Learn about the secret life of Alex Duffner, a photographer who beats his fear of flying by travelling on a cargo ship.
Alex Duffner, a 27 years old photographer and proud owner of the Facebook page On trails, where he shares photos of cityscapes and travellers from around the world. As the son of a tour guide, firmly believes travelling is in his blood.
Growing up in Thailand, Alex Duffner moved to London to study at Goldsmiths University, where he got the opportunity to explore different art fields. It was a year of experimenting before Alex Duffner goals were clear. “I chose to study design but the programme focused on the process rather than outcome. Most importantly, how you communicate your ideas through different mediums like videos, photos, writing and web-design,” he explains.
Soon after, life on a cargo ship began. Just as curious as everyone else, we discuss his story from the beginning.
Can you share with us the moment you decided to travel by cargo ship instead of a plane?
The one incident I can’t forget which is imprinted in my brain was when I flew to Koh Samui, Thailand. There was a huge storm, we couldn’t land, the turbulence was so heavy that we had to fly back to Bangkok. That’s how it all began and the fear grew gradually. After that moment, I only travel by cargo ship, train or bus.
Travelling by cargo ship sounds like an interesting experience, what was this like?
My first trip from Singapore to Hamburg was booked with Hamburg Süd, a German company that specialises in cargo ship travel. There are only 5-6 seats per round trip so it costs more than travelling by plane. It’s not so bad after all since the accommodation is very nice and it feels like an adventure. We went through a situation similar to the movie Captain Philip in the Somalia area; there were pirates capturing a small boat next to us and we heard everything on the radio. Luckily, we were fine and I should have written this story on my blog (laughs).
Has travelling by cargo ship helped you overcome your fear of travelling?
The first time it was for necessity as I’ve always been scared of travelling. However, once I travelled by ship, I saw how easy it was. Everyone on the boat was so supportive because I was the youngest person on board at that time.
How would you describe yourself?
I’m an approachable guy but sometimes I can be shy but I always have the desire to talk to people or take photos of them. Another word is innovative; I always come up with new ideas all the time. When I walk around I see things, I think like how I can make it better.
What’s your most memorable trip?
My trip to Mongolia with the Trans-Siberian Train.Originally, I didn’t plan to go but it was an idea to stop there for 5 days but I ended up staying for 2 weeks.
I met new friends at a hotel who told me how good it is to travel in the desert. Plus, I have never been to a real desert before, so I thought ‘why not!?’ I went with 4 people who I just met in the hostels and they were crazy yet fun travellers from Germany. They hitchhiked around the world with a low budget of 200THB a day (US$6) with 1 tent.
We became very good friends in the process as we were the only 4 people in the horizon. Mongolia is a remote place and we were surrounded by nature; it was an interesting and humbling experience.
Do you have like a travelling style or routine during the trip?
At the start, I planned a lot with go-to lists and checkpoints I needed to visit. I soon realised it wasn’t as fun so now I plan one day ahead and everything happens spontaneously.
I was in China with a French guy who introduced the concept of hitchhiking. A Chinese guy offered us money to take the train but they didn’t understand the concept as it’s not about the money but the raw experience.
Also, I love to stay with local people as you learn different ways of living and cultures. Couchsurfing is also a very good application for making a short stay with the natives without a cost. It’s kind of a culture-exchange experience because when I’m home in Thailand, I open my house to travellers.
From all your travelling experience, can you tell us more about your photographs from your journey?
Normally I take photos of landscape, skyline and rooftop because I was too shy to take photos of people. About a month ago, I started taking portraits in Myanmar. All you have to do is smile at them and they will smile back. They will be very happy especially when you show them the photos.
Do you have messages you would like to communicate through your photos?
Nowadays, there’s a lot of negativity with bad news on social media. so I want to show that there’s a lot of good in the world. I’ve never had bad experiences during my trip, it might sound like I’m exaggerating but it’s true and there are reasons beneath that fact.
If you are a negative person, you will always notice all the bad things. Likewise, if you are a positive person, you will see the other side of the story; the goodness, the uniqueness, the purity of human and nature.
As a photographer, I would like to show good sides of people and places out there that have not been discovered. Especially in Russia, some people might think it’s an unfriendly and cold country but I disagree. I was lost in Moscow and 2 ladies helped me find my hostel even though I have no idea how to speak Russian.