June 13, 2024

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Fly to a New World, Set Foot on Every Adventure

Why you should pack a film camera for your next trip

3 min read

Welcome to The Upgrade, By The Way’s series on travel hacks and hot takes. See how to submit here.

My carry-on bag is mostly filled with camera gear. As a travel writer and photographer, I have an almost obsessive need to make sure I have the equipment for any contingency: long lenses in case I spot a rare parakeet, shorter ones to make sure I get every angle on every explosive sunset. So when it came time to take my first real vacation in years, I decided I was going to leave all that gear in my closet.

I still wanted memories from the vacation, especially because it was a special one. I had just gotten married, and this multiday bicycling journey through Slovenia was to be Maggie’s and my honeymoon. I wanted to limit how many photos I took with my phone, too. This was going to be an exercise in mindfulness and being present. Besides trying to break the associations I had between photography, travel and work, I also wanted to break my habits of reaching for my phone whenever I saw something remotely interesting.

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So I dove into the wild world of Facebook Marketplace, combed through a sea of scams and landed a Canon 35mm film point-and-shoot from the early 1990s. It wasn’t as cheap as it should have been, a direct result of various Kardashians being photographed with similar point-and-shoots at cool parties. It’s the size of a small brick, and the shutter makes a sound not dissimilar to a truck turning into Optimus Prime, but I was happy with the find. I bought two rolls of film, dropped it all into my now eerily lightweight carry-on, and we were off.

Readers of a certain age will be rolling their eyes at this point. The millennial falls for the allure of the retro chic and thinks it’s revolutionary; we’ve seen this movie before. Fair enough, but this was meant to disrupt my present, not relive the past. And it worked.

With just 72 photos in total to take over the course of two weeks, I was more selective about what I photographed. Then the camera was back in my bag, and I was back in the moment, rolling through vineyards, taking in the view alongside my new wife, watching the days disappear.

When I got the photos developed two months after coming home, flipping through them was its own joy. They weren’t perfect. A few selfies were off-kilter and overexposed. An errant eyelash on the lens meant that, for 10 photos, it looks like someone took to vandalizing our memories with a Sharpie. But the imperfections made them even more accurate snapshots of fleeting moments as they really were.

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My favorite photo from that trip was taken in the village of Stanjel after a long day of cycling. Locking up our bikes at the bottom of town, we walked up into the grounds of a castle, where we tried to find the highest point. We found it near a watchtower overlooking the densely wooded valley below. This deserved to be one of the 72. I set up the camera on a nearby rock and wound up the manual 10-second timer. I sprinted back and got into position near Maggie, who wrapped her arms around me and kissed my cheek. With the haphazard angle and the iffy afternoon light, I recognized in the moment that it was a Hail Mary. Back in New York, I knew as soon as I saw it that it would forever be a photo that meant more to me than any one of the thousands of digital photos taken and retaken on so many trips around the world.

Sebastian Modak is a travel writer and photographer based in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Instagram: @sebmodak.


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