Here's the scenario, someone approaches me with an all-expenses-paid trip to the location of my choosing with the lone stipulation that I'm not allowed to bring a camera. Sounds too good to be true right? That's because I made it up. Having always traveled with a camera around my neck I tasked myself with finding 10 locations I would go if I wasn't allowed to bring it. With all expenses paid, do I use the opportunity to go for a big-budget trip or do I preserve my unbiased eye and play it safe? A lot of scenarios ran through my head for this list and ultimately I came to this conclusion, I hope I never have to make this decision.
10. Antelope Canyon
Let's start by playing it safe. I've never been to Antelope Canyon and the first time I saw pictures of this natural wonder in Arizona it jumped to the top of my list. Unfortunately, this location has been shot up, down and sideways to the extent that I don't think I could shoot those smooth walls without external influence. That doesn't mean I wouldn't love to slither through this slot canyon someday. I just don't believe the camera would come away with a unique view of this popular location so traveling without it wouldn't affect the experience.
I'm going a little bigger with my next selection. I would love to photograph Japan and luckily this trip would avoid all of the locations my camera has been dying to visit. I love to experience new cultures and indulge in exotic cuisine. Drop me off in the middle of Tokyo and let me eat my way out through a smorgasbord of delicacies. Whether it's wandering late-night street markets or high-end sushi restaurants I could spend weeks sampling authentic dishes on someone else's dime. Then when I'm ready to return, I'll have nothing left to do but take photos.
One of my favorite places I've ever been to, you could send me back to Ireland without a camera with some pushback. I brought thousands of photos back from my time in Ireland. The reason I would return without a camera is that I'd love to dive deeper into the culture. I might avoid spontaneous strolls through the countryside to hold off any potential regrets but I wanted to plan a return trip to the emerald island before our plane left Dublin. While I would love to photograph the rolling green pastures again I could be persuaded to return without the camera.
I have a similar reason for selecting China as I did with Japan but there's another layer beyond the cultural experience. Traveling to China is a very intimidating proposition. I could spend months photographing the vast Chinese landscape but I might need to dip my toe in the pool before taking the rural route. This would be a great opportunity for a dry run to get accustomed to the giant nation across the Pacific. Without a camera to distract my eye, I could pay attention to the Chinese customs and return with confidence to navigate me through the foreign land on the second trip.
Let's keep checking off the budget busters with the third long flight across the Pacific on this list. This trip would have one goal, see the Great Barrier Reef. An all-expenses-paid trip would be a great time to get SCUBA certified and take my water exploring to a new level. I found out in Belize how much better diving can be over snorkeling while squinting at a reef twenty yards below me. I'll fly to Australia to check off a bucket list item anytime if someone is footing the bill. Without underwater housing for my camera, I wouldn't be missing a single shot either.
5. Any Major European City
This one is pretty broad but the reason is simple. Take away my camera and you force me to engage with my surroundings. I've spent time in a few of the major European metropolises like Paris, London, and Milan. With my camera along, I approached those streets as an artist rather than a tourist. Without the mindset of finding compositions, I can focus on absorbing history and culture. Cities aren't my preferred locations to photograph, to begin with, so I could easily leave with a head full of memories and stories without any qualm.
4. Lake Abamasagi
One of the first places I thought of for this list was my personal refuge, Lake Abamasagi. I'll never turn down a chance to fish those hallowed waters. If I don't have to worry about the budget though let's extend the trip beyond our usual week. Give me at least two weeks of loon songs at dusk to really separate from the stresses of everyday life. While the camera would be nice to have along, it rarely finds itself in the boat. Take away the photographic mindset and that's just another added level of disconnect. I might have to get creative with ways to prepare fish but I could spend an eternity watching the morning smoke roll over that placid lake.
3. Caribbean Islands
I'll stop being selfish for 10% of this list and take my beautiful wife on a vacation. Sarah loves beach vacations at all-inclusive resorts. Those trips have never interested me much, however. I'd rather explore and see how the locals live which makes this type of trip the perfect place to go without a camera. Sarah would also enjoy the absence of the camera because that means my entire focus would be on her. She's gotten used to my slow pace and photographic demands on vacations but plant me on a towel beside her with nothing to look at but the ocean and she's in paradise.
Of all the places on this list, this may need the most justifying. Between the landscape and wildlife, Africa was made for photographers. It also happens to be one of the most expensive places to get to and very high on my travel bucket list. I'd have to avoid locations like Sossusvlei without my camera but a safari would be a must. I don't currently have a setup to photograph wildlife unless it's close enough to lick my lens so traveling without a camera wouldn't be a deal-breaker. My benefactor might regret their proposition with this location but it would receive a lot of consideration. I would love to have my camera along with no question but it would be a hard opportunity to pass up.
With or without a camera, Antarctica is the place I want to go more than anywhere. I'd love to have my camera more on this voyage more than any other on this list but I can't pass up a chance to see this place. Antarctica has long been a dream destination of mine long before photography consumed my life. If you told me I could go anywhere in the world this would be my first choice every time. Whether it's not being able to bring my camera or a single item of clothing, I'll be turning purple on the ice without hesitation.