When I started this travel blog, it felt like a natural fit. You love taking photos! I had thought to myself. And giving unsolicited facts and pro-tips! And you understand how social media works! So when we went on our first trip after Booked Club officially launched, I was armed with my iPhone, my eight-year-old Nikon, and an SD card reader—ready for travel influencer perfection. I made a list of post concepts, some graphics for my story highlights, and a compilation of my destination research.
But when we arrived at our destination, although I took lots of pictures, videos, and notes, I kept my phone on airplane mode. In fact, I didn’t realize until that evening that my phone battery had died.
This became a recurring theme. Each new city I would enter, I’d take a picture, thinking—I hope the hostel has wifi so I can post this later! And then forget about it, not posting it until a week later with the official blog post.
It felt silly, to be honest. You’re a travel blogger! This is what you’re supposed to do, I would tell myself, looking at my growing albums of un-posted images. Get yourself together! my brain would yell as I picked up my phone to take a picture of my literary cocktail, surely this moment only has an hour shelf-life of relevancy—post now, so then you can enjoy yourself.
This “pic now, experience later” attitude has grown into a demand upon the everyday tourist. Museums and landmarks are curating more shareable photo moments to promote themselves. Excessive geo-tagging on Instagram has lead to harming unprotected natural sights. More travel blogs are focused less on sharing things to do, but instructions on where and how to get the Insta-perfect shot.
As a result, we’ve all seen sacrifice experiences for memories. I’ve seen people like the couples let their lattes grow cold on a romantic rooftop terrace in Rome because they were too busy posing and I’ve stood on a train platform in Cinque Terre among a crowd of sun-burned, poorly-prepared travelers dressed for a photoshoot with now-blistered feet. I’ve watched travelers struggle with getting a wifi password, not to look something up or contact someone, but to check their Instagram.
We’ve also seen the opposite extreme. Since I’ve started traveling as a travel blogger, I’ve found myself and other travelers more wary to take our cameras out of our bag, feeling more reverent and hesitant in the locations we visit, feeling overwhelmed by the seemingly garish use of selfie sticks and posing (at one point I tried practicing posing in a mirror before a trip and was like LOL, nah, who do I thi”nk I am?). I’ve traveled with friends and family members and have let the days fly by with barely any pictures together, or have held photos hostage on my hard drive for years, never bringing them to light. I’ve been afraid to give my phone or camera to a stranger and resorted to poor selfies.
This culture is not only cheapening our traveling experiences, but also filling our photo clouds with poor images we take and forget.
Of course, I am only speaking for myself, as a fresh, young blogger still figuring out my work-life balance and personal style (aren’t we all?). I definitely recognize that bloggers and influencers are constantly working when they travel, require certain images and content to meet the demands of their contracts and obligations—it’s not an experience for them, it’s a job. They cram their itineraries to the brim, they let their food go cold as they set up their partnered shot, they spend hours planning and coordinating outfits, locations, equipment, and contracts.
But why should we, the everyday globetrotters, reach for such heights of pixelated perfection? If you’re not traveling for work, why should taking photos feel like a job? Here at Booked Club, we strongly advocate for authentic cultural experiences and mindful traveling. You should be able to travel and not have the physical demand to be digitally present at all times. Taking photos during your travels is about keeping visual memories, after all.
So here are my suggestions for more mindful travel photography:
- Less is more:
I struggle with this a lot, often having fifty pictures of the same building clogging up my phone storage. Remember film cameras? A fun exercise would be to bring a disposable camera with you to limit your shots. Or take a look at the photos you took on your last trip and see how you could improve. Can’t remember the context of your photos? Kept forgetting to take a picture of your food before eating it? Etc.
- Make a list of pictures you want to have:
I like to think, what kind of pictures would I like to have in a photo book afterwards? Who do you want pictures of? Are there landmarks or experiences you want to show your folks back home? Do you want to find and photograph every cat in the streets? This exercise keeps you mindful and organized.
- When traveling with a group, pick someone to be the photographer for the day:
This keeps all of you from having to keep your phones on hand, gets all your pictures in one place (we’ve all been there!), and can help with the social awkwardness when you have someone saying “Hey! You know you want a picture to remember this!”
- Let strangers take your picture:
More and more couples and families are attempting to squeeze all of them and a historical monument in one selfie, and it rarely works. If you’re worried about your phone or camera being stolen, keep an eye out for a family or young couple also taking a picture nearby that you can trust. It won’t always be a gorgeous picture, but probably will be better than a selfie. Even if it is terrible, it’ll be a good story! (See some funny photos strangers took of us here).
- Don’t forget to unpack your pictures:
Make it part of your routine to organize your pictures when you get home. Whether that means putting them into a single album online, printing them out to scrapbook, or making a photo book (we rec. Social Print Studio! (not sponsored)), don’t let these disappear into the cloud! We started making a calendar each year to help keep the memories alive.
These are suggestions I’m trying to take as well! (Even seemingly put-together writers such as myself need to improve 💁). It’s all about switching our thinking from pics or it didn’t happen to it happened, and I have a picture. In the meantime, here’s my promise to you—I will be responsible about the content I show you. I’m not going to waste your time by telling you to trek to a tiny bridge in the middle of nowhere for an insta-worthy photo when I can tell you about a really amazing museum you definitely need to put on your list.