The World Through the “Camera Eye” of Scott Dicken
By Lani Gering
Many of you loyal readers will recognize this guy. His photos and writings have been appearing on the pages of the Old Town Crier every month for the past few years. This month we took the time to interview our resident travel columnist, Scott Dicken, author of Take Photos, Leave Footprints. I met Scott several years ago when he was a single guy reporting to one of my BFF’s after transferring to DC from London. She was working in the DC office of the UK-based Crown Agents at the time. We have since become friends as well.
Being a Brit, he has that charming accent and wry sense of humor that most English people possess. He is definitely a good guy to invite to a party! As I have gotten to know him and his beautiful wife Ashton on a social level, I find their adventures quite entertaining and I thought you all might like a bit of insight to his love of travel and what inspired him to establish his travel blog, TakePhotosLeaveFootprints.com.
OTC: Tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired your love of travel.
SD: I grew up outside of London. My summers typically incorporated the family’s annual vacation, and throughout the year, my friends and I organized weekends away whenever low-cost European airfares and hostels afforded us the opportunity. It wasn’t until a month-long expedition circumnavigating Iceland when I was 17 that the travel bug truly bit hard. This led to month-long trips to South Africa and Chile in between university semesters. I wanted my career to include travel opportunities, and that decision resulted in me moving to Washington, DC (which explains my predominantly English writing style, but occasionally Americanized spelling and grammar). Now with an American wife in tow, my job takes me around the World. In any month, I could travel to any combination of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the South Pacific, Europe, and Latin America. My holidays are similar – my wife and I like to vary continents each year and to push our vacation allowance to the limit. This has taught me that it’s possible to travel the world and visit new places with just a limited vacation allowance and a whole lot of desire!
What’s your favorite country?
Second to “how many countries have you been to?” this is probably the question I get asked most often. It’s also the one I most struggle to answer.
Each country is so different and there are certain aspects about a lot of individual places that I really like; making it near impossible to give a definitive answer.
However, if I was really pushed then I’d probably say Namibia. I’ve spent a few months in Namibia and no matter how many times I visit I still get the same giddy excitement I got as kid the first time I visited Disneyworld. The diversity of landscapes and cultures means that every morning you wake up to a different experience.
What is your favorite on-the-road moment?
Honestly, I don’t have one. Sometimes the simplest of things, like a good glass of wine and some arancini sitting in one of Rome’s many squares can be the highlight of a trip. On other occasions I’ll go well out of my way to capture a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience. That said, some of my most memorable travel moments that always spring to mind include:
- Gorilla trekking in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park
- Witnessing sunrise over the Maasai Mara in Kenya from a hot air balloon
- Summiting the World’s highest free-standing mountain, Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
- Successfully reaching Everest Base Camp in Nepal
- Free diving with sea turtles in Samoa
- Witnessing the scale and majesty of Victoria Falls in Zambia by helicopter
- Canoeing and wild camping in the Okavango Delta in Botswana
- Descending from South Inylchek glacier in Kyrgyzstan by former soviet army helicopter
- Witnessing sunrise over Petra, Jordan
- Driving the entire length of India in a motorized rickshaw
- Watching the sun rise over the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, Cambodia
- Scuba diving in some of the most bio-diverse waters in the world in Egypt
- Witnessing a voodoo ceremony in the Voundoun capital of the world; Ouidah in Benin
- Mountain biking through the national parks of Swaziland (now Eswatini)
- Experiencing the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, Tanzania
- Cooking Christmas dinner for 30 people whilst camping on the Torres Del Paine Trekking Circuit in Chile
- Diving with sharks off the coast of Fiji
What’s your favorite city?
Outside of the two cities I’ve lived in for any significant amount of time (London and Washington D.C.) I’d have to say Rome, although Hong Kong ran a close race. I’ve visited Rome several times and had some amazing experiences. There’s obviously a huge number of sights to see, but Rome is more than that. Half the reason I love Rome centers on the cultural experience. There’s simply nothing better than spending an afternoon eating your way around the city followed by an evening sitting in a piazza drinking wine. It’s the ultimate form of relaxation and self-indulgence.
What keeps you sane on the road?
I always find this an interesting question because it’s the road itself that keeps me sane. Travel writing and blogging is a hobby for me. Unlike a lot of other travel writers and bloggers who are living the dream, I spend a substantial portion of my time sitting at a desk. Thankfully, my work takes me out on the road for about 3-4 months each year (at least it did before the pandemic), most often to Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Without those regular departures from the office I imagine I’d go stir crazy.
When have you been most frightened or least enjoyed travelling?
I feel lucky that my travel experiences have been 99% positive and without incident. However, there’s always that odd occasion when you just wished you were elsewhere. For me, those rare occasions include:
- Surviving an attempted armed mugging in Johannesburg, South Africa
- Surviving an attempted armed mugging in Cape Town, South Africa
- Being admitted to hospital in South Africa when my ear drum was about to burst (apparently, I don’t have much luck in South Africa, but don’t let that put you off visiting!)
- Being the most ill I’ve ever been, and being unable to leave bed for three days, after contracting food poisoning from street food in Bogota, Colombia
- Accompanying my wife who was medically evacuated by helicopter from Everest Base Camp with Acute Mountain Sickness (in retrospect the chance of flying past Everest in helicopter is now a highlight)
- Crashing a rental car into a tree whilst trying to evade a charging rhino in Namibia (it was an expensive day)
- Sleeping on the roadside in remote rural India when I couldn’t find anywhere to stay for the night
- Waking up with a rat on the end of my hotel bed in Vietnam
- Sleeping outside on the floor of Keflavik airport, Iceland overnight having been thrown out because it shut (my internal connecting flight didn’t leave until the next morning – it was a cold night)
What’s the best souvenir you’ve come home with?
I took a wife back from the US to the UK – does that count?
What’s the worst meal you’ve had on the road?
One particular meal comes instantly to mind! On a road trip in northern Vietnam, I stopped for lunch in a tiny remote village that only had one place to eat. Unfortunately, that place had hosted a wedding that same day and its cupboards were completely bare. As we stood faced with the prospect of having to drive a couple of hours to the next decent sized town, one of the kitchen staff emerged from the back of the restaurant with a blood-filled plastic bag in their hand and a giant grin spread across their face.
“We have some more meat” he exclaimed in Vietnamese.
A conversation ensued between the ‘chef’ and the Vietnamese members of my party, following which the chef retreated to the kitchen.
“What are we having” I asked my friend.
“You’ll see” he replied.
Already fearing the worst my heart sank when our centerpiece arrived. A giant rat with head still on the plate. I can honestly say I have never tasted anything quite so ‘musky’ in all my life. It certainly didn’t help that the rat eyes remained fixed on us throughout the entire meal!
What’s on your bucket list?
Pretty much anywhere and everywhere that I haven’t already been! Some of those at the top of that list include:
- Exploring the Nubian Pyramids of Sudan
- Exploring Antarctica
- Catching sunrise over Bagan in Myanmar
- Trekking Bhutan’s high trails to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery
- Witnessing the Northern Lights in Finland
- Photographing polar bears, reindeer and artic foxes on the Svalbard archipelago, Norway
What Is One Tip You Would Give to Others About Traveling?
It’s good to plan, but make sure you leave time to go off script and get lost. It’s often those unscripted moments that you’ll look back on most fondly.