'Who takes your pictures?' and other questions you get as a solo traveler

“Solo travel seems dope — but who takes ya bangers?”

I just returned from a great solo trip to Paris for the Thanksgiving holiday. I’ve traveled solo before — after I quit my last job last summer, I flew to Mexico to relax in Cabo for a few days, and I had a brief solo trip to Brussels in February — but this was my first trip completely out of my element.

The difference between my Paris trip and my experiences in Mexico and Brussels was that I speak a little Spanish and I wasn’t in Brussels long enough to struggle with French.

I’ll answer some common questions I frequently get as a solo traveler.

Shoutout to Janet from the Bay Area for this one at Musée d'Orsay.

Shoutout to Janet from the Bay Area for this one at Musée d'Orsay.

  1. “How do you communicate if you don’t speak the language?”

    While many younger Parisians speak English fluently, not everyone does.

    Well, duh — you don’t go to another country and automatically assume they speak your language.

    I realized that many French speakers who don’t speak English do speak Spanish fluently, so I would switch to Spanish when necessary. Mi Español, while not perfect, is decent enough. I know virtually zero French aside from basic phrases, but Google Translate can help a lot. Before traveling to any country, it’s helpful to know basic phrases. “How much?” and “Where is the Metro?” can go a long way.

  2. “Is solo travel safe?”

    That’s a difficult question to answer. I’ve felt relatively safe every time I’ve traveled abroad. This might be because I live in a major U.S. city and I practice common-sense street smarts. I’m mindful of my surroundings, who I’m drinking around, and ensuring that I’m always walking on well-lit streets. On trains or other public transportation, I always make sure I have my passport within reach and make sure that my backpack is locked to ward off pickpocketers.

    When I travel solo, I try to stay in hotels instead of AirBnB. It gives me an extra security blanket feeling of knowing that somebody at the front desk witnessed me enter and exit the hotel.

    Honestly: Don’t go abroad and do things you wouldn’t normally do in your daily life. Don’t tweak and get hemmed up abroad. That’s not cool.

  3. “Alright, alright. Solo traveling seems cool. But really, who takes your pictures?”

    Me, usually. I’ve mastered the art of portrait mode selfies and utilizing good lighting. But I don’t want all of my photos to include just a headless version of me.

    I usually wait for a couple or two friends to take a selfie of themselves. If they’re amenable, I’ll ask for a photo in return for taking a photo of them. It usually works, regardless of language barriers. Not everyone is a good photographer, but I try to mitigate by setting my phone’s camera to portrait mode before handing it over. Some of my best vacation photos have been taken by complete strangers.