Cultural Experience | South Africa

Should You Bring the Camera Along?

Your camera shouldn’t stop you from living in the moment while studying abroad.

We’ve all heard this debate: does always having a camera glued to your side hinder you from living in the moment when traveling? Do you really need all of those photos to remember your amazing experience? As a photojournalism student I may be a little biased, but I believe in almost always having some sort of camera at hand when traveling anywhere. Like so many other wonderful things though, I believe a camera should be one’s companion only in moderation. My somewhat logical solution involves considering a variety of camera types for every situation.

The Fancy DSLR

For example, my beautiful DSLR worth nearly as much as my life is both a liability and a physical burden to carry around at times. If I’m traveling to a place where it’s suggested that I do not bring valuables when walking around, I probably shouldn’t whip out a fancy camera every time I see a photo op. In locations like these, I often purchase a cheap disposable or just use my camera phone, which is much easier to conceal in a bag. Disposable cameras are usually around $7, and if they get stepped on, rained on, stolen or dropped into the ocean, I’m more upset about the few photos I’ve lost rather than the couple dollars I’m out. Both options are small and light, making them far easier to carry around all day than a DSLR.

disposable image

One of the many Saturday morning markets I explored in South Africa shot on a disposable camera.


Disposable cameras I’ve used tend to capture very vibrant colors, so they’re a great option to take along on multi-day hikes if you’re really trying to avoid the weight of a digital camera. The colors of the environment around you will turn out incredible once you get the film developed, and the battery life of the camera lasts for months rather than for a day or two.

When you’re not trying to cut down weight or avoid carrying valuables, then definitely bring your digital camera along whether it’s a compact camera or a DSLR. Invest in a nice camera bag to be able to comfortably carry it on all your adventures. There are many options for bags that look more like backpacks or purses rather than standard camera bags if you’d rather have a more discreet way to carry it (or if you want your camera bag to match your outfit). If you’ve invested a lot in your camera, bring it! You want to capture all those beautiful scenes and moments around you during your time abroad. However, if possible, transfer the images from your memory card as often as possible. I’ve witnessed far too many people lose both their camera and eight months worth of pictures at the same heartbreaking time.

polaroid image

Polaroid cameras are a fun way to share photos and memories instantly with friends.

Go Old School

If you feel like experimenting a little, find an old film camera. You’re likely to find a decent one either in your grandma’s attic or for a low cost on Amazon. Rolls of film can be found online, in Walmart or in specialty camera stores near you. I’ve found most color films I use capture soft, pastel colors, wonderful for sunsets and hazy mountain views.

film image

West Coast National Park in South Africa shot on an old Canon film camera.


film2 image

Horse stables in Mozambique shot on an old Canon film camera with black and white film.

Shooting film allows you to be entirely in the moment since you can’t see the image instantly after it’s taken. Rather than having your entire group of friends crowd around you to make sure their hair looked okay in the photo and asking you to message it to them, you and all your friends will just have to wait until you’ve shot the whole roll of film and gone somewhere to develop it. I believe this is the most wonderful way to capture memories as you are not taking the photos for instant gratification. You are capturing whatever is in front of you and letting that moment linger until the film is processed weeks or months in the future.

Leave it at Home

Though I’ve offered you a variety of camera options, there are those few times where absolutely no camera is necessary. Sometimes you want to feel entirely disconnected, which means bringing nothing along but you and whoever you are with. You will surely be lucky enough while studying abroad to have a few moments that are so beautiful and incredible that they will forever be engraved in your memory, no camera needed. Sometimes you want these moment to never leave that time and place. These rare experiences are the few times I feel I don’t need my camera or anything else at my side.

Aside from my final example, holding a camera up to your face will not stop you from being present as long as you remember to put it back down after capturing a scene and take a moment to acknowledge the beauty in the experience you’re a part of. If you are selective in the images you choose to capture and you allow your camera to be an extension of you rather than a wall in front of you, never worry about missing any moments or becoming too distant. You’ll be happy years into the future to have photos from studying abroad, allowing you to appreciate and recall all the adventures you took and friends you made.

Should you Bring the Camera Along?



Alexandria Polanosky

Ohio University | 8 stories

Alexandria attends Ohio University in Athens, Ohio and is currently studying Photojournalism with a specialization in Environmental Studies. Alexandria is originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After recently studying for a semester in South Africa, Alexandria's horizons have expanded and she has come to find there is so much more to the world than the small, cozy college town of Athens. Though her experience abroad was wonderful, she strives to acknowledge the beauty that can be found every day no matter where you find yourself. You can find her travel blog at

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