Picking out photos from the past 15 years of my travels ended up a more daunting task than expected.
A lot has changed since I first travelled at age 21 in 2001: back then there was no Facebook, no Wi-Fi, no blogs as such, and while I had just bought my first mobile phone, the idea that you might take it overseas with you was absurd- it didn’t work in other countries. Travel was a much more “raw” experience, technologically speaking, compared to today (I wrote about this once before). Furthermore, I had zero photographic expertise or even interest back then. As such, I travelled with a basic automatic film camera.
In 2004, I became interested in the art and physics of photography. I was inspired enough to get a film SLR. This was followed by my first digital SLR in 2006, a Canon EOS 350D (Digital Rebel). In 2013, I finally upgraded to a full-frame Canon EOS 6D. Not surprisingly my photographic skills have improved a lot since 2001, and so there was a great temptation to heavily weigh this list of pics towards more recent years!
It was fun going through all the old memories, but narrowing down a shortlist of pics from many thousands took some time. In the end, I selected photos based on interesting travel experiences in cool places rather than photographic merit. It has to be said that the best times have actually been more about the people than the places, and so the list reflects that too. I’ll run briefly through a few stories, but feel free to scroll through until you find something interesting.
With that said, cast your minds back to….
Every traveller setting out to see the world for the first time has their own version of Shangri-La. For me at 21, having just completed a very male-centric Electrical Engineering degree, it was Scandinavia. The polar opposite of my native Australia, Scandinavia represented everything that seemed exotic and interesting to me: ice, snow, mountains and babes. In my first trip there at the end of 2001, I visited my friends Maria and Todd living up in Bodø above the arctic circle.
At some point, despite storm warnings, we drove to Hemavan in Sweden to go snowboarding. A huge blizzard blew up, flooding roads and rivers, creating landslides, and covering the roads with ice. We drove at 30 kph the whole way to avoid coming to grief in the whiteout conditions, and though it was terrifying we arrived in one piece to perfect powder.
In these early years that other alternate reality of movies and TV shows, America, featured heavily. My travel buddy Scott and I travelled to New York just after the September 11 attacks. The Twin Towers, where I had stayed as a child during a family trip, were now a giant pile of rubble. We stayed for a month and it was my first Christmas and New Year overseas.
2002 saw Scott and I travelling overland from Malaga in Spain to Rome in Italy. We had a ton of adventures on the way, and flew home to Australia via a week in the Thai islands.
In Nice, France, we met a kiwi guy who travelled with a Porcelain cat as a good luck charm. On the marina at Cannes he ran a dirty pink towel up a flagpole and demanded we salute it as an homage to hostel life. Too startled to disagree, we obeyed and an onlooker took the photograph.
After my travels in 2002 it was over a year of scrimping and saving in my engineering job before I said “bugger it” and borrowed $6000 from the bank to go travelling again. It was a pretty extensive world trip, starting with surfing in the Maldives, hitting up Sweden, Norway and Finland for summer, and coming home to Sydney through the USA and Tahiti.
In Sydney I had met a cool Swedish girl called Monica and so I hung out for a month in Stockholm and the surrounding archipelago, enjoying the parties, barbecues, and 24-hour sunshine.
Sometime in the next couple of months I made a journey up to Lapland in Norway to meet up with Outi, a marine biologist from Finland that I met whilst on the Hurtigruten in Norway in winter 2001. We met up in a town called Lakselv (“salmon river”) and hiked up into the surrounding fjells and spent a couple of nights. I was horribly attacked by mosquitoes, but we sat in the most amazing silence in the midnight twilight, looking at storm clouds hovering above distant valleys, and hearing the howling of wolves (Outi was much braver than I it must be said).
Her and I then set off exploring the Finnish part of Lapland. Being a noted marine biology student researcher, we were welcome to stay at various research stations in remote locations. Here’s us crossing a lake in a wooden canoe to reach a research station in Kevi. I remember that the passenger bus to reach this location was also the mail delivery- the driver cruised along with the bus door open and threw bundles of mail into large letterboxes as we passed.
After Lapland, Outi went back home to work while I caught a bus up to Kirkenes in Norway and connected with the Norwegian coastal steamer, Hurtigruten, for my second voyage. I sailed down the coast to Trondheim, stopping in the Lofoten Islands which are just stunning.
After Finland, I flew to the US and spent a week in New York City and a few days in LA, before my flight to Tahiti was turned around midair due to a cracked windscreen. Thankfully I eventually made it a day or so later, and met up with my old travel buddy Scott for some island time.
After my world trip in 2003, Outi came to visit me in Australia and we fell in love. I started doing a PhD, but being so travel obsessed 2004 became all about exploring Finland. The lakes, the snow, the people, the nature, the culture, the deep mythology. I became obsessed with the northern lights. We also spent more time in Lapland and went on hiking, cross-country skiing and dogsledding adventures.
2005 saw things going in a completely different direction. I was newly single and ready to explore other parts of the world other than the north European wilderness. It was also the year I met my future wife, Anna, a blonde Brazilian goddess. As often happens to nomadic-types, we met right before I headed off on a tour of Spain, France, England, Scotland and Japan. In London I went to stay with my brother and sister who were living there at the time. I left the same time the Tube bombings happened, before flying to Japan where I had my only pair of shoes stolen within two hours of arrival. An hour after that I accidentally won a huge gambling jackpot. In 2005 I also visited China for the first time, staying with the family of Guoxiao, one of my academic colleagues, in a small town a few hours drive from Shanghai. It was an amazing experience.
In 2006 I got my first digital SLR and my the quality of my photos went up a lot. On the first night I had my new camera in Sydney, my friend Campbell’s wife Christie suggested we should go and photograph a lightning storm that had moved off the coast of Sydney. We sat on a headland for an hour and I fired off a few 30-second exposures, not really knowing what I was doing. Next thing I captured the image of the ship below, which remains one of my favourite photos ever.
Something very special happened in 2006- I moved to Delaware, USA on exchange from my PhD, moved in to a house with a bunch of cool American surfers, and had an American college experience. (Delawhere? Chuckle.) This included frat parties, tailgating sessions before football games, making good use of my Australian accent, surfing the Jersey coast and consuming a lot of beer and burgers. Meanwhile, Anna had moved back to Brazil. Since I was barely a continent away (ha) I made not one but two trips to Brazil during the time I was in the US. (I also did a trip to China again- gosh I feel tired just recalling all this.)
2007 same me more and more focussed on my PhD work as I moved toward completion. I travelled to the USA to visit Anna who had moved there, and I also visited Norway for the first time since 2003, hanging out with my old friend Maria. One of the highlights of the year was presenting my work at a conference in Milan, Italy. After Milan I hung out in Venice a couple weeks and then caught the train up into Switzerland, to a place up in the mountains called Davos, where my old Swedish friend Monica was doing microbiology research. We climbed to the top of mountains and had a great time.
This was a crazy, crazy jam-packed year. I went to New Zealand for the first time with my girlfriend Agnieszka, and roadtripped both islands. I was surprised at how similar the terrain was to that in Norway. We also travelled up the East Coast of Australia, seeing the Great Barrier Reef for the first time.
My own backyard out of the way, I finished my PhD in March, and a couple of month later moved to the US again. This time, I was living in Portland Oregon on the West Coast. Some of the best times I remember from that summer were surfing out on the Oregon Coast. Even in summer, the water is barely 8°C, and a 5mm wetsuit, hood, and booties are needed. But the waves are great.
2009 was another year of self discovery, living in Portland USA, and things were no less hectic than 2008. My friends and I spent much time in the amazing Pacific West outdoors, snowboarding at Mt Hood, surfing on the coast, hiking and white-water rafting. Another highlight of the year was a trip to Alaska that I did with my parents. We did a roadtrip from Anchorage to Palmer, followed by a cruise through the Inside Passage, with incredible views of glaciers and snowy peaks. My 20s ended and I turned 30. Working for a German company in the US, I did several trips to the former East Germany and was captivated by Dresden, a city I think of unparalleled beauty. It’s all the more remarkable when you remember it was razed by firebombs in World War 2. I capped the year off with a month in North Carolina, where my old Delaware surfer buddies now lived. As if the year had not been intense enough, I managed to fall in love with a girl there. It didn’t work out.
In 2010, I picked up my life and moved back to Australia to start afresh. The previous years had burned with such an intensity that I was keen to lay low in my hometown of Sydney and relax. As it turned out, my new job involved transferring technology to a different major German company, also in the Dresden area. And so it was back on the plane to Europe. It is a long flight to take when broken-hearted, and so, living out of a suitcase in the east of Germany, my friend Fabian suggested I get on the train to St. Anton in the Austrian Alps, where he was staying with friends.
I use the word “train” lightly, because actually it was 4 trains, with 5 minute transfer times, and I’d have to do the 8-hour trip late at night once work had finished. In the end I felt so low that I thought I had nothing to lose. Somehow, I made all the connections and arrived in snowy St. Anton at midnight. There was a single taxi outside the train station and he winced at the address. We began driving up a twisted mountainside in the pitch black, with the snow pouring down and a sheer unfenced drop on one side. Unsure of where we were going and feeling isolated, I was beginning to think this whole thing had been a bad idea, when suddenly on the road ahead, there was Fabian. He’d heard a car approaching and come out to see if it was me.
The trip back did not really go to plan- I missed the final connection and stumbling around at midnight in some snowy, freezing tiny town in East Germany I’d never been before, I luckily found a taxi driver who was willing to drive me the final 100 km up the autobahn- for a fee of about €150.
In the end, there was little rest in 2010- I spent 3 months just in Germany. Since Fabian and another of my best mates, Daniel, lived in Germany, this was not such a bad thing, and much good cheer was had.
Towards the end of the year Anna came to visit me in Sydney and we rekindled our romance. I visited Spain for work, and for the first time, Korea, which I loved, but I left the camera at home. Anna and I also went on a cruise of the Pacific to New Caledonia. Pheeeew!!
It might come as little surprise that in 2011 I was completely burned out. I planned a whole year sitting on the couch at home in Sydney- it was just going to be me and the Nintendo Wii and I couldn’t wait to get fat. But then my travel buddy Brad called up and was raving about a snowboarding trip in Japan, and well, it sounded pretty badass. So I finally agreed. And then my travel buddy Scott ended up getting married in Thailand and made me a groomsman, and well I could hardly say no to that.
As it turned out, Japan was great, and we had a sensational couple weeks snowboarding the freshest, deepest powder I’d ever seen in Hakuba and Niseko. But we managed to time our visit for the 2011 earthquake, my first ever, which was a doozy at 9.0 on the Richter scale. We were on an elevated train in Tokyo at the time and were lucky enough to be able to pull into a station and tumble out onto the platform as the train smashed itself back and forth against the station walls. We then walked for 6 hours to get back to our hotel on the other side of Tokyo, avoiding swaying skyscrapers. (You can read the full story here.) With the coastline destroyed by apocalyptic tsunamis and nuclear plants going into meltdown, we were very lucky to already an air ticket booked out of Japan on the day the airport reopened 3 days later.
After that experience, I practically limped into Thailand. Boy was I worn out. But I was a bit earlier than the rest of the wedding party which gave me some time to relax in a nice hotel and at the lovely Kata Beach in the south of Phuket. I also went over to Ko Phi Phi for my first ever full moon party, which was a blast. A Spanish girl told me a story about being attacked by a pack of monkeys which has traumatised me ever since, and I slept in a tiny hut above a rocky cove for about 5 bucks a night. The wedding was also great- a top bunch of friends, all in a fun place all at once. It was a real party, and I returned home feeling like the world was my oyster again.
And then work needed me to go on a trip to Rhode Island and Boston and Harvard, and well, it was Harvard, so a scientist doesn’t say no to that. I took the opportunity to swing by my old stomping ground in Portland OR, and returned to Sydney via one of my favourite cities, San Francisco.
As 2012 dawned, my travel bug returned with a vengeance. I went on a world tour for work and play, taking in parts of Canada, the USA, the UK, China and Korea. I also visited Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and went back to Germany, my 8th visit, where I (finally!) visited Berlin for the first time and did Oktoberfest in Munich. Last but not least, I visited Anna in Brazil- twice. On the last of these occasions, we took a flight from Brasilia to Rio where we tried unsuccessfully to land twice in a tropical thunderstorm, on one of the world’s shortest runways. The captain finally, mercifully, diverted up the coast to Vitoria and I can say it was by far the scariest flight experience I have ever had. Anna and I flew back to Sydney on the 30th of December, landing on the 1st of January and skipping New Years Eve altogether- or having it in the air somewhere over the Pacific, whichever you prefer.
2013 was quite the year. Anna and I moved in together in Sydney, and I started Confiscated Toothpaste. The year was bookended by visits to Port Macquarie, where my parents live in Australia. I went to a lot of my favourite world cities this year. I went to Europe twice- the first trip taking in a conference in Hamlin, Germany, of pied piper fame, before going to Berlin again, which I couldn’t resist. I then spent time in Switzerland before going to London. In September, I went back to England again, doing a roadtrip of Sussex, Dorset and Cornwall with my dear old Dad before going to Paris, which I love. There I met up with Anna and we did a roadtrip from Paris to Milan, Italy through the Swiss Alps. In between Europe trips, I went to Korea, visiting the DMZ. Finally, in early December I snuck in a trip to Malaysia and Singapore.
There’s nothing quite like exploring your own backyard and I don’t do nearly enough of it. I think one of the things about doing a lot of travel is that when you’re back home, that becomes your rest time. I tried to push myself in 2014 to appreciate what I had a little more. We did a trip with my Dad to Wilson’s Promontory, the southern-most tip of Australia, that was just one for the ages. Oh yeah, and Anna and I got married in her hometown of Brasilia, Brazil. We got married in the world’s most beautiful church, after travelling to Rio for the World Cup. In September I spent a couple weeks in Amsterdam for a conference and stayed in a houseboat on the Amstel River, and afterwards did a roadtrip of the Netherlands and Belgium with my buddy Ed. At the end of the year, I was invited to talk a conference in Busan, Korea’s second largest city after Seoul. It’s right on the beach with fantastic seafood and beautiful walks through the forest.
Every traveller when they explore is looking for something deeper within- their own personal Shangri-La perhaps, or the promise of inner peace, or to understand themselves better, or to challenge themselves in some subconscious way. I didn’t travel so much in 2015 because, at 36, I wasn’t searching for that so much anymore. Life went in a different direction. The year started with a bang, seeing the Sydney Harbour New Years Fireworks properly for the first time. It really is the best New Years Eve in the world. (Mental note- must check out the Rio one to properly verify this comment…) We planned that 2015 would be the year we’d become parents, and that happened with the birth of Sebastian in December. In the meantime, we moved into a sweet new apartment overlooking Sydney Harbour, a view such that the outside world always seems right there regardless. As the year drew to a close we watched the fireworks again, this time with the novelty of seeing them sitting on our own bed.
Oh- and I also did a tour of the US South. I took in jazz in New Orleans, rock n’ roll in Memphis, and country in Nashville Tennessee. That was followed by a week in New York City, where my travel bug was first stoked back in `01. Once bitten, forever smitten.
Hope you enjoyed my little photographic journey. I might be writing stories for Confiscated Toothpaste for the next 3 thousand years or so. Roll on 2016…