Giant daisies, polar bears and a full circle moment: how Liz Carlson is living out all of our wildest dreams 

written by Danielle McDonald May 20, 2024

Liz Carlson has one-upped all of our childhood dreams. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that she’s redefined them. In her 35 years, she’s seen more than 100 countries and had more adventures and mishaps than Indiana Jones. 

There’s something fascinating about how every kid growing up in the 80s and 90s seemed to dream of becoming a marine biologist at one time or another.  

I like to think it was less about a shared affinity with The Little Mermaid and more about how each of us imagined a wild future filled with adventure. Whether in the form of a career under the sea or not – I think we all longed for a chance to explore beyond the confines of our everyday lives. 

And if that is the case, well, Liz Carlson outdid us all.  

This becomes apparent when I ask Liz about her favourite travel memory. First, she tells me about the month she spent riding horses across Mongolia. ‘I was riding with the Kazakh eagle hunters, and suddenly, everyone just started galloping together. And then they all started singing, and I was galloping with them.’  

She quickly interrupts herself. ‘There was also the first time I saw polar bears in the Arctic. ‘But going to South Georgia and the sub-Antarctic islands, too…’

She interjects with another pivot.  

‘There’s this one island called Campbell Island, and it has these plants called megafauna – they’re prehistoric plants, so they’re like giant purple daisies that are two metres tall. And there was an albatross, just so big, sitting among the flowers.’   

Together it reads like the wildest fever dream, but it’s all real.  

Liz has built a successful career around her appetite for a life less ordinary as a blogger, author, conservationist, influencer and, most recently, Antarctica expedition guide. Still, it was no accident that this once small-town girl went on to lead such a big life. 

Small town, big dreams 

When a Thursday morning video call connects my office in Australia to Liz’s plant-filled loungeroom in New Zealand – the country she’s called home for over a decade – the memories she shares take us back in time and all around the world.  

I’m surprised to learn this big life of travel and never-ending list of favourite memories wasn’t always her reality. Quite the opposite. She tells me how she grew up in a small town in rural Virginia in the United States.

I always dreamed of seeing the world and doing big things.

‘We went to the beach, like, once a year,’ she laughs. ‘That was my only travel as a kid, but I always dreamed of seeing the world and doing big things. I used to rip out travel stuff from magazines and brochures and tape it to my bedroom wall.’    

‘But no one ever really left my hometown,’ she adds.  

I can’t help but wonder, how does a girl living in a town that no one leaves not only get the inspiration to get up and go but actually… do it?  

‘People said I was crazy [for wanting to travel] and I was like, well, there’s my motivation,’ Liz tells me ‘Nothing makes you work harder than someone telling you you can’t do it.’  

She took her first international trip to Europe during high school, hitting the major hotspots like London, Paris and Madrid. Later, during university, she spent a year studying in Spain.  

That’s when her blog, Young Adventuress, started taking shape. 

Just something to do 

Liz’s big dreams and aspirations emerged alongside some equally neat storytelling abilities. And so, she tells me, ‘I blogged in Spain, just for something to do.’  

‘I just wrote everything I wish I had known about moving to Spain, travelling solo and being an expat. I just love writing, I love storytelling,’ she says nonchalantly. ‘And then I realised a lot of people were following me [online],’ she adds. We both smile at how casually she puts it. 

She was blogging before it was trendy and long before people were making careers of it. So, she says she set out to change that. But I get the feeling it was less about making money and more about tying a source of income to her desire to get out into the world – so no one could ever tell her ‘you can’t do it’ again. 

In the years that followed, with a little strategic direction, some new passport stamps and a whole lot of passion, Liz grew Young Adventuress into one of the world’s largest travel blogs, with millions of visitors each year. She wrote a lot about solo travel and how women can go it alone safely, and candidly shared everything she learnt along the way. And then, when Instagram came along, she came face-to-face with a brand-new online audience, equally enthralled by her travel tales and mishaps. 

Over the years, she amassed a following in the hundreds of thousands and had her powerful storytelling featured by media juggernauts like BBC Travel, The New York Times and Forbes. Conde Nast even dubbed her one of the most powerful women in travel in 2019. From here, she worked with a whole bunch of brands, including Intrepid, which sent her on her first trip to Antarctica as an influencer. 

Looking at things differently 

Liz smiles as she tells me how moving to New Zealand – with its fresh air, towering mountains and epic scenery – from the States in 2013 gave her a new perspective. The change of scenery sparked an even greater interest in nature and conservation, but one defining moment shifted everything.  

She recounts the day she came across a mass beaching of more than 140 pilot whales during a remote hike with a friend on New Zealand’s Stewart Island. 

‘It’s sunset, and we’re exploring all over these rocks. And we come around to this little bay, and we just see this stuff in the surf, and we’re like, what’s that?’ She pauses before continuing. ‘Then we realise it’s black whales rolling in the surf, right on the shore, just flipping around. And so we ran into the water, but there was nothing we could do.’ 

‘It was just a really powerful moment for me to think about my work and be like, okay, I really need to focus on this sustainability and conservation side that I already care a lot about.’ 

From there, she began peppering more of her work with stories designed to bridge connections between people and nature. You won’t catch Liz simply posting a pretty view – or a cool brand – online; her work urges us to think beyond what’s right in front of us and consider the impacts of our travels. 

The journey (back) to Antarctica 

Liz spent the better part of 15 years travelling, minus a covid-induced travel freeze and the launch of a successful plant shop (a story for another day). When your career, spanning almost two decades, is a chronological mash-up of adventures and accolades, and you have a longing to make a real difference in the world, where do you go from here?  

Liz fondly remembers her first Antarctic trip with Intrepid back in 2017.  

We landed in South Georgia… And I got out of the Zodiac and just sat down and started to cry.

‘We landed in South Georgia, and we went to this place called St Andrews Bay, which has half a million king penguins on this beach and big glacial mountains behind it.’ 

‘There were albatross flying around, elephant seals farting and making noise in the sand, and there were just so many penguins. And I got out of the Zodiac and just sat down and started to cry.’  

That’s the moment Liz knew she wanted more of this. 

Coming full circle, Liz recently joined Intrepid in Antarctica again. This time, not as an influencer but as a guide, sharing her knowledge of nature and conservation with a new generation of wide-eyed travellers. 

When I ask what she loves most about her role, she sincerely tells me she loves inspiring people to care, to really care, about the places they’re seeing. 

‘It’s really cool to see everyone come on board and not know that much or just come into it like eyes wide open and then watch them leave, and they’re just so excited – every moment was important to them.’ 

‘I also love seeing the whales… alive and happy,’ she smiles. 

When she’s not driving Zodiacs and hanging with penguins in Antarctica, Liz is working with brands aligned with her mission and sharing important messages that are helping to ‘build an army’ of conscious travellers. She’s also about to write her second book (as you do). 

I’m not sure what the latest generation of kids dream of becoming when they grow up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if those who follow Liz have aspirations to build a life of adventure like her – exploring wild places and ignoring the naysayers. 

Travellers can catch Liz, alongside Intrepid’s brilliant team of guides, on a selection of trips in Antarctica next season. You can also find her on Instagram and read more on her blog, Young Adventuress 

All images supplied by Liz Carlson.

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