How to Take The Perfect Travel Selfie

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

First of all, it’s important to clarify that in this post a selfie is only considered a selfie if you take the photo yourself.

I know that this may seem obvious to most of you, but you’d be surprised how many photos I’ve come across on social media that are labeled #selfie but are clearly taken by someone else.

Even the English Oxford Dictionary agrees:

SELFIE noun A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.

Now that we’ve got the definition of a selfie settled, here’s what you need to do to make sure you look amazing every single time you take one.

How to take the perfect travel selfie
How to take the perfect travel selfie

Find your best light

Nothing ages you more than dark shadows under your eyes because of harsh lighting. But how do you know what light makes you look your best?

JLo to the rescue!

Jennifer Lopez recently shared her secret to taking flawless selfies, “Turn in a circle with your phone held high in front-facing camera mode until you find the best light before taking the photo.”

Is there anything she can’t do?!  

Take off your hat

Do you know what a hat does? It shades your face. And like we mentioned above, nothing ages you more than unsightly shadows cast on your face. Plus, the point of a selfie is so that people can see you, not your hat!

If you must keep it on to complete your look or hide unsightly hair try tilting it back slightly to let the light hit your face, or tilt your chin to reduce shadows.

It’s all in how you hold it

Hold your phone or camera slightly above eye level and angle your face, so you are not facing the camera straight on, for the most flattering look.

Whatever you do, don’t tilt your face up to the camera. This will make you look strained. Keep your chin down and never take your shot from below.

Don’t just stand there

Show your personality in your photo!

Stick out your tongue, vogue, give your best intense look, blow a kiss, wave, give a sassy smile… this isn’t a professional portrait!

Show some context

The point of a travel selfie is to show that you are in a different place!

Make sure what is behind you or around you showcases the place that you are in, whether it is an ancient ruin, a beautiful beach, or a quirky shop.

Consider the crop

Wait! Before you post that selfie, take a minute to consider if cropping the photo would make for a better composition.

Is there something cluttering up the background? Would zooming in a bit highlight your surroundings better?

The original photo taken while kayaking in the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada.

The original photo taken while kayaking in the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada.

For the edited photo ( using FaceTune) I changed the lighting and smoothed the skin under my eyes.

For the edited photo ( using FaceTune) I changed the lighting and smoothed the skin under my eyes.

Edit if you must, but don’t overdo it

There are so many photo editing apps out there and it can be tempting to get rid of every line, blemish, and wrinkle in every photo you take. But before you turn your selfie into an airbrushed picture of perfection, remember that no one’s skin is that smooth, your teeth are not that white in real life, and that halo of light does not really exist.

You’re not fooling anyone — we can all tell when your photo has been edited too much.

So, edit if you must, but just remember that the best part about you is that you are unique and that there is no one else out there who looks just like you! Embrace your own unique look, (perceived) flaws and all!

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Your guide to taking the perfect travel selfie
Your guide to taking the perfect travel selfie

10 Tips For Women Traveling To Morocco

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

A maze of winding alleyways, intricately carved wooden doors, brightly woven textiles, the smell of wood-burning stoves in the air, and the hauntingly beautiful call to prayer all awaits you in this mesmerizing country. The architecture, the desert dunes, the Atlas Mountains, the long stretches of sandy beach — there are so many reasons to visit Morocco.

Is it safe to travel in Morocco as a solo female? Of course! 

But, like with any new country or culture that you are visiting, it is important to be aware and respectful of any etiquette and traditions that are different than your own. Whether you are traveling solo or with a group, here are some things to keep in mind when setting out on your Moroccan adventure. 

1. Be Modest in The Way You Dress
You don't have to wear a headscarf or anything, but the majority of women in the country wear long, loose clothing and some do cover their heads. Throwing on your short shorts and spaghetti straps will not only make you a target for aggressive touts and scam artists, but is disrespectful. If you want to have meaningful interactions with the locals, make sure your knees and shoulders are covered and try not to show cleavage.

2. Avoid Tons of Makeup and Wear Your Hair Up
Yes, I know that changing your appearance drastically goes against every feminist bone in your body, but the reality is that this is a culture of machismo, where men are very much in control and don't get a chance to interact with women much before marriage, making them more attentive towards foreign women who are not bound by Islamic Law. The prettier you look, the more you are going to get shouted at and noticed when walking down the street. Especially if you are traveling alone or with only females.

3. When Walking Through The Market Don't Say "Hello" to Everyone That Speaks To You
Like in markets all over the world, every person you walk by will try and sell you something or get your attention. While it may be the norm to make eye contact, smile, and say hello to the people that you pass at home, if you engage with the street vendors in Morocco, you are going to get pulled into a transaction that you may not have wanted or have been prepared for. Just look straight ahead, and ignore the calls coming at you from all sides.

4. Avoid the Henna Tattoo Women
Common at the beach and in other tourist areas, women will come up to you and grab you by the arm and try to give you a henna tattoo. While getting a beautiful temporary design on your hand may be tempting, be wary. They will usually finish the tattoo and then try and charge you an exorbitant rate, kicking up a huge fuss if you refuse to pay it.

5. Sun Tanning 101
While the warm weather and long stretches of sand beckon, be careful where you spread your towel and lay out in your two piece. Local women are still completely covered at the beach, and there have been incidents where female tourists have been harassed or had blankets thrown over them while sun tanning. Most beaches have tourist hotels or resorts at them that have a roped off area where for around $1 a day, you can rent a chair and avoid any sort of hassle.

6. Don't Wander Alone at Night or in Isolated Areas
This may seem like common sense, but as the sun sets relatively early, getting caught in the street when the sun goes down is easier than you think. There is a local understanding that "good women" are at home once it's dark, so it's best to be safe inside to avoid any uncomfortable situations.

7. No "Fraternizing" With The Locals
Islamic law rules, which means that getting caught having sex with a Moroccan man or women that you are not married to can lead to them getting thrown in jail (or worse) and you getting thrown out of the country, never allowed to return.

8. Learn a Little of the Local Lingo
French and Arabic are both widely used throughout the country, and I found that uttering the traditional Arabic greeting "As-salāmu ʿalaykum" and the response "Waʿalaykumu s-salām", was the quickest way to make a connection with the locals, as it shows a level of respect.

9. No Smoking or Drinking
Muslim women don't smoke in public, and Islamic law does not allow drinking, though many tourist restaurants in the larger cities sell it. If you decide to indulge in either, try and do it in private or with a large group of fellow travellers at a tourist bar or hotel.

10. Try These Spots if You Need an Escape
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to get away from street harassment, or just need a break from the craziness of the market, try going somewhere that is frequented by local women. A hammam is a great male-free zone as well as the top terrace of a tea house or restaurant. Hotel and public pools tend to attract groups of local men, as does anywhere that serves alcohol, so avoid these spots.

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Travel Tales: Alone In Rome On My First Trip Abroad (Or, How I Awoke My Inner Traveller)

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

In January of 2004, I found myself alone in a hotel in Rome — my very first time alone in a foreign country. 

I was about to start a semester of university in Cortona, Italy and did not know a single soul who was going to be attending school with me. Not only was it my first time travelling alone, but it was my first time travelling in a country where few people spoke my language.

There were no smartphones, few students had laptops, wifi was not an option, my camera used film (no seeing what your photos looked like until you developed them!), and social media sites didn't exist. If I wanted contact with home, I had to buy a phone card and hope that the call would connect. And if someone from home wanted to contact me? They couldn't. 

This is the story of my first few days alone in Rome — taken from my journal and my memories — that have helped empower and shape my travels ever since. 

DAY 1 — I'm a huge wimp

It is six in the morning and the clouds are turning pink outside my window. I can just barely see the moon through the mist.

This is probably going to be the only view I see today.

I am terrified to leave my room. 

My hands are shaky and I can't stop crying. It would be easier if I could have a good, all-out sob and be done with it, but instead my tears are silent ones that steadily pour from the corners of my eyes.

I am scared and ashamed of it. 

Four floors above the foreign streets, all I can see is rooftops. Eerie, lonely rooftops with weathervanes standing out against the rising sun. There is no sign of life at this level and no sound of it either. 

My only consolation is the television that I have kept on all night turned to the only English station that I can find — a never-ending loop of BBC news. 

My room is a shoebox, not large enough for Italian leather boots though, more fit for bargain children's shoes. The door opens into my tiny bed, a closet, and a desk. The bathroom is almost bigger then the room, but it is clean and has a window with a nice view of, well... rooftops.

What was I thinking?!

I have never been outside of my country alone before and here I am on an entirely different continent, alone in a strange hotel!

On top of the emotional goodbyes I made to family and friends just a few hours ago, I have lost and found both my bag and passport already, which, now that i think about it, may be part of the reason for the shaking. 

DAY 2 — Feeling brave(ish)

This morning I am determined to leave the hotel.

I wake up early, shower and go up to the breakfast room on the eighth floor. The continental breakfast looks more like dessert — platters heaped with pastries and strong black coffee bolster my confidence (or at least give me a much needed energy boost).

About thirty minutes later, taking a deep breath, I take my first step out of the hotel and into the cobblestone streets of Rome. It is sunny and surprisingly warm for a January day which helps life my mood almost immediately.

I am walking along a street that borders the ancient city wall and am so busy looking at the map and trying to figure out where I am that it is there before I can prepare myself for it — the Colosseum.

I don't know why, but I can't hold back my emotions and without warning I burst into tears. It suddenly hits me how real the world is and I get a sense of how real I am for being a part of it. This incredible part of history is not on a slide or in a textbook, but directly in front of me.

I sink down on a pile of old stones in a park across the street from the massive monument and just look at it for awhile while I let the tears run down my face. 

Slowly coming back to reality, I take a few pictures (and a few deep breaths). The true blue sky is the perfect backdrop and the morning sun is carving deep shadows into the ancient stone and revealing secrets that can only be seen at that certain time of day. It is early on a Sunday morning, and there is hardly a soul in sight.

I cross the street, walk right up to it and touch it.

I touched it!

The rock is rough. Worn from battles, wars, erosion, the subway cars that pass below it, the smart-cars that pass beside it, and the millions of us that reach out and touch it in our need to confirm that it is really there. 

In a trance, hardly breathing, I walk around the outside of this incredible piece of history, letting my fingers create an invisible trail on its ancient surface. 

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

The sun is shining on the facade of the Trevi Fountain, but where I sit is in shade. The once pure white marble seems to glow in all the right places, while the deep cuts in the statues are in perfect shadow. The water is loud, blocking out the noise of the modern world as it falls majestically over the strategically carved and well worn caverns.

It is perfect.

I could not have asked for a better day. I have spent the last few hours wandering from the Colosseum to the Roman Forum, through twisting winding streets to the Pantheon and finally to this famous fountain. 

Though it is one of the most popular tourist sites in Rome, there are only a handful of people milling around on this January day. Some are posing for photos while others are throwing coins over their shoulders into the clear water to ensure their return. Like me, some are just sitting and observing while pigeons mill around our feet and men try to sell us useless trinkets. 

An image projected on a screen in art class is nothing compared to the experience of the real thing... nothing

For the first time since boarding the plane back home, I feel quiet, calm... relaxed. 

Ahhhh Roma...

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

As my new bible, Lonely Planet Italy, predicted, I am drawn to the windows along the streets as much as I am to the historic monuments. Seriously, a girl with a shoe fetish should NOT be allowed to walk alone in Rome! I have managed to stay out of the stores today, but it is only my first day out — with so much delightful temptation (and no one to stop me) my plan to save money isn't going to last long. 

Other then realizing that travelling alone is not as scary as I thought, I have also discovered that in order to eat I will have to learn a few more phrases in Italian.

I figured out the hard way that I need to know more than "Ciao" in order to get a sandwich...

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6 Reasons Why You (ladies) Should Stay In The Co-ed Room At A Hostel

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

As a solo female traveller, sleeping in a room with a bunch of male strangers might seem like the LAST thing you want to do. But trust me, it has its benefits. Here's why you should sleep in the co-ed room at a hostel.

1. Women are waaaaaay messier

True story ladies. Walk into the 'women only' room at the hostel and it will look like everyone's bag exploded. (Hey, I'm the first to admit that I end up pulling everything out of my bag when settling in). Guys seem to be able to keep their stuff neater, in their bag, or at least confined to their bunk and out of the way (don't ask me how). 

2. They cost less

Yup, the more 'exclusive' segregated rooms are often a few dollars more. It isn't a crazy amount, but is enough to make a difference if you are travelling long-term or on a budget.  

3. Men are protective

Not that I am saying you need protecting ladies! Hell, you are travelling solo! BUT, it is in the nature of the average male to look out for the average female. If nothing else, you will have a few people who notice when you are coming and going, and who might want to chat with you about your day.

4. In my experience, males staying in a room where there are women they don't know are extremely respectful

I stayed in a co-ed room in Paris with five guys — I was the only girl. All of them would get up and ready as quickly as possible in the morning to give me my space and full access to the bathroom. It was actually really sweet, and a trend that I have seen repeated over and over. 

5. Co-ed rooms are full of friendly couples!

Couples who opt out of private rooms, or cheap hotels, to stay in hostel dorms are the kind of couples who want to socialize and meet new people — especially the innocent solo female traveller in the bunk next to them. I have been asked to join these travellers on many occasions and have made some really great friends because of it. 

6. There is usually a bed available

The co-ed room is usually the last to fill up because most people automatically ask for a female only, male only, or private room. You are pretty much guaranteed a place to sleep in the mixed dorm.