5 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 taking “jumping” shots in a place where people suffered. The one snapping selfies at a concentration camp.

9/11 Memorial

Yeah, 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 killer smile does NOT mean it's okay to to take grinning selfies in the following situations while traveling:

When you are 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 spent 5 days in Berlin last summer, and found myself at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe on more than one occasion. If you've never seen the memorial before, it's basically a city block covered in what look like stone boxes set at different heights. It's meant to be abstract — but it's NOT meant to be treated as a jungle gym. I saw so many people leaping across the pillars, posing on top of them, and even playing tag in between them. Don't do this, people. Visit the free Holocaust museum underneath this memorial, and you'll realize that this is not the place for goofing off.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin

When you are 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 then of course there's the girl who's proud of her Auschwitz selfie. I just… I can't even add commentary on that one.

When you are disrespecting the locals

First of all, you should probably be respecting the local people in the places you're visiting. After all, YOU'RE the outsider here. 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.

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).

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 of you drunk off your face 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

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 them doing illegal things on their travels (how stupid). Or how about all those dumbasses trying to snap selfies at the Tour de France and getting in the way of the riders? BAD TOURISTS, BAD.

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.


For more awful selfies, check out the Selfies at Serious Places Tumblr account. What a world we live in.


Can you think of any other instances when it's NOT OK to snap a travel selfie?



"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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92 Comments on “5 Times When It’s NOT OK to Take a Travel Selfie

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  1. I find this topic interesting as I am well travelled and have been to most of the places mentioned above. I have witnessed different behaviour and seen different reactions but ultimately I believe it comes down to an individuals opinion and culture. What I have come to realise is that ignorance works two ways – the person under scrutiny and the person scrutinising. Mostly people do not go out of their way to upset others, they are just doing what they are culturally or individually used to.
    On a recent trip to Australia I witnessed several Chinese people littering all over many of the National Parks. I was horrified and judged their behaviour. What I came to understand is that culturally they do not have such hellbent feelings against littering that I have – so my anger is a prejudice to something I don’t understand.

    What is the reason anyone ever takes any photos? Why is it ok to take photos at all in these places? Why is a selfie is more offensive that any other photo? I’m not the biggest fan of selfies myself, however, people take photos to remember events or trips they have been on……a selfie or photo of a person at a place is often the only thing that makes that photo any different to the thousands of other photos of the exact same place already out there.
    Likewise, is it not ok to smile anywhere near to an area where someone has died or a memorial of such? Must we visit these places and stay sad at all times? Why should it always be seen as disrespectful to smile? Everyone reacts differently when in different situations. Sometimes being overcome with sadness can lead people to need a release from the reality around them & what some may think is disrespectful may be the only way that others know how to deal with it.
    The bottom line is, countries capitalise on their memorials, often offering day trips and souvenirs and encouraging thousands or millions of people there each year – some might argue that this itself is disgusting behaviour and disrespectful to the people that have died. Who is worse, the person selling the excursion for a profit or the person wanting to remember their trip? Either way, we are all human beings and sometimes our ignorance is another mans reality. You cannot “manage” tourists and their behaviour because they will all have different understandings of what is right and wrong, different cultural backgrounds and different reasons for visiting places. Maybe we should all stop taking photos at all? Maybe we should all stop smiling? Maybe we should just stay at home? Where does the line become impractical and where does it make everyone accepting of each other’s behaviour?

      All good points, but I also think there are clear examples of instances where it’s not about cultural differences, and people are just flat-out being disrespectful.

    Selfies has done more harm than good, but it is a great way of showing your journey..these things are important to be taken care of as mentioned above..well written! thanks for sharing

      In most cases, wanting to take photos of yourself is fine – I agree that they are great ways to remember your trip! But in some places they just aren’t appropriate.

    Sad to be reading this at 2017 when this has actually gotten worse

    Great post! Hubs and I were at the S-21 PRISON in Phnom Pehn (2017) and LOTS of Chinese tourists were taking selfies. HELLO!! People freekin’ died there, hello!! Yeah, some people have no awareness at all!

      It’s something that I find very tasteless and it definitely bothers me when I see it! I even feel awkward taking regular photos in some of these places, even though I’m taking them to use in blog posts. It just feels wrong.

    I completely agree with this article! Today is 9/11 and a girl I know posted a photo on instagram of her boyfriend at the memorial fountains with his sunglasses down his nose looking over them. Obviously trying to do a “cool” pose. Her caption was something along the lines of “missing my man while never forgetting.” like come on. Don’t take selfies at a place like that. Especially a ridiculous posed picture like that. Where’s the respect? And she obviously was just posting it to go along with everyone else, I don’t think it was truly to respect what happened there 14 years ago.

      I think part of it is because a lot of high school and college-aged people simply don’t remember 9/11 – in fact, anyone under the age of 14 today wouldn’t have even been born yet, and anyone under the age of 20-22 probably doesn’t remember anything about that day. I’m not saying that makes it okay – but there’s certainly a difference when you feel removed from a tragedy. (Though, the popularity of selfie culture and the explosion of social media doesn’t help either; I think many people have become completely oblivious to what’s insensitive at sites like this.)

    I too saw people taking selfies and climbing on the memorial in Berlin. Are people really that stupid? I guess the answer is yes!

    I hate to generalise but I noticed “bad tourist” most in Southeast Asia. Feeding monkeys coke and chips among just being general douchebags in a variety of ways. Ugh some people should just be banished!

      Yeah, unfortunately you see a lot of these along the “backpacker trail” – and it’s going strong in Southeast Asia.

    I found it! This post sums up how I felt perfectly. It makes you want to poke those people in the eye. Human suffering, or animal suffering, is not something one takes a selfie with.
    Thank you for directing me to this post! It is perfect. Makes me more irritated with those people, but also glad I’m not alone in my rage. haha

      You are most definitely NOT alone in your rage, as all the comments on this post prove!

    Yikes! Luckily I have never come across any of these instances (someone probably would have gotten yelled at), but these scenarios that you have encountered are SO ridiculous! I mean really, who runs through a grave site? crazies.

      I swear, some people just don’t have brains in their heads.

    I totally agree with you. I kinda feel sorry for those monkeys who were given Coca Cola to drink. That’s bad.

      It’s very bad! I feel sorry for those monkeys, too.

    Great article. Being responsible with taking photos is extremely important. I once saw somebody take a selfie in a Holocaust museum.

      Yeah, that’s definitely not cool! Why would you want a selfie there? I don’t get it.

    It’s good that you did this travel selfie posts because some travellers are just taking photos without minding the locals and the affected person’s feelings. I feel that they are insensitive taking this kind of photos.

      Yes, they definitely can be insensitive sometimes!

    I was in Berlin recently too, and it was so annoying to see people taking silly photos at all the memorial stuff. So inappropriate! I get that it’s easy to snap pictures of everything with your phone, but some people really cross the line and don’t think about the context they’re taking their selfies in.

    Great post!

      Yup. In most cases, if they just stopped and thought about it for 5 seconds from someone else’s point of view, maybe they’d realize how inappropriate it is. Maybe. Some people just don’t care, though. :/

    It’s probably not a good idea to take selfies standing on the edge of a cliff…..it can, to coin a phrase, be a dangerous biz.

    “Authorities say a 23-year-old woman trying to take a picture by the edge of a cliff in the Catskill Mountains died after falling more than 150 feet.”


      Oh geez. In those cases, maybe it’s for the best. Natural selection and all that… 😉

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