Last updated: 09:00 AM ET, Thu November 05 2015

Tourists: Ditch the Big Camera

Features & Advice | Will McGough | November 05, 2015

Tourists: Ditch the Big Camera

There are some places on the planet where you stick out like a sore thumb no matter how hard you try. For me — a six-foot-two white male — Southeast Asia would be one of those places. Regardless of what I do or how I act, everyone knows I’m from somewhere else.

There are other parts of the world, however, where I’m dealt a better hand. Germany, for one. Definitely Canada, and of course my own country. It is in these places that I can fly under the radar. Everything about my appearance, from the way I dress to the confidence with which I walk the streets, is a product of how I want to be perceived by people around me. It is my through my words that I want to reveal to someone that I’m from out of town — not via an impression from afar.

Which is why big cameras are a bad idea.  

Revealing myself as a tourist to a local is the most powerful weapon I have as a traveler when it comes to making friends. It is a ticket waiting to be cashed in for an invitation. But for it to open doors, you’ve got to get close enough to reach the knob. The local must like you, trust you, and, once hearing that you’re from out of town, feel invested in the experience you are about to have in their hometown. This typically spawns from a natural reaction, and a big camera can only get in the way.

First and foremost, it is a bulky burden to lug around, a liability that squashes spontaneity, a barrier between yourself and everyone else. And of course anyone with something to sell can immediately tell you’re a tourist. But it goes deeper than that. I believe there is a subliminal message being sent out, something that insinuates you are here to observe and record, not participate.

Of course, that might not be true at all, but in my experience, that sense of separation emanates in a big way. Walk into a cafe with a camera around your neck, and watch the first impressions fly. Because you stick out, you are labeled before you even have a chance to sit down and start a conversation.

I realize without question that big cameras take nice photos, and many people who travel have a strong interest in photography. It is how they personally experience a destination. So be it. But I will say that pocket cameras (and I suppose smart phones) have come a long way, and switching to one is another way to make yourself more approachable. Pull the camera from your pocket, snap the photo you want, and then conceal it again.

If immersion is the main goal, you are shooting yourself in the foot by carrying a big camera, and perhaps taking a day off, or simply switching to a pocket camera, can help you have more personal interactions on the road.


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