TRAVEL: The balance between getting the perfect photo and actually experiencing your trip


So this post has a long title, but I think it’s an important subject. Warning: This may be long. The inspiration for this post happened when I was talking to my sister (who recently returned from Jamaica, lucky duck) and she mentioned she hadn’t taken very many pictures.

I can relate. I have very few pictures to show from my 3 days in Nicaragua and perhaps even less from my 2 week stint in the Dominican Republic. Not because I forgot my camera, but because I consciously made a decision to quit living “behind the camera” and actually experience where I was. Now, when I look back at the pictures, I do wish I had more photos, but I don’t regret making that decision. I distinctly remember standing on a bridge on the Dominican Republic/Haiti border and making a decision to put my camera away and just experience the moment.

Anyone I know who’s traveled a few times has this issue. Your first big trip all you want to do is take pictures. You’re in some exciting place, everything is new and you want to document all of it. That’s fine. Once you have some travel under your belt you find trying to document absolutely everything keeps you from being totally present and actually becomes a nuisance. So you put your camera away and end up with no pictures. You look back later and regret it. Maybe you blame someone else. Truth is, you’re the one who decided to take a step away from the camera. You can regret it, or you can own it and make a conscious decision to live in the moment.

So how do you find a balance? I’d like to say I’ve figured it all out, and maybe I have, but the truth is the balance is going to be different for everyone. Here’s some suggestions and a few words of caution if you’re going to try this:

1) If you’re in a group and all of you are taking the same pictures, just get the pictures from someone else when you get back. Just make sure to ask them to  get you in some of the pics.

2) If you find yourself feeling like you have to document every second for someone who isn’t there just STOP. This trip is about you, you’re the one experiencing it. Focus on being present and really truly enjoying your adventures. You’ll have better stories to tell when you get back and you’ll be thankful you were fully present. When you really think about it, sure you look at other people’s pictures when they get back from a trip but you look at them once, maybe comment on them and you’re done. Pictures should be for you, you’re the one who can look back and recall the memories that go with them.

3) If you’re at some landmark that you just want to sit and stare at because you either can’t believe it exists or can’t believe you’re actually there or even that something could possibly be that beautiful…..take a few snaps when you first get there and then PUT YOUR CAMERA AWAY. Do you really need 50 pictures of the same exact thing? You might feel like you do, but you don’t.  Review your photos, make sure they’re not blurry, make sure there’s one with you in it and then sit back and enjoy the view while everyone else snaps away madly.

I probably took a gazillion pictures of Arenal Volcano. I was absolutely mesmerized by it. If I did it again, I'd quit after the first 10 or so and just enjoy it!

I probably took a gazillion pictures of Arenal Volcano. I was absolutely mesmerized by it. If I did it again, I’d quit after the first 10 or so and just enjoy it!

4) Document the daily life of the city. You can find a gazillion pictures of tourist hot spots online, what you can’t find are the pictures of locals going about their daily life, small things that are different that you find interesting. Actually get to know the place.


1) Have a good quality camera. A few good quality pics are much better than several hundred grainy ones. Invest in a good camera and use it wisely! Don’t borrow your mom’s old camera because no one will really care if you lose it or it gets stolen….it probably takes crappy pictures. If you know you have good pictures, you’ll be less tempted to take a ton of them.

2) On that note, and especially if you’re into adventure travel (or waterfalls) think about investing in a water-proof camera. I can’t tell you how many times one of those would have come in handy. It’s almost a crime to be in one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever seen and you can’t take a picture to remember it by.


This picture of me jumping off a waterfall wouldn’t have been possible if someone else hadn’t been brave enough to take their non-waterproof camera on this tour. If someone would have had a waterproof camera, absolutely amazing photos would have been taken.

2) When you let other people take the pictures, do ask to see ones that you really want to make sure a do-over isn’t necessary. There’s nothing worse than uploading the pics later and finding out that the only pic of you on the Causeway in Panama City at sunset on your birthday is a blur. Don’t let that be the only picture you have.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

3) Make sure someone is good to their word that they’ll share when they get back. Especially with people you meet on the trip, don’t trust that since they wrote down your email they’ll actually email you the pics. They may have good intentions, but life gets in the way, scraps of paper get lost, and other people’s cameras get stolen. It happens. I had the guy behind me take pictures of me ziplining. He took the liberty to take a video of himself ziplining as well. He asked me to email it to him later. I didn’t mind but our groups got separated and I ended up leaving without getting his contact info.

4) I may have mentioned this a few times, but no matter how few photos you take, get yourself in some of the shots. Otherwise a picture of the Eiffel Tower is just a picture of the Eiffel Tower. Even if you don’t like pictures of yourself, trust me on this one. My sister once talked the mom of a family into getting into the pictures she was taking by telling her how my mom wishes she would’ve gotten in more photos when we were younger. Ten minutes later, the mom came back over to us and said “You know, I think you’re right. Would you take that picture for us?” So thanks to my sister, some family from Maryland now has a complete family picture of them on top of the Eiffel Tower. Go figure.

THAT SAID: Don’t be afraid to actually trust people. Fellow travelers are usually good to their word. There’s a lot of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”. Offer to take a picture for a couple that’s struggling to get both of them and the landmark in the pic, or the solo traveler trying to take shots of their self. They will usually return the favor and since you didn’t run off with their camera, they won’t run off with yours.

If you’ve got any suggestions, feel free to chime in by commenting!


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