Dude trades photography services for two years of free travel

Shantanu Starick hasn’t spent a dime in over two years; yet amazingly, he’s traveled to five continents and 15 countries. How'd he pull it off? 

Well, much like JT did with sexy, the Australian photographer is bringing barter back. He created The Pixel Trade, a blog on which he documents trading his photography skills for life's necessities. From weddings and wine bars, to high fashion spreads, if you score him a place to stay, feed him, and buy him a ticket TO his next gig (that's the weird part, you gotta pay to get him OUT of town), he'll take your pictures.

Or, if you really want him to shoot your ironic Gatsby-themed adult Quinceañera but can’t afford to fly him to Spokane (and he's not already booked), there's a section on his site that allows you and your friends (or just people from the same place) to pool their funds to get him to their city. Wheewwww, party pics!

Either way, so far the dude has made 184 trades and has taken pictures for some pretty big clients, including Brooklyn Industries, Tumblr, Vimeo, and Toby's Estate Coffee Roasters. And he's been taking advance bookings for a full year now. We had a chance to chat with Shantanu via email and -- despite the fact that he was a bit cagey in advance of an upcoming book -- this is what he told us about life trading pictures.

What prompted the idea of Pixel Trade?

“Like many ideas, it came at a moment you least expect a good idea to come. After that I just needed to act on it instead of sweep it under the carpet with all the other ideas.”

Okay then. So, you've been to 15 different countries -- any favorites?

“Ireland is a country that holds a special place. The people, the landscape, and the culture... the three main things you want to love about a place are why I love this place so much.”

And how does this trade thing work?

“Early in the project I would always have at least one trade lined up, and then find the rest while I was there. If I didn’t have a trade to move onto, the person I was with had to find me the next one. For over a year now I book out months in advance."

Let's be real, how much money have you really spent?

“Zero. I haven't spent a cent of money on anything from flights, to underwear, to toothpaste.”

What's an average trade?

“The ratio is pretty evenly spread amongst a lot of different industries, but one area that stands a little more above others are food related trades. I often enjoy these the most because of the vibes that follow the food, the lifestyle, and the attitude of what people believe is important.”

Do you have a favorite trade?

“One of the most memorable trades for me was the first time I arrived in Ireland and got picked up by Aisling [Aisling Rogerson, co-founder of Fumbally Cafe]. Her chef friend, Katie Sanderson was doing a pop-up dinner in the country, and when we arrived on-site it felt like a wonderland. A small, intimate group of people sitting in the most beautiful setting next to an ancient forest. The food and the love I felt from strangers that evening forced me to put my cameras down and lose myself completely."

Least favorite?

“I had an experience that wasn't so enjoyable in Berlin...”

Gotcha. Don't want to talk about, that's cool. Any outlandish stories to share?

“Flying in helicopters, riding horses, falling in love...”

Anyone, um, misunderstood the idea of a trade?

“Yes. These were the trades that were not so pleasant. Their mentality was that I was offering a free service. Very, very different.”

Has this project allowed you to see cultures differently from a “normal” tourist?

“Certainly, it's allowed for insights because I nearly always stay with locals. I get a local experience and live in their lives for a few days. I end up looking at nearly all situations as if I'm shooting for friends, and now have a great network of friends around the globe instead of business relationships.”

Any life lessons you can impart?

“The surprising thing about not using money for so long is the shift of attitude from what you think is valuable to what is actually valuable. We put a lot of emphasis on money because we believe it will give us security and provide a roof over our families’ heads. It does do that, but not in a very creative or fulfilling way. It takes the importance away from really connecting with who people are... In other words, most of the valuable things to me didn't involve money, they involve human connection.”

Want Starick to come hang out in your parents' basement with you and take pictures for your Instagram feed? Or just want to follow his travels and trades? Either way, click here.

Sophie-Claire Hoeller is Thrillist's associate travel editor, and she can offer words for trips. Follow her writing for dollars @Sohostyle.