Boarding Pass – Elisa Parhad

I’m so excited to introduce you to Elisa Parhad in today’s edition of Boarding Pass. Like myself, Elisa approaches travel as a designer, anthropologist and photographer. Elisa has been hard at work at a new series of books that really wonderfully incorporates these ways of seeing and showcases the mundane details of a place that most travel guides skip over. I’ll be sharing more from her first book, New Mexico: A Guide for the Eyes, later this summer for it’s official release. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy getting a little insight into how Elisa travels. {Thanks, Elisa!}
last trip taken:
I just returned from Japan.


next trip on deck:
Road trip to New Mexico to promote my new book, New Mexico: A Guide for the Eyes.

{New Mexico}
{New Mexico}

one place you would go back to again and again:
Mexico. It’s our neighbor, but there is so much I don’t know about the country. And, every region, like every state in the US, is so different. There’s a lot there to discover there…

{New Mexico}

place you’d most likely recommend a friend go visit:
Another neighboring country—Canada. We forget sometimes the exotic places in our own backyards. I still don’t know the eastern side very well, but the beauty on the western coast and islands is indescribable. I usually like to travel to see cultures different than mine, and while British Columbia has a distinct culture of its own, the old growth forests and the sea there make you realize how short a time the human race has been here. Sometimes we need that. Japan is a close second, simply for the unique culture and surreal innovation found there.


preferred method of transportation:
I absolutely love traveling by train. There is nothing better than staring out a window and watching the countryside or a cityscape go by.


place you’ve never been but dying to go:
Speaking of trains, I’ve been dreaming about taking the Trans-Siberian railroad across Russia and Central Asia—from St. Petersburg to Beijing. I think it takes about 2 weeks. I’ve also been curious about the Middle East, specifically Iran, Lebanon and Jordan.


place you’d never go back:
That’s tough, as most places deserve a second chance. In fact, I can’t think of a place I’d not return to to check out again if I had the time and money.


most memorable trip:
At 16, my family traveled together to visit Australia, my dad’s home. The mix of the gentle countryside, traveling with parents, and first time experiences (such as driving on the other side of the road and eating emu) at that age is not to be forgotten.


how do you prepare for a trip?
I try to do as much research as possible before I go. If there is time I try to read some fiction based on the place, and of course devour any guide, whether online or off. Blogs have been a great resource in the last few years to discover off the beaten path ideas. If I have lots of time in a place I could go with no itinerary, but I usually have a list of things I’d like to see and do, so I create a skeleton itinerary of transportation and destination cities and leave the days loose and flexible to meander and be spontaneous.

how do you record your travels when you’re traveling?
If I travel alone, I sketch, assemble pieces of found paper, and make lists of the things that stand out to me in my journal. Sometimes I just paste together little collections—buddhas from pamphlets I collect at temples, all the headlines in a newspaper, or cutouts of the cows found on milk cartons. Now my husband usually comes with, and we take photographs and I collect little pieces of ephemera—food labels, stamps, business cards, pieces of cloth, pamphlets, maps. We tend to be talking and laughing about our experiences during the time I would normally journal. So, journaling often happens later at home.

what is your favorite thing to photograph in a new place?
Signage, local demons and deities, mundane moments, new shapes and colors, objects of daily use. Generally, I stay away from taking pictures of the major sights simply because that’s what postcards are for. I’ll probably hate this when I’m older, but I also don’t like taking posed pictures of anyone I know, including myself. I’m usually looking for patterns in the environment. In Argentina, this was the blue arrows to tell the street direction, or “E” signs that indicate a parking garage. In Japan, this might be images of manga-style civil service workers, or the dog-lion creatures that guard shrines. I have large (and somewhat useless) collections of such categories. But lately I’ve b target=”_blank” een focused on capturing iconic images that help to create the unique identity of a place for use in my Guides for the Eyes book series. Everything from food to architecture to traditions to symbols, I “collect” as if I’m on a visual treasure hunt. I first make a list of 100 such symbols of a place and seek them out to document. So, on my last trip to Japan, I think I have a million pictures of things like tori gates, ramen shops, and characters like Daruma, the meditating Zen monk.

on an average, how many pictures to you take on a trip?
About 200 per day.


what’s in your “designer travel kit” ?
Envelopes to stuff with found items and ephemera, a Canon 40D digital SLR camera with plenty of memory, a black Canson journal (after losing a red one I’m terribly superstitious now and only use black ones), several different pens, and glue.


what do you do after a trip?
I try to journal and sometimes make collages, or paint squares of color that reminds me of the place. And, I try to organize my pictures and put them in a format to share (put them online or in a slideshow).
how long after a trip does this happen?
Sometimes on the trip, but otherwise I try to do it right after. Though I have been known to take two years to get through it all.


what do you make sure to explore in a new city or country?
I always spend time in grocery stores and stationary shops in each new place I travel to. This is where I make the best discoveries. I first was introduced to the charms of stationary shops in France where they sell the most beautiful ribbons in the world. They also had pens that had one tip for writing, and one tip that would magically erase its own blue ink. This still feels like an incredible find.


best last purchases on the road:
My last incredible find was colorful patterned masking tape made out of Japanese paper. Right now a stack of them are sitting pretty on my desk, but the company website has a million little ideas of things to do with them at And fabric. The small towels sold in Japan come in simple, graphic styles that make me want to both purchase and eat them.

More from Elisa at EyeMuse Books

More HERE for all the editions of Boarding Pass.


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