Can I go to China without a camera?
A close friend of mine recently came back from a few months in India, and during our hours-long catch-up one of the things we talked about was taking travel photos. It seems like such an integral part of travel: bringing a camera, sending home pictures, putting them on Facebook, and (in the old days, at least) having people over to share your holiday slideshows. Travel photography is its own genre, and it seems to hold a special attraction for people. Maybe it inspires adventures or allows people to live vicariously or appeals to our inner curiosity about the unknown.
But my friend travels without a camera. She told me that on her latest trip she observed other travellers frantically taking photos, almost seeing everything through their camera lens rather than with their own eyes, making the camera an impediment to fully enjoying the travel experience. I’ve always brought a camera along on my travels, and I’ve never questioned its place in my backpack. I’m not an especially good photographer and have never aspired to snapping any great artsy travel shots, but I’ve always enjoyed having pictures to share with friends and look back at. But, as my trip to China approaches, I’m beginning to wonder whether I can take on a photo-free challenge.
Here are three reasons to leave the camera at home. (I pose these as mights because I’m not fully convinced.)
You might worry less
Cameras are expensive. Even a cheap camera is an investment and is one more thing to worry about. Whenever I travel, even when it’s from my apartment to my office, I am hyper-aware of every valuable item in my bag, and it weighs on me. I rarely venture out without my backpack (and phone and laptop and wallet…), but when I do I always feel a sense of freedom. I guess any physical object you attach value to weighs you down, but I wonder what would happen if my hands were freer and bag lighter.
You might think less about the future
Photo-taking is a future-oriented activity. We take photos to capture something in the present so that we can enjoy it in the future. That is not an inherently bad thing, and of course we want to be able to share our travel experiences with others. But, when my cameraless friend came over and we sat on my couch and talked for hours, I didn’t feel a lack of photos at all. She shared, and I asked questions, and I got great images in my mind—not what things looked like “for real,” but my interpretation of her interpretation. And of course her interpretation was morphed by time and she had only her memories to go on, but she was sharing her memories rather than her photos.
You might remember more—or differently
I sometimes take photos of things because I want to remember them and I’m a little bit afraid that I won’t be able to on my own. But I wonder whether maybe relying on photos gives us an excuse to not use other means of remembering like writing a journal or simply filing images away in our minds. I have a feeling that knowing I can’t take a photo will force me to look at things more closely and in greater detail.
I haven’t decided yet. I’m going to a part of China I’ve never been to before and that I’ve wanted to visit forever (partly because of the photos I’ve seen of it!), so I do want pictures to take back with me. I worry that I’ll regret having no physical artifacts of my journey. Do I trust my mind and my words to adequately share my adventures?