Selfie Sticks: empowering or just annoying?

I recently embarked on my first solo trip, yep that’s right – no friends, family or boyfriend! Although I had been toying with the idea of heading to Milan for a while, the idea of going alone seemed all too inviting. The perfect place to shop til I drop and just admire the fashion and the people, without my usual trusty sidekick Blair, who would have probably been bored to tears (and already visited Milan before). It soon dawned on me that for the first time I would also be taking my own photos, alone, or (god forbid) actually ask a stranger to take one of me! I sensed a few problems with this because having a person in the photo is important to me. I had also seen warnings released on Smart Traveler about being careful who you give your camera to, as they may run away with it! Not to mention that you have no guarantee over the quality or quantity of photos you can get others to take…

I decided no, not this time. I knew my housemate had received a selfie stick she never used as a gift and I asked her if she would mind if I could take it with me on my trip. Of course I used the excuse that it was “for a blog experiment”, even though I had two very good reasons for using this seemingly socially acceptable invention, I still felt a bit of shame in actually using it. Prior to my solo trip, I had found them laughable, a bit stupid, I mean come on – they do make you look like an idiot. Certain cities, tourist attractions and festivals have gone so far as to ban them, and they have become the symbol of the “rookie tourist”, along with the “hidden” passport / money belts, sandals with socks, and a baseball cap – something we “savvy travelers” would abhor to be associated with. Floppy hats only – of course! You see we want to look like we belong, not like we are part of a 30 people strong tour bus brigade. Despite this, I decided to implement the “don’t knock it til you try it” strategy, and let my savvy traveler pride go for a few days.

Day 1: Selfie Stick rookie

After freshening up in my hostel I headed to the main “tourist” district, the famous Duomo di Milano, with my selfie stick tucked away in my backpack. Although I didn’t look as fashionable as the Milanese, I think my vintage scarf definitely differentiated me from the rookie tourists that were crawling all over the square. I had positioned myself in the sun, with the Duomo in the background at what I thought was the perfect angle, then DISASTER struck. My Camera app decided not to work on selfie mode. I spent half an hour and 2 Aperol spritzes at the Terraza Aperol calming myself down and trying to fix it using android forums. I gave up – but I must get at least one shot, for my mum! Shock horror, maybe I will have to actually ask someone else.

I stood basically paralyzed, looking frantically around for someone who looked the least like a thief. Girls in floppy hats and long dresses were posing for pictures with DSLR cameras, people with their own selfie sticks, groups of friends, the people with the pigeon feed trying incessantly to get me to feed the birds for a photo. Had the Selfie stick and selfie modes on cameras made it even harder for the solo traveler to ask someone else to take a photo? The classic millennial generation – more comfortable with a screen than with another human. I decided not to give up on my mission. The back camera still worked right? So I turned my phone around, placed it in the selfie stick and aimed the lens in my direction, old school style (before phones had front cameras). It took me a few goes, and I felt eyes on me thinking “she knows that is in the wrong way around, right? After getting a decent photo I decided ice cream and retail therapy at Galleria and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II was in order for the rest of the afternoon.

Day 2: Skills improving, care factor decreasing

Going on a day trip to Lake Como as per Dad’s recommendation. It’s small but beautiful, so the only thing really to do is eat and take photos. With nowhere near as many people around I felt it was the perfect time to hone my selfie stick skills. I also realised there was also hardly anyone around for me to ask to take photos for me. By the way, my front facing camera still wasn’t working – but I think my skills were getting better with practice! By the end of the day, I had figured out how to take a photo without the stick in the foreground. I attempted taking a “candid” selfie stick shot for a joke which got quite a good reception on Instagram. I did get a LOT more strange looks from the locals who were around though, perhaps Selfie sticks were not as common in the smaller cities. But my care factor was zero, because I was able to get some pretty cool photos of the mountains and cute houses in the background.

Day 3: Me, myself and my Selfie Stick

I was in my new dress, floppy hat (can you sense a theme here) and heels, heading off to the most expensive street in Milan, Via Montenapoleone. Dressed to impress so as to avoid a “Pretty Woman” moment. This was what I was really here for! And guess what – I had worked out how to FIX my front facing camera! So I suppose this is also what the last 2 days had been training me for. Although I looked & felt fabulous (an old Italian couple even complimented me on my classic style), I wore my selfie stick proudly on my sleeve (literally). I had discovered the exact right length to extend it to get both me and the shop windows into the shot. I marveled at the beautiful ridiculousness of high end fashion, you don’t see the things they sell on the high street here. This is for the rich of the rich, people who can afford to wear such a memorable, colourful D&G feathered coat that it could only be worn once.

After getting my fill of high end fashion, I took to Europe’s longest shopping street, Corso Buenos Aires for more affordable purchases. For this, I put away the Selfie stick. In my mind, it had more than done it’s job. Being a solo traveler can be lonely at times (especially for an extrovert like me). It had become a cherished companion in my journey, a definite game changer for someone who is picky and photo crazy. I’m going to call it – Selfie sticks are definitely empowering. You just have to use them properly, they have their place and time. Here’s my list of where it is (and isn’t) ok to use Selfie Sticks;

1. When you don’t have / want anyone else to take your photos / when you’re traveling alone or in a small group, spending time solo or in a couple

2. When it doesn’t ruin other’s visibility / the atmosphere, e.g. concerts, taking TOO many selfies

3. When you need to mix up your shots! You’ve got plenty of shots of “things” and not so much “people”. An overload of selfies is just as bad as a whole lotta pictures of random european buildings.

4. When you are short or have short arms (something I have not had to deal with!)

What’s your take on selfie sticks? Have you or a friend used one? What for? Post this article on a selfie obsessed person’s wall and see what they think!

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