Blogs, magazines, guidebooks. You may often refer to these sources for inspiration and advice, but the truth is, there’s no “correct” way to travel. From departure to arrival, there are countless things to see and do. To discover what you need most from these experiences, question your intentions and evaluate why you’re traveling in the first place: Who are you traveling with? Where are you traveling to? How are you getting from one place to the other? What will you do when you arrive at your destination?
The purpose of this series is to gather insight from the creative and curious who regularly embark on new adventures. We’ve collected their best stories to create a list of principles that can guide you on your journeys—interpret them, learn from them, and use them to define what modern travel means to you.
We’re thrilled to introduce you to our fifth Principal of Modern Travel: Ola Volo. When she was just 10 years old, Ola and her family immigrated to Canada from Kazakhstan. Because the language barrier made it difficult for Ola to connect with others, her parents began enrolling her in art classes, where she could communicate visually instead—and she’s stuck with it ever since. Eventually, Ola attended Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Art and Design, where she spent five years honing her unique style. Now, her folklore-inspired murals can be found around the world, from Mexico to Sweden. As she prepares for an intense few months—working on projects for Festival Mural, Liquid Art Fest, and Shopify before traveling to Portugal and Ireland—we caught up with Ola to find out what inspires her work, and how she makes the most of every trip.
How would you describe your artistic style?
It’s a modern take on folklore—with a hint of West Coast and a hint of Eastern Europe. I come from Kazakhstan, my mom is Polish, my dad is Russian. I grew up in a very multicultural place, and then we moved to Vancouver which is also super multicultural. I thought, folklore is so universal and I come from such a diverse background, why don’t I find that link?
"It wasn’t until I really started to understand my work that realized, ‘Oh, you know where it belongs? It belongs on the wall."
Los Angeles, California | January 2019
photo courtesy of Ola Volo / @olavolo
What sparked your interest in creating murals?
It wasn’t until I really started to understand my work that I realized, “Oh, you know where it belongs? It belongs on the wall.” I’ve always thought folklore is an interesting medium because it’s word-of-mouth; it was always free and accessible—my grandma would tell me stories or put on records for us to listen to.
The concept of doing public art as folklore became a perfect fit. Public art is free and it’s for the people. It’s about random people forming connections when they look at a piece of work; or finding something they recognize about themselves in a piece.
"I love adventures, so I try not to do too much research or have too strict of an itinerary. I really like my travels to feel organic."
Do you primarily travel for work or for pleasure?
I travel a lot for work. I was recently working in L.A., and that was really fun. I was there for winter, and then I decided to take a month off, so I spent all of March in Bali. It was a very holistic, interesting time to just reconnect with myself. I got all the sleep I needed, ate all the good food. In Canggu, I would take a book to the beach, have a beer, watch the surfers.Principle #1: Make time for yourself.
There’s no doubt that traveling for work is rewarding, but sometimes we need to take a break from our creative endeavors and travel without worrying about productivity. So before you say yes to your next assignment, make time to rest and recharge (abroad or at home).
What’s the key to experiencing a new place in a limited amount of time?
I love adventures, so I try not to do too much research or have too strict of an itinerary. I really like my travels to feel organic. The other day, I had a layover in Poland and I thought, "I’m not going to stay at this airport. I’m going to Poland, even if it’s just for four hours to roam the streets."
If something’s not going your way, just go with the flow. I remember traveling to Joshua Tree with some friends. We were in a rush and stuck in traffic, so we just pulled over to have a picnic and watch the sunset. Traveling is about having a good time, not about visiting every single gallery in a city.Principle #2: Plan one thing, and let the rest happen naturally.
While minute-by-minute itineraries can help us to experience a place in a short time, it’s equally rewarding to be spontaneous while traveling. Find one can’t-miss activity or event—be it a comedy show or a hot air balloon ride—and let the rest of your day unfold around it.
Monterrey, Mexico | IPAF Festival | October 2017
photo courtesy of Ola Volo / @olavolo
What’s your favorite way to experience a new culture?
Taking cooking classes or art classes. Not only do you get to know the local people, but you get to learn about a different way of thinking, cooking, and creating. If you’re not in a place for months and months, make sure to invest in unique experiences like this. I think cooking and art is the best combination.Principle #3: Learn something new.
There’s no point in visiting a new place if you’re not going to immerse yourself in the local culture -—and one of the best ways to do that is to actively participate in its traditions and customs. Find a class or event that will not only help you to learn about the city you’re in, but also allow you to experience the locals’ way of life.
"My work is very narrative, so I like to research where I’m going. At the end of the day, it’s the people who live in the neighborhood who are going to look at it every day."
You’ve painted murals in cities around the world—how do you ensure that each reflects your own personal style, as well as the communities they’re located in?
My work is very narrative, so I like to research where I’m going. At the end of the day, it’s the people who live in the neighborhood who are going to look at it every day. I want to make sure I’m doing it for the right reasons, and that we’re all invested in it together.
For example, when I painted a mural in Mexico, we went down to the market and I started noticing all the patterns that appear on clothing and on plates. I included those in my artwork, and it made people feel like the piece was done by a local artist—it was just a little integration of something familiar.
"...instead of me trying to learn a language, others can come into my world and learn about how I speak and how I visualize it."
Tell us about your most memorable artistic experience—where were you, what were you creating, what impact did it have on your life and work?
Oh, that’s a loaded question. “Just tell me your favorite thing about art?” [Laughs]
To be honest, I think one of my favorite things is developing an artistic style that becomes a sort of visual language—and I’ve been working on it and developing it for so many years now. It was really about developing a style that feels like me, playing with that dictionary, and having people recognize my work. Instead of me trying to learn a language, others can come into my world and learn about how I speak and how I visualize it—it’s them going, “Oh yeah, this is obviously a tree and that’s obviously a bird.” One of the most moving moments is when people feel like they know it and can decipher it on their own. I just think that’s amazing.
Traveling presents us with an opportunity to learn about ourselves, our destinations, and our journey to get there. What can we do better? How can we make our experiences more enriching? One way is to learn from each other. That’s why every issue, we’ll be talking with seasoned nomads, collecting their best travel tips and tricks—use these Principles of Modern Travel to guide you, wherever you go next.
Written by Kaitlyn Funk