My Travel Life: Photographer Jessica Sample On Her Dream Destinations

Jessica Sample at Ischia’s dreamy Mezzatorre Hotel (left), and an aerial view of the Italian island’s colorful harbour

Continuing our new travel series in which we share stories of life-changing trips, most-loved vacations and ultimate bucket-list destinations, photographer JESSICA SAMPLE shares the road trip that helped early romance blossom, and a career-defining voyage that made her fall in love with Italy. By KATIE BERRINGTON

Jessica relaxing on vacation

Jessica Sample’s passion for capturing awe-inspiring places on camera came from following her parents’ career paths as a child. “I grew up traveling all over the world because my parents had a stock-footage business. My dad shot the footage and my mom ran the company, so we would travel all over,” she says. “My sister and I grew up with a strong sense of adventure; going out of my comfort zone was normal to me – I bungee-jumped off the Victoria Falls Bridge in Zimbabwe when I was 15!”

These days, Sample shoots for magazines – including National Geographic, where she is a contributor – and writes her own travel guides. She is also the curator of Wanderlust: A Silent Auction Benefit, which auctions travel-photography prints to benefit environmental charities.

My travel personality

“I wish I could say that I’m spontaneous, but I’m really not. I like to have done my research, at least – and then, when I’m on the ground, feel I can make a choice from curated options. But I do leave room for spontaneous stops. I’m also not very good at sitting still. My husband jokes that I’m like a little kid who needs an activity. I love a beach vacation but, once I’ve sat on a chair for a bit, I’m ready for a walk, a snorkel or some paddle-boarding…”

A mix of nature and city (or small town) is my ideal because it’s the most inspiring to me photographically – and it feels manageable
The beautiful Amalfi Coast is one of Jessica’s favorite Italian destinations

The most meaningful trip I have ever taken

“One is the first big trip my now-husband and I took together when we first started dating, back in 2002. We road-tripped up the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to Napa, camping and stopping all along the way – Big Sur being the highlight. This was back when I was spontaneous and could only afford to camp!

“Another would be one of my very first travel shoots, 16 years ago, to photograph Parma, in Italy. I completely fell in love with the town, the people, the food – and photography – on that trip. I thought, this is the career I want if I can make it happen. It also made me appreciate that a travel shoot is actually a lot of hard work and problem-solving, and not just a vacation where you can eat cheese and drink Lambrusco all day.”

Iceland’s wonderful waterfalls are just part of Jessica’s attraction to the Nordic island nation
“I can’t imagine getting tired of a place with such a varied and dramatic landscape”

Somewhere I love to return to again and again

“My family has a home in Santa Barbara [California], and we go there all the time. To me, it’s basically a perfect place in terms of combining beach, mountains, climate and a small city. Almost every time I’m there, I see dolphins or seals. It’s a place I’ll never tire of.

“I love Iceland, too, which really blew my mind when I first visited. I’ve been back once and would return again in a heartbeat. I can’t imagine getting tired of a place with such a varied and dramatic landscape.”

“And, like everyone else, I love the charming little beaches (with their clubs and colorful parasols) on the Amalfi Coast. But, if you’re looking to get away from the summer crowds, I’ve found that Ischia and Procida are great alternatives.”

A dramatic sunset over the undeniably magnificent Bryce Canyon National Park
Jessica, hiking in Utah, with her husband and their daughter, Stella

The most spontaneous trip I’ve ever taken

“During the pandemic, our daughter Stella was 10 months old and we were desperate to get out of the house over the Christmas break. We had booked a cabin in Yosemite, since, like most people, we were still too afraid to fly. Then Yosemite went into lockdown and our cabin got canceled, so we packed up the car and all drove to Vegas and Utah. We were still really cautious but, once we got to Zion and Bryce National Parks, we spent days just hiking all over, with Stella in the baby carrier. It was magical.”

An upcoming trip I cannot wait for

“My husband and I are going to Milos, Greece, in July for a big birthday/anniversary/babymoon – and I cannot wait! Those otherworldly sandstone cliffs over the turquoise ocean look incredible.”

City break or nature escape?

“Cities are rarely at the top of my list, unless it’s Italy or Japan – I would happily explore and eat my way through all of their cities. I also loved visiting Lisbon, Barcelona and Copenhagen. A mix of nature and city (or small town) is my ideal because it’s the most inspiring to me photographically – and it feels manageable.”

The most beautiful place I’ve ever been:

“The Dolomites, French Polynesia, Machu Picchu, Iceland and the Azores.”

My ultimate bucket-list destination:

“I went on safari a long time ago, with my family, and I am dying to go again – or to go see wild animals somewhere like Madagascar or Tasmania.”

An outdoor natural pool in the Azores’ incredible rainforest
Stunning photographs showcasing two of Jessica’s favorite destinations – Mexico (featuring a relaxing hammock) and Peru’s famous peaks

Where I would go for…

…a culture fix: “Tokyo or Mexico City.”

…food indulgence: “Parma or Lima.”

…complete relaxation: “French Polynesia – perhaps the incredible Le Taha’a resort.”