Solo Travel - Part 3 - In Defense of the Selfie

“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.” 
― Frederick Douglass

Remember family vacations as a child? Someone constantly asking you to “stand here” or “in front of that” “act like you like each other” “etc etc? At the time these photos may have been annoying – but now they are treasured. A good vacation photo album isn’t a bunch of pictures of scenery – it’s you and your loved ones within the scenery. You were there. That is the memory.

Traveling solo doesn’t mean you have to give up those memories – you can ask a kind stranger to take your photo, you can set up the camera timer (my fav – tips at the end of this post), or just take a selfie #noshame.

Selfies have gotten a bad rap – and for some good reasons. I don’t want to see a picture of someone’s face in the front seat of their car every day either but, honestly, I’d rather see a few of those than someone who’s hating. So here are some reasons why I am not ashamed of taking selfies – and why you shouldn’t be either.

Selfies are a digital self-portrait. Just like the original self-portraits of the 10th century – they are a mark in time capturing who the subject is and the emotions associated with that moment. Just like the childhood vacation photos, eventually we are going to forget about the places we went, the weird hairstyles we had, and the excitement we experienced in a new place. A photo can bring us back to that place. I don’t feel the same connection to a photo of a mountain as I do a photo of me as a child in front of the mountain doing something ridiculous. That’s the memory. That’s my experience of a place. I was there.

A selfie can also be a way to actually celebrate confidence and promote psychological well-being. The Dove film “Selfie” is a great example of how accepting yourself(ie) can be so powerful, especially for girls and women. As women, our entire lives we are bombarded by media images of perfection – a selfie is a way to show your uniqueness and boost your confidence. Due to social media there are now more images of “regular” people than models – how cool! While there are still the airbrushed unnatural standards of perfection selfies – a girl growing up today is much more likely to just see photos of real people - people who are unique and beautiful in all different ways. Social media and selfies are actually widening and redefining the definition of beauty – everyone can (and deserves to) be seen.

Taking a selfie is also a great way to show your personality. Whether you think about it or are consciously aware of it – we are all trying to create an image of ourselves. On and off social media, the things you do, say, write, read, etc. are all a part of how you are projecting yourself to the world. People often say that they don’t feel known – but maybe they just aren’t showing anyone who they really are. We can define ourselves in a way with a self-portrait. I love a photo where I just look like me – when I am outdoors, probably wearing a backwards hat, and smiling. This is when I feel most like myself. 

Obviously my view of selfies is pretty positive. I think it can be empowering to practice vulnerability by putting yourself out there – opening yourself up to ridicule, judgement, and even comparison. It’s also just really great to feel confident. That “who the hell cares if anyone likes this picture of my face and this thing behind my face because I LIKE IT” attitude - I like it and I want to be reminded of this moment later. I want to share this moment with the people who aren’t here. I want to remember the joy on my face and not just the backdrop.

But, what about the detractors (haters)? Well, I already explained that who the hell cares – but really, who cares what anyone else thinks? Why is anyone that concerned about you or what you do? The truth is they probably really aren’t concerned about you at all (remember the spotlight effect). And if they are – that says a lot more about them than it does about you.

What does science have to say? Well, research shows that looking at pictures of smiling faces makes you smile – and smiling makes you already feel that much happier. While there are also studies that show selfies lead or come from a negative place – I feel like those are all extreme cases. I’m not suggesting that you post a selfie every day or that you get all of your self-worth from the likes it receives – I’m just saying there isn’t anything wrong with it. But, like almost everything in life, balance is the key.

So, in a culture where women are given totally unrealistic standards of beauty – be comfortable with yourself. If that means take a selfie – do it. If it doesn’t – don’t. Really, who cares. No shaming necessary.

Camera Timer Basics

If you want a picture of something more than your face, use the camera timer! I like selfies but I also think photos with a person as the subject just look better and are more dynamic -  so I do this all the time (obviously and shamelessly) Here are a few tips:

Basics: Set the timer on your phone camera to 10 seconds and find something to prop your phone up against. It could be a wall, a fence, your water bottle – I’ve found some crazy stuff that works.

If you can, use the front camera – you won’t be able to see yourself but the quality of the photo is much better.

Set your phone up as high as you can. Sometimes a pic from the ground can look cool but generally closer to eye level makes a better photo.

If you have an Apple Watch - set your phone somewhere farther away and use the watch to cue the photo

Camera timers are the secret to the cartwheel/active shots – the timer takes a burst of photos so you have a few to choose from.

Take a bunch! Haha but seriously – take one, look at it, and then make adjustments as necessary.

And then post them all over the internet. (duh)

Thanks for reading :)

the great great sand dunes

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” - Rumi

From 1st to 4th grade my family lived in Colorado. One of my strangest memories from those years is of a visit to the Great Sand Dunes (it wasn't yet a National Park). I have always remembered images of the visit in my mind but thought that it was too surreal to have actually happened. Because not even my mind could conjure something so incredible.

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Since I have moved back to the state I have visited a few times and am in the same state of wonder and amazement as all those years ago. 

A little background on the park: the Great Sand Dunes are home to the tallest sand dunes in North America - 750 ft from base to crest. It was declared a National Monument in 1932 and a National Park and Preserve in 2004. The park covers 44,246 acres and an additional 41,686 for the preserve. The nearest town is Alamosa (35 miles away). 

The dunes started forming through sand and soil deposits from the Rio Grande, the winds picked up the sand and lost power before crossing the mountains. The process is continuous and the shape of the dunes change daily. 

The dunes are accessible for hiking (very carefully in the summer when sand temps can reach 150 degrees!) sand sledding, sand boarding, and there are sand wheelchairs available (so cool) The sand sleds and sand boards are available tor rent in Alamosa at Kristi Mountain Sports or Oasis Campground outside the park. 

The Great Sand Dunes are just shy of 4 hours from Denver. I take I-25 south, exit 52 to US-180 W at Walsenburg, over La Veta pass and into Fort Garland then Blanca. Turn right onto CO - 150, drive about 19 miles and you're there! It is $15 per car (or no charge with the America the Beautiful Pass that I recommend at least once a day). 

Until you get close you'd never know anything was there other than the Sangre de Cristo mountains. 

dunes road

At the main parking area you enter the dunes by crossing Medano Creek - or swimming through in the summer!

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The dunes are much larger than a picture can convey. Be prepared to walk quite a while through some challenging altitude change if you want to get to the top. Bring water! (and sunscreen - I had a Teva foot sunburn that lasted a year after this picture)

sand dunes 9

I like to climb up somewhere and just sit. I bring a book but it's usually too windy to do anything but take it in. There are no real set trails due to the changing landscape so you can be as far or close to others as you'd like. I prefer far :) Acoustic monitoring has shown that the park has one of the quietest soundscapes in the country! I'm not surprised. So peaceful. 

Again, pictures don't do them justice. You have to go.

Resolution: make a gif ✔️ #sanddunes #cartwheel #gif

See this Instagram video by @emhart11 * 8 likes

If all these pictures haven't convinced you to visit this underrated National Park then I don't know what will. It is an amazing, peaceful, and surreal place that everyone should see in their lifetime.