you and feel inspired by your actions, equally joining in the effort. If each of us contributes just a little bit together, we can have a significant impact.
About Rugged Roadtrips:
Anna Riedel-Jahn and Lucas T. Jahn are documentary filmmakers and travel writers from Germany with a keen desire for offroad camping adventures in remote destinations. Together, they produce travel guides and adventure travel documentaries sharing their road trips with a growing audience on YouTube. 
Follow their travel documentaries at 
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