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How to Travel the World on Trade

By Linda Knittel

There’s no denying that Australian-born photographer Shantanu Starick was a “success” even before he achieved such an impressive goal. He was making good money, creating work that his clients loved, and pursuing his own creative projects on the side. But something inside was tugging at him—he was antsy. He longed to travel, but to do it in a way that challenged social norms. He wanted to prove that world travel isn’t relegated to the rich, and even more importantly, he wanted to inspire others to find creative ways to pursue their deepest passions.


He longed to travel, but to do it in

a way that challenged social norms.


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So in June 2012, Starick set off on an experiment he called The Pixel Trade. The idea was to visit all seven continents, trading his services as a photographer for life’s basic necessities: shelter, food, and transport to the next destination. Forty-one months later he completed his final ten-day trip to Antarctica, having done it—visiting every continent without spending a cent of his own money.

Calmful Living talked with Starick about what his adventure taught him in relation to himself, humankind and the trappings of money.

What exactly did you receive in exchange for your work as a photographer?

Food, shelter and transport: the three necessities to achieve the project goal. Sometimes I needed a jacket or shoes or something completely random, and I’d ask if the trade that was being organized at the time could include this item or object along with the necessities.
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How were most of your meals served to you?

In every size, shape and form. I ate out in restaurants as much as in people’s homes. It was a luxurious lifestyle. It was always rather ironic to me that I lived and felt like a king because I stopped using my money.
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Give us an idea of your client list.

I worked for architects all over the world, fashion labels, florists and musicians. I shot weddings and editorial, and worked for startups like Vimeo and Squarespace. The list goes on and on.
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What work are you most proud of out of all those shoots?

As the saying goes, “You are your worst critic.” I am incredibly harsh towards the work that I do and am almost never content. So when it comes to feeling good about work I’ve completed, it all comes down to the clients’ reaction. If my trades were really happy with the photographs, then I felt good about it and slept well at night.


“The relationships I made during The Pixel Trade focused

almost solely on human connection and creative exploration.”


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What are some of the biggest aha moments you had in regard to humanity as a whole?

The big aha moment for me was when I reflected on many of the relationships I had created via trading, and how different they were to the usual client exchanges. The relationships I made during The Pixel Trade focused almost solely on human connection and creative exploration. These factors can often come last in the “normal” interaction with a client. This showed me that when we start thinking about the connection with people and leave money aside or make it secondary, we experience a whole knew way of working professionally with each other.

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What place that you visited had the most impact on you and why?

Ireland became a place I called home because I fell in love with a group of people, the landscape, culture, everything. I ended up in a relationship for the last year and half of the project too; so you can imagine this fueled my desire to be there even more.

What work are you most proud of out of all those shoots?

As the saying goes, “You are your worst critic.” I am incredibly harsh towards the work that I do and am almost never content. So when it comes to feeling good about work I’ve completed, it all comes down to the clients’ reaction. If my trades were really happy with the photographs, then I felt good about it and slept well at night.

What are some of the biggest lessons you learned about yourself?

What really came up a lot was the ability to adjust to new people, environments, homes, hotels, temperatures and time zone changes. The first time in four years I spent longer than two weeks in one bed was in March of this year, almost six months after the project’s completion. Adaptability is the biggest lesson.

How has your relationship to money changed?

I now see a very free and fulfilling life without direct association with it. I still value money, but as it has been said many times, I try to make it work for me instead of me work for it. Let it be said that I am certainly no saint with this. I still find myself making decisions around money because of what I think it is giving me. It is far less frequent, however.

What advice would you give someone wanting to travel the world as you did?

My advice is somewhat of a paradox. Don’t listen to the advice of others; just get on with it and learn for yourself. This doesn’t apply in every instance, but for this question I would offer that as advice.

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Tell me about your forthcoming book regarding the project.

The book is a personal insight into my world during the project. I don’t want people to think this was a walk in the park, because it was not. I made a lot of mistakes; so did the people I worked with. The book is about sharing how it actually was and not how I wanted it to be. The Pixel Trade was a project, but because it was 24/7 for almost 3½ years, there was no way I could separate my personal life from it. The two things blended together to create a rather unique environment in which the strangest of things occurred.

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What’s next for you?

Plenty. Like most, I have ideas flowing from my ears. I’m working on the next few projects and prioritizing which ones are most important at this stage. I continue to travel the globe and work as a freelance photographer, mixing trade and money into my existence as much as I can. I’m hoping to spend more time in one bed this year, but so far that isn’t happening.

To see more of Starick’s images from The Pixel Trade or to learn more about his upcoming book, visit thepixeltrade.com.


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