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Steve McCurry stands among his photographs, including his most famous, "Afghan girl," in the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Hamburg, Germany. (Photograph by Ulrich Perrey, Corbis)

Travel Lens: Steve McCurry’s World

Through the eyes of Steve McCurry, a camera has telescopic powers.

His pictures reflect the essence of the world’s most elusive cultures. In the 1980s—disguised in native garb and armed with a bag of film—he delved deep into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Along the way he captured the portrait of Sharbat Gula, a green-eyed refugee girl who became a global icon after appearing on a cover of National Geographic.

In the decades since, McCurry has documented conflict zones such as Beirut and Tibet and explored endless frontiers, from Italy to Myanmar (Burma) and India (where he has traveled at least 80 times).

Here he shares his angle on the nomadic life in his own words:

Candid Camera: Travel has to be a free flow—an improvised voyage to discovery. Getting into a routine kills serendipity, and travel becomes too much like work. You have to budget time for random wandering.

Lens Crafting: Finding focus is about being in an open frame of mind.

Try to walk around a new place by yourself. As soon as you’re with somebody else, inevitably the conversation will turn to something other than what you’re doing at that exact time—say, what you had for dinner—and you’re not having the fullest possible experience.

You need to be in the moment, observing.

(Non) Stop Motion: When I went to Burma 20 years ago, it was so insular, it felt like going back in time.

India has opened up, too, with cell phones everywhere. Highways have improved. Every man on the street used to wear a turban; now you see more baseball caps.

Regional differences in customs and dress are coming to an end. Yet there are still surprises—that’s the delight of being alive.

The world evolves. Change is a force of nature.

Dolce Vita: If there were one country—the last or the first—to visit, there’s no place like Italy, with its art and style, its food and wine, its landscape, its layers of history.

Umbria is a great microcosm of the country, similar to Tuscany but less visited.

If I could be anywhere, I would be wandering through the Cinecittà studio in Rome—a fascinating piece of Italian film history—or just walking through Trastevere.

You can’t lament the fact that you’re going to share an experience like the Trevi Fountain with several hundred other tourists. You have to make the best out of the situation.

Viewfinder: After years off the beaten track, I don’t see much distinction between a hotel in Seattle and the alleyways of Lhasa, or Ethiopia, or the Pantanal in Brazil.

I see more interconnectedness than separation.

Katie Knorovsky is an associate editor at National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow her on Twitter @TravKatieK.