Self-Portraits While Traveling Solo

Candice Gaukel Andrews April 1, 2010 7

There is one aspect of traveling solo that is difficult: taking a photo with you in it.

When I sign up for group tours, more often than not I enroll as a single traveler. It’s not for lack of family or friends (I hope!); it’s because either I’m the only one I’m acquainted with who can take the time away from work or because I’m the sole person I know who wants to go to a cold place.

I have to admit, though, that there are times that I secretly prefer it that way. Traveling solo with a small group of strangers forces me to be more social than I’m inclined to be. Without an old friend to lean on, I tend to seek out new ones among the people present—almost out of necessity. It also helps to build self-confidence. Once you’ve had to point to items on a restaurant menu because you don’t understand the language spoken by the staff or had to perform a one-act play in the middle of a busy airport to communicate with airline personnel, well, you feel like you can handle anything.

Wish I were there

Most solo travelers learn to get creative with their self-portraits. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

There is one aspect of traveling solo, however, that requires more than pantomime to get to the desired result. Almost all of my travel photographs are of landscapes, wildlife and other people enjoying my trip. The element that’s missing is me.

Sometimes, after everyone in the group has finished taking photos of their friends and family in front of a famous landmark or iconic landscape, a thoughtful fellow traveler will offer to take a photo of me with my camera. I usually accept. But there is often something stilted in those kinds of shots. It’s hard to relax. You don’t want to impose on the kindness of picture-takers too much, so you smile quickly, tell them that any composition is fine and shortly release them to go about the business of having fun on their trip.

I think most solo travelers learn to get creative with their self-portraits. I once read a book where a man took his own photo on a Canadian lake by shooting the ripples on the water after he threw in a stone. He felt that the expanding rings on the surface depicted him in that environment more than any physical likeness of him could. I choose a different route: borrowing an idea from a friend, I take photos of my hiking boots on uncommon and exciting, new ground.

The Arctic tundra is uncommon and exciting new ground. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Leaving a footprint

I’m not sure why I like boot shots; I could have chosen my hand or extreme close-ups of my own face in various places for self-portraits. I think it has something to do with taking a certain pride in where I’ve walked under my own steam. Looking at photos of my feet in hiking boots all over the world gives me the feeling (and proof) that I’ve pushed myself into new frontiers, a sensation almost as if I were the first man to step on the moon. The first image you think of when recalling that history-making event is not one of someone in a space suit beneath a wooden sign carved with the word “Moon,” but the one of a boot print on the dusty surface, where no human has tread before.

It’s said that travel leads you to understand yourself and your place in the world better. Maybe it also forces you to see parts of yourself in brand-new ways.

How do you like to take your self-portrait while traveling?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,



  1. John Howard Gaukel April 3, 2010 at 9:41 am - Reply

    Candy, you can always use a tripod, a fence post, a limb or crotch in a tree to support your camera. Then use the self-timer feature to take a photo of yourself and the background of where you are. However, I prefer to travel with someone, sharing what I see and experience. I do love trying to capture the perfect photos that tells the story of my nature travels. But in a photo you can”t capture true smells, the sounds and excitement that I experienced at that moment in time. For me that”s worth sharing with someone!

  2. Tom Nolle April 3, 2010 at 9:09 am - Reply

    I guess I see myself as a part of the natural world without a picture of me in that world. My challenge is the opposite; I use photography to bring the natural world back to my own unnatural one. Most often that’s in the form of wildlife or scenery, but sometimes also in the form of candid shots of local people, particularly the very young or old. Sometimes those who are just becoming a part of a culture, and those who are most absorbed with and in it are the best images of just what that culture really is.

  3. Art Hardy April 2, 2010 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    If I want a record of being somewhere, I’ll just extend my arm and point my digital camera homeward. Much of the fun of traveling, though, is getting in a little people watching and wondering what are their stories. Or shooting a few images of fellow travelers , both posed and candid.

  4. Sandy Sims April 2, 2010 at 10:30 am - Reply

    I have the answer for you. Go to I have one of these camera extenders and have taken stills and videos of myself in all kinds of places. (Honestly, I have no interest in this business. A friend gave me one.) You would love it. It telescopes down fits in your purse.

  5. NineQuietLessons April 2, 2010 at 9:01 am - Reply

    I usually prefer to remember the place, and not myself in it. My favorite nature pictures were always the ones that seemed deserted or desolate; having a person in the shot spoils the view.

  6. Kit Nordeen April 1, 2010 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    Hi Candy: Actually, I ask someone else to take my picture. Guess I’m just not as creative as you are!! pictures, or not, travel with you and Nat. Hab. are among my very fondest memories!! (And always will be!) Thank you for being so instrumental in arranging those wonderful trips with great people!


    • Colleen Friesen April 1, 2010 at 6:27 pm - Reply

      I agree with your reasons for traveling solo. It forces me to engage more or conversely, be a total hermit if I want to. It’s kind of nice to not feel any pressure to be good company 🙂
      As for the photo issue, I hadn’t thought about it too much, but now that I have, I’d say it would be photos of my journal with a coffee or a glass of wine or a local pop in the frame. Those are the pictures that flash me right back to that particular moment in time.

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