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
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.
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,