Film Noir and the Dark Side of Travel 29


Travel is glamorized as being universally good and wonderful and fun. But few speak of travel’s dark side: The uneasy feeling you have upon leaving home for an indefinite period of time, the question as to whether this unfamiliar town is indeed safe to walk alone at night as you depart solo for the evening, and the glaring absence of any semblance of situational awareness, normally ingrained within us but utterly missing abroad because you don’t know the local language or customs, and you can’t tell if that stranger is smiling at you with sincerity or with malintent.

The truth is that travel, at times, is dark, lonely, and isolating.

It’s lonely when you’re jetlagged and wide awake at ungodly hours because you just got here and your body should really be on the other side of the planet. It’s scary when you fall asleep on an overnight train, hoping that your passport will still be on board when you wake up tomorrow. And it’s frustrating when someone tries to stick a Q-tip in your ear in an attempt at solicitation, which becomes the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, prompting you to leave the country.

The moments we remember, and tell our friends and families about, and write about online with wistful regard, those moments are beautiful. The things we endure to have our “beautiful travel experiences” are often deeply challenging.

Marpha, Nepal Noir

Marpha, Nepal

 

Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand

 

Running from Rain in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Escaping rain in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Film Noir

Film Noir was a cinematographic style of the 1940s and 50s, characterized by high contrast black and white scenes, strong use of shadows, and a moody, romantic feel. The visuals conveyed mystery in concert with dark hints of edginess and tension.

When you watch a film noir movie, you feel that everything is slightly disconnected from your own reality. You feel different and uneasy. This feeling of surreal disconnect is much like travel. It’s all vaguely familiar, sure: people connecting with one another, conversing, and going about their daily lives just as they do at home. But the streets are different, the architecture exotic, and the language incomprehensible.

Film noir, with all its subtle, tense nuances, does a great job at visually describing the dark side of travel.

Looking at Mountains in Nepal

Friends look out from a monastery in Upper Pisang, Nepal

 

Lonely in Mongolia

Lonely in Mongolia

 

Birds Noir in Irkutsk, Russia

Birds take flight in Irkutsk, Russia

 

Vik, Iceland

Vik, Iceland

 

Birds in India

Crows in India

 

Paris

Paris

 

The Excitement and Romance of Noir

I’ve changed as I’ve become a more experienced traveler. I’ve learned to accept the dark side of travel, and my enjoyment has increased exponentially.

I’ve begun to view it all as a part of the adventure, even though not all adventures go smoothly or end well. Exploring somewhere new for the very first time, wondering what will happen next. Taking pictures before the sun comes up because, well, it beats staring at the ceiling at 3am and you might as well embrace the jetlag instead of fight it. Using the lonely moments and downtime to rest, think, and plan the next adventure.

Barcelona Airport

Barcelona Airport

 

Ghent, Belgium in Motion

Ghent, Belgium in Motion

 

Northern Iceland

Northern Iceland

 

Morning in Shanghai

Morning in Shanghai

 

Shedding Light and Gaining Perspective

Traveling the world is a choice that not everyone has, but if it’s available to you then it’s a damn good one. In choosing to travel and by making sacrifices to do so, I’ve experienced firsthand the warmth and hospitality of so many cultures around the world. I’ve witnessed heartbreaking poverty in some places and gratuitous riches in others. I’ve learned a lot about life and about putting things in perspective.

I’ve learned that almost nothing is as big a deal as it initially seems; this particularly applies to the challenges of travel.

Travel most definitely has a dark side. Not all moments are enjoyable, not all memories are good. But embracing it and learning from it has helped me become a better traveler abroad and a better person at home. I can unequivocally state that I would not be the same person I am today without travel, and to that end travel has been one of the greatest positive influences in my life.

Early Morning in Bangkok

Early Morning in Bangkok

 

Navigating Cracked Ice in Russia

Navigating Cracked Ice in Russia

 

A cold night in Irkutsk

A cold night in Irkutsk

 

Street in Tyumen, Russia

Street in Tyumen, Russia

 

Great Wall of China Noir

Great Wall of China Noir

 

Nepal

Nepal

 

Nepal

Nepal

 

Estonia

Estonia

 

Mongolia

Mongolia

 

In Argentina

In Argentina


29 thoughts on “Film Noir and the Dark Side of Travel

  • Rachel of Hippie in Heels

    Travel does have a lonely side- I dealt with it for the first time a year and a half ago when I came to India the first time. Bombay hit hard! But there’s always light on the other side… aka the next day!

    • Ed Graham Post author

      It hit me in India as well. But yeah when I was able to regroup India turned out to be one of the most interesting places I’ve been.

  • Lyn Barden

    love the black and white photo’s, makes a nice change! particularly the cracked ice in Russia,Mongolia and the Great Wall of China. traveling is always an adventure, I don’t think I could travel on my own. Much an all as I like adventure I like company too. Enjoyable post.

    • Ed Graham Post author

      I’ve met more people on solo trips than when I travel with friends. It forces you to interact more with the locals rather than just stick to your group.

  • Anne McKinnell

    Ed, what a fascinating post! I love your use of film noir techniques to convey the dark side of photography. Not only is it a great idea, but it is very effective. Thanks for sharing the idea and your beautiful photos. I really enjoyed seeing them.

    • Ed Graham Post author

      Didn’t mean for it to be sad, just wanted to point out it’s not always amazing on the road and that you gotta roll with the punches. Thanks for the comment and for reading 🙂

  • Stephen

    Love this! I have always been a fan of this style of photography!

    “I’ve learned that almost nothing is as big a deal as it initially seems; this particularly applies to the challenges of travel.”

    I couldn’t agree more Ed. It is amazing how travel realigns prespectives.

  • Ross

    Great photos. I think I am trying to take the dark side as part of travel but even though it is still part of the adventure it is still no fun feeling like you are being watched late at night. But as you say when you get more experienced at it then these become part of the experience.

  • Bridget @ A Traveling B

    Absolutely captivating photos, which draw nicely on the intent of your post. It is a side of travel that not a lot of people want to talk about. Travel is supposed to be fun, exciting and glamorous to most people, but this was a great way to show that it can be challenging, which most importantly is what makes it real.

  • Mariella

    I love the comparison between Film Noir and the “Dark Side of Travel”. Actually you very much describe the “Dark Side” of life in general though. Loneliness, anxiousness, insecurity – why should those things not be there out on the road when they are in every other life situation? The thing is that travel is so healing that sometimes we’re surprised by it also being hard. But it’s only natural. The trick might be to understand that if the dark sides of life are also in travel, maybe the light sides of travel are also in life 🙂

    • Ed Graham

      Interesting take on it Mariella. I have to admit I didn’t even consider that but you are absolutely right. And yes there are light sides too which make it all worth it and then some.

  • Maria

    Wow, I love this post so very much and the images are so stunning!
    I’ve been traveling for a year now and can relate to those dark moments when you are far away from your home base and feeling a bit off. As you said, I’m still motivated to stay abroad to experience new things and see how I will continue to evolve, given this time though.
    Thanks for the gorgeous pictures and this post!

  • delia

    Thanks for the great post–your writing is really evocative of that lonely, off-kilter noir mood. For me, the challenging places are often my favorites. It can be hard to explain to people that I love a place that’s difficult. I often feel guilty for talking about anything negative from my trips, since I know it’s a privilege to travel that many people I know may never experience, but I also believe in truth in travel. The tough stuff is part of it, too, even if it makes some people worry, others annoyed and still others gloat that their concerns were correct. Great images as well!

    • Ed Graham

      Part of my concern with online travel writings is that it’s overly positive and not realistic. Of course there are going to be challenges to travel but when did including them become so taboo? We don’t all need to focus on the positive; travel is a grand experience which encompasses both good and bad. It’s how we handle it that determines whether we come home with an overall positive experience or not. Thanks for reading and commenting Delia.

  • Hans Jonas Hansen

    Great photos. One of the things I really enjoy with travelling with my girlfriend is, that I never feel alone.

    But I get what you are meaning with learning how a new country works. Especially if you are in a place where you don’t speak the language. It can be tough sometimes. You need to be in the right state of mind to be in a new country. When I don’t have the energy to do anything it can be hard to be in a new country, where I don’t know how everything works.

    When I last visited my home country I got the feeling that I knew how everything works. Small things as what food to buy or how to interact with people.

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