There are many famous roads known all around the world, such as Route 66. Then there are the lesser known trails and roads that lead to places such as Long Tieng, the Secret City - more on this below. Jungles hide dirt roads, mountains have dangerous spiraling lanes begging to be driven, and other roads can lead you from one country to another.
The biggest road in the world can take a driver, and their passengers, from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska right down to the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, for a steak at La Cabana. The Pan-American Highway is this road, and it holds a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest motorable road in the world at around 30,000 kilometers.
Two things that all the world’s wonderful roads and trails have in common is that they are all crying out to be driven on and traveled along, and they all have their moments when it comes to photography.
Why combine travel and photography?
Last year saw travel being severely restricted in many countries and states due to the pandemic. Many people like nothing more than to get in their car, truck, or on a motorbike, and just cruise.
Others like to hit the road on foot and walk or hitchhike to new destinations. Whatever a person’s preference for traveling, there wasn’t much of it happening last year at certain periods.
Photography goes hand in hand with traveling. While some people may prefer to remember the places they go in their heads, a lot more like to record them with a camera. In fact, ask many travelers about taking their cameras with them on a trip and they will say that they always have them to hand.
For many people, recording the experience with a camera is an essential part of my journey. Of course, if you are driving then pull over before you start to click away.
Why roads specifically?
If you consider a journey in the most basic terms, you wouldn’t get anywhere without a road. Even if you fly, you need to drive to the airport first. Going by sea? Got to get to the port first.
The great roads are more than just functional, however, the really interesting ones can be dangerous, beautiful, long, empty, dusty, or even forgotten.
Here are some of the world’s most beautiful and interesting roads and tracks that can be traveled. And yes, taking a camera is essential.
The highest road in the whole world
The Border Roads Organization took it upon themselves to build the world’s highest motorable road. That means that there are possibly higher roads, but you really shouldn’t try driving on them. So don’t.
To give you an idea of just how high this road is, Everest is 29,000 feet tall. The road at Umlingla Pass in Ladakh is situated at an altitude of over 19,000 feet.
Building the road is a testament to the engineers and construction workers, as the temperature and oxygen levels are certainly not ideal. Getting a snap of yourself on this road will certainly be a talking point, but wrap up warm. The temperature can drop to minus 40.
Discover a secret city leftover from the Vietnam War
While Laos welcomes tourists mostly with open arms these days, it shouldn’t be forgotten that they are still Communist and like to keep much of what goes on a secret.
What also shouldn’t be forgotten is that they have a very dark history in what is still very recent times for them. During the Vietnam war, the US made a habit of routinely dropping bombs indiscriminately across Laos as they sought to stop the Pathet Lao from helping the North Vietnamese.
Lao people have a history of using caves to avoid attackers, and the same happened at Vieng Xai. For nine years, the rebels sheltered here away from the bombs of the US. Now, bike riders can enjoy a highly scenic route from the tourist area of Vang Vieng through villages and mountains to Vieng Xai.
If the City of Victory doesn’t appeal then how about a different trail to Long Tien, the Secret City? This is where the CIA made their headquarters during the war, and if you choose the right tracks you will find remnants of the war such as an old tank on the way.
Taking the most beautiful roads is sometimes better than the destination
There are some roads that are just so dramatic that you might be forgiven for not wanting them to end.
The Million Dollar Highway in the US has spectacular scenery, but it also has sheer drop offs and needs to be taken with caution. That said, if care is taken, some good photography can be taken, even while on the move.
Glencoe in Scotland is one place where as much as you might like the journey, you won’t mind stopping to take in the breathtaking views. It wouldn’t be surprising for someone visiting this area to drive through it and then turn around just to do it all again.
Glencoe is the site of a historic battle between two clans, and legend has it that the sun never shines on parts of the Glencoe where the McDonalds were massacred by the Campbells.
From a photography point of view, the area is a delight. From a driving point of view, it's hard to beat. Twisting turns through the Highlands is hard to beat.
What type of camera should you get?
For someone with a keen sense of travel and photography, it would probably make sense to obtain a DSLR or a mirrorless camera.
If you find yourself on Al Hada, one of the most beautiful roads in Saudi Arabia, with nothing more than an old camera phone, you might kick yourself.
If you are a biker, it might make sense to invest in an action camera too, such as a GoPro, to record your journey while on the go. For car drivers, you will have to stop unfortunately to get your snaps, so an entry-level DSLR might suffice for a beginner or perhaps even a bridge camera.
Taking shots while on the move
If you plan on taking shots while on the move as a passenger, then you will need a little patience to get past the limitations of this activity.
Sometimes as a passenger you will be unable to request the vehicle stops. The road may be too dangerous, you might be on public transport, or there may be a high level of traffic. Whatever the reason, there will come a time when you have to take a snap or risk missing the moment.
To get the best out of this you will need a high shutter speed. 1/400th should be the minimum you use, and ideally, you will get a faster speed. This will help with landscape photos. You will also want to have a small aperture, somewhere around f/8.0.
If it is safe, and only if it is safe, open the window for best results. Be aware of your surroundings both inside and outside the vehicle before you do this.
Taking a drive across your own country can be an amazing way to expand your understanding and knowledge of your own culture. Taking it further by exploring forgotten tracks in Laos can also be enriching.
While taking a camera is an essential part of many people’s trips, safety is also paramount. While exploring the far-off lanes of Southeast Asia, beware of landmines and consult local help. When taking photos, think of your surroundings, if it is too dangerous, then just enjoy the view as you are taken past beautiful scenery, on unknown roads.