Principles of Modern Travel: Aaron Smith

Blogs, magazines, guidebooks. You may often refer to these sources for inspiration and advice, but the truth is, there’s no “correct” way to travel. From departure to arrival, there are countless things to see and do. To discover what you need most from these experiences, question your intentions and evaluate why you’re traveling in the first place: Who are you traveling with? Where are you traveling to? How are you getting from one place to the other? What will you do when you arrive at your destination?

The purpose of this series is to gather insight from the creative and curious who regularly embark on new adventures. We’ve collected their best stories to create a list of principles that can guide you on your journeys—interpret them, learn from them, and use them to define what modern travel means to you.

photo by Aaron Smith


Our fourth Principal of Modern Travel is Aaron Smith, a lifestyle and fashion photographer living in Los Angeles. He got his start working for Skateboarder Magazine and—having been an avid skateboarder in high school—was happy to be shooting those he grew up watching. But when the now-defunct magazine was sold to a new publisher, Aaron saw the opportunity for other creative pursuits. He now travels the world, shooting for commercial clients like Uber, Amazon, Kenneth Cole, and Nike, among others—so we asked him to share what he loves most about life at home and on the road, and how he’s able to foster a genuine connection with new people and places, wherever work takes him.

photo by Aaron Smith


How does living in L.A. influence your life and work?

I think the city inspires my work because it’s in my work. But I don’t put the location any higher than what I’m shooting in front of—they all have to work together. Living in L.A. also lets me work with some of the best artists and models in the industry. I love that part of it!


What do you love most about living in L.A.?

So many things. My wife and I live in Eagle Rock—we love the weather and that there are so many things to do. Of course, the cost of living is crazy, but I don’t think we’ll live anywhere else.

photo by Aaron Smith | @asmithphotos


What’s the biggest misconception people have about L.A.?

I’d honestly say the traffic. I went to school in Atlanta, and the traffic there is way worse.


Principle #1: Leave your preconceived notions at home.You can read about a destination on a blog or ask a friend for recommendations—but you shouldn’t let others totally influence what you think of a place. Rather than carrying their experiences (positive or negative) with you, try to travel with an open mind and make a conscious effort to form your own opinion.

“With a camera, you’re looking at the world differently…you can pay attention to the details in a city, rather than just walking through it.”

How does traveling change your approach to photography?

I tend to shoot primarily in natural light, so I have to work with what’s in front of me. The quality of light changes from place to place, but you can always work around that—with strobes or bouncing sunlight. Background and textures are more difficult and expensive to make, so I’m more likely to make decisions based on which of those is available in a place.

photo by Aaron Smith | @asmithphotos

photo by Aaron Smith | @asmithphotos


How does photography help you to experience a new place?

With a camera, you’re looking at the world differently. You’re paying attention to light and how it hits a building or person; you can pay attention to the details in a city, rather than just walking through it. I really think the best way to remember what a place was like is to photograph it.

“New York has that overwhelming quality with the skyscrapers; the light can be very warm and contrasty when it shines between the buildings."

photo by Aaron Smith | @asmithphotos

photo by Aaron Smith | @asmithphotos


What has been your most rewarding travel experience?

One of my favorite jobs was for Etnia Barcelona. We shot a collection of glasses that were based on cool neighborhoods all around the world—Madrid, Berlin, London, Paris, Milan, Barcelona, New York, San Francisco—and photographed people right where we found them in the city streets. It was great to walk around, and see a mix of interesting people, in areas I probably wouldn’t have gone to if I wasn’t working.


Principle #2: Find greater meaning in your work abroad.It can be tempting to use business trips as a catalyst for bigger adventures, but the work you do abroad can be just as rewarding. Immerse yourself in whatever endeavor has brought you to a new place, and enjoy the unique experiences that are possible because of it.

photo by Aaron Smith | @asmithphotos

photo by Aaron Smith | @asmithphotos


What are some of the most memorable locations you’ve ever shot in? How do you capture the essence or true spirit of a destination?

The landscape in iceland is unbelievable, the architecture in Paris is wonderful to photograph. New York has that overwhelming quality with the skyscrapers; the light can be very warm and contrasty when it shines between the buildings. I don’t think I ever try to capture a place to show its true spirit—I just photograph what I want and what I think looks good.

“I really don’t have a problem with tourist attractions. I think as long as you’re experiencing something you can’t get at home, then you’re good.”

Have you ever felt an instant connection to a place? What about the destination made you feel this way?

I felt this way in Vancouver recently. I think the mix of nature and city is so appealing—and Canadians are so nice! If [my wife and I] didn’t love L.A. so much, I think we would move there.

photo by Aaron Smith | @asmithphotos


What do you think is the best way for travelers to connect with a new place? Do you think they should avoid the typical tourist attractions?

I really don’t have a problem with tourist attractions. I think as long as you’re experiencing something you can’t get at home, then you’re good.


Are there any tourist attractions that you go to without shame? Which ones are worth the hype?

I’m not a huge fan of shopping while on vacation, so museums and parks are my go-tos. The Louvre in Paris, the Tate Modern in London, and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen are a few of my favorites.


Principle #3: Don’t skip all the tourist destinations.You can read about a destination on a blog or ask a friend for recommendations—but you shouldn’t let others totally influence what you think of a place. Rather than carrying their experiences (positive or negative) with you, try to travel with an open mind and make a conscious effort to form your own opinion.

photo by Aaron Smith | @asmithphotos

photo by Aaron Smith | @asmithphotos


What are your travel essentials? What can you not live without while exploring a new city?

A camera and my fanny pack. I hate having things in my pockets, so I wear it (over my shoulder and across my chest), to carry my wallet, phone, hand lotion, Advil, EarPods, and a bottle of water, usually.




Traveling presents us with an opportunity to learn about ourselves, our destinations, and our journey to get there. What can we do better? How can we make our experiences more enriching? One way is to learn from each other. That why, every issue, we’ll be talking with seasoned nomads, collecting their best travel tips and tricks—use these Principles of Modern Travel to guide you, wherever you go next.

Written by Kaitlyn Funk