This is What 20,000 Miles of Hard Travel Does to a Camera


This is what 20,000 miles of hard travel by thumb, foot, van, and train does to a camera.

My name is Mike Quain, and I’m a photographer based in Arkansas. Beginning in 2014, I hitchhiked and train-hopped for two years working on my first photo project, called The Nikon Kidd, a photo essay focused on the current generation of American vagabonds and travelers.

During my travels, I photographed and interviewed dozens of hitchhikers, hobos, street performers, and travelers while I thumbed my way around the country. That’s not what this is post is about.

This post is about not being afraid to use your camera. I shot my entire project on a little Nikon D3300 with no weather sealing and a 35mm f/1.8 lens. This combo has been with me through sandstorms, rainforests, and salty ocean spray. It just won’t die.


I’ve woken up next to it, covered in dew. It’s been frosted over. I’ve dropped it off moving freight trains and down steep embankments and I think I lost the lens cap somewhere on Interstate 40 two years ago.


Too often I hear people make excuses for why they left their camera at home. Maybe it’s the rain, snow, cold or heat.

Under an overpass in Kansas
Under an overpass in Kansas

No amount of abuse has ever bothered my Nikon. Sometimes when it gets wet, the rear dial stops working, but it’s fine after it dries out in the sun. This is a camera with no weather sealing.

A campsite in Forks, Washington
A campsite in Forks, Washington

What I’m saying is don’t be afraid to get out there. Your camera is a tool that works best when you use it to capture photos that nobody else will. Your camera can take abuse and so can you!

P.S. I take no responsibility for cameras broken as result of this advice.

About the author: Mike Quain is a photographer based in Arkansas. He began his photography career in 2014 by traveling through 30+ states and across 20,000 miles, photographing the modern American nomad. A photo essay of the project can be found here. In August 2016, Quain quit his job to photograph full time. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, and Behance.