• Parlay Vacay

Through Runa Lindberg's Lens

By Chelsea La Near

This week, we’re taking a close-up look at Runa Lindberg, a travel photographer and digital marketer who has contributed to Parlay Vacay and runs her own photography tour company. We caught up with the young entrepreneur to learn more about her fascinating life and the inspiration behind her business.

Traveling wasn’t always a pastime for Runa. She grew up in Schwäbisch Hall, a medieval town about an hour outside of Stuttgart, Germany, where her parents planned and managed the local gardens. Her mother was afraid of flying, and her father didn’t think his European hunting trips were suitable for children, so the farthest the family ventured was the North German coast to visit relatives.

Travel photographer Runa Lindberg poses with her camera
Travel photographer and entrepreneur, Runa Lindberg

The land where the Lindberg family lived included a huge, 17th-century farmhouse and plenty of typical farm animals such as dogs and horses. Runa acquired an equestrian education mostly through trial and error since there wasn’t anyone nearby to give riding lessons, and she subsequently spent much of her time exploring the surroundings on horseback. Though this provincial life sounds like everything a tourist’s Deutsch dreams are made of (or something straight out of a Disney movie), it required endless imagination and curiosity for the only child to entertain herself. Runa credits her grandmother, who also lived on the farm, with exposing her to books and movies set in exotic locations, which further sparked her innate curiosity and fueled her travel dreams.

Runa made her first trip outside of Germany when she was 17 to nearby Poland. She was accompanying a friend who had a business trip in the rural southern region of the country and who happened to know a horse breeder in the area. While her friend worked, Runa was able to explore the rural landscape, again on horseback. She described the forests she rode through as “lonely and beautiful,” and even encountered bison and wild sheep. A few years later, she took her first plane on a trip to Spain, and at 22, she traveled beyond Europe for the first time to reach her dream destination of India.

India had played an important role in Runa’s imagination thanks to books she read as a child, including a popular favorite, The Jungle Book. However, her trip didn't go as planned - shortly after her arrival in Mumbai, a Pakistani guerrilla group hijacked the city in one of the worst terrorist attacks India has seen this century. "We were in the street when the first restaurant got attacked," she recalled. She was fortunate to be able to stay at a friend’s place in an old colonial building by the sea. There was a neighborhood fruit tree that could be reached by the balcony, and Runa waited out the worst of the lockdown among the wildlife that fed there. After a few days, the Indian military arrived, but the airports and train stations continued to operate at limited capacity, so Runa remained in Mumbai for the duration of her month-long trip. Such a scenario might intimidate many travelers, but Runa found an opportunity in the crisis to really get to know the people of Mumbai and the city itself. She fell in love with what she encountered, and her desire to experience more of India only grew.

A year later, Runa visited Cambodia to lend her photography skills to a friend's nonprofit organization that worked to educate local farmers. At the time, Runa was just an amateur photographer who had fallen into the craft by coincidence while studying design. "I had

Portrait of a young Cambodian girl by Runa Lindberg
Runa's portrait of a young Cambodian girl

always been interested in visual art, so capturing my travel adventures through the medium of photography seemed obvious,” she said of her foray into travel photography.

"With time, I developed my own way of capturing small and big moments on the road."

Runa's friend certainly believed in her talent and took her to remote locations in Cambodia to document the rural life and the people there. She made portraits to feature in a calendar that helped the organization generate donations and attract attention.

When Runa returned to Germany, her photography took a backseat to the event-planning business she founded while still studying. “My original goal was to have more money and time for travel and art, but the job quickly developed into a 24/7 effort that provided me a great financial situation, but left me little time for anything else,” she lamented of this endeavor. “My whole life took place in the big cities. My work trips sent me to places like Florida and Dubai instead of remote villages in Southeast Asia, and I spent my time playing golf and riding.” Five years into her "hip" entrepreneur life, an unexpected personal catastrophe, and the anxiety that came with it, forced Runa to reassess her priorities, and ask what her heart truly beat for. The soul-searching led to a lifestyle change that happened almost overnight:

“I rented out my penthouse apartment on AirBnB, sold my convertible, exchanged my Louboutins for hiking boots and my Louis Vuitton for a photo backpack, and set off into the world.”
Travel photographer Runa Lindberg caputres a Camel Festival in Pushkar India
Camel Festival in Pushkar India

Runa wound up back in India and traveled across the country before finding herself in a small, hippie community in Gokarna on the Southwest coast. She stayed there for six months, living in a small fishing hut right by the sea. "There I rediscovered my love for art, especially photography,” she claims. In India, she didn't feel the same pressure and anxiety to keep up with everyone else that she felt in the West. She found India to be full of love, and she was drawn to the lively culture and rituals that indicated a strong connection with the past.

Reinvigorated by her travels, Runa returned to Germany and entered some of her work in an international photography competition. Her photo series taken in Varanasi won the grand prize, and her pictures were exhibited in Essen, Germany.