Y’know who I’d like to meet out there on my travels one day? You. Yep, true fact. Know why? Because if we met, it would mean a confluence of journeys had occurred – and we’d each be the one that the other would tell stories about when we got home.
You know how I know this? Because you’re here at this moment in time, against all odds, reading this. It means that you, just like me, imagine… more.
More travel, different climates, more interesting people, more fun adventures and that feeling that your world is huge, but the planet is small. You dream of another day, another country captured and capped off with amazing food and a glorious glass of red as the sun sets (with radiant wonder) on yet another day or awesomeness. *clink!* Yeah. I’ll toast to that!
My 5 secretly favorite things about travel.
1. Awesome surprises that began with a wish.
Take this photo. (well, you can’t actually take it… you weren’t there, so I took it for you. See? We’re practically besties already!). It happened while I was strolling through the Paris Opera House one day, listening to the audio tour on their cheap little headset that I prayed was as clean as they said it was.
It was kind of dark in there – and my first real test of my new Fujifilm X-T1. Would I scratch my eyeballs with the noise generated at 6400 ISO? As it happened, my camera laughed at the very notion of low light noise! My eyes were undamaged and my admiration for Lady Fuji swelled to epic proportions as a result of this day.
I came around a corner and saw an unusual amount of light emanating from the Grand Foyer. Naturally, I had to investigate. Lo and behold… there was film project in the final stages of preparation stages.
It involved two dancers (surely from the Paris Opera Ballet) in the most incredible setting I’d ever seen up close and personal. And the director didn’t chase us camera folk away! Well, at least until they actually started filming, then we were shooed out. In the meantime, I stood there for an hour, thrilled at the surprise show that unfolded before me.
My day had begun with this wish and desire: “I want to experience something unique, magical and completely unexpected today.” BAM. This event completed me.
2. Being in historic cities… at odd hours.
I love historic cities, like Paris, Siena and Florence, but lordy they can get crowded! So I love finding the odd times and hours… the early, the late, the off-season the bad weather. (After all, rain makes everything glow and look shiny and the tourists stay home. What girl doesn’t love a little glitter and privacy?).
Note about being alone and out at odd hours
Keep your eyes open to your surroundings for both safety AND the best sights, especially if you don’t know the city. Whenever possible, I like to scout out where I might want to photograph at night while the sun’s up, so I can avoid appearing uncertain when the time comes. I also try to find out where the questionable areas are, so I don’t inadvertently put myself in a “wrong place wrong time” scenario.
Small cameras help too! It was a completely different experience the first time I carried my Fujifilm cameras to Europe after switching from my big Canon DSLR’s. I didn’t get nearly as many stares, nor feel the heat of attention on my gear. I could blend in more, pass as a basic tourist and tuck my camera away in a low profile bag (Crumpler 5 Million Dollar Bag, thank you very much!) when I didn’t want to have it out. My Canon used to need a sherpa and its own private footman all its own… and unfortunately, I was both! Mirrorless has been a nice change, to say the least.
Note about pre-trip preparation
Research before you go and keep notes! That may seem obvious, but always bears repeating. Google image searches or using an app like Stuck on Earth for the cities and sites you’ll be near will help you narrow down exactly when and where to set up. Choosing the Google Satellite view, then rolling your pointer over images even draws a line to locations. Then using The Photographer’s Ephemeris, Dark Sky – or similar apps help you dial it all in in real time. Genius!
3. Getting out of the Cities
I love Paris like there was no tomorrow, but I also crave being away from hordes of tourists. And IS there an off-season? I wonder. (Although rainy days do help.) The crush of humanity makes me want to get out of the city for at least a little while. Besides, the countryside and small towns that aren’t on any tourist map put me right into where life really happens. I love that immersion!
For some reason, I’m also fascinated to see what grows from the ground. Here, barley fields. Apparently, Icelandic poppies and barley are field mates in late spring, as evidenced here in Normandy.
I grew up in the country on a ranch, so finding these more rural spots grounds me – and make me feel like I’m touching something local, true and real.
And the little villages everywhere? Divine! Cannot. Get. Enough!
4. Avoid hotels
That may mean booking my accommodations through AirBnB, or if I’m out in said countryside, simply finding a fun little bed and breakfast that happens to have a room available that night.
One of the most charming nights we had in Normandy last year was landing in the tiny village of Courtils near Mont-St Michel. We stayed in an incredibly large cabin for $44/night USD that was clean and comfy and quiet. Genius!
What’s more, going this route for lodging just makes every moment special, a story waiting to be told in your own way.
The village was lovely and charming – we photographed there for a couple of hours before we could tear ourselves away.
5. The way travel opens you up so you can hear, feel and see in all new ways!
It’s easy to get excited and get this part backwards. You do your research, make your plans and head out with the day’s agenda firmly in mind and go like a bat out of hell to get it all in. I call it Hunter Mode. A slice of that CAN be important, if you have “musn’t miss” spots you simply must photograph.
But I always like to leave some time to wander, follow my muse… let the story come to me! Even when time is short and I really want to “get the shot”, I try to settle down, go inside, breathe and let scenes and compositions simply occur – and come to me. Every time I don’t – I’m disappointed by my images later.
Here’s an example. I wanted more than anything to get to Honfleur Harbor. Those boats, those colors, the water… the fishing village vibe I saw online just captured my imagination like there was no tomorrow. I definitely got my shots, including this one (we even had a meal at that cafe under the bright light as we waited for the rain to stop!)
But the next day, we drove up a random road, simply because it looked like it went uphill – which made us wonder what was up there. As it turned out, quite a storybook view of Honfleur was up there!
Listening and allowing is softer approach puts always puts me in “discovery mode”. I often call it “being in kindergarten mind”… because at that age we’re the most curious, eyes wide open with wonder. How amazing everything looks through the eyes of innocence! That’s when I’m more apt to listen to myself, my muse, my inner artist. That’s when I can hear my own “voice.” And I love those photographic results the very best.
Keeping an open mind and heart that senses and sees things I’d totally miss otherwise is one of my absolute favorite things about traveling. Even when I’ve never visited a place before, it’s like some part of me knows exactly where to go, what to see – and what experiences most make me want to sing from a mountaintop. (“The hills are aliiiiiive…”)
I often talk about finding your voice. Within that conversation, LISTENING is way more important than speaking. Because only by truly hearing (or seeing, in our case) can you know what the story really is. When it finally happens… you know you’ve crossed the threshold into being a most awesome collaborator of creation itself. It’s magical. You might even find yourself giggling with glee.
And yes, I’ll toast to THAT!
About the author:
Karen Hutton is a photographer, speaker, voiceover artist, educator, former figure skater, horseback rider and trainer. She’s written a popular ebook “10 Steps to Finding Your Voice” that helps photographers discover their unique, artistic “voice”. Adding to this is her upcoming “Artist’s Voice Retreat” (5th-8th May 2016), which will be hosted at Julia Child’s house in Provence! To find out more about Karen’s work visit her blog here and be sure to secure your place at the upcoming retreat! There’s only two spots left.