Traveling as an i-Naturalist

This post is part appreciation, part trip sharing, and the rest is an invitation for discussion.

Coming up on my 2nd anniversary of joining iNaturalist and it’s safe to say this community has completely changed my life. It rekindled my appreciation of and interest in nature and is helping to expand my knowledge beyond birds. I don’t know what I used to do on weekends, evenings, and trips, because now I’m always busy looking at plants and animals.

I was never the type to spend my vacations in museums and tourist traps, so this has turned into a great new way to experience the world. Hiking plus nature photography is so fun! Since joining iNaturalist, I went on 3 major trips. The first was a pandemic-rescheduled culture & food tour to Oaxaca, Mexico, where I squeezed in 209 observations of 162 species. Second trip was to France last May - 119 observations of 82 species. The third trip to Death Valley and Las Vegas just wrapped up with 332 observations of 190+ species.

Favorites from the past week: colorful beetle endemic sage adorable bee lovely white flower

So, how has iNaturalist changed the way you travel?


I haven’t really traveled since being on iNaturalist really, since I’m here post-Covid. We have done some local overnight road trips and I definitly have pulled over for an interesting mushroom or two, but I have always traveled for nature in the past so I can’t say anything has changed really. In my FB memories actually popped up a video from the UK when I was last there six years ago now (hard to think about tbh, i used to go almost yearly I have dear friends I have not seen in almost that long) and it’s all look at this cave we went down and these minerals we found at an old mine site in cornwall and how pretty dartmore is…etc. All nature xD Only thing that really changed I suppose is I upload photos of life here; but even before I used iNat, I’d try to get IDable photos as well as the “pretty” artsy kind.


Like @sunguramy I also generally have traveled for nature since I was a teenager, and did much of what I now do on iNaturalist except that I get to share and receive feedback from “fellow travelers!” My travels have changed though, because I tended to go to places I knew from previous experience to be beautiful, and now I go more often to places I haven’t yet been… Now I feel incentivized to add to biogeographical knowledge without the stress of publishing something perfect.


I feel bad from not having photos from some regions where I’ve been before, iNat sucked me into researching our native fauna and flora, so I stopped thinking about exotic countries and instead want to visit every region here and see as much local species as possible! Learning about people I can relate to, talk with them about their life, visit spots of great historical interest while observing nature, that’s the best!
I think the map since joining iNat is a good enough illustration, I hope by the time of my death it’ll be fully covered by dots.


It motivates me to keep a better eye out for little things – explore local parks, bring my camera everywhere, and even search for bugs. Lots of fun.


During the pandemic some friends got me into bugs - dragonflies/damselflies specifically. We were all birders. They would switch their focus to bugs after the spring bird migration. Well, when everything was shut down, it gave me more time to go out to our local parks. And, Ohio has a dragonfly survey that uses iNaturalist.

So, I really didn’t travel differently due to using iNaturalist but, I did explore the local parks differently. I had to think about where to go in a new (non-birdy) way. But, it was similar to looking for birds: I had to think about good habitat. I had to think about what time of day to go outside. I had to read about when different species appeared (transformed from aquatic nymphs into adults). I had to learn about dragonfly behavior.

The only downside to this new pursuit was that, unlike birds, dragonflies/damselflies only come out in spring through fall. So, I go into withdrawl every winter now. But, it’s still fun.


Funeral sage and ghostly daisy.
Someone had fun with the Death Valley names.


I do not have the opportunity to travel much, but whenever on the road I always looked for raptors. iNaturalist gives me an outlet for these observations whenever I am lucky enough to capture a usable photo. I am improving somewhat at highway photography!

I wish I iNatted more while studying abroad in Japan, however.


I haven’t traveled much since I joined iNat because I joined after the pandemic started. But when a friend of mine mentioned a smart phone with 30x telephoto I immediately went out and bought it because my old smart phone had only 4x telephoto! It might have been cheaper to buy a camera, but I have made all my photos with my phone so far and at least I know that I will always have it with me. I still miss good shots though because I don’t spend all my life on the phone so by the time I pick it up (or take it out of my purse) and turn it on and go to the camera app… the creature is gone! LOL!


I make sure to schedule some alone time when I travel with a group because I drive everyone else mad. On last year’s family trip to Iceland I got us stuck hubcap deep in mud on a farm road (because Whooper Swans! and while everyone else was marveling at Skogafoss Waterfall, I was poking around downstream trying to get good photos of the Eurasian Oystercatcher.

And let’s not discuss the Northern Fulmar.


I am right there with you in that club! I have always been one to spend a bunch of time outdoors but iNat has been a tremendous resource for figuring out what is around me at any given time. As someone that spends lots of time outdoors alone and has eclectic interests spanning pretty much everything natural, even something as simple as affirmation that what I ‘think’ is that species is indeed that species helps immensely with confidence and every step of the way is a building block to increasing identification skills as a naturalist.

To segue that into travel, it turns any given plant or animal that you might on observe on a trip from “Wow, that plant/fish/lizard is cool!” to that along with “that’s Mount Diablo fairy-lantern, a species of Mariposa lily endemic to that mountain alone.” Not all examples are as extreme, but I find that each little bit of information learned about an organism makes it more interesting, even if it’s just what it is and maybe not even specific to species. To me, building skills as a naturalist serves to open your eyes even more; on any given walk there are endless things to incite wonder and curiosity, and the more you open your eyes the more you will see, appreciate, and enjoy.

And finally, I would be remiss to mention a trip I took last year that I will remember for the rest of my life as one of my fondest adventures. I was planning a ~20 day spring trip to California as my friends were getting married in Mariposa and with the rest of the free time I was going to explore the state solo with the primary focus being wildflowers. As someone living near the coast in the northeast where there is literally nothing to be concerned about I started a thread on the forum asking about things I should consider from a safety perspective which quickly shifted into advice from many people on incredible places to explore and what cool organisms could be found there. It transformed the trajectory of my trip in the best way, and the thread along with summary post of the trip can be found here.


I retired less than two months prior to the Covid outbreak. We had some plans but they all got tossed.

I do think that aside from joining iNaturalist, the pandemic made me really think harder about the whole travelling industry and whether or not I can really support it.

Then inflation hits and we’re thinking even harder. What was affordable before is not anymore. Accommodations, car rentals, flight costs – they’ve all increased to the point of we’re restricting air flight travel to visit our son twice a year (a 2-hour flight!).

But aside from the economics, becoming a natural observer again (after a brief 50-year hiatus) has made me think much, much more about what we mean when we use the term, ‘travel’.

For me, I travel just about every day to discover new, and exciting things. Yes, I travel to wild places that are largely uncharted – at least at the scale I travel. And on foot. Very slowly. And I get back home for tea.

But that’s what macro-travel is all about. I recently joined a local photography group who have asked me to start up a SIG sub-group based on my macro adventures. I’m always happy to point out that for the cost of a single tropical vacation, you can set yourself up quite nicely for years of great macro-exploring in your own local neighbourhood. All it takes is a little bit of practice and the time to adapt to the local ‘culture’.

I once brought up a whimsical idea of ‘trading homes’ within the iNat community to allow other enthusiasts to explore different natural environments at a more global scale. The more species and fun I keep discovering here on my own, the less whimsical that idea seems to feel.

On the other hand, there are observers here who have a local lifer list six times longer than my own so I’m also happy to just keep travelling to the ‘small worlds’ I’m finding locally. Or, as I said in my draft of a T-shirt for this interest group I’m forming…


My experience is a bit different in that it transformed my past travels. I had lots of nature pictures from so many places, and nothing to do with them – they weren’t good enough to put on the market when there are so many pro photographers, so they would never appear in publications. But iNaturalist provided a venue where they are valued for other reasons. It also allowed me finally to find out what I had photographed, in the cases where I wasn’t able to figure it out myself, which really helped to fill out my life list.


I wanted to add that I started to pursue dragonflies and damselflies in local spots in parks where I had previously hiked or explored for birds. Even places you are familiar with can appear new when you look more closely or look at them from new angles.


I’m a big traveler + iNaturalist fan. I kind of use it in reverse; whenever I am somewhere new, I like to look at what observations there are around me and I go to that occurrence to see how it is in real life. This then inevitably leads me to cool regions of the city, and new observations that I can upload.


Since I’ve been using iNaturalist for ten years, it has enhanced all of my travels! Having local birders, entomologists, and botanists ID is greatly appreciated. I always follow a country or region before visiting it. Once pre-Covid while planning a trip to Argentina, I contacted someone who posted constantly from Buenos Aires. He and another iNat friend met my husband and me and they showed us a huge park, a restored wetlands, right in the city. It was one of my favorite travel days ever. I still follow both of them!


Ha ha, I could have written your exact post! I feel the same as you, thanks for sharing!! Carol


I was in Singapore for work last summer and stayed for a couple of extra days pretty much just for iNaturalist purposes. I wanted to go home pretty darn bad because it was at the end of a month-long tour, but I wanted to seize the opportunity. It was very much worth it, but I was absolutely exhausted after and probably pushed myself harder to see new species than I pushed myself for my actual job. I also got COVID after. But still worth it.


Also true of species! While the maxim, ‘Nature loves to hide’ rules much of the experience of observation, I would argue that ‘the brain loves to ignore’ can also work when it comes to local, common species. (Especially in observing behaviour!)

Exotic and common being relative terms.


Isn’t it much cooler to find those interesting species in a new place where nobody seen them before, and where map lacks observations?

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