Sunsets in Costa Rica

Hey everyone, I’m Antonio Melendez from Heartisan Films and today I’m going to share with you a proven way to travel for cheap. I have had some pretty amazing adventures these past few years and they were very in expensive due to my ability to shoot in exchange for lodging and food. In a few cases I even had airfare covered.

Here are the steps I have taken to get beautiful lodging and delicious food in trade for playing with my camera:

First step is to choose a location, Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico to name a few are amazing warm destinations with vibrant cultures and beautiful experiences waiting for you. Once you have decided on where you will be going it’s time to start your research.

Step two is to find the areas and activities that are most exciting to you. Maybe it’s surfing, kayaking, mountain climbing or just sampling the night life and food in the city. What ever it is create a list of places and activities you want to experience. Once you have developed a loose itinerary it’s time to start finding the actual lodging options you wish to experience. I personally like a mix of small and simple accommodations and the gorgeous 5 star places. Develop a list of these places for each region you plan to visit.

Another option is to look for tour guide companies. There are a ton of folks out there that are living their dream by taking tourist on adventures. Quads, hikes, horseback riding, you name it, it’s out there. These are great opportunities to experience some awesome adventures while filming. I’ve been on some terrific tours and met some amazing people by doing this.

Step three, it’s time to start emailing and contacting these places. I always do a basic email that speaks to all of them and send it out in mass. Then I call each one and let them know that I sent it. It’s key to try and get it to the right person. Although most smaller hostels, bnb’s and hotels are usually family run businesses and do everything themselves. Persistence is valuable here. These business owners are quite busy and usually let emails from afar slip through the cracks. So follow up weekly until you make a solid contact. And know that sometimes even those fall through..

Once you get a few bites of interest it’s time to send some work samples and a proposition. The key thing to remember here is that most lower priced places usually have no budget for this type of work, but the do have services that they offer. So your best bet is to offer a trade.

Shooting a 1-2 minute montage video is fairly simple and gives you a way to capture the beauty that you see around you and polish your camera skills. If you shoot during the right times of the day you really can’t get bad shots. One of the most important things to keep as a priority is the quality of all your projects. Most villages or small towns in these destinations are filled with people that know each other. Therefore if you do an awesome job for someone, others are bound to find out about it. I have been very fortunate to have lots of referrals durning my trips. It was due to doing the best I could with the few tools I brought.

This leads to gear selection.

I use as small and compact a rig as I can. Here’s what I bring:

• MacBook Pro for editing

• Lumix Gh5

• Zoom lens of your choice

• 50mm or something similar that’s fast for the nice shallow depth of field shots.

• A long focal length zoom

• Cheap slider with wheels

• 5in 1 reflector

All this fits in a good sized hiking backpack along with your clothes and other necessities. Try to travel light and with minimal things. It makes life a lot easier. To travel within these countries it’s usually cheapest to go by bus. There usually isn’t much space on buses for luggage so having all your stuff on you is a nice plus.

Lastly, the most beneficial thing i brought with me was my attitude.. It is imperative that you travel with a positive and service minded attitude. People are the same in one way. They know when someone is a jerk, if you’re a jerk you won’t get the opportunities that await you. Remember that just because you have a camera and you come from the US, you are not better or worse than anyone else. Be of the mind that you are a guest in someone else’s home. Be respectful, polite, helpful and eager to serve.. That applies everywhere.. I have reached the place I am in life not because I’m the best cinematographer but because I genuinely wish to better the lives of the people around me. Good luck on your adventures and keep shooting.

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