Meet the 'LoneBackpacker'

See the world at Adam Malis' gallery
By Stina Sieg | Sep 24, 2012
Photo by: Adam Malis

Adam Malis talks about travel the way some people talk about love. He never planned on it, but still it found him. And his life was never the same.

His first solo trip, backpacking through Europe, was an “accident,” he contends, a whim brought on by a friend’s suggestion. But before he even knew what was happening, the then-23-year-old was hooked — and hungry for more.
After that, “it was just food, really,” he said. “It was curiosity, really, about the rest of the world.”

Now, 18 years, 55 trips and 110 countries later, the photographer and father of two hasn’t lost his hankering for the road. He is simply channeling it in a new way. As the owner and sole artist of Depot Street’s LoneBackpacker Gallery of World Photography, he spends his days surrounded by images of his travels. From a baby lion in Africa to a romantic Greek village to a sweeping salt flat in Bolivia, these are the kinds of rich pictures that make people buy plane tickets. At least Malis hopes so.

“I want to show people images they’ve never seen or angles of things they’ve never seen,” he said, “and ultimately for them to want to go there.”

While some of his pictures are of famous spots, like England’s Stonehenge and Egypt’s Sphinx, many show locales people might never see otherwise. From an unpeopled Australian beach to a Cambodian temple, there are plenty of places pictured that never make the news. In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, Malis hopes the images ignite something in those who stop by.

“I think it would be fascinating for someone to say, ‘We just got back from Slovenia because of a picture we’ve seen in your gallery,’” he said.

This scenario doesn’t seem that farfetched to him — and not just because, as he joked, anyone who ventures to his end of Depot Street “is pretty adventuresome already.”

For him, taking that kind of inspiration and running with it is normal. He admitted that several of his global stops over the years were prompted by little more than a photo in a guidebook. Now he sees this as his chance to give some of that spark back.
He just “fell into” traveling, he said, explaining there’s no reason others can’t do the same. He believes the trick is all about getting through those first hours of not knowing what comes next.

On his inaugural trip, “I think my biggest fears were removed the first day,” he said, explaining that even as he checked into his hostel he could feel that being alone really wasn’t so scary.

Though he had only planned to stay abroad a few months, it ended up being six. That’s one of the great things about traveling solo — the ability to go wherever the wind (and fellow travelers’ advice) takes you.

That first jaunt, he and his point-and-shoot camera went everywhere from Liechtenstein to Jordan. On subsequent ones, the itinerary included everything from Swaziland to Serbia, and the journey lasted anywhere from five days to 18 months.
Always, he brought a camera, as evidenced now by his gallery’s walls of colorful memories. Going digital in 2003 was the real “turning point,” he said, explaining that his photography picked up massive steam after that.

But, even then, he didn’t see this gallery coming. As a young guy in the working world, he didn’t plan years in advance and only took jobs so he could save up enough to leave town once more. His goal was always $10,000, which he believes is still the magic number to visit pretty much anywhere in the world.

For years, his pattern was “work, save up, travel, spend everything, go home, start over,” he said. “And I did that five times.”

Regardless of whether his travel experiences were wonderful (New Zealand, Sri Lanka) or terrible (Senegal, Romania), he was left wanting more. Traveling tends to do that, even though, when you know so many places, the rush of the unknown is hard to find. At one point, the search for it led Malis to a boat bound for Antarctica. At another, he jumped at a chance to see North Korea.

“It was that feeling that I was looking for,” he said, describing the challenge of being in North Korea, a world so different from his own. “It was the feeling that you can’t sleep because you’re so excited — and not because you’re excited about any one thing. You’re just excited.”

But that was years ago. Now, married and a father to a toddler daughter and baby son, Malis knows it’s not time to find that jolt again. It’s time to cool his heels and see what kind of a difference he can make in the world, while staying on this side of it.
Through his photos and through his story, he’s not trying to show off what he did. He’s trying to show others they can do it, too.

“The next step is trying to figure out how to use my experience of traveling around the world to benefit someone else who wants to do the same,” he said, pausing for a moment. “Even if it’s just through looking at pictures.”

To learn more about Malis and his travels, visit, call 550-8105 or meet him in person at gallery at 94 Depot St. Though he and his family will soon be traveling in Europe together, he’ll be participating in October’s “Art After Dark” art stroll, from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5.

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