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Selfie Sticks: Travel Tool or Tourist Nightmare?

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Though Mashable recently declared 2015 “the year the selfie stick took over,” it’s official—we here at TPG aren’t the only people in the world who find selfie sticks annoying. For fear of poking someone’s eye out, ruining priceless artwork, or inciting violence in crowded areas, these extendable boom arms designed to hold your smartphone camera way out in front of you have now been banned at the Taj Mahal, the Coachella and Lollapalooza music festivals, some of the U.K.’s biggest museums and venues, Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian museums, and a slew of other attractions across America.

Some may consider this a step backward in the pursuit of the perfectly-angled selfie photo, but not to worry—you could still accidentally bonk someone in the head using just your outstretched arm.

Yay...selfie sticks. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Yay…selfie sticks. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

Created largely by Chinese manufacturers like iPow, CamKix, and Looq, and sold for about $15-40, selfie sticks are designed to be attached to iPhones or Android smartphones and held at arm’s length to fit yourself (and your travel companions/family/squad) into the frame. Many feature a Bluetooth-enabled button on the handle that allows you to trigger your smartphone’s camera shutter, while others come with a small Bluetooth fob that allows you to remotely take a photo.

Selfie sticks were already enormously popular across Asia by the time they started hitting big/long in the U.S. and UK, and the South Korean government has recently come to fear that the Bluetooth-enabled selfie-stick craze is causing a dangerous swell in electromagnetic radiation throughout that country. This mild panic hasn’t yet spread to our shores, however, and the Instagram hashtag #selfiestick is still keeping the game strong—making fans eager to get behind new twists on stick technology.
Selfie sticks allow you to capture the scene—no matter where you are. Photo by @arjun_manohar_

When traveling, a selfie stick can certainly help capture and preserve special moments and scenes that include yourself and others—the problem is mainly when other living beings and precious objects get in the way. Much like playing ball in the house, it’s all fun and games ’til someone/something gets hurt.

Though you can still use a selfie stick in the cavernous Louvre for the time being, many other museums around the world (including New York’s MoMA) have banned them for fear of unintentional gouges to irreplaceable works of art. Crowd magnets like this weekend’s Coachella music festival are also increasingly banning selfie sticks to avoid potential harm to other human beings—either from or with the sticks themselves.

For the love of all that's holy, don't do this. Photo by
For the love of all that’s holy, don’t do this. (Photo by Breanna Mitchell/@PrincessBMM)

But aside from the risk of causing injury (or simply looking ridiculous), using an unwieldy selfie stick in a place that’s considered a special or reverent place of worship, commemoration, or reflection could prove an insensitive or disrespectful distraction from other traveler’s quiet, personal moments—or even be perceived as downright offensive. Last summer, for instance, a young American woman received major flack for shooting a smiling stick-selfie at Poland’s Auschwitz concentration camp.

Even without use of a selfie stick, the Taj Mahal can still look  pretty spectacular.
Even without use of a selfie stick, the Taj Mahal can still look pretty spectacular. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

Increasing numbers of attractions aren’t leaving the decision up to you, though. Just recently, the Taj Mahal, that great monument to everlasting love, seems to have broken up with selfie sticks. Though the sticks aren’t formally included on the Taj’s list of forbidden contraband (aside from a loose description of “electronic items”), Taj Mahal security officials are likely to confiscate your stick for the duration of your visit, greatly improving other tourists’ chances of basking in the afterglow of this architectural marvel.

Taking a photo of the Grand Canyon with your iPad sure is funny—for people who see you do it. (Photo by Melanie Wynne/Have Snark, Will Travel)
Trust us, taking a photo of the Grand Canyon with your iPad looks silly. (Photo by Melanie Wynne/Have Snark, Will Travel)

If extendable sticks become formally verboten, though, what are better options for taking wide-angle selfies? Before you resort to whipping out your digital tablet to capture the whole scene, ask yourself two important questions:

  1. Is the camera on my smartphone capable of taking better-quality photos?
  2. Will I look like an idiot taking this photo with what amounts to an iPhone on steroids?

The answer to both is yes—so save your tablet for web-surfing and reading, as nature intended.

While you're traveling, ask a stranger to take a souvenir photo of you and your companions—and enjoy the chance to meet someone new. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)
While you’re traveling, ask a stranger to take a souvenir photo of you and your companions—and enjoy the chance to meet someone new. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

If you absolutely, positively must have selfies at far-flung and dearly beloved sites of culture, history and eternal memory, consider respectable selfie-taking alternatives like using a WiFi-enabled camera with or without a pocket-sized tripod, or simply asking a fellow tourist to take a photo of you and your travel companion(s) while holding your camera or phone. Sure, this last option involves talking to strangers from foreign lands…but maybe that’s one of the reasons you wanted to travel in the first place?

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