8 Life Lessons I Learned After Spending 3 Months on the Road

Cindy, the love of my life. Berlin, 2015
Cindy, the love of my life. Berlin, 2015
Cindy, the love of my life. Berlin, 2015

Dear friend,

I am excited to share that after nearly 3 months on the road, I am finally back at my beautiful home in Berkeley. I just wanted to use this opportunity to share some life lessons I’ve learned during this trip, as long as some other meditations and ramblings:

1. We are tiny

I was on the plane, around 30,000 fleet in the air, and about to land in SFO. I just had a long flight: I left my friend Brian Spark’s home at 7am, after some good hugs and reflections on the trip, jumped on the subway, took the Arlanda express to the airport, waited in line to get my ticket printed, flew from Stockholm to Frankfurt (short 2 hour flight), then a longer-haul from Frankfurt to Montreal (8 hours), and then my final flight from Montreal to SFO (6 hours). I was able to watch “Mad Max” on the flight, finished re-reading “Antifragile” by Nassim Taleb, and also read a few chapters of “Letters From a Stoic” by Seneca. Great airplane reading.

Anyways, when I was looking down from the plane’s side window, I looked down. I saw tiny cars buzzing around on the freeways, I saw little tiny homes, and I had a little mini-epiphany: we are all so tiny, our problems are so insignificant, our time here on earth is short, yet we complain, bitch, and moan about the small and unimportant things in life.

Now you might be thinking: “But Eric, if you think that humanity is so small and insignificant, and everything we does doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, what is the purpose of going on in life, and contuing to work hard?”

Well for me, this is what came to mind: we are on this earth for such a short period of time, so rather than complaining about the small problems that we hvae in life, why not use that mental energy to produce something positive and good in the world?

For example, my aspiration is that after I die, hopefully some of the things I wrote in this blog, the classes that I taught, the people that I met, and the love that I showed will have touched a handful of people. Touching those few people would have made my life worth it. I used to, but no longer have any ambitions to become mega rich, to drive a BMW, to own 100’s of Leica’s, or to have a million followers on Instagram. It is hard for me to constantly remind myself this; but I need to live for others, not for myself, and I also need to fuck fame, fortune, and external recognition. I need to do what I believe my life’s task (helping others), without a need for a pat on the back.

2. Family is king

I also wanted to share you something that was probably my personal favorite part of the trip.

This summer before we left to Europe, Cindy had a great idea: why not bring our mom’s along? After all, both of them have been hard-working single moms (more or less) for their entire lives, and have never had a true “vacation.” They were always working hard, hustling, and trying to pay the bills, and to put food on the table.

So we surprised my mom and Cindy’s mom by telling them that we were sending them on a trip to Paris (one week with us), a week on their own (in Italy, where they visited Rome, Cinque Terre, and Venice), as well as about 4 days together in Lisbon (cheap Ryanair flights made the decision for us).

Anyways, it cost us a lot of money to do the trip for them. I think all-in-all, we probably invested $4,000 in their trip.

Sure I could have used that money to buy a Leica lens, a maxed-out Macbook pro (with a shiny screen), some drugs (just kidding, I don’t take drugs), or some other crazy materialistic shit for myself.

But one thing I learned in life so far: invest in experiences, not material things.

I have no idea when my mom is going to die, neither when Cindy’s mom is going to die. But I knew that before investing in their trip, it would be a memory and an experience all of us (Cindy, me, my mom, Cindy’s mom) would remember for the rest of our lives. I imagined with my mom on her deathbed and being able to look back at all the happy memories in our life, especially this epic Europe trip.

And a great investment this ended up becoming.

Paris was fucking awesome. Imagine this: in our Airbnb in Paris (Place D’Italie), Cindy and I would wake up in the morning (late, around 10–11am), to the smell of amazing cooking. Both of our moms went to the farmer’s market in the morning, and bought fresh fish, veggies, and fruit– and the smell of their amazing cooking woke us up. Cindy and I would then drag ourselves out of bed, make some coffee (thank God, the Airbnb had a Nespresso machine and we were able to pick up some cheap pods at Monoprix), and then do some writing or answer emails. We would then all have a fucking phenomenal breakfast together, have a nice chat, then explore Paris like flaneurs (no explicit plan in mind, but just exploring the city without any stress or anxiety). We would see amazing sights, sit down in a nice cafe for a lovely espresso, and just spend time together as a family. Nothing super-fancy or special– the most valuable thing was the common experiences we were able to share.

One thing that also brought me a ton of joy: seeing how much my mom enjoyed taking photos. I got a free LG G4 smartphone (for doing a YouTube review for it), and damn– the camera on the thing is pretty fucking amazing (sorry for cursing a lot, it is 5:40am, and I am still a bit jetlagged). No but seriously, it can even shoot RAW (never used it, but the image quality is much better than a Samsung S6 and iPhone 6). Anyways, the entire trip she shot nearly 20,000 photos (thank God for Google photos automatic unlimited backup), and seeing her take photos was a reminder to me; how beautiful the art of taking images is.

My mom was like a child: she saw everything in Paris like from the view of a kid. She was amazed by everything, and literally took photos of everything. Her enthusiasm was infectious.

I am such a ungrateful bastard by comparison; I’ve been to Paris a few times before, and now I feel a bit “jaded” by the exoticness out of all of it. I remember the first time when I went to Paris as a backpacking student in college (age 20) and was so amazed by everything. Now because I travel so much, I have dulled my appreciation and novelty faculties– meaning, nothing exotic really excites me much anymore.

But seeing my mom’s enthusiasm for photography rekindled that “beginner’s mind” in me. It made me realize that for a beginner, everything is new, everything is possible, and everything is exciting. Just like how a child will find a few sticks and rocks infinitely fascinating, this has taught me a lesson: appreciate life around you like it was the first time you experienced it.

So friend, don’t know if you have a mom, dad, uncle, aunt, child, or friend who is interested in photography but doesn’t have a camera (or the means to afford one). If so, help enable them with the gift of photography– give them (or buy them) a nice camera that will make it possible for them.

3. Re-discovering gratitude

Another thing that I have learned through my trip is this: happiness is about gratitude, not about having physical stuff, or doing interesting things.

What do I mean by that?

Well, you can own a BMW M3, wear a Rolex watch, own two Leica’s (one Monochrom and one M240), have a fancy house, lots of 0’s in your bank account, a beautiful wife and kids, etc– but still be unhappy.

Why not?

You might compare yourself to your neighbor who is a lot richer, more good-looking, more “successful” than you– and feel jealous, and ungrateful.

But no matter how rich or poor you are, as long as you are grateful for what you have, you will be happy.

I have rediscovered gratittude from Epicurus, who is an ancient philosopher who taught me that you could be happy, regardless of your external constraints. For example, you can be a street-cleaner making minimum wage, but still be grateful for your vision, your loving friends and family, and the fact that you have a job that keeps you out of the streets. That street-cleaner can actually be happier (by being more grateful) than a CEO who earns millions of dollars (but is hungry for more, and isn’t grateful).

I am so fucking grateful for all the amazing friends I have in my life, for my health, and all the loving individuals I have met through my travels.

People ask me what is the best thing about traveling around the world, teaching workshops, and shooting street photography. To be honest, it isn’t the exotic sights that I see, the fancy restaurants I go to, the touristy landmarks, nor is it the photos that I take. It is always the people that I meet, and the relationships that I make which matter most.

For example, people also ask me, “Eric, aren’t you so bored of doing all these workshops? The content must be the same, and you must be able to teach them blindfolded. Aren’t you going to be bored of doing workshops sooner or later? Will you really do these for the rest of your life?”

Well first of all, each workshops is never the same, as the people are always different. And every workshop, I try to do something a little different– to push myself and challenge myself (and the students).

And once again, the greatest blessing of teaching workshops isn’t so much that I am “teaching” anything anybody. In-fact, I see myself more of an “enabler” – I try to enable the students to break outside of their comfort zone, but ultimately it is they who do it, not me.

Not only that, but I believe in the mantra: “When one teaches, two learn.” I learn as much from the students (if not more) than the students learn from me. The students also learn from one another, which is the benefit of pairing up students in workshops.

I’ve learned so much from the students in so many different ways. I’ve learned about difficult cultures, politics, social interactions, how to raise a family, how to have kids, how to treat others with kindness and respect, and how to not give a flying fuck of how others think of you.

Some interview questions that I learned from Tim Ferriss (from his Podcast) were these:

a) “As you’ve gotten older, what has become more important for you in life, and what has become less important?”

b) “What are the common mistakes people make in ‘Activity X’ (child-rearing, buying a home, traveling, interior design, investing in the stock market, etc)?”

Another question I ask a lot of my students (and people I meet in my travels is this one):

What are your passions and what makes you happy in life?”

Followed up with the question:

What makes you unhappy in life?”

I have a problem is that I engage too much in “small talk” – now I have been trying to avoid that by going straight into deep questions, and the meat of things.

For example, I try to avoid saying (at all possible costs) the question: “What do you do for a living” or “What is your job?”

Why? When you ask people what they do for a living or what their job is, what you’re really asking them is: “How much money do you earn, what is your social status in society, and are you a higher rank than me or a lower rank than me?”

I once met a guy who was a passionate street photographer (and very talented), and found out afterwards that he was a janitor for a living. He had no loss of pride in saying it, but it made me feel shallow and quite shitty.

Some people have “day jobs” just to pay the bills– but rarely is it their passion. So asking people “What do you do for a living?” is kind of a bullshit question. Why not directly go into the meat of things, and ask them what their passion is– what really turns them on in life? Then you get much deeper and meaningful questions.

I also then ask “What makes you unhappy in life?” because I believe the secret of happiness is subtracting what makes you unhappy in life, rather than what makes you happy. Another lesson learned from Nassim Taleb: the avoidance of unhappiness is more effective than the “pursuit of happiness.”

Things that I have realized made me miserable, that I have tried to cut out of my life include the following:

  • Commuting (or being stuck in traffic).
  • Networking meetings (only spending time with people I like instead).
  • Spending time with negative and toxic people (you are the average of the 5 people closest to you, cut out the “rotten egg” from your circle of friends, you will be much happier).
  • Media (television, blogs, newspapers, magazines. Rule of thumb; if there are advertisements in it, I don’t read it, or else I want to buy more shit).
  • Camera gear sites (everytime I read any of them, I suddenly get strange urges to buy a new camera I don’t need).
  • Sleep deprivation (learning to take naps, waking up without an alarm clock).

But anyways to go back to the gratitude point, I am grateful for the life that I have. I am trying to eliminate desire from my life, which corresponds to more peace of mind and “happiness” in my life.

4. Editing down

Another thing I’m trying to do now that I’m back home is “editing down” my life.

A funny thing: Cindy and I are considering getting rid of our car. Cindy’s younger sister got in a car accident recently, and needs to buy a new car. We’re only going to live in Berkeley for another few months (before we move to Vietnam for a year, and then perhaps France for 6 months–1 year), so we thought of this crazy idea: “Could we survive in Berkeley without a car?”

I’ve always been obsessed with cars my entire life, and like all my fellow lazy Americans, I would rather drive 1 minute to the grocery store than (slowly walk) for 5 minutes. I always try to park closest to the entrance too, because walking is such a pain.

But one thing I rediscovered in Europe which I love; most people don’t own cars. Not only that, but not owning a car is a benefit: you get less envious of others who have more expensive cars than you, you don’t need to pay insurance or gas, and you just end up walking more.

Another idea I had: I want to spend more time in Berkeley, and to keep it “local.” I think the benefit of not having a car is that I will spend more time in my own neighborhood, taking photos close to my home, and not wanting to seek anywhere “exotic”. In-fact, I’m excited to actually walk to the store, talk to more people along the way, and even take more photos.

I’m pretty sure that by not having a car, I will have much more interesting photos. I’ll take photos in the bus, the subway, walking around Berkeley, or wherever. When I’m in a car, I’m usually zoned out and removed from the outside environment.

I talked about “creative constraints” before, but I think one of the ultimate creative constraints are shooting in a small geographic location. I think for the next few months, I will try to just document my life with Cindy and life in Berkeley more intensely; to make photos that are much more inwards looking, than outwards looking.

5. I don’t need material possessions

When I’m traveling, I always bring too much stuff. I have all these excess things that I don’t really need, and every subsequent trip I decide another thing I don’t need to bring.

This trip has been the most “minimalist” I have been so far, and it has been beautiful. I then ask myself, what kind of material things do I really need in my life?

I’ve also realized that honestly, we don’t really “need” any material things. They are nice to have, but we can survive without them.

All we “need” in life is freedom from starvation, freedom from thirst, and freedom from the cold. Everything else is optional.

Things that are nice to have in my life include:

  • Camera and one lens
  • Laptop
  • Smartphone (honestly this is extraneous too)
  • Kindle (prefer it to carrying around a lot of paper books, although I prefer paper books)

Besides that, I realize I don’t need anything else.

I just got home literally 8 hours ago, and I’m looking at all my “stuff” on my desk, shelf, closet, whatever– and I’m thinking to myself, “Why do I need all this shit?”

The funny thing is that when I’m traveling, I don’t miss any of my stuff. In fact, having less stuff has brought me more clarity of thought and happiness to my life.

So I think for the next few months I’m going to try an experiment: everyday get rid of one thing (or better yet, donate it). I’m going to try to purge myself of clothes I haven’t worn in a long time, photography books (donate to friends, sell on eBay, or donate to library), “normal” books, and any other nick-nacks I might have lying around in home.

My grand plan is this: I want to fit all of my life’s possessions into one back (Thinktank Perception 15, which I bought with my own money in Aix-En-Provence which is fucking brilliant), and take it to Vietnam. Just two pairs of each clothes (Uniqlo airism shirt, Exofficio boxers, quick-dry socks), camera, film (I romanticize shooting only film in Vietnam), laptop, smartphone (only need it for Google Maps and What’s app), my Kindle (for books).

Honestly all of my physical stuff is superfluous.

My photo books? Sure I love them, but I can see all the images online (magnumphotos.com). I prefer real physical books, but at the end of the day– the emotional impact I get from the images is more important to me than the medium it is presented on.

My philosophy books? All can fit on my Kindle. For me, the information is what inspires me more (than the presentation). Once again, physical books are preferable and give me more peace-of-mind, but lightness is the key for me.

My “keepsake” possessions, like old photos and letters? Will probably store those with my mom (like my negatives, hand-written notes to Cindy, and any other things of sentimental value). I reckon these can all fit into a small box.

Another thing me and Cindy are trying not to do until we move to Vietnam: not buy anything new for a year.

Honestly, we deal with the disease of affluence– we have subscription to “Amazon prime” which makes it so easy to buy shit (free 2-day, sometimes same-day shipping). Our apartment is pretty small, and we’re pretty much to the max of all the physical stuff we have.

For a while I wanted to buy a grinder for my espresso machine, but I am starting to see the benefits of not buying new stuff.

For example, not buying a new grinder means that I will be more motivated to leave the house and visit cafe’s in my local neighborhood.

Not buying new clothes: re-discover the clothes I don’t wear that I already own.

Not buying new photobooks: re-read old photobooks.

I’m the ultimate sucker for consumerism and capitalism. I always desire to buy new shit. But what are some ways I can cut off this desire?

  • Not read any magazines (seriously, I see so many damn Audi, BMW, Rolex advertisements in them that cause unnatural cravings, it isn’t even funny).
  • Any photography blogs (99.9% of them are about reviewing cameras, selling cameras, and my rule of thumb; don’t trust any camera review site with affiliate links, even this blog).
  • Not going to the mall (everytime I go to the mall, I end up buying shit I don’t need, because the advertisements sucker me into thinking if I bought a new shirt, I would be more handsome and liked).
  • Interacting with rich people (rich people love to talk about their physical possessions, and the new thing they just bought. Everytime I interact with these people, I want to start buying new shit (as I compare myself with them). I want to spend time only with people who are down-to-earth, don’t flaunt any of their material possessions, and are frugal and value-oriented.

Honestly, I don’t know how this “no car”, “no buying new stuff” will work out. Apparently Leo from zenhabits.net has done it with great success. That guy is a saint, with human flaws, but promotes good values.

6. Printing more stuff

I also realized from my travels (especially after staying with my buddy Brian Sparks who has a beautiful and well-curated photobook library) that I love printed material.

The irony; I said I don’t want to travel with physical objects (like photoboks, prints, and physical books), but at the end of the day– they kickass anything digital.

I love holding a physical photobook, appreciating the smell, texture, three dimensionality, the weight, the feeling of flipping pages, and the fact that it exists in the physical world. I aspire on making more prints, photobooks, and plan on trying to keep it local (getting it all printed here in Berkeley), and perhaps selling it and giving away to friends and close ones.

I am a sucker for digital; but when it comes to putting together photo projects, I think printing small 4×6’s and making sequences is far better than doing them on some sort of digital device. Yeah, the iPad is the best thing when I’m on-the-go, but now that I will spend more time at home, I want to start covering my home, my desk, and my life with physical prints– and to give them away as much as possible.

7. When in doubt, be generous

I have this weird relationship with money. Ever since I was a kid, my parents would get into so many fights, arguments, and violent encounters due to money. We never had enough money growing up, and it caused my Dad to gamble the rent money, for my mom to beg her friends and family for money. So for me, whenever I think of money, it feels dirty, brings up bad memories from the past, and makes me think it is the “root of all evils.”

A nice quote I picked up from Seneca: “Wealth is the slave of the wise man, but the master of the fool.”

I am very fortunate that as time has gone by, the workshops have been selling out, and for the first time in my life, I actually have 0’s in my bank account. I finally have enough money that I don’t need to stress out or worry about the rent. I finally have money that I can take an uber without feeling guilty about it. I can finally eat out without feeling physical pain (I remember when I was a high-schooler or college student I would pretend not to be hungry when my friends would eat out, because I literally had no money).

So I am in an interesting position: I am now earning more money than ever, but rather than trying to become a slave to my wealth, I want to learn how to be more generous, and also cut back my own lifestyle.

I have a new heuristic (rule of thumb) in life: “When in doubt, be generous.”

For example, there are many psychological studies which show that if you spend money on others, it brings you more happiness than if you spend it on yourself.

I always find the best use of money is to make others happy. Otherwise money is quite useless.

For example, I always try to pay for my friends or family for dinner. Why? There is nothing that tastes better than a free meal, and also having 10 people get a free meal (and 1 person paying for it) brings more joy than the pain that every individual has when paying the bill.

Not only that, but the more generous you are, the more generous you inspire others to become.

For example, at my last workshop in Stockholm, I surprised the students by being sneaky and paying the whole bill for everybody. That brought a lot of love and gratittude to the room. Happy stomachs = happy lives.

The thing that actually made me the most happiest: on the last day of the workshop, one of the students, Martin, did the same thing: he paid for the entire bill for everybody.

Now I’m not saying that he wouldn’t have picked up the bill if I didn’t do so in the first place– but I’m sure that my first act of generosity might have nudged or inspired him at least a little bit.

I also have found the irony of being generous: the more generous you are with others, the more you receive in return.

So not doing generous acts as a selfish thing (expecting others to do it back to you)– but it is a unintended side-effect. And sometimes the benefits come back to you, sometimes they don’t. A great book to read on this (for free on Kindle) is Seneca’s “On Benefits.”

Also one of the life lessons I learned from Cindy in college was the concept of “Pay it forward.” When you do a random act of kindness for someone else, rather than trying to get the person to repay you the favor, you ask them to “pay it forward” by doing an act of kindness to someone else.

So to all the students who I paid for the meal, I just asked them to repay me back by taking out a friend (or group of friends) to dinner, and paying for the bill. Then these acts of kindness will cascade, kind of like a domino effect.

And what is a better use of money than to spread love, generosity, and happiness in the world?

I have also found that giving away or donating things has brought me far more happiness in my life than simply selling it. Yeah sure if I sold a camera I could make $500–800 bucks, which is nice. But the happiness I bestow upon a friend who needs a camera brings me infinitely more joy than simply having extra cash.

But don’t get me wrong, giving away stuff is painful. I am a selfish human being, who looks out for my own well-being.

But reading a lot of stoic philosophy made me realize that in life, there is really so little that I need to survive. All I need is eggs, coffee, and wifi. Everything else is optional. And these things are easy to get.

So my hope is this: to continue to build my wealth, but also continue to be more generous. I want to do more philanthropy and community-related things, and help others in need. I grew up in the lower socio-economic spectrum, but I am so grateful for all the love and help that I got from others in the community. Now I need to repay the debt, by dedicating my life in serving others.

I need to tape: “Fuck you money” to my wall. I need to do things not to seek money, but because it is genuinely helping people.

But at the same time, I don’t want to see money as an evil. Because what is money good for?

Money is good because it pays my rent, and I don’t go homeless.

Money is good because it gives me freedom to do things I actually enjoy (like writing this, instead of relying on going to a 9–5 job).

Money is good because I can use it to be generous to friends and people in need.

Now what if you have a 9–5 job that you hate, and you feel like a prisoner with no free time in your life?

A few options:

a) Quit your job

Honestly, nobody is holding you back from quitting your job and picking up a new job that will earn you less money, but give you more freedom of time.

People ask me, “Eric, when your street photography workshops no longer sell out, what will you do to make a living?”

I would probably just become an uber driver or barista, and do the minimum amount of work possible (to pay my bills and food), and to have the maximum amount of time to do what I’m passionate about.

Or another option: move to a cheaper city or country. You can live very comfortably for only $1,000 a month in a lot of southeast asian countries. If your passion is travel, writing, photography– whatever, make that sacrifice. Living in the west is overrated, and way expensive. You can always pick up a job teaching English overseas, working remotely, or working for a year in your own city and saving up a lot of money and just living off your savings in India, Cambodia, or Vietnam.

b) Work less hard at the job you’re already at

To be honest, having a “day job” is a blessing. You have the bills paid for, a steady income, often health benefits, and other forms of security.

I think instead of quitting your job, just appreciating the job you have is a better option.

What do most people regret when they’re on their deathbed (read the “5 Regrets of the Dying” online)? One of them (especially for men) is that, “I wish I didn’t work so hard.”

So take this lesson from these wise older people (about to die). Don’t work so hard at your job. Do the minimum amount of work not to get fired, or at least don’t answer emails after 6pm or on the weekends.

Once you’re off work, you own your time, your activities, your schedule.

Use the money you earn from work to buy photobooks, travel, make prints and give them away for free to friends and family, to buy friends dinner, and other ways that you can “pay it forward.”

8. On cultivating your own garden

I have a problem: I feel extreme guilt when I disappoint others. I need to stop worrying less about what others think about me, and focus on cultivating my own garden.

Publilius Syrus has a saying, “Do not water your neighbor’s garden if your own garden is parched.”

Similarly, I know that the more I take care of myself, the more I can be of service to others.

So I need to learn how to be more greedy with my time– to focus on writing, reading, and doing other activities which make me feel happy and fulfilled, and to load my schedule with fewer appointments, and to create more “white space” in my life.

Conclusion

Not sure what is going to change now that I am back here in Berkeley. I will spend less time worrying about what others think of me, less time trying to “network”, less time worrying about money and finances, less time forcing myself to take photos I don’t want to take, less obsession with material things, less stress and anxiety, less drama, and less bullshit.

Thank you so much for reading this friend. I hope you can also continue to live a happy, productive, and meaningful life.

Don’t worry about all the bullshit in your life. Your life is short, live it to the fullest. Squeeze the marrow out of life, and live like everyday is your last– because who knows when we will meet the grim reaper.

Farewell,

Eric

Written @ Berkeley, Wed, Sept 2, 2015 (9am) with a nice espresso in the morning, another espresso (with coconut milk), and a third espresso (okay, I need to cut back now, feel that weird throat thing again). But fuck it, I’m not giving up coffee, it brings too much joy in my life.

Some reading materials for today: “Screw it, let’s do it (lessons in life by Richard Branson)” and “Epicurus: The Art of Happiness.”

Hope to have a nice lunch with my homie Walter here in Berkeley, relaxed, maybe answer a few emails, and cook a yummy dinner for Cindy :)

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Travel Update: My Experience Shooting Street Photography in Paris, Getting My Backpack Stolen, and Free Composition Ebook

I’m on a train to Aix en Provence, to the south of France and wanted to share my experiences shooting street photography in Paris.

If you read on the internet, apparently there are more strict regulations about image copyright and street photography in France. To my understanding, you can take a photograph of anybody in public, but there are restrictions on publishing a photo of a stranger.

I have a mantra in life: “It is better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.” So generally speaking, I don’t worry much about image copyrights and street photography.

Shooting street photography has been an absolute pleasure in Paris. Despite the fact that a lot of people say that Parisians are mean and rude, I have found the opposite to be true. I know a tiny bit of French (Cindy is fluent), and whenever we went to restaurants and spoke French, they didn’t default to English (only at a few touristy food stalls near landmarks). People were friendly helping us find where to go, with food recommendations, and great service in general.

When taking photos of strangers, it was totally fine too. After shooting when I smiled and said “merci beaucoup”, most people smiled back and said no problem. I also asked a lot of people to take their portrait while here, and 90%+ of people said yes.

I had one experience when I was in a more “ghetto” part of Chatlet and took a photo of some rough looking kids after they asked me not to (my fault). The kid (around 16 years old) approached me and tried to take my camera for me and got a bit aggressive (he had his posse with him). He kept asking me in French to delete the shot, and I tried to explain I shot film. He didn’t understand and was quite angry and refused to let me leave.

Fortunately there was an onlooker who told the kids to back off in French (once again the friendly French). The kids finally relented, and one of the kids gave me a light backhand to the face and walked off.

Getting my backpack stolen

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Another fun story: the other day I got my backpack stolen in Republique during the gay pride parade. I finished a super fun day of the workshop and was with my students at a cafe having a beer. We were all laughing, having a good time, and I had my backpack literally right next to my seat. But suddenly I turned away and it was gone. I guess somehow a thief took it while all of us were distracted. None of us saw the thief. We only saw that one of the pins I had on my backpack (a silver airplane pin my friend Jonathan gave me) was on the ground (with a wing bent).

What did I get stolen in my backpack? Fortunately I had my passport, film, and other valuable belongings back in my airbnb apartment. I lost my laptop (2012 macbook air 11 inch), 3 rolls of film I shot that day, my Leica sf20 flash, some batteries, and not much else.

Thank God my students jumped to my rescue. Emmanuel, one of the workshop students (who speaks French), took care of me and Cindy by taking us to 3 police stations to file a report, and paid for our uber taxi rides. Unfortunately that day (because of the terrorist bombing in Lyon) we couldn’t file a report. But the next day we did successfully.

Other good news? I have travel insurance (covered up to $10,000 with GEICO and only pay around $20 a month), and my stuff is covered.

Honestly I am surprised it took me this long to get my stuff stolen considering how careless I am about my stuff, and how much I travel. I’m just happy I didn’t lose my passport, wallet, and smartphone (I’m typing this out on my phone in Evernote).

What about my data in my laptop? 95% of my photos and video is backed up in dropbox (premium membership FTW), and 99% of my other data is backed up in the cloud (Gmail, Evernote). I lost some gopro pov films I shot in Paris, but the next day I was inspired to shot more footage (will upload soon). I also changed all my passwords and reset my laptop remotely via the apple “find my phone” application.

I hope the guy who stole my laptop uses my laptop, maybe learns how to code, and is able to stop his life of crime.

For a new laptop, I might buy the new MacBook 12” retina (90% of my laptop work is writing and blogging), and I don’t need much speed (I shoot mostly film). Also I think the gold color is pretty sexy haha. Plus the retina screen should be nice for photos. And the weight is super light (.5 pounds lighter than my 11 inch). So perhaps getting my laptop stolen was a blessing in disguise.

Morale of the story? If you’re traveling, keep your bag or backpack wrapped around your leg or under the table. Always have your important documents back at your hotel or apartment, always backup your files (both to an external hard drive and to the cloud). Also have an extra photo or photo copy of your passport (if it gets stolen, this makes it easier to get a new copy). Also be careful of scammers, and when your intuition says someone seems or looks fishy, follow your gut.

If you’re traveling, just assume sooner or later you’re going to have your importance stuff stolen. So be prepared in advance what to do if it happens.

If you shoot digital, buy lots of SD cards, an extra external hard drive, and keep your photos secure (you can always buy a new backpack, laptop, camera, but you can’t recover your photos).

Thank God I didn’t get my Leica stolen.

Places to shoot in Paris

If you’ve never been to Paris, the best places to shoot aren’t in the city center, but around the edges.

For my airbnb I stayed in both Place d’Italie and Bercy, both great places to shoot street photography (fewer tourists). In Bercy there is a cool Park (bercy Park with a skatepark inside), and the “bercy village.”)

Near the Gare de lyon train station is good and also inside the station (lots of interesting characters).

Favorite neighborhoods : the marrais (Jewish neighborhood with the best fallafel and trendy stores, go to las du fallafel), the canal saint martin (cute boutique and bookstores with a beautiful view of the canal, go to “chez prune” for food).

A bit outside of Paris, highly recommend going to “la defense”, where there are mostly businesspeople and an epic cube arch. Great for architecture street photography.

Also for architecture and composition, go to the French National Library (BNF).

For a lot of people, go near the Lafayette gallery, Chatelet, or near Opera.

My favorite photo gallery? The polka photo gallery (they have a Bruce Gilden exhibition going on, and a great bookstore).

Favorite meals in Paris (not expensive): Auberge Saint Roch, “cafe constant”, chez Lili et Marcel.

My shooting

For this trip in Paris, I shot some for my “Suits” project near la defense, but most of my shooting was on my film Leica on tri x pushed to 1600 with a yellow filter (from my friend Karl Edwards from StreetShootr.com).

I don’t know why, but suddenly this trip I was inspired to shoot more gopro pov videos, hope you enjoyed them. I plan on doing more of them.

Most of the shots in black and white are just random photos of interesting things I saw for fun.

I’ve also been shooting a lot on my smartphone (Galaxy s6), and processing them in color (Vsco a6 preset). Actually really love the colors that come out, they look like portra!

Honestly, traveling with all this film is kind of a pain in the ass. When doing the gopro video with the Ricoh GR, I fell in love with that camera again. I thought how nice it would be if I did all my traveling with the Ricoh GR (and just leaving the Leica and film at home). Maybe next trip.

Books I’ve been reading

I’ve recently become a huge fan of Matthieu Ricard, French scientist turned into Buddhist monk. On my kindle, I’ve read his book “Happiness” (great book that taught me true happiness is serving others), and a new book “Altruism” (inspiring me to devote my life to help others as well).

Krishnamurti’s “The first and last freedom” was recommended to me by a friend, and his philosophy on creativity and the mind is fascinating.

Reading “the magic of thinking big” (for inspiration), and for health I read “brain maker” (learned the importance of a healthy stomach).

My life purpose

The biggest thing I’ve been meditating on this trip is how to live a meaningful life. My new favorite quote:

“To live is to be useful to others.” –  Seneca.

I am fortunate that now through my workshops I’m doing comfortably well financially. Of course I still stress out about money, my future family, security, etc, but I have faith that as long as I keep working hard, helping others, everything will be taken care of.

I don’t want to die the richest man in the grave. I want to continue to contribute to society, and devote my life to “be useful to others.”

“The Street Photography Compositional Manual”

I’ve finished a new ebook on street photography and composition that I was tempted to charge money for. My problem is that 95% of my income is dependent on traveling and teaching workshops, and I wanted to create a new income stream that could allow me to spend more time at home with Cindy, my loved ones, and my future children.

But then this goes against my philosophy of “open source”, and I need to practice what I preach.

So upon much deliberation, the book is going to be open source. A suggestion that someone gave me: “Why not make it a ‘pay what you want’ model or accept donations?” I think this is much better.

I personally feel information should be open, free, and used to empower people.

You can download the pdf for free below on Dropbox (you don’t need a Dropbox account to download it, just click the download icon from the top bar):

The Street Photography Composition Manual” (pdf direct download)

So read it, take a look, and you can pay what you think it is worth here via PayPal:

Donate via PayPal

Or you can use this fun form below to help support me and the blog!


Donations




I wrote the book all from scratch, and distilled all of the lessons from composition I learned. I had a ton of fun writing it on the Apple iBooks author platform, and I hope to write more books with it.

When you download the book, feel free to share it with anybody you think it will help. Also feel free to change it, remix it, translate it, or whatever you think will benefit others.

Upcoming travels and workshops

The week long workshop in Paris was awesome. I loved getting to know all the students personally, showing them to areas “off the beaten path”, all the good food, beer, wine and coffee, fun laughs, daily critique sessions, and their improvement! I like the more relaxed pace of a week long workshop, plan on doing more of them in the future.

So I’m heading down to aix en Provence with Cindy (she’s going to study at the archives there), then off to Lisbon with my mom and Cindy’s mom. In aix I hope to do more writing (doing a new book on the masters of street photography). Lisbon is to have fun with family (I’m excited, it’s my first time!)

Then off to Amsterdam, Prague, Vienna, Berlin, London, and Stockholm for more workshops!

There are still a few spots open, don’t miss out! Spots are quickly selling out, and I won’t do workshops in Europe for probably another 2 years (next year is focused on America and Asia).

You can see my upcoming street photography workshops.

Thank you

I’m forever grateful for your love, support, and continued dedication to this blog and the street photography community.

What else would you like me to work on to help out? Share some ideas thoughts, feedback in the comments below!

Eric Kim Street Photography Newsletter #5: What I’m Packing For My Trip, Recommended Books, New Workshops!

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Dear streettogs,

I am excited to share that I just touched down here in Seattle! Absolutely beautiful weather (all of the other times I’ve visited were in January), and have already had some amazing espresso— and feeling pretty pumped up (the coffee here is seriously the best in the world).

Eric Kim Life Diary #4: Switching to Black and White Film, What I’m Reading, Random Life Musings

Kodak Tri-X pushed to 1600, locked and loaded.
Kodak Tri-X pushed to 1600, locked and loaded.
Kodak Tri-X pushed to 1600, locked and loaded.

Dear streettogs,

Life is good in Berkeley! Just finished a fun 1-day intensive street photography portrait crash course workshop in SF, and after meeting all the great students, I’m more pumped up to write articles, produce content, and share what’s in my neck of the woods!

Tokyo Diary 2014

Shinjuku, 2014
Shinjuku, 2014
Shinjuku, 2014

I’m currently on the skyliner, on the way to the narita airport to Hong Kong and wanted to share some reflections of my trip. For those of you who have never been to Tokyo, it is an incredible city. It is one of my favorite cities to shoot street photography in the world. There is so much action, energy, and a pulse to the city that isn’t matched anywhere else. Going to shibuya, shinjuku, and harajuku are like blasts to the past– with a modern day twist. I love the romanticism of Tokyo, and the food here is also amazing.

Seoul Diary, 2014: Josh White and Documenting my Personal Journey

Instax of Cindy and my grandma (she turns 80 next year)
Photo by Cindy
Photo by Cindy

After being in Vietnam for about a month and a half, I am currently here in Seoul, Korea for a week. I’m primarily here on holiday, and wanted to have a chance to see my grandmother, some family, and some close friends here. In the spirit of my “Saigon diary” series– I wanted to share some personal reflections about my trip so far:

Saigon Diary #7: Trip to Hanoi, Now in Seoul

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Hanoi, 2014

This is the last installment of my “Saigon Diary” series. I plan to continue this “Diary” series moving forward in my travels.

I’m currently in Seoul. Just left Vietnam a week or so ago, so I wanted to share some reflections towards the end of the trip.

After a great time in Saigon, I headed up to Hanoi with Cindy. We didn’t have a real reason to go– we just wanted to check the place out (because it was so close in Vietnam).

Hanoi was a beautiful place. Much smaller than Saigon, a lot less hectic, and more peaceful. It felt almost like Paris in the sense that the streets were narrow, windy, and a bit random. But there was great beauty in the randomness of the city.

10 Things Not to Do While Traveling

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Mumbai, 2013
  1. Don’t speak English (speak the local language)
  2. Don’t eat McDonalds or drink Starbucks (explore local food)
  3. Don’t travel with check-in luggage (keep everything to a small carry-on)
  4. Don’t keep to yourself (make new friends in the streets)
  5. Don’t try to see everything (it is better to see fewer places more thoroughly)
  6. Don’t travel without water
  7. Don’t be addicted to your devices (fast from social media)
  8. Don’t forget to keep a daily journal
  9. Don’t stay at an expensive hotel (use more money for experiences)
  10. Don’t go with a plan; explore, get lost, and be a flaneur

And of course– don’t listen to me. What else don’t you do while traveling? Add to this list in the comments below!

Street Photography Travel Diary: Sweden, London, and Seattle

It has been a while since I made a travel video– and I wanted to share some of my experiences traveling and shooting street photography in Sweden, London, and Seattle. I share some thoughts and what I’ve been up to in the video above (filmed in Seattle).

I am also working on some “street photography guides” on where to shoot in those cities (and grab some great food and drinks)– keep posted!

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Categorized as Video Tagged

My Experiences Shooting Street Photography in Istanbul

This is my second time in Istanbul, and it has absolutely been one of my favorite places in the world to shoot street photography. It is a combination of the friendly people, the diverse history, the historic architecture, the multicultural heritage, and the golden light.

The other day I put my GoPro Hero 3 on top of my Leica MP and with Portra 400 loaded, made a POV of me shooting the streets of Istanbul — around the Eminonu area in Istanbul which is right by the water and the New Mosque.

On Travel and Street Photography

Click to read more

“You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate” – Seneca

Over the last year or so I have been incredibly lucky to travel to over 15 cities internationally, and have met some of the most incredible people in my life.

However as much I have been traveling, I have been longing to spend more time at home (or in one place).

How to Plan Your Own American Street Photography Road Trip

In front of the Michigan Central Station in Detroit
In front of the Michigan Central Station in Detroit
In front of the Michigan Central Station in Detroit

The last week or so I have been on the road– moving from Michigan to California.

Instead of just taking the easy route (flying) we decided to partake in an adventure– to travel the US by car.

I wanted to write this article to share some of my personal experiences through this road trip– and hopefully it can give you some insight to plan your own road trip across America (while taking some photos too).

The Transformative Experience of Shooting Street Photography Abroad by Dimitris Makrygiannakis

Photo by Dimitris Makrygiannakis. Click to read more.
Photo by Dimitris Makrygiannakis. Click to read more.

Eric’s Note: I first came across Dimitris Makrygiannakis on Hardcore Street Photography, and was blown away with his unique vision. I love the way how he captures life through his lens, with a surrealistic flair. To see more of his images and his thoughts on street photography, check out his feature below.

Travel Update & What’s In My Bag: Kolkata, India Edition

I am currently having the time of my life both experiencing the streets of Kolkata in India. The colors are so vivid, the people incredibly friendly, and the food is truly outstanding!

In this video I talk a little about my travel philosophy (packing light), what I’m bringing on my trip, and some reflections on how blessed we are all in life. To find out more about my experiences in Kolkata, watch out the video above!

Travel Update in Istanbul and Interview with twocutedogs

Shooting street photography in Istanbul has been absolutely incredible. The light and colors are gorgeous, and I can’t stop eating the food here either! Not only that, but people are incredibly friendly and generous.

On my first two days here, I have been shooting quite a bit (5-6 rolls of Portra 400 everyday) because I have been so enamored with the city. Hope to get a few decent shots of the city from my trip.

Also currently staying with two cute dogs in Istanbul at a nice apartment. Had a minute to interview him on his travels and future in street photography.  Check out the video above and watch it until the end, where I give a quick tour of the place too!

You can see some of his work on Burn My Eye and please check out the work of the other members here.

Travel Update: Seoul, Paris, Marseilles and Going to Istanbul for Street Photography!

Hey guys, just put together a video of my travels in Seoul, Paris, and Marseilles. Unfortunately there seems to be a sound-sync problem with the webcam on my new 11” Macbook Air. Wasn’t an issue I had on my 13” Macbook Air- hopefully it is a bug that Apple will fix soon?

Also if anyone is good with Macs – the issue is I recorded in iMovie and the sound sync is off. If anyone has any suggestions how to fix this please leave a comment below!

What’s In My Bag When I’m Traveling and Shooting Street Photography

What's In My Bag (5-7-2012)
I am currently in Berlin, and about to head out to Amsterdam tomorrow to teach a street photography workshop with Thomas Leuthard. A week afterwards, I will be teaching a 4-day street photography workshop for the Stockholm Photography Week with Fotografiska (the Swedish Photography Museum).

I always try to travel light- and typically carry just my messenger bag and my North Face Recon Backpack. Considering I blog while traveling, I carry more stuff in my messenger bag than I’d like. But to me, it is still relatively light (still trying to find ways to cut down). For those of you streettogs who travel a lot- hopefully my bag shot can help give you some insight on what I just packed for my trip!

Check out more cool bag shots at Japan Camera Hunter.

Any questions about packing to travel for street photography? If so, leave your questions in the comments below! 

3 Reasons Why You Have to Travel to Beirut, Lebanon Before You Die

"The Printer" - Beirut, Lebanon

Despite what the media and general public says, Beirut, Lebanon is not full of terrorists and no– you will not get shot here. First coming to Beirut, I didn’t know quite what to expect. Everybody told me to be careful and that it was a dangerous place. However after being here for about 4 days, I highly recommend everyone I know to come visit here. Not only does everybody speak English, French, and Arabic–but there are some of the kindest people here in the world.

In this post, I will give you some reasons which show why Beirut, Lebanon is indeed “The Paris of the Middle East,” and why it is such a beautiful country and why I don’t want to leave. In 2009, The New York Times also called Beirut the #1 place to visit as well! [Link]

1. It is a street photographer’s paradise

The Printer
"The Printer" - Beirut, Lebanon

I would say that Beirut, Lebanon has one of the most lax laws on street photography, as there are no laws concerning photography here. Sure you don’t want to do things such as shoot photos of military or embassy buildings, but everything else is free reign.

I was surprised that most people here didn’t mind getting their photos taken of. In-fact, there were many people who would approach me in the streets and ask me to take photographs of them. Some of them even invited me into their homes to talk and some even offered me coffee.

When you are walking around the streets, you will find street photographs around every corner. Beirut, Lebanon is a city of contrasts. On one side of the street you will see a decrepit and abandoned building, while on the other side you will see new apartments and shopping centers. Not only that, but the streets are always full of hustle and bustle and people are constantly interacting with one another.

2. It has amazing food

Eating Dinner in Beirut Lebanon
Eating a traditional dinner in Beirut, Lebanon

Sure every country has its great foods, but Lebanese food is on a totally different level. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have probably gained 10 pounds in the last few days getting my hands on all these different types of foods. The food here is fresh, hearty, and always satisfying appetites.

Fallafels, lamb, hummus, olive oil, pitas, wraps, tomatoes, barbeque beef, and grilled onions are only a few of the things that will delight your tastebuds.

3. The people treat you like family

Street Photography 101 Workshop
My Street Photography 101 Workshop Group Picture

As I write this, I am currently staying at my host (Mohamad Badr’s) house. Although I did not know him at all before, he treated me like family and truly opened up his home to me. Not only that, but all the times that I went to his families’ houses to eat dinner, they were always open to me and really spread their love with me as well. Mohamad’s aunt even told me if I stayed in Beirut, she would find me a beautiful wife! (of course I declined as I already have a beautiful girlfriend/manager back home).

But regardless, the feeling of community here is very real. In Los Angeles I often feel that everybody is always out their for themselves and don’t spend enough time with friends and family. Here, people have a huge emphasis on spending time with one another and are always out on the streets having a great time.

There are a million other reasons why you got to travel to Beirut, Lebanon before you die. I highly encourage everybody out there to disregard the public inaccuracies of the media and the general consensus about Lebanon being a “terrorist country.” Definitely swoop on in and you will definitely have the time of your life.

Adventures in Madison: Amazing Food, Sights, and Art

Madison, Wisconsin on a beautiful sunny day.
Madison, Wisconsin.
Madison, Wisconsin on a beautiful sunny day.

To continue from my last post from Chicago,

Cindy and I took the bus from Chicago to Madison, where she is currently studying foVietnamese for the summer. I stayed there for a week, and was able to meet all of her friends as well as get amazing local food (thanks for the recommendations Cydney!) and check out some of the local sights.

Initial thoughts about going to Madison:Wisconsin? What the hell is there? Just a bunch of cheese and cows.”

After coming home from Madison:Damn I’m going to miss this place. I wish I could have stayed longer.”

Coming from LA, Madison was a complete 180 for me. Instead of being full of smog, traffic, and crazy drivers– Madison was full of fresh air, bikes, and friendly people. Whenever walking around, I would always get friendly “hello’s” from the locals while being able to soak in the feeling of “community” that permeated through Madison.

See Madison was a bit like a bubble…but a really nice and pleasant one. It is the ultimate college town, with students taking bikes and mopeds to class, hanging out at cafes and restaurants after class on State Street, which is a huge street which connects the campus of the University of Madison-Wisconsin to the Capitol Building. Interestingly enough, cars are not allowed to pass through this area, which makes it extremely pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly as well.

Life seemed to run at a very comfortable pace in Madison. I never felt rushed or anxious during my time here. This brought me an inner-calm which I cannot put into words. I could easily see myself living there–grabbing an ice cream cone on a hot day, heading to the lake, and relaxing with a beer-in-hand, while reading a nice book with Cindy by my side.

Anyways daydreaming aside, I whole-heartedly enjoyed my experience there and highly encourage other people to go visit. It is right next to Chicago as well–so you could get a 2-for-1 experience! Anyways, onto the photos:

Cindy posing with a menu
Cindy posing with a menu

First place on the list: Husnu’s. A local favorite, and the first restaurant that Cindy took me to. A turkish-and-Mediterranean joint, and Cindy couldn’t quit talking about the olive oil there (which was divine).

Beautiful Lighting
Beautiful Lighting
Lentil Soup --amazing and fresh
Lentil Soup --amazing and fresh
Fresh salad with cucumber-yogurt sauce for Cindy
Fresh salad with cucumber-yogurt sauce for Cindy
Cindy and her beloved Olive Oil
Cindy and her beloved Olive Oil
Me and my meal
Me and my meal
Lamb Kabob with yogurt sauce on the side. To die for.
Lamb Kabob with yogurt sauce on the side. To die for.
Chicken breast stuffed with spinach and raspberry sauce
Chicken breast stuffed with spinach and raspberry sauce

Afterward, we went to “The Daily Scoup,” which is Madison’s most famous ice-cream place. Cindy kept on raving about the ice cream there, and it did not disappoint. Creamy and full of texture… oh man I already miss it.

Waiting in line
Waiting in line
My 1st scoup!
My 1st scoup!
Om nom nom nom
Om nom nom nom

Then we headed to Cindy’s dorm– where I was able to meet all of her friends and also make some food in the communal kitchen. We seriously hung out there 90% of the time, just cooking, talking, chilling, and hanging out.

Cindy posing in her room
Cindy posing in her room
Posing
Posing
Cindy and her friend Kevin in the kitchen
Cindy and her friend Kevin in the kitchen
Amazing dumplings by Kevin
Amazing dumplings by Kevin
Cindy Frying Dumplings
Cindy Frying Dumplings

While I was in Madison, I promised to meet Cydney over at Material Lives. We met over the internet and had never met in person, but we were down for the challenge! We met over at Dotty’s Dumplings, another of the local joints. It was a great pleasure meeting her, and I even documented my feelings about the experience over at my wordpress blog. Long story short, she was an awesome and amazing person, and she really gave awesome tips about Madison while we were there. She was even generous enough to lend Cindy one of her bikes!

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The Infamous Cydney Alexis and I
The Infamous Cydney Alexis and I
An amazing burger that actually got me sick.
An amazing burger that actually got me sick.
Can't beat the chili-cheese fries
Can't beat the chili-cheese fries
Deep fried cheese curds! So fresh they were squeaky.
Deep fried cheese curds! So fresh they were squeaky.
Getting Gelato Afterwards
Getting Gelato Afterwards

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Surprisingly enough, Madison is full of hipsters. And along with hipsters are lots of cool and trendy vintage shops. Me and Cindy were able to check out a few.. and had a great time in the process!

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Getting fat at a Gyro’s joint (supposedly pronounced “Euros”– who knew that?)

Cindy with a sweet coupon which was actually for another place. Fail :(
Cindy with a sweet coupon which was actually for another place. Fail :(
Eating outside at the patio
Eating outside at the patio
So fresh and good...but a little too creamy
So fresh and good...but a little too creamy
Nacho fries--damn I miss this
Nacho fries--damn I miss this

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Walking around State street….

An awesome hat shop
An awesome hat shop
Gorgeous mural depicting State St.
Gorgeous mural depicting State St.
Studying at Starbucks
Studying at Starbucks
Mural at the University of Madison
Mural at the University of Madison

Cindy and I going to eat–when suddenly it started to pour like hell.

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Going to visit the Capitol Building.

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Beautiful architecture inside.

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Walking alongside State Street, checking out more of the sights.

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A quaint little boutique shop Cindy and I came upon–full of color and life.

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Words could not be truer:

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Studying at the amazing library at the University of Madison-Wisconsin. They even have robotic shelves that move when you push a button!

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In Madison, they have a bike recycling center in which they take old bikes, fix them up, and then paint them crimson-red and hand them out practically for free to students. Cindy was able to borrow this from one of her friends, and she let me ride it around for a day or two. Do not let the looks deceive you: although it looks broken-down, it actually rode very comfortably. A great way to check out the local sights of Madison.

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I was biking down State Street, and decided to check out the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

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One of the posters advertising their exhibit for the “Triennial” that they have–in which many Madison artists exhibit their best work.

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Inside with their beautiful architecture.

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Photos taken from the roof. Downloaded a few cool presets from PresetPond.com, a site with free Lightroom 3 and Aperture plugins.

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A picture of the Orpheum, one of the classic old-school theaters.

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More of the amazing architecture–with the light coming in.

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A portrait of one of the helpful guides at the museum. I told her how impressed I was by the modern art at Madison and how it could rival some of the exhibits in Los Angeles.

What I especially loved at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art was that it wasn’t too big, but not too small. At times museums can get so exhausting because there is that obligation to check out every single exhibit. However in about two hours, I was able to check out almost all of the exhibits pretty well-indepth, with some energy left to go exploring for the rest of the day.

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The Orpheum Theater from outside. I love this old vintage look.

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Buildings I found in an alleyway.

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Grabbing a hot-dog at a local stand.

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A cute kid who was “working” with his grandpa (in the background).

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In front of the Capitol Building with Cindy, having a picnic after grabbing some Five Guys, which is one of the best burger joints that I have ever visited. The burgers and fries (imho) are 10x better than In-and-Out’s.

On the Lawn, about to grub
On the Lawn, about to grub

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The Juicy Juicy Insides.

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The Aftermath
The Aftermath
Relaxing on the Lawn of the Capitol Building
Relaxing on the Lawn of the Capitol Building
Beautiful reflections off a building
Beautiful reflections off a building
More Ice Cream!
More Ice Cream!

Ton of people out for Madison’s “Outdoor Concert.”

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Cindy Posing outside.

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A beautiful sunset on the way back to her place.

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So long story short… Madison is pretty awesome. Go check it out.

25 Things I Have Learned Traveling While Backpacking in Europe

Hey guys, In lieu of my popular post on the “100 Things I Have Learned about Photography,” I originally planned on writing a “100 things I have learned about traveling in Europe” post as well. However this time around, I decided to embellish more on each of the points that I presented. Therefore, I realized that I would cut my list short to “25 things I have learned while traveling in Europe.” Furthermore, I also have had a few friends asking me for pointers or tips for backpacking in Europe. So hopefully in the near future, I will be able to write (to the best of my knowledge) a comprehensive guide for students trying to backpack in Europe (on a limited budget). So until then, please read my post and feel free to share this list with anybody you want via Facebook, Twitter, Email, or IM. Also please leave me a comment below as I always love hearing feedback! :)

25 Things I Have Learned while Traveling in Europe

  1. Pack lightly. There is no worse feeling than lugging around a bag of bricks on your back when you are trying to enjoy yourself.

    Patiently Waiting. Paris, 2009
    Patiently Waiting. Paris, 2009
  2. Be frugal, but enjoy yourself. You don’t want to blow away $20 every meal that you are eating when on the road, but at the same time you want to enjoy the local cuisine.

    Skating. Paris, 2009
    Skating. Paris, 2009
  3. Use the local language. Although you may be worried about butchering the language and that locals will criticize you, the opposite Is more true. People appreciate the fact that foreigners try to embrace their culture and highly appreciate it (regardless of how terrible your accent may be).

    Italian Resturant Owner. Rome, 2009
    Italian Resturant Owner. Rome, 2009
  4. Plan, but not too much. When you are traveling, it is nice to have a peace of mind knowing that you will have a place to spend that night. However on the other hand, spontaneity is the most exciting while traveling. When you arrive at your destination, simply get a map and ask the locals for the top sights. Leave the rest to fate.

    Cinque Terre, 2009
    Cinque Terre, 2009
  5. Don’t be afraid. This is what prevents most people from traveling in the first place. There are a million “what if’s” that cross a person’s mind before deciding to travel. “What if I run out of money?” “What if I get mugged?” “What if I don’t enjoy traveling?” All of these concerns may be legitimate to a certain degree, but most of the terrible stuff you hear happening to travelers are over-blown by the media anyways. Most people die without even leaving their country. Do you want to regret that when you are on your dying bed? Embrace your courage and explore!

    Rome, 2009
    Rome, 2009
  6. Make friends. I recall that while traveling, my fondest memories were not so much shaped by the sights I saw or things that I experienced, but rather the people that I met during my journey. Take the time to know fellow travelers or native locals. It is surprising how much I grew while learning about our differences and our similarities.

    Thirst. Venice, 2009
    Thirst. Venice, 2009
  7. It is better to spend more time in fewer places, than see more places in less time. Traveling is incredibly exhausting. When you are on the road, there will be a few moments that you will be able to sit down and rest. So when traveling, it is best to save your energy and allow yourself to let your surroundings soak in, rather than going for the goal of seeing as many places as you can. Doing this will cause you to get burnt out, which will cause traveling to be more of a chore than something you can enjoy.

    Cinque Terre, 2009
    Cinque Terre, 2009
  8. Get enough rest. If you do not get enough rest while traveling, you will be miserable. It is much better to get a late start on the day and enjoy the fewer things that you may see, rather than getting up extremely early when you barely have enough energy.

    Sunbathing. Prague, 2009
    Sunbathing. Prague, 2009
  9. Eat up. When you are traveling, you will be a calorie-burning machine. Don’t be shy to fill your stomach while traveling and worrying about stuff like carbs, sugar, fat, etc. Even if you eat a ridiculous amount of food while traveling, you will most likely end up losing more weight than before you started your trip.

    Canard. Paris, 2009
    Canard. Paris, 2009
  10. Invest in a good backpack. True the nicer backpacks may run you over a hundred dollars, but they are truly worth it. I highly recommend North Face backpacks (I used the North Face Recon Backpack), as they are extremely comfortable and are built super-tough. Furthermore, they are rain-resistant and their zippers won’t break, even if you fill it to the brim. While traveling I used the North Face Recon, which had more than enough space and zippers for everything I needed during my trip. If you just travel with a more generic backpack like a Jansport, your back will hate you.
  11. The North Face Recon Backpack. What I brought with me during my trip.
    The North Face Recon Backpack. What I brought with me during my trip. Highly recommended.
  12. Take photos, but limit yourself when necessary. If you are a first-time traveler (as was I), you will probably go photo-happy from all of the unique things that you will see during your trip. Although it is great to capture many memories while traveling, it is also important to truly enjoy your trip, rather than trying to document every second of it. I learned this one from my girlfriend Cindy, and it was probably the best travel advice that she ever gave me (even though being a photographer I am naturally inclined to take thousands of photos at a time). Some things are better enjoyed without your camera.

    Paris, 2009
    Paris, 2009
  13. Go alone. People often say that this is the best way to travel. Not only do you have time to get to know yourself better, but you will also be forced to meet other people. Being abroad and having that sense of anonymity is surreal, and it is definitely an experience that everybody should have. I probably had the deepest moments of self-introspection during the few weeks that I traveled alone.

    Image in' Air. Paris, 2009
    Image in’ Air. Paris, 2009
  14. Go with a friend. Although this contradicts the point previous, it is also great to go traveling with a friend (or two). You will be able to create memories together that only you two share, and you can always reminisce after the trip is over. Furthermore, it is also economically sound to pool your resources together when it comes to getting a room together, eating food, or getting other miscellaneous discounts when sightseeing. Also inextricably, you will grow so incredibly close to that person so quickly, and build a life-lasting bond with one another through your experiences.

    The Entrance. Paris, 2009
    The Entrance. Paris, 2009
  15. Keep a journal. This is one of the things that I am glad that I was very religious about while traveling. My girlfriend Cindy told me that it was a great practice to do, and so I did. Although during the trip it was sometimes a chore and difficult to do on the grounds that I was always so tired, being able to open that journal and reminisce on past memories was so precious. Also, there is no better way to unwind from a long day than journaling your thoughts, feelings, and things that you did during the day.

    Journal Every Day
    Journal Every Day
  16. You don’t need to be rich to travel. Although I was a broke college student, I refused to allow my economic situation to prevent me from traveling and seeing the world.  To finance my 30-day trip to Europe, I took out a $4,000 student loan from UCLA and bought my plane tickets, hostel-lodging, as well as my travel expenses. Granted that $4,000 isn’t chump change, in my opinion it was a very small cost to fulfill one of my dreams in life, which was to go backpacking through Europe. There are so many people who make excuses from fulfilling their life dreams due to fiscal reasons. However I am a true believer in that if you want something badly enough, you will make it happen.

    Row. Florence, 2009
    Row. Florence, 2009
  17. Museums are physically and mentally draining. Now I am not trying to discourage any of you from visiting museums when abroad in Europe. Europe houses some of the most distinguished museums from around the world which are home to some of the greatest artists from history. However be warned, museum visits take a LOT of your time and energy. Trying to see more than a museum a day is extremely ambitious (it is difficult to even see all the exhibits in one museum in a day). Just a tip.

    Spiral. The Vatican, Rome
    Spiral. The Vatican, Rome
  18. Flying via Ryanair is one of the best ways to travel through Europe. If you book flights early enough, you could seriously go on flights from Paris to Rome for $3.00 (including tax and misc. costs). How the hell do they do this? Well first of all, these seats are special promotion deals and the times that they offer are very limited (super early in the morning, or super-late at night). Furthermore, if you are limited in terms of what you can bring (only one carry-on baggage, and it costs extra to bring luggage as well). Furthermore, they bombard you with advertising before, during, and after your flight. However if you are smart, you could seriously have your transportation within Europe for nearly nothing! Check out Ryanair.com for their deals!

    Ryanair- the best value for traveling within Europe
    Ryanair- the best value for traveling within Europe
  19. Do your laundry by hand. You can easily do this while traveling by using a bungee cord and a bar of soap. To do all my laundry when I was in Europe, I simply washed my clothes in the hostel sinks with soap, and hanged it on some impromptu clotheslines which were made out of a bungee cord with hooks on each side. It would usually take 2 days for my clothes to dry fully, which would allow me to always wear clean clothing while traveling  even though I only had around 5 pairs of shirts, socks, and boxers with me. This will save you the hassle of wasting all your money on laundry money and also packing fewer clothes while traveling, which equals less weight on your back.

    Buy one of these.
    Buy one of these.
  20. Take the path off the beaten road. Sure the traditional landmarks of Europe may be nice and all, but the most beautiful things that I experienced were not the touristy places, but rather those hidden gems that you fall upon in a moment of serendipity. So do not always feel obliged to see what is popular, but just let your curiosity lead you down mysterious alleys, over gracious bridges, and through unexplored tunnels. Relive the child in yourself.

    Cinque Terre, 2009
    Cinque Terre, 2009
  21. Feel free to skip what is uninteresting to you. Don’t feel obliged to do things that seem uninteresting to you. For example, if you enter a famous landmark and it simply doesn’t compel you in any certain way, there is nobody forcing you to be there. You can just speed through the place and just leave. What is one man’s treasure may not necessarily be your cup of tea.

    The Dancing House. Prague, Czech Republic.
    The Dancing House. Prague, Czech Republic.
  22. Smile. Whether you are talking to the manager of your hostel or to a random vendor on the street, smile as often as you can. Smiling at others instantly makes yourself seem much more welcoming to the other person, which can stir up an interesting conversation or interaction.  You will be surprised that how far a smile to a random stranger in the streets can go.

    The Faces. Paris, 2009
    The Faces. Paris, 2009
  23. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Let’s face it, when you traveling you are going to be lost more than once. Rather than being worried of being stigmatized as a “lost tourist,” put away your pride and ask for help. It is amazing how willing people that people can be when helping others. For example, when I was lost in Venice (the most impossible city to get around without getting lost), I asked a man who was speaking Italian to his friend if he knew where X was. He then quickly stopped his conversation, and walked me for nearly 10 minutes to my destination. There was another time when I couldn’t find my bus to take me to the airport, and a complete stranger walked around with me for nearly an hour, talking to other locals to help me find my bus. People are more kind and generous than one realizes.

    Mime at St. Pancras. London, 2009
    Mime at St. Pancras. London, 2009
  24. Don’t be tied to your computer. When I traveled, I bought an Acer Aspire One Netbook to write quick emails, do research, as well upload images to my hard drive while traveling. However I made it a point to stay off my computer as much as I could during my trip. There is nothing easier than getting sucked into using the internet for hours on end, wasting precious time that you have overseas. Rather than unwinding after a long day of traveling by using the computer, use that potential time to journal (do it in a notebook), get to know fellow travelers, or simply reflect on the day. When you are traveling, disconnecting from the internet can be one of the best ways to “detox” from being wired.

    The Louvre. Paris, 2009
    The Louvre. Paris, 2009
  25. The world is a big place. Although I have done a fair share of traveling while growing up (moving around many times in California, moving to New York for 3 years, driving back across to California in a car, going to Canada, and Korea) I now realized that I barely saw anything at all. Once I went to Europe and experienced a totally different culture, it shocked me to realize how small my home (and country) was to the rest of the world. Although Los Angeles is one of the biggest cities in the world, it is nothing but a speck when compared to the rest of the world.

    Paris, 2009
    Via the Eiffel Tower. Paris, 2009
  26. Home is where the heart is. After my 30-day journey of backpacking in Europe, it caused me to appreciate my home so much more. Although I did visit some of the best museums of the world, relished at the antiquity of the cathedrals, and dined on some of the most exotic foods, I came to the realization that all of these things that I experienced while I was abroad was readily available at home as well. I do not say this to discourage anybody from traveling. On the contrary, this is one of the biggest reasons why I advocate people to travel is because when they come back home with a fresh new pair of eyes, they appreciate home so much more. After coming home, make sure to tell all of your friends and family about your wonderful experiences while traveling, and don’t forget to embrace them and also tell them how much you love and appreciate them as well.

    The London Eye. London, 2009
    The London Eye. London, 2009

Click below to see more… My Europe Photos Slideshow