We all dream of abandoning the 9-5 and traveling the world. We might even start packing our bags, only to come across that inevitable stumbling block: lack of cash.
But recent college graduate Richard Tilney-Bassett found a way to travel the world without paying for accommodation, travel or food.
The freelance photographer offers up his camera skills to clients across the world — in exchange for lodging, sustenance and a plane ticket.
The only rule? No exchange of money involved.
From its humble beginnings in Tilney-Bassett’s native UK, the project, dubbed The Glass Passport, has gone global — with the photographer covering everything from the Uganda International Marathon to yoga classes in Germany.
Escaping the everyday
Post-university, Tilney-Bassett was working in an office job, feeling unfulfilled.
“I had gone through the ‘I’m not sure what I’m doing with myself’ process that I think many people go through,” he tells CNN Travel. An aspiring photographer, Tilney-Bassett felt certain there was more to life than his monotonous routine.
By coincidence, he stumbled across the work of Australian photographer Shantanu Starick. Starick was in the midst of a global odyssey he called The Pixel Trade — traveling to all seven continents, trading his services along the way.
The concept stuck with Tilney-Bassett. When he eventually left his job in 2016, he decided to follow in Starick’s footsteps. “My own version from the the other side of the world,” Tilney-Bassett calls it.
“I didn’t know how to be a photographer or to support myself as a photographer,” he says. “But this was a concept that allowed me to pursue it full time, and travel and work for myself.”
In the beginning, Tilney-Bassett had very little photography experience: “I didn’t have a portfolio or a network,” he remembers.
His first jobs came from word of mouth, through friends and friends of friends.
Trade number three found the photographer traversing the Highlands of Scotland, journeying over the sea to the island of Skye to photograph for tour company Highland Explorer Tours.
He captured mist-ridden shots of Skye’s moody mountains and sweeping views of glens. “We listened to our guide Tony account the histories of the country as he weaved the bus through the Highlands,” recalls Tilney-Bassett.
The early UK-based projects allowed Tilney-Bassett to build up a reputation:
“It’s given me the opportunity to build my confidence and ability,” he says. “Which has helped scale the project up from the UK to bouncing around Europe to other continents.”
The European jobs were varied and diverse.
“You’ll switch from a wedding to portraits to food photography and being creative,” says Tilney-Bassett. “I think that variation certainly helps massively.”
“I’ve been honing my personal style and learning to adapt it to what the person I’m trading with requires and what would help them.”
Tilney-Bassett name checks time in Berlin spent photographing an improv comedy group, documenting the lives of yoga instructors in Nuremberg, Germany and collaborating with footwear brand Keen in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
The terms of the trade stipulate that Tilney-Bassett provides photographs in exchange for accommodation and travel and food. The photographer says the system has so far been successful.
“There’s no hard and set rules as to how we make it happen, as long as it’s not coming out of my pocket,” says Tilney-Bassett. “There’s trust involved that’s not created any problems yet.”
Tilney-Bassett says staying at people’s homes is mostly enjoyable — and many of the collaborations have lead to lasting friendships.
“More often that not the very nature of them being interested in the project means that I get on well with them,” he says.
The finished photographs are as varied as they are striking.
In Geneva, Switzerland, Tilney-Bassett photographed Manuela Consoli salsa dancing under the Jet d’Eau fountain.
The atmospheric shots captures the spontaneity of Tilney-Bassett’s project.
Meanwhile in Uganda, the photographer covered the Uganda International Marathon, which was particularly memorable.
“Using my rucksack to strap myself to the motorcycle driver, I bounced around the course to photograph the mix of local and international runners that took to the red roads of Uganda,” he says.
Materialism versus minimalism
Does Tilney-Bassett’s quest represent the supposed millennial preference for experiences over material things?
Certainly the project is grounded in Tilney-Bassett’s desire to travel. Earning money or buying a house is not on his radar.
“The priorities were getting out in the world and doing more and more of the work I wanted to do,” he says. “I realized that earning lots of money wasn’t really an essential part of that.”
While the rules stipulate that Tilney-Bassett can still spend money, he says his needs and his desire for material goods have vastly decreased over the past year.
“I started the project with the camera stuff I had, the suitcase I had — it’s now been a year moving around, not really being in the position where I’m shopping for anything — and not needing to,” he adds.
The photographer shows no sign of slowing down — his project is gaining more exposure. He’ll be heading to New York in September as the Glass Passport visits the United States for the first time.
“The broader goal is to see if I can reach every continent,” Tilney-Bassett says. “I’m very much carrying it on and going further afield with it as well. There’s much more to come.”
Interested in trading with Richard Tilney-Bassett? Contact the photographer at TheGlassPassport.com