The best (and most obvious) travel advice I’ll ever give.

Posted on
Nov 30, 2009

You probably know what I’m about to tell you already. It’s painfully obvious. But it’s so damn important, I figure it needs to be said.

Take lots of photos.

I know, I know – this isn’t news, you’re thinking. She must be really hard up for something to write about, you’re thinking (and okay, you wouldn’t exactly be wrong about that. I’ve been home for the last three weeks, and my cup isn’t exactly runneth-ing over). But as I’m going through my numerous Flickr sets, I’m beginning to realize something.

Travel is all about the memories. And the memories are all in the photos.

Ugh. Sorry. That was a bit of a Hallmark moment there. I try and stay away from those. The thing is, no one returns from a trip thinking, I should have taken fewer pictures. Souvenirs are well and good, but photos … well, photos are kind of everything. And so many people I know take far too few of them.

It goes just beyond assembling boring slide shows for your friends (to the causalities of “Our Weekend in Reykjavik” and “A Day in Palo Alto”, I am truly, truly sorry). They create a visual guide to helping you remember a trip and a city. Loved the restaurant you stumbled upon in the backstreets of Venice? Take a picture. Saw an outfit you loved (and hope to re-create when you get stateside, using cheaper pieces)? Snap a photo.

To take inspiration from the always-brilliant Beyonce, if you liked it then you shoulda taken a pic of it.

Or ten pics, for that matter. It’s not like you’re wasting film. I know that there are times when your camera might be out of commission, and that, dear friends, is no excuse (check out my guide to memory-making when your camera is kaput). And when your camera is in tip-top shape? Here’s a quick list of things to remember so you’ll have a great set of photos on your hands.

  1. If you aren’t a pro, there’s no shame in using the auto setting. Because nothing is worse than finding out all your vacation photos are blurry and too dark, just because you wanted to pretend you were Richard Avedon for the day.
    This photo of my husbands grandfather and an affectionate cat should have been awesome.

    This photo of my husband's grandfather and an affectionate cat SHOULD have been awesome.

  2. Take more than one pic. It’s not like you’re wasting film – snap a few extra and you’re bound to have one you love.
  3. Bring extras. Specifically, bring your charger (or a spare battery), and an extra memory card. They take up virtually no room, and you can snap away without worry.
  4. Take pics now, delete later. Scrolling through your photos not wastes your time (and your battery, too). You can go through and delete photos later, like when you get home.
  5. Ask someone to take your picture. Quit being shy – it’s your memories that are at stake here. Ask someone who looks trustworthy (or at least, who doesn’t look like they could outrun you) to take your photo – bonus if they have a big camera and look like a photographer. And ask them to take more than one while they’re at it.
    Cute photographer girl in London took this pic of us. The only problem is my double-chin, which I suspect I cant blame on her.

    Cute photographer girl in London took this pic of us. The only problem is my double-chin, which I suspect I can't blame on her.

  6. If you think it, snap it. I can’t tell you how many times in the past I’ve seen something amazing and thought, “I should take a picture of that.” AND THEN NOT TAKEN A PICTURE. There’s no reason for that.
    Admit it: Youre totally psyched I took a picture of this pointless thing.

    Admit it: You're totally psyched I took a picture of this pointless thing.

  7. Take your camera with you. Mine is always in my bag. Sure enough, the ONE time I left it at home, we were driving in a busy Seattle neighborhood and had to stop because – I kid you not – three chickens needed to cross the road. They followed one another single file and up the front stairs of a house across the street. Not only was I unable to take a picture – I neglected to roll down my window and shout after them, “WHY?”
  8. Don’t be self-conscious. If you’re sheepish about your photo-taking, you’re only going to draw more attention to yourself. If you photograph tons of stuff, and do so boldly, you’ll actually look less like a tourist and more like someone on a mission. Which – let’s face it – is far, far cooler.
  9. Set your auto-timer. In a place that’s totally deserted? Not a soul in sight to ask to take your photo? Then perch your camera on the flat top of a trash can. Or a window ledge. Or even a hedge. Set your auto-timer, and relish in what will almost certainly be hysterical results.

    The photo that immediately follows this is entitled, Running towards camera because HOLY CRAP its about to fall. Self-portrait with auto-timer, 2009. (And no, you dont get to see it).

    The photo that immediately follows this is entitled, "Running towards camera because HOLY CRAP it's about to fall." Self-portrait with auto-timer, 2009. (And no, you don't get to see it).

  10. Don’t forget to pull your head out of your … viewfinder. I know – sounds counter-intuitive, right? But every once in a while, remember to look around and actually see what it is you’re photographing.

Like I said, none of this is a suprise, and yet, it took me years of traveling before I realized that I needed to take more photos.

Oh, and one last thing. Those cheesy, often-over-exposed, you-can-only-see-our-heads-and-we-could-be-anywhere photos that people take of themselves at arm’s length?

All you need is Rand. Bump-ba-ba-buh-ba.

Those are awesome.

Leave a Comment

  • +1 for #9. Without auto-timers we would never have had the squirrel photo.

  • OMG I can NOT believe you missed the opportunity to find out once and for all why those damn chickens were crossing the road!! I will probably never have that chance, since I don’t (typically) travel to places where there are chickens. Or maybe I do, but the chickens are just all out doing other things at the time.

    Seriously though, this is a good reminder. I almost always have my camera in my purse, but I almost never remember to actually use it. And when I do, I’m always the one taking the pictures, so I’m never in them. I love how those at-arms-length photos other people take of themselves look, but I hate my own, I think because my arms aren’t long enough and they always look like a close-up of the inside of my nose.

    I know there are people who think I don’t actually exist, because there are almost no pictures of me, except for ones my parents have of me as a kid. But from now on I VOW to be better at this. 🙂

  • Agree whole-heartedly on the self-portrait. We have hundreds. Often we try to squeeze three or four or five people into them. It only makes them awesome-er.

    Also, in photographer circles (at least the ones my professional-photographer bro-in-law travels) the act of scrolling through and deleting shots from a digital camera is called “chimping.” It’s my Word of the Year for 2009.

  • But it’s just so much easier to look cool with a real fancy camera, the kind with crazy zoom and a huge bag to store it in. Funny, I’m always self-conscious about taking photos. Must learn not to care.

  • Geraldine

    Candice – I have a big, fancy camera, and it makes me far less self-conscious that I would have normally been. But people with small cameras should not be ashamed. SIZE DOESN’T MATTER, FOLKS.

  • As for the pic that goes with #5 – that’s not a double chin – those are dimples.

  • Geraldine

    Ah, Laura – it’s comments like that that make me love you even more. Even though, you know, dimples are on the sides of my face, and the double-chin is underneath. Still. LOVE.

  • zal

    Speaking of Reykjavik, if you ever get a chance, watch the movie “The Girl in the Cafe”. From the movie/television references that I’ve read so far, i think you’d enjoy it. Bill Nighy gives an excellent performance.

  • Kitty

    I usually take good pictures, i’m not a photographer but I do have an eye for it. But I love showing my holiday pictures to my friends, and the picture they enjoyed the most was a picture of the claustrophobic toilets on top of the Eiffel tower. People who haven’t been where you have been are very curious and want to try to see the place as if they had been on the trip with you. So never be afraid to take ugly or ridiculous pictures, you’ll have a great laugh when you get home.

    My guess anyway, is that we NEVER take enough pictures.

    I’m still waiting for someone to invent a smell-capturing device, now that would be awesome.

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