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One artist's quest to capture her travels led to these stunning portraits of wild women.

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Nature Valley

Amanda Sandlin is only 27, but she's lived in a van, on a ship, and on both ends of the world.

And not in a clichéd, "quit your job and pursue your dreams" sort of way. In fact, through hard work and determination, she's found a way to make adventuring her job. You could almost call adventuring her family's business.

Photo by Kris Holbrook, used with permission.


“I grew up on cruise ships,” she explains, where her mom taught arts and crafts and ballroom dancing. Beginning after first grade, she was homeschooled — or, rather, “shipschooled” half the year, and homeschooled on a farm in Pennsylvania for the remaining time.

“It’s pretty bizarre,” she laughs, looking back on how unusual her upbringing was.

Amanda's unconventional start in life led her to develop a courageous spirit — one that would take her to places that most only dream of.

"It’s so easy for me to be moving," she says. Though she returned to the mainland for high school and college, it took only a few months in the traditional work world for Amanda to realize that she belonged back out on an adventure.

This time, she turned to the outdoors, reading about and watching people who went climbing, biking, surfing. “I grew up traveling but I never really did much outdoors stuff,” she says. "I started thinking, 'I would love that kind of life.’”

Photo by Gianni S. Visciano, used with permission.

Finally, she decided to stop longing for it and start living it. "I packed up my car and my cat, and I drove to San Francisco."

Throwing caution to the wind, Amanda chased her desires wherever they led her — all the way around the world.

But not before getting a writing job at a company whose employees worked remotely, allowing her to travel and climb wherever she chose. When she tired of weekends in Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, she took off for New Zealand.

After a year, she returned to the States, but her adventures were far from over.

“That’s when I was like, you know, I’m single, I don’t feel like anywhere is home to me, so why don’t I just build out a van and travel until I find the place that feels good?”

Photo by Amanda Sandlin, used with permission.

In her van, affectionately named Penny, Amanda looped her way all over North America.

"I started in Florida and went up the east coast to Maine. Then I drove out to Colorado, up through Oregon and Washington to British Columbia, and I stayed there for a while," she remembers. "I drove down to southern California, up through New Mexico, and then made a loop back to Colorado."

She decided to settle in Denver, where she lives now with her rescue dog, Dewey.

Though she's no longer traveling full-time, Amanda is by no means back on the beaten path.

While out on the road, her work shifted gradually from writing into design and now, she's a full-time freelance artist.

Photo by Amanda Sandlin, used with permission.

"It happened pretty naturally," she says. As her work assignments became more and more visual, she started teaching herself graphic design and creating projects of her own on the side.

Image via Amanda Sandlin.

She began posting her projects online, and people started seeking her out for commissioned work. "That's how I got my freelance clients," she says. "They came to me."

Soon after, she left her remote job to live off her art alone.

In her art, Amanda strives to capture the spirit of adventurousness — her own, and that of women like her.

Image via Amanda Sandlin.

“I’m really inspired by the women who are willing to venture into the wilderness, whether that’s mountains and forests or weeding through the difficult stuff you’re doing on the inside,” she says. That exploration inspires the portraits she draws of wild women.

Image via Amanda Sandlin.

“I draw a lot of women with their hair blowing in the wind. I think I like that motion of the hair,” she says.

“You know when you’re walking outside, on a ferry or something, and your hair keeps blowing and you keep trying to put it back, bobby pin it, put it in a ponytail, but it keeps blowing in your face, and finally there’s that moment where you just let it go?" she asks.

"It’s like a complete release, and that, to me, is the type of feeling that I aim to capture in my artwork.”

Image via Amanda Sandlin

Perhaps most interesting about Amanda is the fact that she doesn't think of herself as brave.

In fact, she thinks that anyone, really, could do what she does. Adventuring, she says, is not necessarily packing up a van named Penny and heading out on the road. "The wilderness is the internal and the external and being OK with not being OK."

The satisfaction that she has gotten from being free to be outdoors, on adventures, to climb across the country and capturing art in nature, is well worth the struggle required to make her lifestyle work. And, she says, she hopes that others are inspired to find ways to pursue their own adventures, too.

"It's scary to make a change, or to chase after what you want," she says. "But it's never, it's rarely easy. It's never going to feel only good. But it's a challenge, and that's what makes you grow."

All images provided by Prudential Emerging Visionaries

Collins after being selected by Prudential Emerging Visionaries

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A changemaker is anyone who takes creative action to solve an ongoing problem—be it in one’s own community or throughout the world.

And when it comes to creating positive change, enthusiasm and a fresh perspective can hold just as much power as years of experience. That’s why, every year, Prudential Emerging Visionaries celebrates young people for their innovative solutions to financial and societal challenges in their communities.

This national program awards 25 young leaders (ages 14-18) up to $15,000 to devote to their passion projects. Additionally, winners receive a trip to Prudential’s headquarters in Newark, New Jersey, where they receive coaching, skills development, and networking opportunities with mentors to help take their innovative solutions to the next level.

For 18-year-old Sydnie Collins, one of the 2023 winners, this meant being able to take her podcast, “Perfect Timing,” to the next level.

Since 2020, the Maryland-based teen has provided a safe platform that promotes youth positivity by giving young people the space to celebrate their achievements and combat mental health stigmas. The idea came during the height of Covid-19, when Collins recalled social media “becoming a dark space flooded with news,” which greatly affected her own anxiety and depression.

Knowing that she couldn’t be the only one feeling this way, “Perfect Timing” seemed like a valuable way to give back to her community. Over the course of 109 episodes, Collins has interviewed a wide range of guests—from other young influencers to celebrities, from innovators to nonprofit leaders—all to remind Gen Z that “their dreams are tangible.”

That mission statement has since evolved beyond creating inspiring content and has expanded to hosting events and speaking publicly at summits and workshops. One of Collins’ favorite moments so far has been raising $7,000 to take 200 underserved girls to see “The Little Mermaid” on its opening weekend, to “let them know they are enough” and that there’s an “older sister” in their corner.

Of course, as with most new projects, funding for “Perfect Timing” has come entirely out of Collins’ pocket. Thankfully, the funding she earned from being selected as a Prudential Emerging Visionary is going toward upgraded recording equipment, the support of expert producers, and skill-building classes to help her become a better host and public speaker. She’ll even be able to lease an office space that allows for a live audience.

Plus, after meeting with the 24 other Prudential Emerging Visionaries and her Prudential employee coach, who is helping her develop specific action steps to connect with her target audience, Collins has more confidence in a “grander path” for her work.

“I learned that my network could extend to multiple spaces beyond my realm of podcasting and journalism when industry leaders are willing to share their expertise, time, and financial support,” she told Upworthy. “It only takes one person to change, and two people to expand that change.”

Prudential Emerging Visionaries is currently seeking applicants for 2024. Winners may receive up to $15,000 in awards and an all-expenses-paid trip to Prudential’s headquarters with a parent or guardian, as well as ongoing coaching and skills development to grow their projects.

If you or someone you know between the ages of 14 -18 not only displays a bold vision for the future but is taking action to bring that vision to life, click here to learn more. Applications are due by Nov. 2, 2023.
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