The awkward self portrait

Scenario. You find yourself in front of something memorable, and you want a photo. But you’re alone with your camera and what could be a crowd of hundreds (see: Eiffel Tower) or a crowd of two (see: side street in old town Prague). The question is .. can you drum up the courage to ask someone to take your photo or do you suck it up and say cheese for a self-portrait?


photo credit: Matthew Turtell

I travel solo pretty frequently. I’m ultra independent, I know what I want, and I prefer not to have anyone in my way. Coffee at 8 pm? Yes. Three gelato stops? You got it. Sit in the same seat at this café for two hours? Don’t mind if I do. But you know what’s hard when traveling solo? Photos of self.


this time, with the peace sign

I saw an outstanding self portrait a few weeks ago in Chicago. Morgan and I were people watching at the Bean and this highly comical Jersey Shore look alike was posing .. and posing .. and posing in the reflection of the sculpture with his iphone. Glasses on, glasses off, pouty face, smile, peace sign. I was SO engrossed in his decisions that I literally stopped to watch… and snapped his picture. I can only assume he was traveling alone, and was without a picture taker (or a real camera).

Asking someone to take a photo is probably one of the most universal gestures in the world, next to the peace sign, the middle finger and the thumbs up (in that order? who can say). You hold up the camera in question, gesture forward like you’re going to offer it to someone, and gesture back at yourself. The answer is usually “yes, yes, yes, photo” with copious nodding of the head. See? Everyone speaks English.

Travel is full of awkward moments.

The end goal is to laugh at them, and yourself .. eventually.

I shoot with a Nikon D-60. It wasn’t cheap. This is part of the reason I am sometimes hesitant to hand off my camera to others. It’s also proven to be a social experiment. I seem to gravitate towards fellow Nikon users, although this is certainly not always a) an option, b) a sign of a good photographer. Check out this awful photo taken of me on Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic.


what exactly is she photographing?

I took a photo for a pair of women, and thought it would be a good time to ask for the return favor. The minute she started angling and pacing with my camera I thought that it was headed for the cobblestones or that this picture was going to suck. Check out the guy next to me, even he knows it’s going to suck!

Thankfully, the next woman took the request far more seriously, and shot what I wanted. And she even took the courtesy second photo, for the win.


oh look, scenery!

I have been known to walk up to people with their arms awkwardly extended in front of themselves, just to relieve them of their predicament. I could have made a business out of this on the Triana bridge in Sevilla, sabes? Countless people in strange positions, trying to execute a photo from arm’s length away, and simultaneously not fall into the Guadalqivir.

Has someone done that for you? Pay it forward, please. I can only take so much.


On studying abroad “alone”

Everyone has a different comfort zone. All shapes, sizes, depths, widths and boundaries are available. Some might argue you’re born with it (“oh your mother was the same way”) and some might say you’re responding to your environment (“after all it is a private school”). Whatever the reason – you’ve got one, and so do I.

Studying abroad can help you chip away at your comfort zone or blow the doors right off.

solo travel

courtesy of

Often times, we have students who admit things about themselves in a rush of words; an almost-embarrassed, half-anxious tumble of emotions. They’ve never flown before, they’re not sure how to get a passport, they’re ready to go but they’re scared. Scared makes sense! Studying abroad is a BIG decision, whether it’s for one week or one semester.

One of the things I’ve heard students say is: “I don’t want to go by myself.”

Know something? I went by myself. “By myself” in my case meant that I was the only student from my institution. But when I left on January 1, I was flying to the UK for an orientation with 83 other Americans. We all chose to study with the same provider, in the same city. EIGHTY FOUR OF US. On our first big group outing in Granada, we took a picture in the Alhambra – smiling so hard in our Northface fleece jackets and Levi jeans (so posh in Spain).

I spent the next six months of my life with these people. I got to know some very well, and some just by name. It’s been seven years since my group first saw Spain. Today, they are all across the globe, doing amazing things and those six months are something we will always have in common.

The reality of it is – we were never alone. We were surrounded by a group of fellow Americans, in a Spanish university, in a European country. I lived with a host family, who I just saw this past year for the first time since 2004. We were supported by an on-site staff from the organization who did everything from respond to emergencies to accompany students to the doctor’s office. I took classes taught in Spanish with students from all over the world. I traveled with people I had just met, and got to know them along the way. Even on my worst days (because you’ll have those) – I never felt like I was by myself.

Some programs use it as a marketing tool, like on the campus tours when your guide giggles and says “you’ll meet your bridesmaids here.” You might. You may also discover that “being alone” really isn’t so lonely.

Check out some additional resources on solo travel:

You will find that traveling solo is a huge phenomenon, and growing rapidly. People are leaving their cubicles to live it up (like Jeanne from NomadicChick), teaching in foreign countries (like Patricka in Korea), and seeing the world as they see fit (like Amanda from DangerousBusiness). They may be traveling by themselves, but they rarely find themselves alone.