Customer Eric Hu is a 22-year-old adventure photographer and environmentalist. He loves to travel and in the last 3 years has travelled across 48 states documenting 43 or the USA's 59 National Parks. When he's not on the road shooting the stunning landscapes, he works as a strategist in the advertising industry for major brands. In this 'We Are f-stop' story, we hear how he took his skills from the advertising world and combined them with his passion for the great outdoors to create the SideWagon project.
Words and photos by Eric Hu
Tell us more about SideWagon. What is it and what was the inspiration for the project?
Entering the advertising industry, I was shocked by how little representation there was; for a field as creative as marketing, cultural diversity is crucial in the storytelling process. That’s why we created SideWagon, a student-run content studio working with agencies and brands alike to bring experiential content creation to life. As I like to say, we are inherently adventurous, naturally curious, and designed for collaboration.
The inspiration was twofold: one problem we’ve heard over and over is that students always ask, “how can I get a job if I don’t have experience, and how can I get experience if I don’t have a job?”. In 2016, National Geographic reported that 71% of millennials have never been to a National Park. That’s when I realized there was a solution for both problems.
Today, we are a collective of 30+ students across 5 universities donating our time towards bringing fellow millennials into public lands and providing brands our platform as nomadic creators a more authentic way of creating local relevance. Every time we embark on an adventure, we go on hikes or photowalks with resident artists to glean perspectives and stories that aren’t normally heard. This provides the students we bring actual portfolio-building work with amazing clients as well as life-changing cultural experiences on the road.
Do you plan on going abroad? Why have you focused so much on the National Parks?
The short answer is yes. I firmly believe that you can’t understand someone else’s culture until you understand your own. After the 2016 election, it became apparent that not only does the country we live in not listen to each other, it’s actually quite hard to hear what others have to say! I don’t for a second blame someone in middle of Montana for feeling left out from the coastal cities. That’s why I focus all of my efforts on taking urban millennials from LA, SF, Boston, Philly, NYC, and Miami into the heartland and actually see what life is like for the majority of the country.
America is beautiful and there is so much to cherish. I have been fortunate enough to see what makes this country special, and it’s a shame that so many feel it is inaccessible. And as the current administration looks to defund conservation efforts, its up to every day people like myself to push against that.
In 2016, the National Travel and Tourism board reported that more young Americans chose to travel abroad than spend time domestically. Until that changes, I will continue my efforts here.
Speaking of National parks, which is your favorite and why?
That’s an impossible question that I get asked daily. It really depends on how much time you have and where you live. I joke that it’s tough to find incredible beauty like Yosemite or Yellowstone east of the Rockies, but that actually isn’t true at all. I’ve gone to Acadia almost a dozen times, and it’s the first sunrise in America. Shenandoah’s Old Rag hike in Virginia is an accomplishment in its own right, and witnessing sunset in the Great Smokies, Tennessee left me speechless. I encourage people to instead ask, what is my favorite kind of park? Am I looking for an epic hike? Do I want breathtaking forestry? Pristine lakes? Monumental rock formations? Don’t ask me what my favorite park is, I challenge everyone to go find their own, because the more you visit, the more you will realize that it’s impossible to choose.
If you had any advice for students or other millennials looking to travel more, what would it be?
Just do it. There are so many resources out there that can help, and the best way to approach a passion project is to think about how you can monetize it. Something I like to do is look in the mirror in the morning when I wake up and ask, “what am I wearing or going to need today that someone else can pay for, or pay me to wear/use?” If you think about advertising, it’s all about finding the right media/medium to place your message. Often, the medium is the message. In my case, it happens to be that where I go, what I wear, what I use, and how I travel, that becomes the medium that gets monetized. And that is the most sustainable model of living that I have found for myself thus far.
So what’s next?
This Spring, from March 8 - 18th, I will be bringing 5 students from Los Angeles to Seattle, documenting Yosemite, Mt. Rainier, Olympic, and Los Padres National Parks/forests. We will be flying cross-country for under $300 round trip thanks to our sponsor SkyHi, and working with Hertz for transportation when we land. Thanks to Mountain Safety Research and ENO, we will be able to house all six of us in tents and hammocks while being fed by our partner, CLIF bar. As for clothing, special thanks to Groceries Apparel, MeUndies, and Arc’teryx for the apparel!
Follow Eric's journey on his Instagram channel.
"We Are f-stop" is a for all f-stop users to share their stories from the field, whether small daily adventure or epic travels. Get in touch with your story on Facebook or drop us an email to [email protected] and let us know on where your photography takes you and your pack!