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Yes, we travel to explore other cultures and to intelligently answer life’s pressing questions, like “Who has the best coffee — Costa Rica or Indonesia?” (The question is moot; the winner is Vietnam.) But we also travel to see the jaw-dropping beauty that’s everywhere…except Manila. And one of the benefits of being a post-2008 traveler is that we have a camera with us at all times. Thanks Obama! As gorgeous as our travel pics are, nobody wants to go home with no record of themselves at the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal.
But traveling alone is more popular than ever. I’ve been taking international trips solo since no one would go to Toronto with me in 2007. Their loss, Eh? But I have good pictures of myself all over the world. And with these solo travel tips, you can to.
Take Better Selfies — Ditch the Selfie Camera.
Smartphone selfie cameras suck. Unless you have an LG V10, which I saw a lot of in Asia, don’t expect great pictures from the front-facing camera. Yes it’s awkward, but if you use the rear-facing camera, you’ll get better resolution. The trouble is, you can’t see what you’t taking a picture of. This takes practice, but the end result is worth it. I took this grainy picture with the selfie camera, and I will regret it till the day I die. Exaggerating. A little.
Update: I recently upgraded (slightly) to a Nikon Coolpix digital camera to get better zoom and lowlight pics than my iPhone 5s can handle. There’s no learning curve like there is with a DSLR, and it’s waaay cheaper.
Take multiple shots.
Burst is best. Just press down the shutter longer. If the camera’s on timer, you get a burst of shots too. Getting more pictures to chose from is never a bad thing. I have a disorder where I always blink precisely when my picture is being taken. The burst is my friend.
Use a tripod and timer.
Since I only have an iPhone, I use a GorillaPod for Smartphones. I have this thing with me always. Always. I can get a tripod selfie anywhere the spirit moves me.
I haven’t bought a bluetooth remote yet, so I sometimes just use the camera timer on my phone. But I also have the 3-2-1 Camera app. It has a multi shot setting that helps get a variety of pictures timed several seconds apart. I haven’t tried too many different apps, but this one works fine. It just takes pictures in a wider format with a poorer resolution than the built-in camera.
Recruit someone to tag along. Or to lead the way.
I stay in hostels because I’m cheap and because when I stay in a traditional hotel, there’s a 99% chance I’ll curl up in the bed all day watching Conan O’Brien clips on Youtube. Most of the friends I made on the road were hostelmates who invited me to hang out with them or vice versa. Cris, the manager of an awesome cabin hostel in El Nido, the Philippines, took this picture of me on my iPhone after we hiked to the waterfall. He also took the picture from my home page. He understood my drive to win Instagram. I think we’re soulmates.
Read about my hits and misses making friends around the world here.
Ask a stranger to take your picture.
I know right now you’re thinking “No way!” but hear me out. Just offer to take someone else’s picture first (like a couple who wants their picture taken together) then ask them to return the favor. You’d think theft would be the biggest worry, but the real problem will be clueless picture takers. You’ll have to be specific about what you want in the photo. I had a man in Budapest take a picture of me in front of the gorgeous Hungarian Parliament building with absolutely zero of the building visible. It’s all asphalt and feet. The lady who took this for me was acting as her own art director while her husband took pictures of her. I knew she’d see my sunset silhouette vision.
I’m a Pinterest trip planner. Before I go to a new city, I search for pictures of that place on Pinterest and Instagram. That’s how I found out about the umbrella street art in Águeda, Portugal. And the Blackbird State Forest just 10 minutes from where I live in Delaware. Pick out some places ahead of time and add them to your itinerary.
Pack pretty things.
Yes, packing light means coordinating colors to minimize the number of pieces you’ll want to take. But those pieces don’t have to be all beige and gray. I traveled for one year with a carry-on sized roller bag and a small backpack. And not one piece of drab clothing. So in my pictures, I look like myself and not like an arctic expeditioner. Pack that thing that you love to wear. And wear it. Your camera will thank you.
My carry-on-only packing tip is to use packing cubes. Compress your clothing, take a smaller bag, save on baggage fees. Use the money you saved on travel souvenirs…like more clothes!
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Go at the right time of day.
It ain’t just called Golden Hour because that’s when the Leprechauns take their naps. Sunlight around sunrise and sunset will give you the prettiest selfies.
I know how hard it is to look exquisitely ethereal after you’ve taken a ten-hour overnight bus ride over the Queazy Canyon. Let good lighting be your cheat.
See my favourite sunrise photos from around the world here.
Follow me on Instagram @Vaycarious.
Selfie obsession is totally acceptable there.
Alright Travel Buddy, you’re ready to master photos for one on your next solo vacation. Now book your trip and get the best selfies on Instagram. Or maybe the second best. 🙂