Michelle Starin

Photographer & Writer

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En route, but anchored to everyplace I’ve ever seen the sunset.



Q: In 200 characters or less, why do you want be part of #PassportToAsia?
A: It’s the confidence of a community that lets us leap from steady boats into unknown waters. I’ve felt like @passionpassport is my little group and I can’t wait to do more leaping with #PassportToAsia.
Q: In 200 characters or less, tell us which of the following monkey attributes best describes you: Intelligent, curious, quick-witted, versatile, or mischievous. Why?
A: I bowed out of my NYC life to pursue love, land & the study of my dad’s Nikon-F. I surely ruffled some feathers when abandoning expectations, but I’m mischievously curious and the world needed seeing.
Q: What is your creative pursuit? How might #PassportToAsia play a role in developing it?
A: DI tell stories! This year I’ll be completing a book highlighting the role libraries play in global communities. Through short interviews and photos focused on human and non-human elements, I’m showing that even the tiniest, dustiest shelves create a real-life community for those who need one. #PassportToAsia means being surrounded by other creators in a region that has taught me to listen more closely to myself. The perspectives from new places and creators will give this project so much heart!
Q: Why is travel important?
A: I wrote a version of this response that described a trip to Vietnam. The story described my realization that my “successful” life in Brooklyn felt unfulfilled. I then went on to tell you that traveling fixed all of this. But, I sat with it for a while and realized that it was a lie. “Travel” didn’t fix anything.
The fact that my heart wiggled and jiggled and changed its beat when I left Brooklyn and made the decision to see more is what started to change things.
And this is why travel is important. The leap you make when you decide to do it punches you in the stomach. It grabs your face and knocks on the wooden door of you heart and screams at you to listen.
It’s dangerously easy to live our lives worried about things that, arguably, do not matter. Parking tickets don’t matter. Parking tickets and poorly manicured lawns and runny eggs when you wanted them firm. These things don’t matter.
Love matters. Love and breath and people and fear and kindness. These things matter.
When I left Brooklyn I resolved to live my life more openly. I wanted to allow myself the freedom to let my heart choose. And choose, it did. I booked a ticket to Guatemala, but two days before leaving realized it was Cambodia that was calling for me. So, I re-booked, re-packed and landed in SE Asia on a moment’s notice. Before that trip, I thought traveling meant learning about a culture through museums, tours and sites. I did my fair share of immersing myself in other places, but what I missed was making sure to feel the heartbeat of a new place.
The heartbeat matters. This is travel.
Travel is sitting on the end of a dock in the rain before jumping into a crab boat to help the Khmer fishermen weed out the dead crabs. It’s swinging from a tire swing that breaks and dislocates your elbow. It’s drinking too much rice wine, eating too many winged bugs plucked from a lamp overhead by a new local friend. Travel is forgetting the person who commuted to a job that made her sad and remembering the person who dances under the moonlight at weddings on the beach with rural families you may never see again.
There are times I think the most important thing about travel is that it opens you up. But, I often find it hard to believe that travel is only about ourselves. One of the most important things I’ve learned is the sense of community that experiencing something new creates, both in the moment and far away. I’ve made the most important connections of my life while sitting on rickety buses, but my travels have continued to bring me close to people long after I’ve returned. I’ve shared stories and photos with friends that I’ve yet to meet in-person and I’ve been inspired to use my experiences and photography to create something more tangible to share with other people.
Travel is a strange bobsled of experiences and feelings and the best thing we can do to make sense of it is to share it. Travel is important because it is so very shareable.
My experiences have not all been perfect. I once projectile vomited in front of seven Indian men and tried to make things less awkward for everyone by screaming, “bad palak!” over and over again as an explanation. They mostly pretended it hadn’t happened, which was the right thing to do I think.
Travel can be disgusting. Dirty and dusty and angry. But it is my beating heart. And I think a beating heart is so very important.
And so, I sit here finishing my application in a tiny room in a new city trying to beat the deadline because I was too busy drinking beer and looking at stars and chewing on my cuticles while wondering who invented money with little plastic windows in the paper.
I sit here knowing that if I am chosen to participate in this trip, my life will be forever changed. The same way it’s been forever changed in a hundred other ways through travel. Life breathes in and we breathe out and the world keeps spinning and the absolute best thing we can do for ourselves and the people we love is to continue to feel.
And that’s why travel is important to me. Because it reminds me to feel.

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