Photographer and traveller, Alejandro Llop, from Valencia, tells us about his experiences of solo travel in rural Mongolia, Mali, and British Columbia. 

What’s your profession?

I’m a photographer.

How old are you?

I’m twenty-six.

Tell me a bit about your background?

I was born and raised in Valencia, Spain and I started focusing on photography at fifteen years old. After finishing school, I studied for a year in a photography school in my city, and later an intensive lighting course. Since then I’ve learnt from my own practice, watching photos and movies and taking many photos.

When did you first decide to travel solo and where did you go?

My first solo trip was in Spain, where I focused on conservation projects. I went to the south to do a documentary photo report about the Iberian Lynx. It’s not that I preferred to go alone (although being alone you do appreciate the things that you might not notice when you’re accompanied), but I decided to travel at a time when nobody was available to join me, and the only way to travel was by myself.

Also, if I was going to spend hours taking photographs, I needed to be alone, otherwise I would have found myself worrying if the other person was bored or wanted to leave. Travelling alone is the only way to have total freedom in your decisions and time.

What’s been your greatest achievement whilst travelling?

The experience that I remember most fondly, is the memory of going through the Gobi Desert in a 4x4 jeep last year.

What have you found to be the most challenging part of travelling solo and how did you learn to overcome it?

I’m an adventurous person, but I also love the warmth of my home, and the home comforts that are synonymous with that. The hardest thing for me is to be away from the people I love.

What’s the weirdest thing that you saw or experienced on your travels, and in which country?

Once I was at a First Nations ceremony in British Columbia, Canada. It’s not as exotic as Africa or Asia, but it is one of the strangest and most curious things I have ever seen whilst travelling.

I was with my brother in a kind of dark cabin, and there were others singing and shaking maracas that made sparks. Before the ceremony, we entered the forest individually to make offerings to some spiritual ‘beings’ of the forest. We tied colorful ribbons to the trees and put our offerings on the ground. It was very strange, but incredibly fascinating.

Who was the most inspiring person that you met whilst travelling and why? Can you tell me a bit about them?

It’s so inspiring to see how people that live in poor places always manage to maintain their joy and motivation. That’s what has inspired me the most during travelling. It teaches you to value what you have, and it makes me want to be a better person.

What was your best experience with a local and why? Can you tell me a bit about them?

My best experience was with a driver from Mongolia. If I could ask someone I've met whilst travelling to visit my city, I would choose him. We didn’t speak the same language but we understood each other perfectly. I spent many hours with him in the desert, out in the middle of nowhere. He had a compact camera that worked with batteries (duracell batteries), with which he showed me photos of his family, temples, horses and the desert. A truly great man.

Where was your favourite travel destination so far and why?

Some of the trips that I've made have been for a specific project, and not because it was my favorite destination. However, of the places I have been, my favorite place has to be the Gobi Desert - between Mongolia and China. It was the most incredible landscape I’ve ever seen. I could try to explain it, but it’s impossible to describe the feeling of being there. The immensity, the silence, the kindness of the nomad people, the mountains... it was incredible.

Where is the next destination you plan to visit? What do you plan to do?

I have a fairly extensive list of places that I want to visit, but I don’t usually plan which one I will visit next. Instead, as soon as the opportunity to take a trip arises, I look at my options and the one that most suits is the one I choose. Right now I really want to travel to Nepal, Tibet, China and Japan. I love Asia.

How can we make our travels more meaningful in this day and age?

I think the important thing when travelling, is to visit a place because you really love it, or because you are curious to understand and experience the culture and its people. We should avoid having the attitude that we are just on holiday, by making a conscious effort to remain respectful towards locals. Just be there in the moment, and enjoy it. Respect the culture, and try to adapt during your trip.

How has travel influenced and impacted your life? Would you change this given the chance?

Travelling gives you so much knowledge of other cultures, and teaches you that the world is not always how you imagine it. In many situations that take place during my day-to-day, I remember how people live in other countries - like Mali or Mongolia - and I re-evaluate my behaviour or my situation, trying not to worry about the things that don’t really matter. 

How has solo travel empowered you?

It’s given me ideas for future projects, and opened my eyes to what goes on beyond my city and my country. The world is huge and most people spend their lives in the same 200 square kilometers, even with the possibility of travelling and knowing what lies beyond.

If you could journey back to before you first travelled alone, is there anything you know now that you would tell yourself?

Be mindful of what you want to do, take with you only what is necessary, and enjoy the time you spend by yourself.

Do you have a favourite object that you bought on your travels, and what’s the story behind it?

I try not to have anything that conditions me. Also, in the past I‘ve lost things for which I had a certain affection, and in the end you end up not wanting to take care of any valuable object that’s easy to lose.

However, I always carry my Walden book by Henry David Thoreau with me. At any time I love reading a chapter, it always makes me feel good, especially if I'm in a stressful environment. I also usually carry a small wooden japa-mala on my wrist and a 5-yen coin around my neck that a Japanese friend gave me in San Francisco the day I left. I also carry pictures of my family in my wallet or inside the book. 

Photographs taken by Alejandro Llop (Thailand: Aug 2018; Chamonix: Jul 2018; Asturias: May 2018; Pyrenees: 2014-2018; Mongolia: Sept 2017; Canada: Jul, Aug, Sep 2016; Mali: 2010-2011).