1. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I think of myself first as a father, and also as someone who was influenced by being a first generation American.
Both of my parents are fresh off the boat from Europe – Norway and Germany, and I have lived in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Portland, and also spent extended time in Germany and the Bahamas. Those places are my influences and have defined me.
Secondarily, I grew up on a peninsula on a lake with a big woods at the center of it.
While I grew up with a great neighborhood of boys, they were several years older than me, and so I spent a lot of time on my own, in the woods.
I learned at an early age, the value of solitude, which is an exceptional quality for a traveler.
Because of this neighborhood dynamic, I never learned to watch sports on television, or to be very good with gossip, and so my adult hobbies are just an extension of those I developed as a kid, lost in the woods.
2. What was the trigger for starting Notes from the Road? Can you share a little from behind the scenes?
I was living in Los Angeles, and on the weekend, my friends would go out to expensive restaurants, and I just couldn’t afford it.
One weekend, I just went on a really long drive, got out of the city, slept on the side of the road, met some weird people in a bar, realized that Los Angeles was the gateway to unlimited landscapes, and that life was out there, waiting for me.
At the end of the weekend, everybody would be talking about how they tried the new dragon rolls.
Nobody knew that I just slipped into Arizona that weekend, or that I climbed to the top of a mesa and met a rattlesnake.
I realized that while a night out to sushi may cost me a hundred bucks, I was spending next to nothing living my weekends out the back of a car.
If I tried to talk to my friends about this stuff, they would get this glaze over their eyes.
I didn’t begrudge them for this, but I knew that I needed a medium as a way to talk with like-minded people.
3. You have already been to so many amazing places. What is your favorite and why?
I really don’t like the idea of a favorite place, because there really is no such thing as the best place in travel.
It’s actually antithetical to the idea of travel. What’s important is that if you are in good spirits, and open to discomfort and discovery, there are magical places everywhere.
A millionaire can jet off to Madagascar and stay in a fabulous jetsetter’s getaway, and in his misery may find no such magic among the Baobabs.
Alternatively, a man in a power wheelchair may roll out the door of his apartment, get unexpectedly lost, and suddenly find magic in the people and character of a nearby neighborhood.
I don’t differentiate between walking around in my own city, or being somewhere else, as different.
Travel is what happens when I walk out the door.
4. What is the first thing that attracts your interest when you are in a new place? Is it the people, the food, the nature, the culture?
Before I left, friends couldn’t help but to ask me the same question as a dozen before them.
Are you going to eat the food? Are you going to soak up all that Sicilian cuisine?
The persistence of these questions reminded me that most people travel to fulfill something they believe a place satisfies for them.
I don’t like this idea; the idea of going to a place to see what you already know of it.
Or of going somewhere simply to eat; gorging on its authenticity.
So, in Sicily I paid very particular attention to avoiding these things; and to let the island be a blank slate for me.
I love people, food, nature and culture, but if you wander through a place without preconceptions or expectations, you will run into all of those things in unexpected doses.
When I travel, I am carrying a large format camera, a digital camera, and a sketchbook, which is also where I jot down notes from conversations.
So, I guess you could say that what attracts me about a place is the same as the blank sketchbook at the beginning of the trip.
What am I going to fill it with?
Not knowing the answer to that question is at the very heart of travel.
5. What is your travel gear of choice?
The daypack is essential to my success in traveling.
It is the only thing I always have with me. In Sicily, I didn’t rent a car and so I was on foot the entire time.
I literally relied on that daypack for everything – my food, my clothing, my water, my cameras and my sketchbook. Every detail in a backpack is very important.
I have always preferred to use climbing packs, because they tend to be made of this rigid material and have few extra pockets.
This is perfect for someone who needs to constantly repack a pack with different camera items. Right now, I travel with the Hueco 34 Climbing Pack by Mountain Hardwear.
It has these perfect side straps where I carry my tripod and snake-stick; and the rigidity of the material makes it easy for me to configure my gear differently each day.
6. Can you give 5 tips for the starting-out traveller photographer?
We live in an age where we are encouraged to share our travel experiences through photography.
Through Instagram, Facebook and all these other social media, there is this way that our culture is training us to think about how to record our travel experiences.
It’s a little sad when I find my fellow travelers spending so much travel time capturing something that will do well on Instagram.
Sometimes, my six year old son will come up to my office, sit down on the floor and thumb through my old Moleskine journals.
He’ll ask me questions and try to read some of my entries. The ink in these journals hasn’t faded, and so when we page through them, it brings back all these memories of my travel as if I had just returned.
The advice here is to forget those likes on Facebook, and to record something that is permanent, whether through a travel sketch, jotting down notes about a conversation, or a well executed photograph.
When we travel, we are discovering something about our world and about ourselves. Here are five tips for anyone to record their travels in a more lasting way.
- Put that camera away; use it sparingly. Most photography takes place in your head. Observe the light. Be willing to wait for the light to change or the action to change. Construct your shot.
- Don’t try to emulate that great beach shot. Find something personal and when you know you have a really interesting shot, spend a long time it, make it yours.
- Try journaling. Don’t sketch, fix lines or tear out pages. Just get ink down on paper in a strong, permanent journal. Draw what interests you about a place. Insert plant cuttings, train tickets, and stuff your journal with everything you can. Your mistakes are actually your style. Love how badly you draw and sketch. Sketching is a way to improve composition, which is at the heart of photography.
- Remember that everyone hates having to sit through uncle’s slideshow of their travels – 200 pictures of auntie in a hat. There is a reason for this: we have trouble editing ourselves as travelers. If you want to show your travels to an audience, you’ll be rewarded for brevity with your words and your images. I remember a friend who had hitch-hiked through Latin America for six months. I did have to sit through a slideshow, but the slideshow consisted of about 10 images. Each image represented something important about his trip. To this day, I remember every story he told me during that slideshow, because he understood how to edit himself.
- Instead of taking hundreds of shots of all sorts of different subjects, spend those hundreds of clicks on a single image. If you have something good, keep working on it. This habit keeps the camera off your nose and always you more time to spend observing and enjoying your travel day.
7. Who is your favorite traveller and adventurer?
I have many; I love to read travel narratives, I love to follow good photographers, and I especially am a fan of non-fiction writing that may not classify itself as a travel book, but often is.
A good example of that is The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert. But recently, I’ve been especially fond of Dominic Monaghan, who played Merry in Lord of the Rings and rebranded himself with a BBC travel show.
While in Wild Things, Monaghan chases after snakes and lizards, there is this awe that he conveys about travel and about his subject that is very carefree.
It doesn’t matter what kind of travel someone is doing – if they have humor and awe, they can be exceptional onscreen whether they specialize in turtles or churches.
A lot of these Travel Channel hosts give off this sense of entitlement; they want to exude knowledge or culture or coolness. Guys like Monaghan or Michael Palin or Ian Wright – they make travel fun.
8. What are your plans for the future regarding your blog? Any new projects?
I always have plans for Notes from the Road. The site just underwent a huge responsive upgrade, and I have been introducing new content types and templates which are a new take on travel blogging.
And I have an absurd amount of new projects I am working on. But this is important – it takes me a very long time to produce content for my site.
I know there are travel bloggers out there that produce four or five stories a day. Not me.
For example, I am making drawings of my travels in Sicily now. Although those drawings will sit on just one page on the site, they will take me all summer to complete.
In the age of blogs, we feel compelled to barf up content all the time.
I resist that temptation and go at my own pace. I suspect I am still working harder at my content than my friends who’ve pulled out 8 top 10 lists in the last three days.
9. A message to your fans.
Tell me where you’ve been traveling and where you are thinking of going next!
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