BOARDING PASS — Brittany Powell

After Brittany Powell lost her camera on a trip her husband jokingly told her she should paint all the photos from their trip. Little did either of them know it would turn into something more. Now Brittany paints “watercolor snapshots” of other people’s travels in what she’s dubbed Illustrated Vacation. Just look at her below with the sloth in Panama – totally adorable, right? I love that it tells a different story than a photograph, and really makes you want to have a conversation about it, and look at it longer than a normal photo. Brittany’s Low Commitment Project: Making stuff happen with little energy and time, which she keeps with an art school friend, also made me smile. I particularly loved the Native Dress series of animals with designs inspired by textile patterns from their native lands. The best perk is the research for these trips inspires wanderlust. Thanks, Brittany!! –Anne

panama sloth with brittanyPanama sloth with Brittany

last trip taken:
Panama.  When I saw we had just enough frequent flyer miles to get us to Central America, I began researching Panama because it is the furthest distance we could go.  Highlights:  Boquete, fish tacos, falling in with a serious birding crowd for a day, and sloths.  Bummer:  losing our camera.

Incidentally, when I lost our camera, my husband jokingly suggested I paint all of our trip photos.  I did, and that sparked my new project:  through Illustrated Vacation, I paint “watercolor snapshots” of other people’s travels.

panama rock formations on hike to boquetePanama rock formations on hike to Boquette

panama crocodile at summit botanical gardenPanama crocodile at summit botanical garden.

panama special bird in soberania natl parkPanama special bird is Soberania National Park

next trip on deck:
Hong Kong and Hoi An, Vietnam.  My mother-in-law recently moved to Hong Kong, so we’re visiting this winter.  The only absolute MUST DO on our list is Tim Ho Wan, the least expensive Michelin-starred restaurant in the world.  It’ll be our first restaurant with any stars, which is typical of our “cheapest of the awesome” traveling style.  After Hong Kong, we will fly to Hoi An for four days of sun, beach, and visiting ruins (or as my husband’s friend said, “you spelled ‘food’ wrong”).

panama flowers on waterfall hikePanama flowers on waterfall hike.

one place you would go back to again and again:
Argentina (see below).  More realistically, we repeatedly visit family in Italy and close family friends in Turkey.  There could be worse fates.  We love the cuisine in both countries, there are endless sights to see, and our family and friends are warm and welcoming (and lucky for us, they’re all wonderful cooks).  Our Turkish friends don’t speak English, so Google Translate has been our buddy.  Even so, we know our friends will say, “My daughter,” while hugging my husband, and they’ll call me their son.

Also, we keep ourselves interested in US travel by visiting one national park each year.  This fall, we’ll take a short road trip to Redwood National Park.

argentina iguazu falls rainbowArgentina Igazu Falls rainbow

place you’d most likely recommend a friend go visit:
Argentina.  There’s no reason not to go.  It is an interesting and lovely country, it’s cheap for North Americans right now, the food is totally satisfying, Buenos Aires is a design-y city, and it is much easier than some other South American countries.  One of our favorite days was spent at a gaucho festival in San Antonio de Areco, grilled beef sandwiches in one hand and surprisingly tasty juice-box style wine in the other, cheering on the cowboys while chatting with a family of young dancers.

argentina san antonio gauchosArgentina San Antonio gauchos

preferred method of transportation:
Train.  I have an unnatural loathing for renting cars while abroad, plus I always work on my embroidery while on trains.  No matter where we go, this garners curious stares from grandmothers.

panama rainforest discovery center in soberania natl parkPanama rainforest discovery center in Soberania National Park

place you’ve never been but dying to go:
Scandinavia.  We always say we’ll go there when we find our benefactors.

pemba zanzibarPemba Zanzibar

place you’d never go back:
Zanzibar.  Not because we didn’t have a good time, but because it took six flights and 48 hours to reach our destination.  We spent most of our honeymoon on the island of Pemba, which made us feel absurdly fortunate, then a few days in Stone Town on Zanzibar Island.


most memorable trip in 2 sentences or less:
During my four-month study abroad program in Germany when I was 19, I met my best friends, found out that different ways of doing things can be ok, drank more than my fair share, and took trips to Holland, the Czech Republic, Italy, and other German towns.  That opportunity cemented “travel” as one of my values and set me up for a lifetime of saving my pennies for the next voyage.

yay bulgariaYay, Bulgaria

how do you prepare for a trip?
I research the heck out of the place by dreamily reading guidebooks, travel blogs, and food blogs.  Then, I make rather exhaustive lists of sites, restaurants, and activities, sometimes coordinated with a map.  When we reach our destination, we bring the list with us but don’t worry one bit about sticking to it.  The list ensures we don’t miss anything by accident, but can choose what to skip in an informed way.  Also, when we reach that point of road-weary feet and hungry crankiness, I usually know where there’s a good cafe nearby.

turkish breakfastTurkish breakfast

how do you record your travels when you’re traveling?
I maintain a travel journal, mainly jotting down what we did, who we visited, and what we ate.

prosciutto di parma tourProsciutto di Parma tour

what is your favorite thing to photograph in a new place?
Food, animals, funny signs, and odd (to me) bits of popular culture.  Of course, if we are visiting people, I always want photographs of them, too.

nutmeg spice tour zanzibarNutmeg spice tour Zanzibar

on an average, how many pictures to you take on a trip?
Maybe 40 a day?  I pare them down each evening so it isn’t such a daunting task when we return home.

windswept paris dogWindswept Paris dog

olympic national forestOlympic National Forest

what’s in your “designer travel kit” ?
My husband and I love to send silly watercolored postcards of our trips to family and friends back home, so we bring a tiny watercolor set.  We have a Canon Rebel T3i, which is a fantastic camera for those of us who aren’t “real” photographers.

panama city view from parque natural metropolitano
Panama City view from Parque Natural Metropolitano

what do you do after a trip? how long after a trip does this happen?
I usually make a Picasa web album right away and try to put together a physical album within 6 months.  My food photos go on my blog.  For our Panama trip, I spent about 6 weeks painting our travel photos.

istanbul fish stallIstanbul fish stall

ice cream outside hierapolisIce cream outside Hierapolis


favorite souvenir/thing to bring back?
Food–We grocery shop whenever we travel, and tend to bring home a suitcase full of jars, cans, and packets of edible mementos.  Even if we spend a few dollars more than we would at home, this suits us better than a tchotchke that sits on a shelf.  During our last trip to Italy, we scored a giant hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano and a special wedge-shaped tupperware container for it.  The TSA has taken just a few of our prizes, but let our 5 pounds of spaghetti and 10” diameter cheese ball through after inspection.

loot from turkey bulgaria france italyLoot from Turkey, Bulgaria, France, Italy

Clothing–I don’t spend much on clothes at home, but might purchase a couple cute things while travelling.  That way, I think about our trip every time I wear the striped dress from Paris or top from Buenos Aires, and nobody else in town has the exact same item.

Small Housewares–Even if it is easy to find similar pieces at import stores, I love knowing that my hand-carved wooden stool came from the streets of Zanzibar and that I bought my ceramic mugs in Bulgaria.


how does your travel relate to your artwork?
Illustrated Vacations grew directly out of our recent Panama trip–I painted over 80 4” x 6” “photos” from memory, and now I’m offering the service for other people.


One of my latest pieces for Low-Commitment Projects (a website I maintain with a friend) is called “Native Dress.”  I painted illustrations of animals with designs based on textile patterns from their native lands.  The research for this project gave me a serious case of wanderlust to see both the animals and the textiles in their homelands.  Shetland ponies in Scotland?  Chilean flamingos in Chile?  Yes, please.

magellanicpenguinMagellanic Penguin


BOARDING PASS is a regular column exploring the creative ways people see the world and record their travels. Find me on Instagram + Twitter! Or sign up to take my MAPS or InDesign classes on Skillshare!


  • Painting as opposed to photographing is a beautiful way to ensure you capture only the most meaningful moments while traveling. What a great idea! I’m definitely going to look into Illustrated Vacations more. I also love how one of her recommendations for Panama is Boquete. It’s such a sleepy yet totally must-visit little town.

  • Awesome.

    1stly/ Anne, thank you for introducing me to Brittany
    2ndly/ Brittany. I am thrilled to meet you. I love your art work. I love that I travel much the same way as you do = researching trips, going grocery shopping…..and finally you watercolours are AMAZING.

    How talented are you both. Thank you for giving me hope to kick off my weekend

  • You have some amazing stuff on your blog, I really enjoy reading through it! [: Your paintings are very nice and so are your photographs! As an artist myself, I love to be inspired by other amazing artists like you! Please keep it up and I will stay tuned [:

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