Travel Tips: 12 Clever Uses for Your Digital Camera
by Mike Richard | November, 2007
Your digital camera can be a lot more useful than you might think, especially while traveling. If you’re not a flashpacker like me who doesn’t mind lugging around a cellphone, watch, PDA and laptop, your digital camera can easily pull double-duty and really help you out in a pinch. Here are twelve novel uses you probably never thought of for your digital camera:
#1 – Post a Digital Reward Flyer
Draw up a reward flyer on with a standard piece of a paper and magic marker. Include your e-mail address and a reward amount, if applicable. Take a picture of it with your camera and use your camera’s options to “lock” this file and prevent accidental deletion. It’s a small precaution, but if your camera’s ever lost, its finder will at least have a way to contact you.
#2 – Subway Map
Find a large, complete map of the local subway system and snap a picture of it. It’s like your very own Google Maps for the subway. You can zoom in and out of it. And, if you get lost, you can easily find a local bystander, zoom in on your destination station and point it out to them on the screen. Oftentimes, it’s easier, especially in Asia, to be able to point to the symbol of where you’re trying to go rather than enunciate the name of your destination.
#3 – Stadium and Arena Map
When we arrived in Montreal on a recent trip and found that U2 was in town, we knew we had to pick up a pair of tickets on the streets. We used our digital camera to capture the complete seating chart of the Bell Centre. We felt much more at ease talking to ticket scalpers outside the arena because we knew exactly where the seats were for the tickets they were trying to sell us.
#4 – Mirror
Traveling with a mirror is a quick way to wind up picking glass fragments out of your travel gear and, more importantly, your hands. And forget those plastic travel mirrors that warp, fog, and crack. Just get that funky stuff out of your teeth in the morning with your digital camera. Depending on the ambient lighting, you can either use the blacked-out LCD to check out your reflection or simply take a picture of yourself and review it.
#5 – Keep You Company
If you’re traveling alone for any length of time, you’ll no doubt experience bouts of loneliness. Before you leave, take pictures of your loved ones, pets, car, XBox … whatever conjures pleasant memories of home. You also might want to lock these photos to protect against accidental deletion.
#6 – Snap Your Luggage
Face it: your luggage probably looks just like 90% of the luggage out there. Let me guess: it’s black with a few zippered pockets? Snap a few pictures of the bags your toting around before you leave. If they wind up lost in Tahiti when you’re headed to Taiwan, it’ll be much easier to show the airline clerk a photo rather than trying to explain how “It’s big and black with zippers.”
#7 – Recalling Where You’re Staying
With a digital camera, you can take a picture of your hotel and the nearest street sign, as well as any nearby landmarks, and then show those pictures to your taxi driver or to anyone from whom you might need to get directions. For English-speakers this is especially helpful in Asia, India, and any country where the language may be difficult to pronounce and read. It’s also a heck of a lot easier than asking your hotel clerk to repeat the hotel name fifteen times while you struggle to convert a twenty-two syllable word with no consonants into something legible on a folded sheet of paper.
#8 – Photograph Your Child
Perhaps the quickest, easiest precaution you can take while traveling with children is to take their photo everyday. If they get lost, you’ll have an instant visual of exactly what they were wearing to show local law enforcement. (Hat tip: Budget Travel)
#9 – Avoid Rental Car Scams
Search Chris Elliott’s site and you’ll find no shortage of car rental company scams. Use your digital camera to take your own photos of your rental car the minute you pick it up. As an added safeguard should you ever wind up in court disputing when any damage occurred, you might want to get your cell phone in the photo too since the date and timestamp is difficult to fake.
#10 – Remembering Where You’ve Been
This may seem obvious, but I personally admit to taking a dozen or so pictures of newfound friends while traveling and then having no idea where I met them or where the photo was taken. Oddly enough, this happens most often at bars and pubs. Hm.
As mentioned above, this is also particularly useful far off the beaten path, where English is not likely to be spoken. You may have only symbolic signs to show where you’re eating and visiting. And the pronunciation of locals may be of little help. Snap a photo of the outside of your favorite restaurant, club, etc. and later you can show someone where you’d like to go back to or where you’ve been. One traveler noted:
I live in Japan and have been hopeless at learning the writing system. Now I take pictures of signs/shops etc that I’ve been looking at for years but still don’t know what they mean. I take the pic, get on the train, pull out my electronic dictionary and look-up the ‘kanji’ and am starting to learn a lot faster now.
#11 – Photocopy Flyers
Urban centers are riddled with flyers promoting club goings-on and events at local bars and pubs. If you see one you like, snap a photo of it rather than carrying the tattered remnants of a flyer in your pocket.
#12 – A Backup Light
If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night in a dark hostel somewhere, use your digital camera as a makeshift lantern. Flick through your recent travel photos to a nice, bright outside shot or simply keep a photo you’ve taken of a washed-out, sunlit sky. The light from the LCD screen on most digital cameras is bright enough to work as a backup flashlight/lantern in a pinch.
The flash is also a nice, bright light source, albeit a bit more difficult and, in the case of hostels, rude and inconvenient to use.
Aside from taking plain ol’ photos, what clever uses do you have for your digital camera while traveling?
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About the Author
Vagabondish founding editor, Mike Richard, is a Rhode Island native, professional web designer and travel junkie with an unhealthy addiction to backpacking, hiking and seeing the world. He enjoys knit hats, small, declarative sentences and speaking in the third person. His professional credits include "Woman's World magazine contributor" and having once been interviewed by Tyra Banks (seriously).