Just over a year ago, I went to California for a conference and press trip. If you were following me on Instagram, you would have been seeing my daily stories and posts from some of the most beautiful spots in magnificent SoCal. It had been a dream of mine to visit California for a long time and while I had made a quick trip there two years prior for another conference, I hadn’t really seen anything other than the inside of the hotel the conference was being hosted in.
So when the opportunity came to extend my trip last year and visit Palm Springs, Huntington Beach and San Diego, I JUMPED!
Originally, we had talked about bringing out the whole family, but we quickly realized that wasn’t going to work due to how busy the itinerary was going to be and that it wasn’t really suitable for the kids. We then thought just Chris could come with me but after asking my parents if they could come watch the kids, we realized that they would be vacationing at the same time and not available.
I had considered going alone, but I knew that if I wanted to create certain types of content during the trip, I was going to have to bring an assistant. I started scratching my brain, wondering who would be not only a good travelling mate, but also a great working partner – a “friend-ssistant” if you will. It didn’t take me long to land on a close friend of mine who had recently left her job and was in a time of transitioning back to school. And with her not having kids yet, it was easy enough for her to pack up and come along.
Everything was planned and ready to go – I would go a few days early for the conference and then she would fly out to join me once it was ending and then we would carry on together for the following six days. We were both really excited…until everything changed.
I’m going to spare you the gory details of it all because at the end of the day, this isn’t a roast blog post. So I’ll just give you the facts – 24 hours after my friend-ssistant arrived in Cali, she decided to up and leave me, in the desert, and go on her own vacation, never to be heard from again. As you can imagine, there were A LOT of tears, hurt, frustration, disappointment, anger and heartbreak. To be totally honest, I still don’t know to this day what happened as she unfortunately vanished from our lives after that day, but what I do know is that I was abandoned day two of a six day press trip and had no idea what I was going to do. I was terrified.
I obviously called Chris in a panic and he scrambled, trying to figure out who he could fly over last minute to help me. But as I drove myself from Palm Springs to Huntington Beach, something happened in the car. I blasted some Christian music, cried my eyes out and met with Jesus. An incredible peace just filled that car and when I showed up on the beach in Surf City USA, I knew it was all going to be ok.
While I had NEVER travelled by myself before and was a tad nervous to be in unfamiliar places, I had a certainty that this was going to be just fine. In fact, my whole perspective shifted during that two hour drive where I actually became excited to see what I could do on my own and learn about myself during some much needed time alone.
Now alone, I knew that I was going to need to get creative and come up with a list of ways to capture images – OF MYSELF – while travelling solo. And that’s exactly what I was able to do for those five remaining days in California.
There are lots of people that I know that travel solo or might be travelling with family and want to learn how to take professional looking pictures of themselves and so today, I thought I would share with you the unconventional tricks and tips I used to take pictures of myself while travelling alone.
5 Tips on How to Take Pictures of Yourself While Travelling Alone
#1. Get Creative With Your Surroundings
Before I went to California (and before I go on any press trip, for that matter), I try to think of the shots I want to take, specifically the shots that will have ME in it.
Now, that’s not to say a lot of it isn’t spontaneous and happens in the moment, because it does! Inspiration can strike at any moment while away depending on whatever beautiful place you find yourself in.
With California though, I knew that I wanted/needed to tag the hotel in at least one picture. So I was trying to think of ways I could be creative and engaging while posting a hotel shot, and still have me in it.
So I knew before I even left for Cali that I was going to take a shot of me in the bed in the morning with a cup of coffee, in my striped pink pajamas! The problem was, I didn’t get that shot before my friend left.
So the first morning alone, I looked around and wondered how on earth I was going to achieve this without anyone present. I also didn’t have a tripod (a point I’ll get to later), so I knew I would have to get creative.
I looked around the room and gathered a few items – two chairs, a trashcan, and the welcome folio from the hotel. I took my time setting up the camera to make sure it was level and framed properly.
Then, I set up the timer. My camera has a maximum of 10 seconds for the timer, which in normal situations, is actually a lot of time. But for me, to click the button, run and jump into the bed, pull the eye mask on, grab the cup of coffee and look totally relaxed…10 seconds felt like 2!
Needless to say, it took me quite a few shots before I got it right, but it eventually happened! And here’s the final shot! Would you have thought I took that of myself?!
#2. Bring a Tripod
Well as you can see from point #1, I failed to do this for this particular trip. That’s because I thought I would have someone with me, taking pictures of me. But because we know how this story ends, we know that I wasn’t prepared and had to improvise. Chris had suggested I hit up a local photography store to grab one, but we have two really great tripods at home and I didn’t really want to duplicate them. So I just made do.
But ever since this trip, neither of us have ever travelled without a tripod since. You just never know what can happen. Truthfully, even when we know we are travelling with someone else, we still bring it. Not that we live in constant fear that California 2.0 will happen again to us, but there are times when we might both want to be in the picture and don’t always want to rely on setting up makeshift tripods or relying on other people.
#3. Look For Other Photographers in the Area
For this point, I actually mean two different things.
First, if you ever find yourself alone or thinking of doing some kind of photoshoot in a destination, hop on Google or Instagram and check out other local photographers and try to book a shoot. There are literally photographers all around the world and with a quick email or DM, you can likely find a local photographer who is willing to do shoots for you for an agreed upon fee.
I had considered this for my time in California but I just didn’t think I would have enough time to find someone last minute. But what I did instead was I actually messaged a local blogger that I had been friends with for about two years online to see if she wanted to meet up for coffee and take a few pictures of each other. I hadn’t seen her in a few years and was excited to catch up over a cup of joe…but I knew we would also be able to capture a little bit of content for each other as well! That’s what I call “Two birds, one stone” friends!
The second way I mean this, and what I ended up doing at one particular spot in San Diego, was look around in a touristy area and spot the professional photographers just taking personal shots.
It was my second to last day and I arrived at La Jolla Cove and headed down to see the sea lions in the cove. I knew I wanted a picture of myself standing in front of them and just happened to spot a guy, who was alone (important to note that I didn’t feel like I was interrupting a photoshoot) and we started chatting.
After we chatted for some time, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking a few pictures of me with my own camera. He was happy to oblige and help me out. Here’s the shot he got!
#4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask a Stranger for the Shot
If you’ve gone through the first three tips and none of those options are available to you – you can’t create a makeshift tripod, you don’t have an actual tripod and you can’t spot a photographer – don’t be afraid to just ask ANYONE!!!
SPOILER ALERT: this WILL be SUPER awkward. But here’s the thing – the two times I did this on my California trip, I just kept telling myself – “You’ll NEVER see these people again!”
The first time this happened was when I went to find a popular mural in San Diego. I knew there was actually three murals in one and just hoped and prayed that there would be someone there to take the photo.
However, as soon as I arrived, it was a ghost town! I wasn’t sure what to do…so I tried to get even more creative in the moment and set up my camera on my car…but that wasn’t working.
Luckily, a delivery guy came to his car parked in the parking lot and I approached him, introduced myself, explained my somewhat odd predicament and asked if he would be able to help me out! He thought it was hilarious and even let me take this picture of him to share!
But the point was, he was more than happy to help me out. I gave him a few simple directions (one of them is to shoot wide, because I can always crop in post) and he ended up getting a few really great shots of me! To this day, I have no clue what his name is but am I ever grateful that I had the courage to speak up and ask and that he was kind of enough to take a few minutes to help me out!
The second image I had taken from a complete stranger was on Pacific Beach – and this happens to be my FAVOURITE image from my entire trip to California!
I was riding my rental bike along the beach and knew I wanted a picture of me with the bike. I stopped and asked one lady and she was a little hesitant but ended up taking a few pictures. They weren’t great, but I didn’t want to push my luck, so I said thank you and biked along.
Further down the beach, I stopped and realized what a perfect backdrop it was for the shot and so I approached two surfers, who were on their way down to the water’s edge to go surfing. I decided instead of pulling out my fancy camera, I would just ask them to snap it with my iPhone. They took so many shots and then asked me to review them to see if I liked it. I realized my angle was off, so I adjusted and asked them to take a few more and that’s when we got THIS image!
Again, from an outsider looking in, you’d likely never had guessed that this was a) snapped on my iPhone and b) taken by a surfer who was a total stranger!
The third time I asked someone to take the shot of me was when I showed up at the cutest cafe, S3 Coffee Bar, in San Diego. It is a hot spot for people wanting to take pictures there because obviously, look at that wall! After I ordered one of their famous rainbow latte, the barista was happy to help me get a fun shot!
The moral of this tip is – don’t be afraid to ask strangers for help in getting a shot of yourself. It WILL be awkward, rest assured of that, but just think – you won’t ever see them again, but you WILL have such a special photo and memory to reflect on from your time away!
#5. Set Up the Shot
Rounding out these tips is probably one of the most important ones – set up your shot.
I am convinced that just about anyone can get a GREAT shot, it all depends on how the shot is set-up in the first place.
Whether it’s you alone in you room using a makeshift tripod or asking a random surfer along the beach, if you know how you want the shot to look and set yourself up the proper way, I can almost guarantee you that the shot will be great – albiet you might need some cropping/editing work done afterwards.
In every single one of these pictures that either my makeshift tripod or another photographer took of me while I was in California, I knew EXACTLY the angle I wanted, the pose I was going to make, and what my surroundings were. I gave a few simple instructions and nine times out of ten, it was good enough for me to be able to work with it in post.
I learned SO much in those five days alone in California. I learned that I’m stronger than I realized. I learned that time alone CAN be a wonderful thing. I learned how to not walk away in midst of fear and uncertainty. But I also learned how to capture images of myself using these tips and tricks. By getting creative and putting myself out there, I was able to capture incredible content and complete my task that I set out to do. Was it always easy? Nope. Was it times awkward. Yup! But was it worth it in the end? Absolutely!
In life, we are often faced with choices, many times based on other people’s actions. In that moment, I had a choice to make – do I cry victim and quit or do I pull myself together and figure this out. It didn’t take me long to remember that I had agreed to do a job for the Californian tourism board and I wasn’t about to let someone else’s actions derail my commitment. So the show HAD to go on. And that happens to so many people in life, in so many different applications – the show MUST go on, you just need to adapt and learn some tricks on how to navigate it the best you can!
Thanks for letting me be vulnerable and share this story with you. Only a handful of people in my inner circle knew this story and I wanted to wait until the right time to share it. I also wanted to make sure that if and when I shared it, it could be used in a way that could maybe help others. My goal was to never slander the person that left me in California but rather to use it as a learning opportunity to share how I pushed myself to grow and learn how to trust my instincts, creativity and those all around me! And hopefully, you can use some of these tips for the next time you find yourself flying solo somewhere around the world!
Love & Blessings,