Last Sunday Lindsay and I took a bike ride through North Portland to St. Johns. It was a glorious, crisp day, the kind we get here in Portland, Oregon, as the wet winter tilts toward the spring rain season. Daffodils, crocuses, and magnolias swayed in bloom, home owners tended to their yards, and runners and fellow bicyclists enjoyed the tree-lined streets. On the bluff along Willamette Boulevard a view opened of an industrial area where white warehouses and a cruise ship under maintenance gleamed against the backdrop of West Hills, the river, and downtown Portland in the distance.
“I should probably take a photo,” I murmured to myself. Then I shrugged and continued pedaling.
We all scream for photos
A recommendation about photos tops every list of advice for travel bloggers. If you want to have a quality, popular travel blog, you had better feature a lot of beautiful photographs from your travels. It makes perfect sense. People process and retain information better visually—ours is an image-driven culture, after all. That a picture is worth a thousand words is especially true in documenting travel.
On our first round-the-world trip, between June 2013 and July 2014, I took this advice to heart. Even with a little point-and-shoot and an iPhone I did a decent job of documenting the trip, alongside Lindsay. I snapped photos everywhere I could to showcase in our Flickr albums, where we are nearing 3,500 pics (including from the period since our return), post on Facebook, and feature in blog posts to make them more enticing. I enjoyed the process from start to finish: framing, bracketing, transferring, selecting (sometimes brutally), editing, posting… I love our trip and post-trip photos.
It became addictive. I often felt I was failing as a travel blogger and failing myself and our readers if I didn’t photograph something; this is especially true now that we’re back in Portland where I try to live like a traveler at home even though everyday life makes for fewer photo opps.
Whenever I wasn’t holding a camera I felt as if I had a phantom camera syndrome, the gizmo absent from my hand, the moment falling into the abyss of forgetting. All too often the camera came between me and the place, between my experience of the moment and the moment itself. Without realizing it, I fell into the travel bloggers’ trap of feeling I never visited a place if I didn’t photograph it.
Writing in the world
Only now that the constant thrill of new places is gone and I feel little need to photograph the familiar city/state have I started to realize all this. I can take photos and do a passable job of it to satisfy my and others’ expectations from a travel blog and Facebook page, but I don’t always have to and don’t always want to.
I knew this all along, of course, at the back of my mind anyway. During the trip there were so many little moments when I kept the camera in my bag and enjoyed the moment:
- a late-night dinner with live music at a blustery beachside restaurant on Santorini island, Greece;
- dancing barefoot with elderly Indians at a consecration of their Hindu temple in Melaka, Malaysia;
- tracing Sarajevo Roses through the streets of that fine city.
These made for some of the greatest memories from our travels, and I enjoyed writing about them, on this blog and elsewhere.
I still take photos, of course, but it has become something of an obligation and a chore. In the flow of long moments on the little bike or car trips Lindsay and I take, as roads pass beneath the wheels and a silence suffuses the landscape, I have come to fully comprehend that I prefer Lindsay’s company, being fully present in the place, and writing about it later.*
I’ve found precious little good writing in the image- and list-laden travel blogosphere (by “good” I mean such that I actually want to read). So I will stop pushing myself to do something I enjoy only sometimes and that I don’t care to master. Instead, I want my work here at Where Is Your Toothbrush? to fulfill my life’s purpose, to strive for my best in manifesting my passion, and to hopefully fill the gap between travel blogging and travel writing.
My name is Peter and I am a writer.
* To be sure, I carry in my memory a little box called “Photographs Not Taken” that is full of images I didn’t capture with a camera even though they would have made for great photos. I will write about them someday.