BOARDING PASS – Troy M. Litten


Designer, art director, photographer, and world traveler Troy M. Litten started his website 15 years ago to share his love love of travel, photography, and design. I can’t remember if it was his website or one of his travel journals that I first discovered, but both were a huge inspiration in both the creation of my blog exploring how we travel, and my travels themselves. In the manifesto of his book Wanderlust, Troy notes “it’s not about getting there, it’s about all the fun you can have along the way,” as he captures the mundane, often overlooked details of travel and combines them in interesting ways. After taking a few years off from his travel series to work as a Senior Art Director at Apple, I’m so happy Troy is back with his newly, cleverly designed Troyland and account on Instagram (@troylitten). He has 20 years of archives to pull from (now I’m dying to see his system for organization), and two new Wanderlust journals scheduled for release Spring 2014, and I can’t wait to see what is still to come. Thanks, Troy! –Anne

TLitten_TroyAtPetraPetra, Jordan, December 2012
Wanderlust series of books, journals, postcards, notecards, and more by Troy Litten, published by Chronicle Books.

home town:
Findlay, Ohio
GOOD MORNING WORLD / Ah, the coffees I’ve known.
where you live now:
Since completing design school in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1989, I’ve lived in London, Dublin, Hong Kong, and New York, and now call San Francisco home.
BUTTONS TO PUSH / The buzzers and bells of Istanbul, in varying states of utility.

last trip taken:
Six weeks in the Middle East: Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia.
SMILING AT THE CAMERAMAN / Trailing the tour groups in Hanoi.
TLitten_RomanHolidayROMAN HOLIDAY / In search of a drink in Rome.

next trip on deck:
I’m planning a trip to Myanmar in December, very excited about seeing this part of the world before the tour buses start rolling in.
TLitten_64WindowSeats64 WINDOW SEATS / Somewhere between departure and arrival, one of my favorite parts of a journey.

one place you would go back to again and again:
Bangkok for the wonderful food, colorful markets, welcoming people, and always-interesting big-city sights and experiences.
SAFETY FIRST / A front row seat for the pre-flight entertainment en route to Vietnam.

place you’d most likely recommend a friend go visit:
Cuba, simply amazing!
CUBA COMMERCE / Smiling shopkeepers in Havana.

preferred method of transportation:
I love riding trains wherever I go – there’s something uniquely inspiring about sitting back and watching the world rush by through the window of a speeding train while sharing the experience with other travelers.
NIGHT TRAIN TO YEREVAN / Riding the rails in Armenia, first class. All hail the old Soviet stock.

place you’ve never been but dying to go:
North Korea, but not until the country opens to independent travel (cautiously optimistic). And Albania because it seems like such a forgotten country and I don’t know anyone who’s ever been there.
TROYLAND TICKET TUESDAYS: KOLKATA / Indian bus tickets printed on re-used scraps of paper.


TICKETS TO RIDE / All aboard with these colorful transit tickets from around the world.

place you’d never go back:
Bali, definitely a beautiful place but IMHO suffering from the worst aspects of rampant tourism.
DANGER! / Skull and crossbones signs from around the world.

most memorable trip in 2 sentences or less:
I was on a hot, dusty, crowded, bumpy, and incredibly uncomfortable bus in Rajasthan, India, when all of a sudden the bus rounded a bend and before us was a long, barren, winding road and a long line of women in brightly colored saris carrying water jugs on their heads. It was a beautiful, simple sight, and one of those moments that remind me how much I love traveling, regardless of the discomforts and difficulties.
TLitten_AccidentallyOnPurposeACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE / Film fun in Prague, 1991. I intentionally double-shot a roll of slide film – first pass historical architecture, second pass groovy graphics and signage.

how do you prepare for a trip?
I usually do some initial research to get a sense of a new place and what I may be interested in seeing, but I prefer to keep my itinerary flexible to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
TLitten_CultureClashCULTURE CLASH / Some crazy clashing patterns in play at Hotel Rif room 21 in Chefchaouen, Morocco.

how do you record your travels when you’re traveling?
Lots of photos! I also collect all sorts of ephemera as I travel, from tickets to postcards to interesting packaging I find along the way. I write a lot while on the road, sometimes in narrative, sometimes just lists of things I see that interest me (I carry a small notebook and pen that easily fit into a pocket).


TRAVELING CHINA WITH A GLUESTICK / Spreads from my China scrapbook, 1992.

what is your favorite thing to photograph in a new place?
Over the course of many years of traveling I’ve created a number of series of things I’m always on the lookout for: public telephones, figure signs, interesting cars, neon signage, public transportation and signage, markets, coffee I drink, meals I eat… Also, each new place I visit always presents something to document I wasn’t expecting, such as buzzers and bells in Istanbul, building number signage in Tbilisi, and old tile work on the streets of Lisbon.
TLitten_TbilisiByNumbersTBILISI BY NUMBERS / Beautiful old street signage on the buildings and houses of Old Town Tbilisi.

on an average, how many pictures to you take on a trip?
I returned from my recent 6-week trip to the Middle East with about 180GB of photos on 22 memory cards. A lot!

THESE BOOTS WERE MADE FOR TRAVELIN / Six weeks, five countries, one pair of shoes… Middle East 2012-13.
what’s in your “designer travel kit” ?
I now travel with the fairly small and compact Canon G15 camera. Over my last few trips I’ve found the Canon G series to be the perfect combination of features, image quality, and portability (I prefer to remain as unobtrusive as possible when taking photos). I carry small journals for writing and documenting along the way.
TLitten_LovelyLisbonLOVELY LISBON / Azulejo tiles on the streets of Lisbon. 

what do you do after a trip? how long after a trip does this happen?
First I edit and organize my photos and collected “stuff”, then just see what jumps out at me and take it from there. I created a travel photo blog on my website so I can quickly share the results. Some photos get added to existing series, some end up sparking ideas for new wall art pieces or publishing projects – this can take days, months, or years to realize. I’m currently doing a deep dive into my archive of 20 years of past trips and finding lots of interesting photos and ephemera to share, much of which no longer exists thanks to the march towards global modernization/standardization.


NOODLES IN JAPAN / A steaming bowl of shitake ramen and gyoza in Tokyo.

favorite souvenir/thing to bring back?
A better understanding of and appreciation for the countries and cultures I’ve experienced.


WALK DON’T WALK / A collection of figure signs from around the world.

how did you become crazy about travel?
It kinda just happened. Growing up, all I knew of the world was northwest Ohio (with a few family forays into adjacent states with the camper, and the requisite trip to Disney World). Then I spent a summer backpacking around Europe as a student and was hooked. After graduation I lived and worked in London for a few years and explored more of Europe, then in 1992 I spent six months traveling through Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, Scandinavia, Russia, China, and Southeast Asia. I’ve hit the road as often as possible since…

DINING IN THE CHEAP SEATS / Flying coach used to be so much more gratifying…

do you have any tips for settling into the pace of the places you’re visiting?
Wander with no specific destination in mind. Visit the markets in the early morning. Smile at people you pass on the street. Rent a bicycle or motorbike and head out of town. See an opera or a symphony from the cheap seats. Ride the subway and/or buses to the ends of the lines. Loiter about in train station cafes and restaurants. Ask a local for directions. Learn some of the language and use it, no matter how many people laugh at you.


TO THE MARKET BORN / Exploring the Sunday Tarlabasi Market in Istanbul.
TLitten_MarketMatronsMARKET MATRONS / Hanging out with the ladies of the Didube Market on the outskirts of Tbilisi.

how do you choose your destinations?
I like to visit places that are off the mass tourism radar. These could be countries or parts of the world that are somewhat forgotten, considered too off-the-beaten track, or just opening to independent travelers such as Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, Cuba, Georgia, Uruguay, and most recently Myanmar. When visiting places that are better known as tourist destinations I’ll consider recent events to time a visit, such as India in 2001 when conflict with Pakistan was in the news and there were far fewer tourists in Rajasthan, and Vietnam the year after the bird flu epidemic which dissuaded many visitors.
FLIGHT DELAYS / Sleeping it off at the airport.
how do you choose the images you use in the Wanderlust series?
Choosing images for my Wanderlust work is difficult at times, I have accumulated so many photos and so much travel ephemera over the course of my travels and I’m my own worst editor! Each piece in the Wanderlust series has presented unique opportunities to utilize my material. For example the Wanderlust Phone Book address book is the perfect place for my series of photos of public telephones from around the world. In the Wanderlust Travel Journal I chose to focus on HOW we travel, instead of places we travel TO, so I used photos, ephemera, illustrations, and text that revolve around global modes of transportation (primarily air, train, subway, and bus) that allow the user to connect with the travel experience while creating a journey of their own regardless of destination.
TLitten_TransitoGraphicoTRANSITO GRAPHIC / Transit signage graphics drawn from photos collected throughout my travels.


BOARDING PASS is a regular column exploring the creative ways people see the world and record their travels.


// Find me on Instagram + Twitter! And sign up to take my MAPS or InDesign classes on Skillshare! //


  • July 23, 2013 at 12:53 am // Reply

    Loved this Boarding Pass–and he is totally correct in that the world is changing quickly and I bet he has a treasurer trove of pictures of pictures from areas of the world that has undergone tremendous changes.

  • Wow I’m super impressed! What an awesome way to document traveling and interesting details from around the world. Like you, Anne, I wouldn’t mind seeing his system for organization ;) And I spot some wonderful Typography of Travel too. Fabulous!

    • I already am a paper hoarder, and have more brochures, postcards and maps than I need (which get pretty beat up in my purse pretty quick) — hence this project is even more amazing to me ;)

  • AMAZING!!!! How wonderful is his way of recording? Just love everything here…. can you get the lovely Troy to teach a Skillshare class?? ON ANYTHING….

    OMG, I’m going to have to bookmark this and come back to it over and over and over again.
    Thank you Anne and Troy for this massive inspiration. Much appreciated:-))

  • So happy to see this profile of the amazing Troy Litten. I love his eye, his sly sense of humor, and his infectious enthusiasm for everything about the journey… from the mundane to the sublime.

  • Wow, I bought & loved a set of the Wanderlust postcards over 10 years ago – I’d never explored the creator of the series. Great to read this!

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