Travel Photographer Stephen Lioy Shares His Best Packing Tips

Travel Photographer Stephen Lioy

I’m Stephen, originally from the US state of Louisiana but now based in the Central Asia country of Kyrgyzstan. I work in several aspects of the tourism sphere, from leading student groups to writing guidebooks and working as a photographer, as well as doing a bit of work on tourism development. Every once in a while, when I can find a few spare weeks, I still try to travel to the wild and lost places – Central Asia remains an area still very close to my heart even after having been based here for almost five years.

Travel Photographer Stephen Lioy

How and why did you get into traveling?

My first international trip was a daytrip across the border into Montreal with my dad when I was a kid, but the first one I planned myself was a month-long 2006 Euro-trip at the end of a college program in Paris when I was in my second year. Along with a couple of friends, we jaunted around France, the Netherlands, and Italy before ending in Germany to watch the US team play in the World Cup. So many people told me it was a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ that I decided at some point I’d have to prove them wrong.

Travel Photographer Stephen Lioy

How do you finance your travels?

Most of my travels these days are actually for work – I’m a consultant on tourism development (particularly on working with new media and on creating and marketing new trekking and outdoors products), a freelance guidebook author with Lonely Planet, and publish occasional articles online on various platforms as well. Then occasionally I’ll get some sales from a stock photography portfolio that never gets enough attention on my end but does still send some cash my way occasionally. I also still occasionally work as a tour leader for school groups through a relationship I’ve had with a tour company for some years now, but these days it’s hard to fit these trips in amongst everything else! One day, I might even get back to updating my Central Asia travel blog too.

Travel Photographer Stephen Lioy

Why is traveling important for you?

Especially in the modern political climate in the US and Europe, I think it’s very important to be able to present an alternate narrative to those who are back home and unable to experience other cultures for themselves. So many people I’ve met have no idea what it’s really like in China, Kyrgyzstan, Eritrea, Russia; they just have these narratives in their head built out of the limited media exposure they’ve been fed. It’s also personally gratifying, of course, both in the sense of exploring new places and meeting new people but also in solving the challenges that independent travel constantly throws at us.

Travel Photographer Stephen Lioy

How do you bring your things with you?

Well, it really depends on the trip. Backpacking, of course, a backpack – either a cheap but sturdy Decathlon bag for general travel or a nice Osprey Aether 85 for trail hiking. For business trips, a small rolling suitcase from a brand called, ‘Traveler’s Choice’ that I can use as a carry-on as long as the airlines don’t look too closely at the weight of it. And of course, everywhere and always, my big Lowepro camera bag with the camera and a couple of lenses.

Travel Photographer Stephen Lioy

How do you organize things in your bags?

Zip-locs for each different type of clothing, one big zip bag for electronics chargers and adapters, and all the camera stuff in the camera bag. It’s all pretty basic, really.

How do your bags and gear hold up?

Dear god, my camera is heavy. I wonder sometimes if I’m ever going to give up photography just because the gear is such a hassle.

Travel Photographer Stephen Lioy

What kind of photos do you prefer to shoot?

The moment I look back most fondly on are often the portraits, especially the wider-angle contextual portraits. More often than anything I shoot landscapes, though, just because I spend a lot of my travel time out in nature and travel alone fairly often, both of which make food and portraits and architecture and etc., all a little harder to find than a good wild landscape!

One of my faves is the picture I’ve been using as the background on my travel photography portfolio for several years now – it’s taken not far from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in a big national park called Ala-Archa. It just feels wild and beautiful still to me, even after all these years, and reminds me not to take for granted that there’s always adventure just outside the city.

Travel Photographer Stephen Lioy

What is your best advice for other travelers?

Learn to balance the dirty backpacker lifestyle and high-end travel. Both have their place, but so many of us seem to identify with one or the other and refuse to try anything else. Chicken busses are awesome, and swanky hotel rooms with amazing views are also awesome – why can’t we have both? Also, and I’m aware it’s clichĂ©, but put the phone and the camera down sometimes and just be there. The people, the smells, the ambiance of a new place; try hard as we can, we can’t capture these for later and only have them while we’re there.

Travel Photographer Stephen Lioy

What will the future bring?

My big travel wish list currently includes: Kamchatka, East Timor, Comoros, Bhutan. Of places I’ve been before, I’d love to get back to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Nepal, India, China… well, most of the places I’ve been before actually but especially these.

For the moment though, I’m pretty planned out through the summer. I’m writing this on the cusp of a trip to France, will have a few weeks in Bishkek after that before heading to Tibet for about a month and a half, then will try to squeeze some warm-up trekking in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan in before I head to Russia for the World Cup in mid-June. In July and August, I’m thinking trekking in Kyrgyzstan to collect data for a long-dreamed project that I’m finally gonna try to take off the backburner, then in September the 3rd World Nomad Games will kick off in Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk-Kol province!

Beyond that I’ve got some thoughts, some of which revolve around the Middle East, but nothing’s really set in stone for a few more months at least. So, as normal, lots of cool stuff on the horizon!

Visit Stephen Lioy on his website and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

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  1. Darnell Mack says:

    What’s your camera that you carry? and which lens. Your photographs are incredible. i enjoy looking at them and reading of your experiences.

    • These days a Canon 6d with a 17-40mm, 70-300mm, and 135mm and 35mm primes. I don’t always take all of them on every trip because of space/weight, but that’s the full set to pick from.

      Some of the photos here, Mongolia and China for sure but maybe others, are from older setups though.

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