Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Thing About Traveling Alone-Pt. 1-No Photographer

I travel with friends, with family, with acquaintances turned friends, and sometimes alone. Recently in D.C. I have been traveling, or maybe more appropriately, doing tourist activities, alone. Being the D.C. lone tourist makes me lazy, I don't visit as many places as I have the potential too. Some afternoons have turned to visits to the mall instead of tourist D.C., simply because it's more comfortable, and easier to do than traveling alone. Not that I don't like traveling alone, I do, sometimes, but not always. Once a while exploring a new place alone is quite lovely, but continuously being alone in a new place is not so enjoyable. In this post series, I write about the good things, and also the slightly lonely things about being a independent traveler.

First and foremost, there's no one to take pictures for me. (Selfies!)

So let's begin with the more straight forward and easy to understand issues for the lone traveler. I like taking pictures, and I like being in some of my pictures as well. I'm shy about asking people to take pictures for me, so in the end if you see an album where I don't make appearance in full form but just in a few selfies, you know I traveled alone. I try and combat this issue with two methods:

A. Skillfully using the timer function for my phone's camera
B. Making myself ask someone to help me take a picture, and I really have to give myself like a half prep talk half threaten talk before I actually ask someone to take a picture for me.

Using the timer is sometimes awkward too, a lonely girl, smiling, not moving, what is she doing? Oh, she's taking a picture. You would first have to find a safe, flat surface to set your camera, and I prefer places where there are hardly any people so I don't have to stand there smiling at nothing (I don't see a photographer). When during the 10 second countdown people suddenly appear and ruin my plan for my timed photo, I quickly look at my watch, or my bag, or a pigeon, as if nothing is happening at all. "No, I'm such walking towards my phone and bag over there, I was following a strange bird a few seconds ago, you see." And below is the perfect example, the people who ruined my times photo are in there too. "Oh don't mind me, I'm just looking for my wallet."

"Oh don't me, I'm just looking for my wallet."

When I travel with a friend however, the awkwardness lowers a lot and the two of us can use the timer function together if we are both shy about asking strangers to help take pictures, and smiling at a phone set on a random surface is much better and less awkward when you do it with a friend.

Regarding the prep talk/ threaten talk, I am shy; I am shy about troubling the random passer by to take a picture for me, and there is no appropriate surface, or there's too much people to use the timer function. "Mel, you know a picture here would look so pretty, and you're wearing a pretty dress today too! Go on, ask that friendly looking lady there to help you take a pic, you believe in the good of the world, she wouldn't mind at all." The friendly prep talk later turns to threatening talk if I still wander around the area, still shy. "Melissa, seriously, what is wrong with you? You can't even ask someone to take a picture for you? How will you do great things in this world if you can't even ask someone to take a picture of you?? If you don't ask that person there, NOW, you go home, no more museums for you today." Yes, I talk to myself, silently in the mind of course.

I had to force myself to talk to someone to help me take this picture! (DC National Gallery of Art)

Being an iPhone user, I am very happy with my phone's photo quality and it has recorded wonderful memories for me. The thing is, not everyone is good with using the iPhone--the lack of a solid button baffles some people. A light touch of the screen takes a good shot, but when the person who you have chosen for the important task does not comprehend that, they give a long, solid push to screen, which results in Burst Mode. That is, the camera takes a thousand pictures continuously for the period of time your finger is on the screen. They will tell you, "I am not sure if I took the picture..."Indeed, there was not the light "snap" sound that announces a successful picture, instead, a stream of dozens of pictures have already been taken. You smile and say politely, the picture(ssssssss) has been taken, thank you very much.

Of course there is always the selfies, but sometimes it's a bit akward, say, in an art museum, to selfie. I try and limit them, and when I do take a selfie I reach out as far as I can go to get a good angle so that's it's not just my face, but actually me and my favorite art piece. Mirrors are an unmissable opportunity for the selfie person, clean, big windows work very well too. I have taken some excellent selfies in mirrors I must say. It is important that a selfier follows selfie courtsey and does not occupy an reflective surface for too long, so that other selfiers can take nice pictures too, whether they selfie because they are lonely, or because they engage in the art form even with companions.

Below I shall showcase some of my most outstanding selfie works with the aid of creative reflective surfaces and phone timer.

"The Gallery of Successful Selfies" 

with the aid of creative reflective surfaces and timer

At Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam,
Yakoi Kusama's artwork was made to be taken pictures with using mirrors.

At 美人塾 Cafe at Taipei, Taiwan, the bathroom mirrors were so cute they should be photographed.

At Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, this artwork makes it a bit trippy...what a mirror, and what's not?

Biking and selfing on a big clean glass window in Rotterdam

Using the timer function in an empty dorm room, where there are flat services and no passer-bys.

Which brings us to how important it is to have someone travel with you, like a personal photographer, you know? Of course, a travel companion is more than just a photographer, but that is something we will talk about in another post. Some travel companions make extra good photographers, those who are willing to take pictures again and again until it is up to your standards. Someone who shares some visual aesthetics with you is extra helpful, they know what you think would look nice and help you achieve it, usually close friends and some family members.

My sister is an excellent personal photographer that she can take happy pictures for me like this.

So, tell me, be honest, has the lack of photos troubled you as a lone traveler? Have you ever had difficulties with asking other people take your pictures? I'm sure you're not shy like me *wink* At least you shouldn't be shy to leave a comment and join the discussion and like me on Facebook!

Oh, and I was on a radio show called Border Crossings, you should listen to me on air, find the link to the episode on my Facebook page HERE. I was there not because I'm famous, but because the DJ is super friendly and we have offices on the same floor. He's a wonderful person to have a chat with.


  1. Hey Mel, I travel alone a lot too. Last year I visited Switzerland and Austria for over a month, this year I'm, going to San Francisco for two weeks and Houston for a month. Anyway I just wanted to share my opinions with you, dear Mel. I totally agree with you about the inconvenience of the no photographer part. And another thing is how I mostly eat at take-outs, from the supermarket, or from street carts, instead of sitting down and having a nice meal at a restaurant because I cannot finish the large portions by myself, and it's really hard to order for only one person(plus I can save money this way). Another downside about traveling solo, especially if you're a girl, is safety concerns, you know how it can get creepy sometimes if you happen to wander into the wrong neighborhood or stay out too late. Which is why I always return to my hostel after it gets dark outside. But aside from the above, I simply LOVE traveling alone! I am always free to go anywhere, anytime I want, and eat, do, buy whatever I please. Ah well, I have been keeping up with your blog and I really enjoy it :) I am going to move my old blog to blogspot after you inspired my so much. Hope you are well, dear, and hope we can catch up sometime and bake something together :D Lots of love <3

    1. Joy what you say is what I will be writing about soon!! The restaurant problem is something I have faced many times, whether or not I'm at some foreign country, even at home it's awkward to go to a nice restaurant alone. Lots of Love for you too, thanks so much for your support Joy dear, it means a lot to me <3

  2. Hi! I don't mind traveling alone but like the above poster, eating out is the hardest part! I like to try new foods, restaurants, etc. and always feel awkward going alone. By the way, my husband and I went to DC in May, we LOVED it!