There are far more positives to traveling solo than negatives, in my opinion, but one of the downsides of traveling solo is that quite often, my travel photos are missing a key ingredient: Me. Tens of thousands of solo travelers have compensated for this limitation by perfecting what is known as the “arm stretch method”–holding your camera as far away from your body as possible, pointed at yourself with some landmark behind you and hoping that the picture comes out okay so you can prove you “were there.” I’m not very good at the arm stretch method. Technology is also starting to pick up the slack here: The XShot is a tool which extends your camera away from you for self-portraits. I still have not purchased the XShot. Of course, you can always ask someone else to take your picture for you. You want to be careful about this, since there are tourist destinations where thieves are more than happy to agree to take your picture with your camera. . . and then run off with it. But I am sick of not having travel photos with me in them, so before my recent Disney trip, I promised myself I would ask people to take my picture for me.
Of course, that’s easy to do at Disney World, because the park employs castmembers whose job it is to take guests’ pictures. They are called Photopass Photographers. They are generally dressed in navy blue shorts or pants, a white shirt and tan vest, and, of course, have a camera around their neck. If you observe closely, you will see them at the prime “photo opportunity” spots in each park and wherever there is a character greeting. I made sure to look for these photographers in each park, and every time I saw one who wasn’t busy, I’d ask them to take my picture. (Please note, I always had them take the picture with MY camera, otherwise I’d have had to pay for it.) They were all very nice and accommodating. What a great service! I think EVERY tourist destination should hire people to do this.
Speaking of photography, I also decided to commit random acts of kindness by offering to take pictures of families and groups whenever I noticed that one member of the group was not in the photo because they had to take the picture. So I would stop and ask them if they would like me to take a picture of the whole group. Sometimes, people approached me to ask me to do this as well. There was the woman dining with her parents at the Brown Derby; the group of young Asians in Japan at Epcot; the family I went horseback riding with; the couple with the little girl in the Grand Floridian lobby; the young foreign woman trying to take her own picture in front of the lake at Epcot, and so on. I really enjoyed doing this for people; it made me feel good to see how happy it made them.
However, after awhile, it occurred to me that none of them ever offered to reciprocate and take my picture for me. They’d say, “Oh thank you very much!” and then they’d rush off. It was obvious I was traveling alone, and I always had my camera on a strap around my neck, taking pictures everywhere I went. Yet it never crossed their minds that I might like some pictures of myself on vacation, too. Granted, I didn’t ask them to take my picture. Partly because of my natural aversion to asking strangers for favors and partly because humidity is not a friend of my hair, and who wants their picture taken when their hair is a mess? (Clearly, asking strangers to take my picture for me is something I still need to work on. There’s nothing I can do about the hair thing.)
But to all of you photo-snapping travelers out there, I’d like to suggest a “pay it forward” gesture for the future: The next time someone is nice enough to take your picture at a tourist destination, offer to take theirs in return. They might say no. Not everyone likes having their picture taken. But I’m sure they’ll at least be pleased that you asked. It’s a lot easier to offer to do a favor for someone than it is to ask for a favor. And until all tourist destinations have the equivalent of a Disney Photopass Photographer, we visitors need to help each other record our presence at our favorite travel destinations. Besides, committing a random act of kindness feels good and you get good karma from it. Give it a try!