Tips to Take Great Travel Photos as a Solo Traveler

on your own is a fun way to have new experiences and expand your boundaries without worrying about synchronizing multiple people’s wants and needs. It can be a truly inspiring way to get to know your own limits — just not that great when you need an extra pair of hands to snap a quick picture for the memories. Luckily, technology makes travel self-documentation much easier (and we all know everyone wants to display their best shots from their travels on sites like Instagram).

I travel solo on about eighty percent of my trips, so I’ve had to learn a few tricks along the way. Here are some of my top tips for taking great travel photos as a solo traveler.

Set Up a Tripod
Bringing a tripod is a tip for good photography even if you’re not traveling solo, but if you want steady photos, they’re a must. Tripods will help you avoid the blur and warp of out of focus or unsteady shots. For smaller cameras, the Gorillapod line and similar flexible tripod products are great for keeping your camera steady even on the most unstable of terrain. Their ability to wrap around poles, skis, railings, and other surfaces means that you have the freedom of setting up shots even in tight urban settings too.

I personally use the Manfrotto line of tripods for my heavy 5D Mark II and I’ve been able to set it up in some precarious places. I also carry a digital timer remote and set it up to take photos every second so I don’t have to constantly run back and forth just to get a couple of different angles.

Use a Selfie Stick
Yes, using one may look silly, but selfie sticks are still incredibly useful for taking pictures on your own! By extending the range between the camera and the subject (likely yourself) further than a natural human arm span, it allows the frame of the photo to be expanded. This way you’ll be able to fit more of the background into your photo and you won’t come home with a million unflattering close-up photos of yourself. I personally love this selfie stick because it’s all-weather and they offer a money-back guarantee.

Using a Selfie Stick to Take Great Travel Photos

Attach a GoPro
If you’re looking for the perfect action shot or want your video and photos to come from a first-hand perspective, then attaching a GoPro to your gear while you surf, ski, bike, or even bungee jump can be a great way to capture the experience. Furthermore, the wide range of mounts available mean that you can capture images with the GoPro in environments where other cameras may fear to tread — like underwater or tumbling through the air. We use the Hero4 Silver because it’s the only GoPro with an LCD screen to frame and view your shots.

Using a GoPro to Take Great Travel Photos
Here I used a GoPro and a selfie stick to get a wide shot

Ask a Stranger
Whether you have specialized gear or not, there’s always the option to reach out for help from someone new. After all, you’re not traveling just to look at a foreign place or culture, you’re there to experience it, to take part in a different world or way of life. Photos can be a great way to capture memories from your trip, but starting an interaction with another person, even if it’s just asking for help with your camera, is a great way to make them.

You won’t always get the best photos with this option, but my trick is to ask someone who is carrying their own DSLR camera. I like to give people an idea of how I would like the shot framed before I hand over my camera as well.

Photo Tips for Solo Travelers

Install Photo Editing Software or Apps
Ok, so you’ve taken the perfect selfie: now what? What you do to the photo after you take it can be just as important to the character of the photo as how you set it up. Most cell phones come with a built in image editor which allows you to do basic editing, such as slapping on a filter or cropping and rotating the image, but experimenting with other apps like ProCamera or Snapseed will give you further options such as color correction, noise reduction, and curve adjustment.

For photos not taken with your phone, I recommend Adobe Bridge and Photoshop for editing software. Plenty of photographers use Lightroom as well. It’s very similar to Adobe Bridge, but it’s a little easier to learn.

Consider Upgrading Your Gear
You’ve probably heard the old saying, “It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer who takes good pictures.” While I agree that you don’t need $10,000 dollars worth of photography gear to take a great photo, megapixels do count for something. I regularly take the exact some photo with my iPhone as I do with my Canon 5D Mark II and the photo from my camera always wins. A nice camera with more megapixels means your photo won’t look grainy after editing, you can crop the image and still have a decent quality photo, and you have more options — like taking the photo in RAW instead of JPG and bumping up the ISO for night shots.

The 5D Mark II is a little overkill for the everyday photographer, so I usually recommend that travelers start out with the Sony a7 Mirrorless or the Canon Powershot G16 Point and Shoot camera. For more information about some of the photography gear we use, visit our travel resources page or our travel photographer’s camera kit post.

Tips to Choose the Best Travel Camera

The Best Travel Cameras
Over the past ten years, I’ve scoured the internet and tested camera gear in order to find the perfect travel photography kit. When readers and members of our Instagram community ask us what camera we use, I always tell them that what works best for us won’t necessarily be the best fit for them. Choosing the best travel camera is more about finding one that allows you to shoot the photographs you want.

Choosing the best camera for travel photography is different from choosing a professional camera for things like wedding photography and portrait photography, or even just everyday use at home. With so many camera options on the market, it can be a little intimidating when you start your new camera search.

How to Choose the Best Travel Camera for Your Needs
There are several types of travel cameras on the market (Point and Shoot, Advanced Compact Cameras, DSLR, Mirrorless) and each one has its own list of benefits. First, and most importantly, you should consider what is most important to you – size, weight, price, ease of use, etc. Below, I’ve listed the benefits and limitations of each type of camera as well as the top cameras in each of those categories.

If your main concern is price, weight, and purchasing a travel camera that is easy to use, then you will want to look at purchasing a Compact Digital Camera. This type of camera won’t weigh down your luggage and it will easily fit in a small backpack or purse.

Compact Digital Cameras are perfect if you don’t want to be hassled with too many controls and you want the least expensive option. Nowadays, you can still find a Point and Shoot camera that takes great photos. That’s not to say you should pick just any Point and Shoot because they are not all created equal. Here are the best travel cameras under $450.

Advanced Compact Digital Cameras (High-End Compact)

Advanced Compact Digital Cameras are similar to Point and Shoot cameras, but they come with a few more bells and whistles. They are the high end of compact cameras with built-in lenses.

Advanced Compact Cameras are similar in size to the above mentioned ones and they offer full manual mode in addition to auto mode. (Note: Both of the cameras listed in the above section offer manual mode as well.) They also usually have the ability to capture photos in RAW format — which is important if you plan to make any edits to your photos once you upload them to your computer.

These cameras tend to be slightly more expensive than the regular compact cameras, but less expensive than DSLR or mirrorless cameras.

Mirrorless Cameras

If image quality, size, and weight is the most important factor, you will want to look at purchasing a mirrorless camera. What is a mirrorless camera, you ask? Unlike a Digital SLR, this type of camera does not have a mirror reflex optical viewfinder — hence, the name mirrorless. This type of camera is perfect for people who still want an interchangeable lens without the weight of a DSLR.

Another plus for mirrorless is the electronic viewfinders because you can view the realtime effect of aperture and ISO adjustments, unlike a DSLR. If you want to take some of the guesswork out of your photography, then mirrorless is the way to go.

Digital SLR Cameras

Mirrorless cameras have come a long way and many photographers have decided to ditch their bulky DSLR cameras for this lighter option — including me!

DSLR cameras are better suited for sports, wildlife, and other types of action photography. If these types of photography don’t interest you, then you will probably be fine with a mirrorless. I often travel to photograph wildlife and I need a capable zoom lens, which is why I hesitated about switching completely to mirrorless.

However, there are a few zoom lens options out there for mirrorless cameras, just not as many. I currently use the Sony 70-200mm with my Sony a7ii and it gets the job done in most cases. I opted for the F4 instead of the Sony 70-200mm F2.8 in order to keep my kit light.

Choosing a DSLR means you will have more lens options, faster focus (although mirrorless is following close behind), and a slightly longer battery life. Eventually, I’m sure DSLR cameras will become obsolete, but we are still a little way off from mirrorless replacing traditional DSLR cameras entirely.

Underwater Travel Photography
This post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention underwater photography. If you are anything like us, then you love to play in any body of water and who doesn’t want to get the best underwater photos on vacation?

We’ve tried a handful of point and shoot underwater cameras, which have taken decent photos, but ever since GoPro came out with their Hero5 Black with LCD screen, this is now our favorite underwater camera for travel. The issues I had with the Hero 3 (fogging, no LCD screen, ultra wide angle lens) have all been fixed on the Hero 4 & 5. It’s great for action selfies on land too!

Should Know About Checklist for Overseas Trave

Before traveling to another country, I always consult my travel checklist. Here are 8 essential things to do before traveling abroad.

Overseas Travel Checklist:
1. Get Visa Information: Do you need a pre-visa for the particular country you are visiting? We just recently went on a trip to South East Asia. We did not need a visa for the length of time we were staying in Thailand, and we planned on getting our Laos visa at the border of Thailand and Laos. Luckily, I stumbled upon the information that Vietnam’s requirements are a little different. They require a pre-entry visa, which you can get in Thailand or Laos, but only if you are staying in one place for about 5 days. We didn’t want to take any chances, so we rushed an application to the Vietnam Embassy in D.C. and got our Vietnam visa shortly before we left on our 6-week trip.

2. Register with the nearest Embassy: Before you leave, it is wise to register with the Embassy of each country that you will be visiting. It helps the Embassy to better assist you in case of an emergency, such as a lost or stolen passport. It will also be easier for the Embassy to help you in the case of a natural disaster.

3. Travel Medical Insurance: I always purchase a travel medical insurance policy before I travel to another country. This will cover important things like emergency medical evacuation, trip cancellation, and baggage delay. We use and trust World Nomads for our travel insurance policies.

4. Required Travel Vaccinations: Check with your local travel clinic about any vaccinations that are required and suggested for that particular area.

5. Copies of Important Documents: Make a copy of your passport, any credit cards you will be bringing, drivers license and travelers checks receipts. I usually keep a copy with me and also scan a copy to send to my email. Also, bring extra passport photos of yourself for visas.

6. It’s a good idea to join airline mileage programs to earn miles for all the flights you take. We have a couple favorites such as Continental and American that we use whenever we can. If I am taking a flight and they are not partnered with either of my main airline mileage programs, I always create an account with that airline. You never know when you will be taking that particular carrier again and it doesn’t hurt to get credit for those miles. In order to be sure you get all of your mileage points, keep a copy of your boarding pass!! The mileage program will ask for a copy when you call them to find out why they have not credited your miles.

7. Print out some currency conversion charts for the currency of the places you will be visiting. If you are bringing an ipod, download the conversion rate and you can use this instead of carrying around a bunch of paper.

8. Print out common phrases for the language of the country I am visiting. If you have a guidebook, they usually have this information in them. But I don’t always want to carry around my guidebook and knowing how to say, “thank you,” “hello,” “I’m sorry” and a few other phrases are a necessity whenever I’m visiting a country.

Some Ways to Wear a Sarong

Sarongs are a must-have fashion staple when traveling to tropical climates. This colorful, rectangular piece of dyed fabric can be worn a number of ways, making it incredibly versatile and a flashy and flattering option for any look or occasion. It can be worn as a dress, a skirt, a halter top, and more. Able to transform itself into an accessory or talking piece for any outfit, a sarong is the perfect addition to a fashionable traveler’s suitcase.

Below are just ten of the ways it’s possible to wear this garment and instructions for how to tie it.

How to Wear a Sarong

Strapless Dress
This dress is one of the more common ways of wearing a sarong. Holding the fabric length-wise, wrap the sarong from one side of your body to the other. Pull the top corners together tightly and tie or tuck them into the top edge of the dress.

Some Ways to Wear a Sarong

Triangle Skirt
An easy, flirty skirt that shows off your legs. Fold opposite corners of the sarong together; don’t worry about the edges matching up perfectly, this skirt is meant to be uneven! Then, point down, wrap the longer edge of your triangle around your waist and tie at the hip.

Off-the-Shoulder Dress
A cool and sporty option for the beach or rooftop bar. Starting with the long side of the fabric held parallel with your arm span, place one top corner at the middle of your back and wrap the sarong around until your body is fully covered. Bring the remaining fabric to the front and pull the top corner over your far shoulder to tie with the corner in the center of your back.

Backless Halter Top
Show off some skin with this sexy shirt. First, fold a normal-length sarong in half length-wise. Holding the fabric in front of you by the natural corners of the sarong, take both top corners and tie them together behind your neck. Take the corners of the fold and wrap them around your waist, tying them behind your back.

Sarong Halter Top

Billow Shorts
These colorful shorts are comfy and easy to wear. Take two corners of the sarong so that the fabric is held out in front of you with the longer side parallel to your arm span. Then, wrap the top corners behind you to meet at the small of your back. Take the remaining fabric and pull it front to back between your legs, and tuck or tie it into the waist.

Mini Skirt
This cute and flirty mini skirt is perfect as a cover up over a swimsuit or paired with a tank top for a day on the boardwalk. Gather the corners of each short side together and wrap the fabric in one hand fully around your body until you are covered on all sides. Then, tie both bunches together in a knot or twist.

Modern Toga
Old-world technique meets new-age chic! Once again, hold the top corners of your sarong horizontally along your arm span. From behind, bring your arms and the fabric forward under your armpits to the front. Tightly pull one side under the opposite arm, and take the other corner over the opposite shoulder to form the sleeve. Pull the two corners together and tie in a knot.

Elegant Shawl or Shoulder Wrap
This shoulder wrap is the perfect sunny accessory for a sundress. First, fold the sarong in half diagonally so that the corners meet. Next, drape it over your shoulders. You can either tie the knot at your sternum for a classic shawl look, or move the knot to your shoulder for a fashionable asymmetrical look.

Tips to Stay Stylish While Traveling

Packing clothes for a trip can be an incredible hassle. With many airlines charging growing fees for checked baggage, packing light has become not just an issue of space but of economics, too. In my twenties, the only thing I cared about was how much my bag weighed. Now, in my thirties, I carefully consider what goes into my suitcase — so I can save luggage space and still remain stylish.

Staying Stylish While Traveling

Pack Mostly Basics & a Few Statement Pieces
About 70% of the clothes you pack should be basics, not statement pieces. Dark blue jeans, a black skirt, a cute sundress, shorts or a warm coat, depending on the local climate, and a few dressy-casual blouses can all be mixed and matched to fit any occasion. By stocking the majority of your suitcase with basics, you remove the need to pack a different set of clothes for each activity.

For example, wearing a plain black or white tank top with some dark jeans or shorts can be perfect for physical activities like hiking, biking, or just exploring a city by foot. That same tank top, when tucked into a black skirt and covered with a cardigan and a scarf, becomes a cute and flirty outfit for a dinner in town.

Dresses

While most of my clothes are solid colors while traveling, I do have one or two colorful dresses and pairs of shoes to brighten up my outfits. For instance, this dress goes with me almost everywhere.

From the vineyards of Emilia Romagna to the beaches in Mexico, this cotton dress pairs perfectly with a cardigan (I love this cardigan) or long-sleeved solid top — and it doesn’t wrinkle in my suitcase.

Shoes

Another way to spice up an outfit is by packing a colorful pair of shoes to go with solid colors. These are my favorite travel shoes and I get compliments every single time I wear them — even from men! They go with jeans, shorts, dresses — basically any solid-colored outfit — and they have an extremely cushioned insole with amazing arch support. I found them at a surf shop in San Diego, but they sell them cheaper on Amazon!

Boots are another great item to liven up an outfit. Not all boots pack well, but I found a cute pair of knee-high boots that don’t take up too much space in my luggage. I normally end up wearing them on the plane, anyway, because they are so comfortable.

These ankle boots are a good option if it’s too hot for knee-high boots and you prefer more of a heel.

Scarves

I’m slightly addicted to buying cute scarves and have a drawer full of them at home. It can be tough to pick just one scarf to bring on a trip, so if I’m traveling somewhere cold, I might sneak two or three into my bag.

Work with Layers
Layering is the key to dressing your outfits up or down. A little black dress for that night on the town, for example, becomes a lot more appropriate for day wear when it’s topped with a shrug or sweater and worn over dark stockings. Similarly, dark jeans with a plain blouse can quickly become dressed up with a well-fitted colorful
jacket or long scarf used as a shawl.

Dress Up Your Outfits with Accessories
Like with your clothing, keeping your accessories fairly simple means they will fit more easily with any outfit. Small gold or silver studs, a nice pendant, and your favorite charm bracelet or watch should cover most of your needs, whether you’re going dressy or casual. You would be surprised how easy it is to do a lot with just a few accessories!

I have a few cuff bracelets that always stay packed in my toiletries bag — so I never forget them when packing for a trip. Turquoise and silver bracelets go great with solid-colored clothing.

If you need something flashier or realize you have forgotten something at home, there’s always the opportunity to shop for souvenirs at your destination. Whether it’s a necklace, sunglasses, or a new scarf, chances are that the place you’re going has its own unique style. Purchasing your accessories at your destination can be a fun way of incorporating that local style into your wardrobe, as well as getting a nice memento to bring home with you.

Consider Your Destination
Obviously if you’re going to Yakutsk, Russia, you don’t want to pack shorts and a swimsuit. Similarly, a trip to Mauritius is not the place for heavy winter coats and turtlenecks. I always joke that it’s easy for me to pack for a tropical destination — I just throw in a few sundresses and five bikinis.

It’s much more difficult to pack light for a cold weather destination, so this is where layering really comes in handy. Don’t forget scarves, gloves, a beanie, and warm socks. This slouchy knit oversized beaniekeeps me warm and — depending on what color you choose — it can brighten up an outfit.

Considering your destination while packing involves more than just packing for the geographical climate — it also means being aware of the cultural and political climate of your destination, too.

If you’re visiting Istanbul or another location whose culture sports a more conservative style, be respectful and wear longer shirts, skirts, or pants. While it will matter less in more cosmopolitan areas, in rural areas your different style of dress might be considered rude or inappropriate. Research your location before you pack to get an idea of what other travelers have found works best.

Information About Travel Camera Bag

A few of our readers have requested more information about what other photographers carry in their travel camera bag, so here’s an in-depth look at what camera gear we carry on all of our trips.

After buying and selling a lot of camera lenses and camera bags, I feel like I have finally come up with a close to perfect camera kit for my travels.

Every photographer has different wants and needs, so keep in mind that what works for me, may or may not work for you. Feel free to use this as a guide if you are having trouble deciding which lens, SLR body or camera bag to buy for your travels.

A Travel Photographer’s Camera Kit

Canon T2i Camera Body
I upgraded to a Canon T2i camera body from a Canon Rebel XS SLR and I absolutely love it. A few of the pros of this camera for me are the HD video capabilities, 18 megapixel sensor and a price tag below $400 USD. (Since I wrote this post, I’ve upgraded to the Canon 5D Mark II. You can read more about it here.)

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens
At around $100 US, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 has proven to be a great buy. I use it for portraits, close up shots and low light conditions. You can spend a little more for the slightly faster Canon f/1.4 lens if you prefer, but if you are on a budget or you would rather spend your money on multiple lenses then I highly recommend buying the 50mm f.1.8 lens.

Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 Lens
The Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 lens quickly became a favorite of mine after purchasing it a few months ago. It works well with cameras like the T2i with a crop factor. If you have a full frame camera body, then you will want to get the Canon 16-35mm wide angle lens. The 10-22mm is too wide for a full frame camera.

Canon 70-200mm f/4L Telephoto Zoom Lens
I love the Canon 70-200mm f/4L lens for surfing and wildlife photography where it’s tough to get in close to the subject. It is arguably Canon’s best value “L” lens. It’s also very light compared to the Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 L.

I shot all of my puffin photos with a Canon 70-200 lens.

The Ultimate Travel Photography Camera Kit

Lowepro Fastpack Camera Bag
I’ve been through quite a few camera bags in the past ten years trying to find the perfect fit for my needs. I really liked the Tamrac 5547 Photo Backpack, but I got tired of carrying my laptop separately. I tried Tamrac’s camera/laptop bag, but it was just too huge and bulky.

I currently use the Lowepro Fastpack backpack, which has a compartment for my laptop, enough room for my camera body with wide angle lens attached plus two to three more lenses, a tripod attachment on the side, an attached rainfly, and I can fit a water bottle in the side pocket. I switched from the F-Stop Black Box camera bag — which I used for several years — mainly due to the fact that I couldn’t carry a water bottle or attach my tripod to the bag.

Canon G16 Point and Shoot Camera
This point and shoot camera gets great reviews by many photographers. For certain situations, it’s nice to have a small point and shoot camera instead of a large SLR with multiple lenses. The G16 offers many of the same functions that an SLR camera offers such as the ability to change the aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

This list includes all the big items in our travel camera bag. We also carry extra batteries, a lens pen, remote, and filters. For more information about the travel camera gear we use, visit: How to Take Great Travel Photos as a Solo Traveler. We’ve also written a comprehensive guide on how to choose the best travel camera.