I started traveling solo to Eastern Europe in 2009 with trips to Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, Prague and Bratislava. One spring, I followed it up with a solo trek to Buenos Aires. This is a short collection of some favorites.

Berlin food truck

Berlin food truck

Prague statue

Prague statue

John Lennon wall in Prague

John Lennon wall in Prague

Outside the Kafka Museum

Outside the Kafka Museum

Celebrating Chopin in Warsaw

Celebrating Chopin in Warsaw

Buenos Aires street market

Buenos Aires street market

Buenos Aires sculpture

Buenos Aires sculpture

Dog graffiti in Buenos Aires

Dog graffiti in Buenos Aires

While in Austin this month for SXSW, I became the new owner of a selfie stick. I must point out that I didn’t purchase this stick. It was gifted to me in one of the many goodie bags you’re inevitably handed during the festival. The reason I must be clear that I didn’t shell out money for the stick is that I despise these inventions.

What could possibly be so awful about a small photography tool, one may wonder. Well, it goes back to my adventures across Italy last fall. In every city I visited, selfie sticks were all the rage. Just off Venetian canals, they there were in droves for sale. In front of the Duomo in Florence, they there were. In front of the Colosseum, there they were. Well, you get the idea.

The selfie stick had become as common as any other touristy souvenir. Seeing said sticks for sale isn’t so awful. It became awful for me when I saw them in use.

It was a perfect fall day in Florence. I was taking part in a favorite travel activity: wandering. As I turned a corner, I found myself walking behind a tourist. And not just any tourist. This tourist was carrying a selfie stick in order to capture video of himself walking through Florence. I instantly thought of this tourist’s poor friends back home who may be subjected to this narcissistic and boring video. For a moment, I thought about trying to rescue his friends by absconding the selfie stick but then I realized how sad the situation was. This tourist was walking through one of the world’s great cities and he was missing it.

He was missing all of the little details that can define a place–the way the light hits a building, the local graffiti, the small architectural elements over a doorway. These are the things I love to discover. I have photos of some of them from strange medieval looking doorbells in Venice to a metal statue of a beer-swilling guy in Prague. Others are catalogued in my brain for the rest of my life and they’ll always contribute to the way I feel about a place I’ve been.

As much as I love technology and thrive upon it, there’s a time to step away from it. There’s a time to experience life.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the people who help shape us when we’re young. The things they expose you to and the way in which they expose you to those things can become so important.

I guess I’ve been thinking on the topic because I lost my grandmother on New Year’s Day. She was one of those people who helped mold me. Whether she knew it or not, I can trace my love and obsession with things like art, design and even certain types of music to her. From an early age, I remember her taking me to museums, talking me through books on impressionist painters and singing me the music of her day. And she was a beautiful singer. Even into the worst of her Alzheimer’s she remembered all of the words and the tunes to her favorite songs from the 1940s.

I have to also credit my grandmother with introducing me to my number one passion in life: travel. She bopped around the world from Egypt and Spain to France and England. Of all those places, Paris was her favorite—a city she dreamed about as a girl growing up in Depression era America. Before ever setting foot in Paris, she’d memorized its layout—all of the streets and sites. When she finally had the chance to visit Paris, she didn’t even need a map. She knew it that well.

When I was 14, my grandmother delivered on a promise to take me abroad. The location of our adventure would be Paris. It would be my first journey across the pond but certainly not my last. She showed me the city and taught me how to experience a new place with a sense of curiosity and an open mind. Visiting a new place shouldn’t be about checking an item off a list. It should be about experiencing it—learning about the people, the food, the traditions and the language. It makes you more anthropologist than tourist. Done right, it feeds the soul.

My lifetime love affair with this kind of travel began during that Paris trip. My love for Paris and my Francophile tendencies also began on that trip. A decade later, I had the great opportunity to live in Paris and feel like a local with my dog in tow. Grandma Pat would phone me regularly while I lived there. I think she enjoyed hearing the sounds of Paris and its sirens almost as much as hearing from me.

J.B. and I at a cafe in Paris.

J.B. and I at a cafe in Paris.

It’s hard to get away from talks of the 2001 economic crash while traveling in Buenos Aires. It even reaches the world of street art as I learned on a walking tour of the city’s urban art highlights with Graffitimundo.

When the market crashed, the city’s graphic designers went to the streets, turning buildings into canvases. Their initial goal was simple: to create art for the community that would help brighten people’s spirits during tough times.

They had a unique approach that was partially influenced by economics. The artists used paints in their creations as opposed to the spray cans favored by taggers around the globe. Using paints was not only less expensive but it also meant room for a wider range of colors and style to come through.

Another key difference in the Buenos Aires street art scene is that it’s not about vandalism. It’s all about the art of permission. Artists will seek permission from building owners or ask around about abandoned buildings. Some owners will also commission art for their exteriors, which can be a good tactic in preventing random graffiti from showing up. A notable example of this is the Argentine restaurant Tegui. Its exterior wall is covered in the very detailed stencil art shown below.

Stencil Graffiti

There’s also a wide range of styles reflected across the city. Some of the most interesting works are where artists have collaborated on a wall, bringing together different styles. Others take advantage of existing pieces of buildings, such as the example below where a window was filled in but the bars left in place, something the painter worked with.

A Buenos Aires artist uses existing bars to create street art.

A Buenos Aires artist uses existing bars to create street art.

More photos from my Graffitimundo adventure are on Flickr. 

I spent a hot summer exploring off-the-beaten path spots in Texas. As the producer of this bizarre travel series, it was up to me to research, scout and organize these shoots on behalf of a brand looking to do something new online.

My role: Series Producer, Director, Talent Scout, Stylist, Makeup Artist

Camera work and editing by Francisco Aliwalas, Doug Bachman

On-camera host: Jeff Hilliard

Bayou Bob’s Rattlesnake Ranch

Houston’s Beer Can House

Meet Austin’s Mr. Lifto

Tour The Cathedral of Junk