I’m currently re-reading “Antifragile” by Nassim Taleb, one of my favorite authors.
One of the views he has on life is to trust to trust disconfirmation over confirmation, and that much of happiness in life is knowing what not to do (relying on external validation from others, falling into consumerism, being a consumer over being a producer, deal with a miserable commute) than what to do.
I know I often give a lot of “positive” advice – but I want to start steering towards giving “negative” advice (what not to do in street photography). This is because disconfirmation is more scientifically rigorous than confirmation. There is always an exception to every norm, and we often fall into “confirmation bias”.
I’m currently at SFO, waiting for my 6am flight (slept at 1am and woke up at 4am for my 6am flight)– and packed very minimally. This is what I brought for my week-long trip to Provincetown, MA for my workshop with David Alan Harvey for Magnum.
What I packed for my trip
- 11’’ MacBook Air (seriously the best laptop for traveling ever made).
- 2tb external western digital portable hard drive (MacBook air doesn’t have enough internal storage)
- Samsung galaxy s5 (perfect for reading books on kindle app, taking photos on VSCO and putting on instagram).
- Anker mobile portable charger (good in case my phone dies).
- iPad Air (I honestly think the iPad mini is just a toy. Steve Jobs also detested the idea of making one. Fortunately with the iPad Air, it is a great photo viewer and for writing on-the-go (like I’m doing now on Hegel IA writer application). Honestly at the end of the day, I could do without it.
- Bose qc15 headphones (nowadays a necessity for my travels. I’m sensitive to the sound of crying babies, loud airplanes, loud airports, and I just blast Mozart or yo-yo ma when flying which makes traveling 5x less stressful for me)
- Leica MP and 35mm lens + 20 rolls of Kodak Portra 400 film (I’m going to try to shoot all color film during the workshop).
- Fujifilm XT–1 and 27mm f2.8 lens (just in case I can’t shoot film during the workshop, and also might be good for interviews).
- Gopro hero 3 (in case I might do some pov videos, probably won’t use it).
- 2x quick dry athletic shirts (Uniqlo, made out of polyester and dries super quick. I wear one, and wash the other overnight with shampoo in the shower and just hang dry. I get two in black, don’t have to worry about colors).
- 2x Exofficio quick-dry boxers (seriously the best travel boxers ever. Quickly dry, you only need two pairs. Same idea as the athletic shirts.
- 3x polyester socks (don’t get anything cotton, they don’t dry quickly enough. I find that socks sometimes rip, so 3x pairs is a good idea. I got some from Rei which are advertised as quick-dry).
- Uniqlo stretch jeans (get the stretchy ones, good for crouching when shooting)
- North face wind stopper jacket (small, light, warm, water proof, and keeps the wind out).
- G shock watch (good to keep the time, and resilient to shocks, and it don’t have to charge it– like that apple watch that will come out)
- Toiletries (I recommend a muji carrying case. Had made for 3 years and only cost me $10).
- Nike free 5.0 (the most comfortable walking shoe I’ve owned. Each pair usually lasts me 3 years before I start getting holes, then I get a new pair).
- North face recon backpack (a school backpack, fits everything perfectly with room to spare. The most comfortable shoulder pads. I’ve owned this backpack since I was a freshman in college, 8 years going strong)
- Camera messenger bag (currently traveling with my custom made leather camera bag, a camera messenger bag and backpack works well for travel).
What I learned not to travel with
- Rolly luggage (sure it looks fancy, but avoid anything with wheels. You will just end up carrying more shit you don’t need, and it will make traveling very unpleasant. I recommend to never check anything in when traveling. It will cause you a lot of headaches (checking luggage fee, lines at airport, and risk of losing your luggage– which has happened numerous occasions to me in the past)
- More than 2x quick dry clothing (honestly traveling is about having new experiences, meeting new people, not to show off your new “travel” wardrobe. Keep the GQ and fashionable clothing to when you’re at home, not when on the road. Having just two articles of clothing will help cut down on the bulk of clothing, and having them quick dry means you can just wash them quickly in the sink or shower with shampoo, and hang dry it).
- More than 1 pair of shoes or pants (honestly you’ll never use it, another space waster).
- Backup camera bodies or lenses (honestly, camera bodies and lenses are so resilient nowadays you don’t really need a backup. Unless you are a working professional. But for travel, you can always use your smartphone as a backup camera if your main camera breaks during the trip. Or you can just rent one at a camera store (or purchase one and simply return it at the end of your trip) in case something bad happens. I used to carry spare bodies in the past, and the added weight and bulk isn’t worth it.
- Travel insurance (just a scam for your money for most cases. However if you own more than $5,000 worth of camera and can’t afford spending another $5,000 if your stuff gets stolen, get it. I currently have insurance on my camera equipment, and it costs me around $20 a month with GEICO).
Things not to do when traveling
Once again, this are things I don’t recommend doing when traveling that have worked well for me. Take everything with a pinch of salt and just apply the principles which inspire you:
1. Be addicted to the internet and gadgets
I used to have a problem. I used to be so addicted to my gadgets during my travels, that I wouldn’t actually enjoy the scenery. I’d be more busy face booking the cappuccino I just drank, the touristy landmark I just saw, or the sunset with a double rainbow setting over the water.
Nowadays I have the following rule: when I’m at the airport I’m not allowed to work (answer emails, logistical work, planning). I also turn off my phone to airplane mode (even before getting on the plane). This gives me some time to do some reading (I love philosophy) and some writing (like I’m doing now). I only turn on the internet on my phone if I need to access an electronic boarding pass.
I’ve also learned the value of reading paper-back books while traveling. Sure it’s convenient to have a kindle (I read a lot on my phone, iPad, etc)– but the benefits of a paper-back book are many: you don’t need to charge it and it doesn’t run out of battery, excellent contrast ratio that doesn’t strain the eyes, and it is just more peaceful.
For my trip, I brought along “The Cynic Philosophers: from Diogenes to Julian”.
Furthermore, I love how many books I can have digitally, but honesty I can never read more than 1–2 books on a long flight. I’d rather cozy up with one nice book than deal with choice overload with many books.
2. Put too much faith in electronic documents
I used electronic documents for a long time (like e boarding tickets) but I try to always get a paper copy. Sometimes phones crash, and you’re screwed if you don’t have a paper copy. Paper is more robust than digital files.
However I do recommend Evernote to backup your paper files digitally (in case).
3. Be married to plan
I have another rule when traveling (for pleasure): not to make any plans until I arrive at my destination.
Why? Trip advisor is for suckers and tourist traps. I’ve fallen victim to them a ton. I rather trust this tactic: ask locals what they recommend doing, eating, and seeing. With this I’ve saved tons of money, time, and had a better experience.
Also you won’t know your preferences of a foreign place until you get there. I prefer the spontaneity of getting lost and exploring, than being a nerdy tourist with flip flops, high belted shorts, and sun visors.
4. Buy souvenirs
They waste space, money, and time. Can yip really summarize your life experiences in a physical object like a keychain? I’d recommend keeping a (paper) journal or diary of your experiences instead.
Small presents (like dark chocolate) are nice for friends and family, are small, and delicious.
5. Attend pre-arranged tours
You don’t need to see every tourist attraction when you’re traveling. I’d recommend seeing fewer places, but more thoroughly when out and about. Don’t have “FOMO” (fear of missing out) – rather embrace JOMO (joy of missing out).
Pre packaged tours are like eating microwave dinners. Disguised as the “real” thing but horrible for your health.
Traveling is an opportunity to step outside of your shell, to have new experiences, and wander –get lost and explore.
Don’t be an Asian tourist by jumping on a tourist bus, stepping out only to take snapshots of famous scenes, and eating at the same familiar places.
6. Have high expectations for your photos
Honestly you’re not going to create the most incredible body of work on just one trip (if is less than 1 year). Most of the photos you’re going to take are just going to be holiday snaps. I think it takes a few years to get to know a place really well, and even longer to make really good photographs (especially street photographs).
The mistake I often make when traveling: I expect to make really good photos. But honestly I’ve discovered that if I even take 1 (half decent) photo per week, I’m happy. So for a month aboard, about 3–5 decent photos is a good crop of images for me.
So work hard when traveling to make good photos (but keep your expectations low and modest).
7. Stay in expensive hotels and flights
Whenever I travel, I avoid expensive hotels like the plague. Why? They’re stupid expensive, overrated, and traveling is about being outside of your residence, not inside.
So I usually crash with friends on their couch. It is a lot cheaper (free), more fun (I spend time with them), and less touristy (they’re local, so know where to show me around).
Also expensive flights are a waste of money (business and first class are only worth it if you’re rich, traveling for business and billable to your company, or you have a very limited time in a place you’re traveling to).
I’d personally save money on expensive flights and hotels and invest it into experiences when traveling (trying out exotic dishes, museum and exhibition entrance fees, etc).
There is a no one “right” way to travel. But everything I mentioned in this article personally has worked for me. I wish someone told me this advice of things not to do when traveling (it would have saved me a lot of money, headache, and stress).
Traveling isn’t about staying in fancy hotels, having super expensive touristy meals (stick to cheap, delicious, and local), instagramming all your experiences to the world, staying addicted to your devices, rushing from one tourist destination to the other, sucking out randomness from your schedule, looking fancy in “travel” clothes.
Traveling is about new life experiences, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures, trying out new unfamiliar foods, having different types of coffee (a must), and taking a few decent snapshots along the way. It is about self-exploration, stepping outside your comfort zone, going on an adventure (like Walter Mitty), and re-adjusting your own values.
- What other things do you try to avoid when traveling? Share your thoughts, experiences, and tips in the comments below.*