Three Hundred Twelve Boot Shots, Five Years and Five Continents

Traveling Boots - Isle of Skye - Scotland

A few years ago I decided that I wanted to craft a signature photo. Something that I could easily carry with me, that I could insert into photo after photo that would help humanize shots.  I wanted something that could be used or done anywhere – even if I was alone in the depths of rural Argentina.  What I came up with was a series of boot shots.  I feel that they help convey a sense of wonder, add a human element, and at the same time are something that is readily and easily identifiable as part of a long term photography project.

Traveling Boots - The Austrian Alps

Upon returning from my recent trip to Austria and Turkey, I sat down and edited the most recent batch of boot photos. The final candidates numbered 26 and brought the total number of boot photos I’ve uploaded to 312.  The oldest of the photos was captured in late 2008. The most recent on April 2nd of this year.

Traveling Boots - Zambian Safari

Within the album you’ll find photos from North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.  Subjects in the photos range from penguins, polar bears and sharks to castles, cliffs, and caves. A number of current and former wonders of the world are also featured.

Bergen - The Old Warehouse District

To my knowledge, this is the most extensive project of its kind based on number of photos taken, time period covered, and sheer diversity of locations featured.  While many of the photos showcase one of three generations of Keens I’ve owned and traveled in, flippers, flip-flops, snowshoes and bare feet can also be found.  The boots are my go-to for travel, but were never intended to have meaning beyond that – thus, it will be interesting to see if future photos continue to feature them, or other footwear becomes increasingly common moving forward. What do you think – would a pair of neon-green running shoes spice things up a bit?

Belize Barrier Reef - Foot Shot

Why Do It?

This is an album dedicated to wanderlust and the open road.  It is dedicated to conveying the spirit of travel, of adventure, and of the unknown. Of reminding us to sit, pause, and to relax while in the moment.  To soak it up, and to enjoy it.  To be inspired and to have our imaginations run wild.  It is also an album about memory and reflection.  It is about re-visiting rich experiences and re-living them.

Perito Moreno Boots

As I sit here writing this post, I find myself going through old photos.  Each of these photos takes me back to a special moment.  It’s amazing how time blurs our memory if we don’t have anchors to bring our experiences back into focus.  As I flip through photos from mere months ago I find myself re-living the minutes that led up to and followed the taking of the photo.  Small details come back to me.  Smells. Sensations.  All of it.  Without these anchors and small reminders these sensations might easily be lost to the ravages of memory and time.

Grand Canyon at Sunset - Boots

The photos themselves also tell their own story.  They do more than showcase where I’ve been and a set of locations.  They document my growth as a traveler, photographer and travel writer.  The quality of the photos has gradually increased as I’ve slowly mastered the art of photography and editing.  Of equal aid is the progression in equipment.  The first photos were captured on a point and shoot Canon G6. Later generations were recorded with a Canon G11 while the most recent photos were taken with a Canon 600D dSLR.  When I started I shot almost exclusively on automatic.  More recently I’ve begun to tackle the delicate dance that is Av, Tv and M modes, white balance, f stop and ISO. The art that is editing is also its own adventure and challenge – sometimes I succeed, other times…well…other times I learn.

Tikal - Boot Shot

There’s also an element of disbelief.  A surreal type of surprise when I sit down and look through this album.  In 2007 I decided to make travel a fundamental part of my life.  I chose to prioritize it in a major way and to invest heavily in it.  Over the past few years that decision has payed off with the chance to see, experience and do things I never imagined possible.

Caving in Budapest

Yet, when you’re caught in the midst of it – of planning the next trip, reflecting on the past one, and trying to document everything in-between it is easy to lose perspective over all you’ve done.  I don’t think that’s something that is limited to serial travelers either, I think we all do it on a regular basis and in our day-to-day lives. It’s just that most of us lack an album that helps document and showcase those accomplishments and experiences.  To that end, it is my hope that these photos and this post help inspire you to not only take a moment and to reflect on your own adventures, but also to consider how you might begin your own project. Something to tie your experiences and life-changes together.

Playa del Carmen - Sunrise Boot Shot

I am also reminded by these photos just how awe inspiring the world is. We live surrounded by incredible beauty and while some of it can make for one heck of a difficult journey to get to, there are always incredible sights to see, places to explore and moments to discover in our own back yards and within reach regardless of what resources we have available to us. The weekend is just around the corner – have you decided yet how you’re going to use it?

Iguazu Boots

I invite you to head over to the complete album on flickr and to look through the photos.  I hope you enjoy the story they tell and that they resonate with you in some way.  I hope that they trigger memories of your own, and that they inspire you.  I hope that they pull you out of this moment, and allow your mind to wander and your imagination to run free. I would also love to hear which photos resonate with you the most and what format you prefer.  If you have questions about where they’ve been taken, feel free to ask.  I’m always happy to share, and of course please feel free to share this album and this post with anyone you think might enjoy it.

Traveling the Lonely Planet Trail

Highland Road

It’s not something widely mentioned. However, get a few travelers gathered around a fire or in a circle at the hostel bar, and you’ll start to hear it talked about: the surprising regularity at which travelers run into each other. Often these reunions happen several times over the course of a trip, sometimes hundreds (thousands?) of miles and countries apart. It’s always a surprise, though it shouldn’t be, and is usually a welcome occurrence. It happens in internet cafes, hostel common rooms, and even at random on the city streets. It seems to defy common sense – after all, the world is a big place, isn’t it?

The truth is, we make the world we explore significantly smaller by following pre-established paths. The most significant of which is what I’ve come to call the Lonely Planet Trail (LPT).  If you’re like most20-30 somethings planning a backpacking/hosteling style trip you probably opted for a Lonely Planet guide book.  Why? Because frankly Fodor’s, Rick Steves‘ etc. have done an excellent job servicing their own niches but lack real value for the average backpacker. Meanwhile Lonely Planet has targeted backpackers and done a great job developing a useful resource.  A resource which has become the go-to guide for backpackers the world over and holds a special spot in most backpacker’s packs, right next to their socks and underwear.

It makes sense when you think about it – no matter how random or willing we are to go off the beaten path, we’ll still take all the help we can get. That help (hostel information, things to see/do, even a map) typically comes in the form of a blue book with big white text on it. Which, comically enough, adds a certain level of standardization to our travel route. The most entertaining part is, that it’s almost inescapable. I can be a bit of an Ox at times and it’s not unusual for me to take off on a trip without doing a lot of research, having an itinerary or taking a guide book and yet, I’ll still find myself on the Lonely Planet Trail. Why? Because the recommendations I receive, tips and must sees are all driven, in large part, by Lonely Planet.

Marketplace in San Ignacio, Belize

Going to Guatemala? What should you see? What should you do? Where should you stay? It’s all there, just a few well worn pages away. Ask ten backpackers and you’ll probably find that 80% of their responses are similar/nearly identical and not without good reason. Lonely Planet does make very legitimate recommendations. But, those recommendations are also something to be very mindful of when charting your trip.  There’s a lot of stuff out there that didn’t make it into LP or that the author’s might not have liked/missed.  Don’t assume that if it’s not in the book, it’s not worth seeing.

Personally, I enjoy traveling along the LPT – in no small part because it ensures a more social experience.  It’s not, however, ideal for those who are really looking to break free and engage with the local population.  People often complain about how little time they spent away from other travelers.  I’d suggest that it’s often because they mistake hostel travel for truly immersive travel – which isn’t always the same.

Coastal Village

My biggest suggestion for people who find themselves traveling the LPT is to take a critical look at the suggestions before making decisions.  Is LP great for finding accommodation?  Yes.   Is it good for finding local “must see” attractions?  Usually. Is it good for budget/authentic food recommendations?  Definitely not.  Tour companies?  Hit or miss.

At the end of the day, I think the thing to keep in mind is that once a company/venue is featured by Lonely Planet, they’ve become the default go-to source for that service.  Which often results in a decrease in quality, increase in prices, and a decrease in availability.

As you chart the course for your next trip, make sure to take these factors into consideration.  Remember, your ultimate goal is to get what YOU want out of the trip and the best way to do that, is to examine even our most trusty travel tools with a skeptical eye.

Until next time, I’ll be keeping an eye out for YOU on the Lonely Planet Trail.  No doubt, we’ll share a pint soon!