It’s Not All About You: How Selfies Diminish Travel

Obsessive selfie takers rank very highly on my list as invasive and inconsiderate tourists.  This includes couples who stage long, impromptu photoshoots with one handling the camera while the other poses perpetually.  By monopolizing certain touristic spots for extended periods they prevent others, like me, from quickly and efficiently taking our own shots.   As a consequence, selfies are ruining travel by promoting an egocentric and superficial form of exploration.

It’s Not All About You: How Selfies Diminish Travel

How Selfies Diminish Travel. This gentleman gladly posed and even staged a mock fight for me while we were exploring Qena, Egypt. We wanted to buy him some new clothes but he disappeared as quickly as he arrived.
How Selfies Diminish Travel. This gentleman gladly posed and even staged a mock fight for me while we were exploring Qena, Egypt. We wanted to buy him some new clothes but he disappeared as quickly as he arrived.

Example 1: The Duo of Twenty-Somethings in Cappadocia

While exploring the caves and fairy chimneys at the Goreme Open Air Museum in Cappadocia, Turkey, I spotted two twenty-something females staging a mock photoshoot.  One was wearing a white dress while seated on a ledge with a cave church behind her.  The other acted like her photographer.

Except no photos were being taken. Both kept looking around, waiting for the foot traffic to subside so they could shoot without any intrusions.  However, when you arrive at midday at a very popular tourist spot in such a key location, such desires live with the likes of pink elephants and fairy god mothers.

Therefore, without witnessing any progress on their part to do something productive and prompt, I passed by them.   Then about ten minutes later I spotted the duo hogging the same exact ledge.  I flashed them a look conveying “hurry up”, as I wanted to shoot a photo of the church myself.  In response they laughed immaturely and self-consciously, but remained planted.

So I passed by continuing on, satisfied in the fact that my life and experiences transcend the digital realm into something much more intelligent and enriching.  And frankly, it wasn’t worth my time to argue with someone so seemingly self-absorbed and apathetic.  For me perfect photos provide great reward, but my trips afford such more fulfillment than what can be captured electronically.

How Selfies Diminish Travel. Cave homes at the Goreme Open Air Museum. The museum has been a member of the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1984, and was one of the first two UNESCO sites in Turkey.
How Selfies Diminish Travel. Cave homes at the Goreme Open Air Museum. The museum has been a member of the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1984, and was one of the first two UNESCO sites in Turkey.

Example 2: The Sequence of Selfie-Shooters in Marrakech, Morocco

My patience was tested while exploring the picturesque Majorelle gardens in Marrakech, Morocco.  It seemed the selfie takers had made the gardens their own personal platform.  Perhaps they expected the garden owner, fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, to magically appear and offer them modeling contracts.

Granted I understand the desire to take wonderful photos of such a scenic setting.  I love photography.  And on occasion I do enjoy taking a picture featuring myself.  But what annoys me are the obsessive and obstructive selfie shooters.

And at the Majorelle garden they centered around the blue and yellow villa.  Many would spend five to ten minutes controlling prime locations, preventing others like me from taking a speedy shot or two.  Rather than argue I walked around the park for about an hour.  Then near to closing I returned to record my images.

How Selfies Diminish Travel. The Majorelle Garden was designed by the French artist, Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962), son of the Art Nouveau ébéniste (cabinet-maker) of Nancy, Louis Majorelle. The garden and villa were rediscovered in the 1980s, by fashion designers, Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé who set about restoring it and saving it after it fell into disrepair.
How Selfies Diminish Travel. The Majorelle Garden was designed by the French artist, Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962), son of the Art Nouveau ébéniste (cabinet-maker) of Nancy, Louis Majorelle. The garden and villa were rediscovered in the 1980s, by fashion designers, Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé who set about restoring it and saving it after it fell into disrepair.

How Selfie Takers Do Themselves a Disservice

Fanatic self takers turn travel into a very ignorant venture. The history and facts behind destinations remain immaterial.   This is because voyagers concentrate on their attire and appearance rather than learning about the actual location visited.

Trips become categorized by the quality of ones physical attributes. Therefore, travel turns into an egocentric undertaking.  Facebook and Instagram help fuel this “all of about me” form of travel.

So instead of enriching themselves with the knowledge of a location, including its culture and customs, visitors are left with nothing but a tan and some pretty photos.  Although some fulfillment is provided by the likes attributed by Facebook friends, such accolades are fleeting.  Therefore the vicious circle continues of taking and posting selfies in search of that brief feeling of praise.

Furthermore, these sightseers miss out on one of the most important aspect of travel: the people who live there.  As an example, Allan and I have enjoyed some of the most incredible trips based solely on advice from locals we’ve met on the streets. For instance, we slept with the Bedouins in Wadi Rum, Jordan after recommendations from a local barber in Amman.  One trim turned into an overnight in the desert, sleeping under the stars in one of the most rewarding ventures in all my years of traveling.

In contrast, selfie takers typically limit their interaction with the local population to quick chats with the tour guide or taxi driver.  So real conversations with actual denizens never transpire.  As a consequence, first hand, word of mouth advice remains unheard.

How Selfies Are Ruining Travel. Capturing the sunset over the Mediterranean in Beirut, Lebanon. The Lebanese are some of the most polite and friendly bunch I've met. Plus their food tastes amazingly delicious!
How Selfies Are Ruining Travel. Capturing the sunset over the Mediterranean in Beirut, Lebanon. The Lebanese are some of the most polite and friendly bunch I’ve met. Plus their food tastes amazingly delicious!

My Advice to Selfie Takers

Snap your photos quickly and move on. There’s nothing wrong with wanting pictures with you in them. Even I do that on occasion. But the trip is not all about you.

Additionally be conscious of your fellow travelers.  Taking over touristic terrain for indeterminate periods of time frankly is rude.  Perhaps you are not aware of how your actions are affecting others.  But we notice and we don’t appreciate the slight.

Moreover, why not diversify and add shots of other people?  Or take a few of the actual destination without your mug?  Your Mom may love to see you in every photo, but I’m guessing your fans may want a bit of variety.

Also, please interact with the locals. Get to know them. You can learn a lot more about a destination from someone who lives there. You may even learn something about yourself.

Next, kindly read up on the history of your whereabouts. The knowledge acquired will help greatly with self-enrichment. Plus it may help provide you with the fulfillment you seek.

And lose the selfie stick. If you want to take a picture of yourself just ask someone else. The sticks are dangerous and should be banned from big tourist destinations.

How Selfies Diminish Travel. The north shore of the island of Terceira in the Azores provides a contrasting landscape of volcanic cliffs, compared with the southern part of the island which is much more flat.
How Selfies Diminish Travel. The north shore of the island of Terceira in the Azores provides a contrasting landscape of volcanic cliffs, compared with the southern part of the island which is much more flat.

Do you have any questions or remarks?

Please let me know in the comments!

Happy travels,

Matt Weatherbee

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Matt Weatherbee
Matt Weatherbee

Hi, I’m Matt.  In 2008 I quit my job, sold everything and drove from Boston to Mexico to start a business.  Now I live and work in the Carribean, and spend my free time traveling the globe.  Learn more.

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2 Comments

  1. Kathleen Tagliaferri
    October 21, 2018 / 6:43 am

    The most insensitive, bizarre incidence of someone taking a selfie had to be watching someone pose in front of a gas chamber in Aushwitz .

    • October 21, 2018 / 1:42 pm

      Hi, Kathleen. That is totally shocking. I don’t think people understand the implications of their actions. I’m not sure it’s our job to educate the ignorant or apathetic, but sometimes it may be worth calling their attention to the incident.

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