How I Choose Where To Travel Next
World map and a set of darts ;-)
Seriously though, that is all relative. When I worked more as a pure commercial travel photographer, my clients would choose where I’d be traveling to next. Now that most of my work involves running and planning photo tours for Discovery, I decide where I want to run a tour and end up scouting the area to be able to best plan the logistics of future tours. Once the tour begins to run on an annual basis, I end up revisiting those places quite regularly.
I Travel Often
No two years are the same when it comes to my travel schedule. In 2019, for example, I was in Norway, Tanzania, Japan, Italy, back to Tanzania, Jordan, and Antarctica. That’s not to mention more local trips to California, Arizona, New York City, and Nevada. 2020, on the other hand, has not been so fruitful in terms of trips for obvious reasons.
I no longer travel solo much unless it is more for a business trip or a public speaking engagement. Those are short trips that last a few days and for the tours I lead, those can be from 7 days to 18 days. For our August safaris, I tend to spend the month in Tanzania as we will typically run back to back photo safaris during the wildebeest river crossing season. Those trips, in particular, have become some of my absolute favorites. I’d urge anyone, photographer or not, to experience a safari in Tanzania at least once in their life. The experience is life-changing.
One Of My Best Travel Memories
I started running my photography tours in Jordan after having had the opportunity to work with the Jordan Tourism Board on several photographies and writing projects. As such, I made some essential connections with people in positions of power that could open up some exciting opportunities for me and my Discovery Photo Tours guests in the ensuing years.
One of the most beautiful moments on our Jordan tour is when our group gets exclusive access to the Monastery in Petra after sunset as dusk turns to night. We have the unique opportunity to have a catered meal served under the stars in front of a two-thousand-year-old historical monument. We also are the only group I know of who gets the chance to photograph the Monastery (or Ad Deir الدير in Arabic) under the twinkling stars.
The first time we were able to secure this opportunity for our guests was extra special, as it was incredible for me to see the faces of the people that got to live this fantastic experience with me. There are roughly one thousand steps to climb to get to the Monastery, and it is usually a hot day when we visit Petra, so it is a welcome relief to all when they finally arrive there to share in the sunset photoshoot part of the day.
If you get there early, you can take your time to chill at the tea house and explore the area where there are still several Bedouin families that live in the caves around the Monastery. After the sunset shoot, our group reconvenes for our traditional Jordanian dinner as we wait for the stars to come out over the top of the Monastery. I always encourage our guests to take a moment to reflect on just how unique this experience is and how privileged they are to have the opportunity to do something that so few will ever get the chance to do. Doing so in silence is even more special as we are the only ones there at this time of night since the rest of the historic site is closed to the public after dark. The silence can be deafening and soul-stirring when paired with the view in front of us.
That first time I had one particularly delightful guest named Faye that seemed quiet and shy but also super happy to be living a dream trip with the rest of the group. After we had finished shooting our star-filled Monastery scene, I felt a light tap on my shoulder, and when I turned around to see who it was, Faye was standing there with a massive grin on her face. She leaned in to whisper in my ear, and I’ll never forget what she said… “Best day of my life.”
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt better about a tour I’ve organized or had a better singular travel moment in my life. Whenever I think about that evening, I too always end up with a big Cheshire cat grin on my face as I fade into such a delightful memory. Thanks, Faye. That meant the world to me.
I look forward to this day every year now as it is truly a magical travel experience that never gets old.
Things That Prevent Me From Traveling More
Pandemics, for one. Needless to say that the Covid-19 situation around the world has put a halt to all my international travel for the time being, and I’m both saddened by this and frustrated that my livelihood has been put on hold.
Even though I’m a travel photographer, I’m still like most travelers with long bucket lists of places they want to explore. As such, the budget plays a role in where I can travel and how I travel.
However, time is the primary culprit in terms of what is the one thing that prevents me from traveling more. I am a self-confessed workaholic, and that is not a good thing. By not giving myself much time off, I typically don’t have time to do shorter solo trips or personal trips with companions to take more time to photograph for personal enjoyment. I’d like to change that.
Note to self: Work less, enjoy more!
Challenges I Face During My Travels
While being a workaholic, I also tend to be a perfectionist. I don’t recommend this tandem of qualities to anyone. That being said, by working hard before each trip on logistics, itineraries, permissions, and other plans, I do my best to make sure that each time I get on a plane to my next destination that I’m as prepared as possible for the upcoming adventure.
The planning involves me working with operators, DMOs, tourism boards, and guides from all over the world. That in itself can be quite challenging as I have to work with people who don’t necessarily have English as their first language, and frequently we have to contend with both language and cultural barriers. Since I’m now usually working with local operators and guides, cultural barriers are less prevalent. However, logistical issues are still constant, no matter how well you plan ahead of your voyages.
Actual travelers understand that no matter how well prepared you are, no matter how precise the plans are, you need to remain fluid and understanding that shit happens when traveling. The real test of the character of a traveler is how you react to change.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
The most rewarding thing about traveling to destinations that have different cultures than mine is how much I learn about people, places, and histories. In the end, I’m always amazed at just how similar we are despite all the differences between us. Each site has a lesson to teach me, and the same can be said for the people I meet along the way on my travel experiences. Not only do I learn about other cultures, but I end up learning something new about myself.
Travel Bucket List
I’d need a few hours to get into the details here. The more I travel, the longer my bucket list gets.
After my inaugural Antarctica tour in 2019, I’m able to say that I’ve been to all seven continents. I’m just missing Atlantis now ;-)
That being said, there are countless destinations that I still want to see, and it would take several lifetimes to be able to cross those places off my list. So I’ll give five examples in no particular order of areas at the top of my list (today).
1. Patagonia in Chile and Argentina
From all the incredible photography I have seen come out of this part of the planet, I’m intrigued and captivated by the natural beauty of this part of the world. It looks so pristine and picture-perfect, which for a travel and landscape photographer is a dream-come-true.
Incredible history, stunning ancient castles, otherworldly mystical landscapes, and the odd whiskey distillery are all excellent reasons to want to visit this enchanted land.
3. Baffin Island in Canada’s Great North
It is more difficult and more expensive to get to Canada’s remote Great North than it is to visit Antarctica these days. As a Canadian, it feels odd that I have yet to see this part of my own country, especially considering what I do for a living. However, the Canadian Northern Territories of Yukon, North West Territories, and Nunavut are so vast and so remote that traveling there is quite challenging for many reasons, especially the extremely remote regions like Baffin or Ellesmere Islands.
For history buffs, is there a more bucket listy place possible? Not only would I like to see the pyramids, Luxor, Alexandria, and Aswan, but I’d also like to see some of the lesser-known parts of the country and meet Egyptians of all sorts of different backgrounds and cultures. I’m fascinated by Egypt, and now with the talk that the Sphinx and other structures may be up to thirteen thousand years old, I get shivers just thinking about how cool it would be to see these sites in person. Oh, and I may take a few photos along the way as well.
With so many different cultures, languages, climates, topography, histories, and foods, what other countries on Earth can compare to the potential travel experiences I could have in India? When I do finally get the chance to go, I’d like to spend at least a month just to be able to get a small taste of what this exotic land has to present to me.
Advice for Other Travel Photographers
I get asked this question a lot. The answer is always the same. Take some business classes. This is, after all, a business. If you don’t have any business acumen, you’ll fail in any industry, including photography.
You can learn photography and post-production photo editing online these days better than in a classroom. The choices for photography education are nearly limitless in the digital age. However, if you want to earn a living doing this kind of work, it is tough to do so by just taking lovely photos. You need a hook, an angle, and a way to get known. Achieving these goals takes years of hard work, and the field is becoming more crowded every day.
Even if you manage to get to a point where you can make money with your travel photography, few earn a good living being travel photographers. I’d suggest to 99.9% of people who think they want to be a working travel photographer to do it for the sheer pleasure of it. Once you start treating your passion as work, some of the magic goes away.
For the other 0.1%, stick with it, work hard, be realistic about your goals, take those business classes, and, most of all, have fun with it!