Everyone has different priorities – saving for a boat, paying off the mortgage, shopping… Mine is travel. Whether it’s the islands of Greece, the forests of Western Australian, the highlands of Scotland, or the street tables of Vietnam – I’m in. Although I haven’t, in fact, been around the world, I have spent a lot of time and effort (and money) getting myself to various corners of our little planet and I’ve had innumerable experiences that couldn’t have happened if I didn’t own a passport.
Getting off the plane in Zurich last week, seeing signs in languages I don’t understand and facing the prospect of ten days on the road made my stomach flip with excitement. It also brought to mind the following excerpt sent to me many years ago by a very good friend (who I met because of her decision to travel):
We need to travel. If we don’t offer ourselves to the unknown our senses dull, our world becomes small, and we lose our sense of wonder. Our eyes don’t lift to our horizon, our ears don’t hear the sounds around us. Our experience is restricted, as we pass our days in a routine that is both comfortable and limiting. We wake up one day and we find that we have lost our dreams in order to protect our days. Don’t let yourself become one of these people. The fear of the unknown and the lure of the comfortable will conspire to keep you from taking the chances a traveller has to take. But if you take them you will never regret your choice.
Sure, there are moments of doubt when you stand alone, on an empty road, in icy rain, or when you are ill with fever in a rented bed. But, as the pains will come, so to will they fall away. In the end, you will be so much stronger, so much clearer, and a so much happier person, that all the risk and hardship you have endured will seem like nothing compared to the knowledge you have gained, and the life you have lived.
-Kent Newburn ‘Letters to my Son’
I hope that this passage rings true for those who have been down to their last penny, struggled with illness in a foreign land or done manual on a rural farm labour for little pay; who haved shared a laugh with a complete stranger on a bus that ran four hours behind schedule, spent hours on an overcrowded train through the mountains or crammed themselves and their backpack into a tuktuk; who have woken at dawn for an ANZAC Day service or danced under the stars at a Full Moon Party on Hat Rin; who have shivered through a northern winter, sweltered under the heat of tropical sun or shrieked with surprise after jumping into the freezing cold Adriatic Sea.
To those who haven’t shared any of those experiences (or other similar ones) – what are you waiting for?
Last week, I agonised over which three photos to submit for the Cornwall Regional Art Gallery’s juried exhibition. Most of the photos I was choosing from were my travel photographs, which got me thinking about my travels past and future.
In true traveller’s form, I already have the next trip (or six!) booked and planned – at least partially… I will be visiting my husband in a few weeks’ time, and we’ll be flying to Switzerland where we’ll visit some friends we met in Cambodia earlier this year, before driving through Austria to get to Slovenia. I’m fortunate that my husband is patient enough to allow me my vices; he’ll carry my camera bag when it gets too heavy, and he’s (usually) forgiving when I call out “Just a sec! I just want one more…” Given that my go-to lens/camera combination weighs in at a hefty 12 lbs, I always try to make sure that I’m going to be able to carry my gear comfortably (or as comfortably as possible) so that when it comes to be Rich’s turn, I’m not dealing with a grumpy husband. : ) If I’m in doubt that I’m going to be taking distance shots, then my L-series lens is going to have to take a back seat in favour of some lighter-weight options. But a day’s full drive through the the Alps? Come on… That 28-300mm lens is NOT getting left behind!
These trips always set the wheels turning because of the choices I have to make. What do I need to bring with me? What extras am I willing to carry? How much weight am I willing to burden myself with? What am I wanting to photograph? What do I want to achieve? It’s that last question that helps set me on a path of discovery with each trip I take and I have started trying to choose an area of focus for each trip. In Portugal, it was the cable cars and riverfront; Venice’s focus was masks; in Copenhagen, it was people waiting; Vietnam brought my focus to the very old and the very young; and while in Australia, I went with the obvious choice: beachfront portraits. The awesome challenge posed by travel photography is trying to capture images that are different from everyone else’s.
The last thing I want to hear when people look at my photos is “Oh, I have that picture.” I like thinking that the trips I’ve done and the things I’ve seen are, in at least some small way, different from the next person’s. That’s not to say that we didn’t stand and look at the same things, but I’d like to think that we each look at the world just a little differently. Sometimes, I admit, I do take the postcard shots; mainly because I like to get an overview of a location for future reference or send those sorts of photos home in emails. But those are the ones that rarely get printed. The exception to this was Greece, because it’s hard not to think of Georges Meis when you’re surrounded by the blinding white and stunning blues of Santorini. It’s also exceptionally difficult to take a photo that hasn’t been done before on an island so heavily photographed.
This desire to get different shots means that I often spend my days looking for different vantage points–high angles, side on shots, negative space, whatever works!–of main attractions
or I spend my time seeking out destinations that are less travelled or less populated at any given time of year. It’s a bit of a paradox to be a tourist who hates seeing tourists, but such is life and its challenges. The one thing that I do have to remind myself is that photos come second; I travel to experience, not to spend my time looking through a viewfinder.
Ultimately, travel has brought and continues to bring me innumerable opportunities: experiencing new cultures; taking in amazing sights; seeing wildlife at its most natural; and learning about myself and how I handle different situations (for example, I’ve learned that, after 21 hrs’ travelling, there’s not much I handle well apart from ocean and a bed). But the one lasting effect of my travels has been a growing love for photography. It’s how I got started on this path and is one thing that always, without fail, inspires me to try something new. And besides, when you travel, sometimes you get just plain lucky.