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Why The Selfie Stick Is Ruining Travel

I’ve learned a lot of lessons in my four months in Thailand so far, and I’m certain there will be more to come in the next 4 months travelling to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia. For instance, always bring toilet paper with you on long trips, never ever ever think for once you can handle Thai’s version of “spicy”, and always barter for a lower price – they are 100% charging you the “farang” price. But one of the most important things I’ve taken away from Asia is to put the camera down every once in a while.

Sure, this is something I’ve been aware of for quite some time. It didn’t take a trip through Asia to figure out that life is much better spent enjoying it instead of recording it, but I don’t think I’ve been confronted with it face-to-face as much as now. I mean, I’ve literally been whacked in the face with a selfie stick in front of the Opera House, but it hadn’t quite hit me yet (no pun intended) how vain travel has become.

I have thousands and thousands of videos and pictures from trips dating back to 2011 on my computer. Majority of them I rarely think about, and almost never go back and look at. Yet, when I travel, I feel the need to take 8 pictures of the same scene. Why? Because we can. Now with high definition cameras built into our phones, we can take pictures of absolutely everything and anything whenever we want to, and we seem to take that liberty a little too far. Ten photos of my breakfast, 42 pictures of my elephant trek, 160 videos of scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef. Sure, we want to remember every moment of the greatness. I would hate to look back and not remember the vivid colours, exotic fish and friendly elephant that I encountered, but how many pictures do we really need?


Sam taking selfies at the Great Barrier Reef

Since travelling through Asia, I’ve seen more selfie sticks than I ever want to see again in my life. Selfies at the airport, selfies at the beach, selfies eating breakfast, group selfies at a sacred religious monument. It’s become a running joke between Sam and me to see how many people taking selfies we can try to fit into one picture while at a landmark or tourist attraction. And the funny thing is, I’ve asked multiple groups of people along my way if they wanted me to take their photo for them, and I was turned down. The selfie reigns supreme.

It’s really made me think about my own habits and tendencies of taking pictures while traveling. Is life meant to be lived to the fullest only if you can capture that moment and share it with the world? Can I not concentrate on being in the moment and taking in the beauty without thinking about how awesome this shot would be for Instagram? Granted, I get paid to work as a Social Media Manager. I get compensated hotel rooms and tours for my own social media and blog, and I also enjoy the sharing of experiences. But it’s time I put the cameras down once in a while and drink it all in. I need to stop living my life behind the lens of a camera.


Selfie in the Florida Keys

Think about how our parents used to travel. If they were lucky, they would buy an expensive Kodak disposable camera with 30 pictures to take, go get the pictures developed and pray to God they turned out. On top of that, you had to travel around with these photos or cameras in your luggage and hope they don’t get ruined. I asked my Mom recently how they decided on what pictures to take when they traveled through Europe in college. She simply said, “You had to choose carefully the memories you wanted to remember forever.” Think about that for a second. While we mindlessly snap 14 shots of our muesli and fruit (#fitfam) for breakfast, our parents could only take one shot of the Eiffel Tower and hope for the best it came out. They didn’t take the picture to showcase their lives in a vain sequence of Instagram shots. They took it because that was the memory that would be ingrained in their thoughts forever. They made each and every picture count, and I think in return, having less opportunities to document their memories made their travels more memorable.


Back in the day with my parents

Maybe we won’t be so blasé about seeing some of the greatest landmarks on earth, if we sat and truly drank it all in, as opposed to running around like a wild goose chasing for the perfect picture. Don’t you think 600 pictures of the same place devalues the experience and the memory? Imagine being our parents looking back at their travels with the most meaningful (and possibly) only picture from India or Italy or Chile. And then when we look back, we can’t even find our pictures in a our masses and masses of external hard drives because we’re too excessive.

I think another thing I’ve learned about how travel has become so vain (in large part due to the selfie stick revolution) is that people no longer care about the scenery, unless they’re somehow involved. Sam and I walked around one of the most beautiful White temples I’ve ever seen. I was in awe and wonder of the silvers and whites and murals and statues. We were near these two French girls, who took pictures of themselves every single step of the way. I swear every time we turned around they were taking a new picture with the temple. It’s not even a picture of them with the temple, it’s a picture of the temple with them. I feel people don’t even care about what they’re actually seeing, and only care about how they look next to what they’re seeing. When we were trekking to a waterfall and were shocked at its beauty (the largest waterfall I’ve ever seen), all I could think to myself was “are these people really seeing this thing?! It’s magnificent!” Because all they were doing was taking selfies for 30 minutes.

“Do it for the picture” has become the motto of the modern day traveler, and it’s really truly sad.


Contemplating the whole “selfie” thing at the Great Ocean Road

Now, I’m not going to say I’m not to blame. I love capturing moments more than most, but after such a long time on the road, I’m beginning to understand the importance of being present in the moment and keeping a few memories for myself. Sharing these moments with my boyfriend or my family and not the rest of the world. I know this trend in travel isn’t going to stop anytime soon, and it’s becoming more and more prevalent as viral videos push the desire to do stupid things to get “famous.” I hope for myself that I can take a few steps back and ask myself “Do I really need a photo of my lunch? Do I really need to bring my camera today? Can I share these memories by the written word or story telling with my family?”

There’s this popular phrase that goes, “Pic or it didn’t happen.” Well I’d like to argue by saying if all you did was take “pics” did it really happen? Let it happen. Let life happen without documenting every second. Get out behind the camera, be present where you are and keep a few memories for your eyes only. I promise it will make your travels mean that much more.

What are your thoughts on the selfie stick revolution?

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  • Reply Dan August 21, 2015 at 12:58 am

    Really great post KP and so true!

    Because I usually travel solo I have got so used to taking way too many photos because I felt I had taken it in quickly and then could snap away a good hundred photos just to delete them a week later.

    It’s actaully been traveling with someone on this trip that made me realise while I was doing that and searching for the perfect angle they were just enjoying the perfect moment! Big lesson to learn and you summed it up perfectly.

    I’m certainly having more days when I just leave the camera in the hotel from here on in

    • Reply KP Schwan August 26, 2015 at 12:42 am

      Thank you! Glad you liked it 🙂

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