6 Times When It’s NOT OK to Take a Travel Selfie

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In the age of Facebook and Twitter and the ubiquitous selfie, when we all feel the need to make our lives look more exciting by plastering everything we do and see across social media, I have begun to notice a disturbing trend while traveling the world.

A trend that leans toward the ignorant, the insensitive, and the downright disrespectful.

We've all seen THAT tourist. The one throwing up a peace sign at a war memorial. The one grinning at a burial ground. The one snapping selfies at a concentration camp (yes, I've actually seen it happen).

9/11 Memorial
I've seen all of the above at the 9/11 Memorial in NYC

You've probably seen them, too. And maybe you felt a special type of rage towards them like I did.

JUST because you have a smartphone and a nice smile does NOT mean you need to commemorate visits to certain places by taking grinning selfies.

These are just a few of those places:

6 times when you shouldn't take the selfie

1. At a memorial honoring the dead

War memorials, disaster memorials, memorials to people who suffered… these are not the places for grinning or goofy selfies. These are places where people – often people who knew or are related to the victims – go to pay their respects; to remember and honor those who died. You may not have the same connections to these people, but you should keep in mind that others around you do.

Where I've seen it: I see it at nearly every such memorial I visit. Some notable spots have included the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, the 9/11 Memorial in New York City (the last time I was at this one, there was actually a woman doing a fashion photoshoot with a purse there), and even the memorial for the Boston Massacre.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin

2. At a place where people actually died

I feel like this should be a given. If you are visiting a place where people lost their lives in some sort of horrific fashion, it's not the place to snap a duck-faced selfie. Period. Show some respect. If you're not interested in learning about what happened at said place, at least pretend like you are. Or just don't go in the first place.

Where I've seen it: I'll never forget going to the 9/11 Memorial for the first time in New York City. I went on a tour led by 2 people who were there that day, both of whom had been in one of the World Trade Center towers and managed to get out before they collapsed. Their stories moved me to tears. And then I turned around to see tourists posing with big smiles and peace signs in front of the memorial fountains – fountains that are covered with the names of the victims who died on that very spot. Noooot really the place.

And we've all heard about how literal concentration camps in Europe have had to write rules banning selfies, because people were taking them. (They're still taking them, of course; I just saw a man recently posing for a smiling photo at Auschwitz with my own eyes.)

Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp railroad track
Thankfully selfies are banned at concentration camps like Auschwitz

3. When you are disrespecting the locals

First of all, you should always be respecting the local people in the places you're visiting. After all, YOU'RE the outsider. But, if you're not going to respect them, at least don't take photos of yourself mocking them, their homes, or their way of life. Don't take a photo of (or with) someone that you wouldn't want someone to take of (or with) you.

(In fact, don't use people as props in your photos, period. You should always get permission to take any photos of fellow humans.)

Where I've seen it: People taking selfies with homeless people (because apparently this is cool?). Or people taking selfies with monks when they're going about collecting their morning alms (this one is getting out of control in Southeast Asia).

4. When you are acting like a douchebag

“Acting like a douchebag” can cover a lot. I realize this. But I'm sure you know what I mean – we don't need any more selfies drunk people in public, posing with something inappropriate, defacing something ancient, etc. If you insist on BEING a douchebag, fine. But there's no reason for you to put evidence of it up on Instagram.

Monkey Beach, Thailand
Case in point: if you're going to give monkeys in Thailand cans of soda, don't also take photos of it

Where I've seen it: The worst was probably people snapping selfies while feeding bags of potato chips and cans of Coca Cola to monkeys in Thailand. First of all, please DO NOT FEED WILD ANIMALS in the first place – and especially don't feed them crappy human food. I wanted to slap each and every one of these people.

And I'm sure you've all heard the stories of people taking photos of themselves doing illegal things on their travels (how stupid). If you're going to be an idiot and film proof of it, you deserve to get caught.

5. When something bad is actually happening

Lastly, if you find yourself in a situation where something bad is happening right at that very moment, for the love of God don't think about the best angle for your epic selfie. Put aside your vanity and either get the hell out of there, or figure out what you can do to help.

“Citizen journalists” ARE a thing. But these people report the news – they don't snap MySpace-style selfies when people are getting hurt in the background.

Where I've seen it: I thankfully haven't witnessed this in person – yet. But I'm sure it's only a matter of time.

6. When you're being selfish or oblivious

This one isn't quite as heinous as taking a selfie at a concentration camp, but it's perhaps the situation that will piss off your fellow travelers the most: when you're so oblivious to your surroundings and other people that you inconvenience others and get in everyone's way to take your own photo.

I believe in being very diplomatic when it comes to taking photos at very famous lookouts and viewpoints; I have no problem with people taking selfies – as long as they move out of the way in a decent amount of time so everyone else can get their own photos, too.

If you are either selfish enough to think only your photos matter, or so oblivious that you don't even realize you're blocking others or ruining their special photos, then you are the type of traveler people can't stand.

Amanda under a cherry blossom tree at the Tidal Basin
Hogging spots along the Tidal Basin in DC during cherry blossom season is sadly common

Where I've seen it: Honestly everywhere these days. But it was definitely the most rage-inducing around the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC during cherry blossom season. The views here are great, and you CAN get photos without hundreds of other people in them. But professional photographers like to set up and hog all the best spots for their clients instead of taking turns, which I hate! No one is more deserving of the pretty view just because they're carrying a nicer camera.

What other selfie habits give you rage?

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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96 Comments on “6 Times When It’s NOT OK to Take a Travel Selfie

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  1. Two occasions of this in the last 12 months of travel. One – a man with thousands of dollars in camera equipment and yet s()& for brains actually posted his camera on my shoulder then reached around to my other shoulder to balance it, nearly touching my female parts in the process. I was wtf rude in return and my rude shamed him into silence even after he apologized for his over eagerness. I do think at least he quickly realized what he had done. Two – a family of father, mother, two teenagers – he was so eager at Eagle’s Nest Berchtesgaden to get his family in the full shot he stepped in front of the rest of us multiple times, making us wait while he composed his multiple shots – irritating entitlement a hard choice against whether those smiling photos were appropriate in the first place! Embarrassment by the rest of his family at his behavior was palpable although not enough to make me feel sorry for him.

      Oof I would have definitely been side-eyeing the family photo at Eagles Nest anyway… yikes!

    This was a great post Amanda. But, what can we do about people like this ? I’ve traveled quite abit, and it’s only getting worse. I’m pretty sure my glaring at them, or leaving, isn’t accomplishing anything . Any hints ?

      There’s not much to do, unfortunately, except call people out in the worst circumstances and ignore them in others. There’s of course always a fine line with just being annoyed with the fact that people want to take selfies, and people going to far with trying to get “the shot.” I don’t have issues with people taking photos when it’s not bothering anyone else.

    Hey there!

    I love your blog so much!

    Just a quick information about the memorial in Berlin: The designer/creator (Peter Eisenman) of the memorial wanted every visitor to play around the stones, children to play hide and seek and have fun. 🙂

    Love from Germany,


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