By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
Ana Flavia is on a mission to share Michigan’s beauty with the world. The 20-year Oxford resident started an Instagram account last summer to post Pure Michigan-esque pictures from her many adventures around the state. Her following quickly grew to over 9,000 on Instagram and 2,600 likes on Facebook in just a few months, organically.
This is impressive for someone who readily admits she is “not a pro photographer, just proud of the Mitten state.” Her handle @michigantravelist is her first Instagram account. “I think there was a need for this approach in our beautiful state and I am happy to fill the gap,” she said. Her favorite subjects are lighthouses, bridges, waterfalls, forests, storm clouds, boats, and of course, the Great Lakes.
Born and raised in Brazil, Flavia came to the United States to attend University of California San Diego, where she met her husband. After living in Spain for a while, they decided to settle in Michigan to raise their family. “Many people thought I was crazy to leave California or Europe for Michigan back then,” she recalled. “I think I made the right decision. I‘m right where I was meant to be.” Flavia became a U.S. citizen in 2005.
When she first arrived in Michigan, she was curious to explore her new home since she grew up in a tropical country with a very different climate and natural features. She spent her free weekends traveling the state, acquainting with her new surroundings. “I’ve always given preference to finding hidden gems, visiting lesser known places, talking to locals, instead of only going where everybody else was going. I guess I was trying to make myself at home.”
She shared many of her photos on social media over the years. Every now and then friends would ask for travel recommendations. With the pandemic, those requests grew exponentially as many friends and acquaintances were seeking places to visit with their families while social distancing and also enjoying rest and relaxation, or time in nature for their mental health.
“I understood that my friends were probably not the only ones looking for places, parks and day trips to go in Michigan to unwind and de-stress, so I decided to create the @michigantravelist profile on Instagram to be able to help as many people as possible during a time we all needed to find some peace.”
Flavia’s love of nature predates Michigan, however. She learned this appreciation from her parents. Her father was an environmental engineer who “loved nature and would not harm a single ant because ‘they have their role in their ecosystem.’” Her mother was a psychiatrist who found nature to be a powerful medicine that can be harnessed to calm, replenish and re-center oneself.
“Having that combination of parents growing up, I’ve always gone in search of the small trails and woods with a pristine spring that nobody visits or that beach where I could bring my kids and enjoy quality time with them.” She continued this practice to keep her sanity throughout last year.
“I love sharing the beauty of Michigan with my followers. I often tell my friends that Michigan is the United States’ ‘best kept secret’ and my deepest wish is to put Michigan on the map of top destination spots.”
She sees herself as an unofficial ambassador for the Wolverine State. “I think we have a niche of international travelers that we’re not fully exploring. I want to use my social media platform, cultural and foreign language knowledge to talk to this target. Take Brazil, for example. Most of my friends didn’t know a thing about Michigan. But they come to visit me and fall in love with our state.”
One of the rewards and satisfactions of this project has been feedback. She often receives messages like, “this place is 10 minutes from my house and I never knew it existed!” or “I grew up here and didn’t know about this place” or “this is in Michigan?”
Before starting Michigan Travelist, she would do polls on her personal profile where she would post a picture of, for example, Torch Lake, and friends and family would guess it was from the Caribbean or Fiji. Or they would say that the Sleeping Bear Dunes were in Brazil, New Mexico or the Middle East. “They were always surprised when I revealed the pictures were from Michigan.”
Though it is difficult to choose, Flavia has a few favorite hidden gems to recommend. She says Fayette, on the southern Upper Peninsula’s Big Bay De Noc on Lake Michigan, is amazing. “The cliffs feel almost like a mini-Ireland and walking through the abandoned buildings takes me on a journey through time in my mind.” Nearby is Kitch-Iti-Kipi, Michigan’s largest freshwater spring.
If you love the island vibe, she suggests visiting Beaver Island in the summer. “All the natural beauty of Michigan without the crowd, a short boat trip away from Charlevoix. I love it!”
One of her favorite pictures is of a hiker’s suspension bridge in For-Mar Nature Preserve in Flint, taken in October. “I was walking with my daughter and suddenly saw this tree branch perfectly framing the suspended bridge,” she recounted. “I picked up my phone and took the photo without thinking too much. When I got home, reviewing the pictures of the day that one stood out from the many I took.”
It turned out to be one of the most loved by her followers, and put her on the list of “50 best Michigan Nature Photographers to Follow on Instagram” by SEEN Magazine, a Michigan lifestyle publication. “There’s so much beauty around Flint that people just don’t explore, I think we are missing a big chance,” she added.
Almost all of her pics were snapped with her Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphone. “Because I’m always on the move, I don’t like carrying big heavy bags with me when I go into nature trails and don’t have much patience to set up a tripod, change lenses and mess with aperture and shutter speed every time I want to capture a moment. I guess I don’t necessarily worry about the setup, I’m more of a spontaneous amateur photographer and most of my pictures are simply treasured moments frozen for memory.”
Flavia’s love of Michigan runs beyond its nature. She also loves its culture and its people. Using her platform as an influencer, she wants to highlight local businesses and artisans that need support now more than ever. “There’s a myriad of great things quietly happening in Michigan that we need to showcase, to boost, to support. This brings me joy! I love it when I find that unique local gem that puts their heart on their craft, that goes above and beyond to ensure their customers are happy, and I am able to send my followers there.”
She also runs an accompanying blog at michigantravelist.com.