Teens love vacation selfies; adults, not so much

Study indicates visitors remember what they've seen better if they don't take photos
Associated Press
Jul 31, 2014


Jacquie Whitt's trip to the Galapagos with a group of teenagers was memorable not just for the scenery and wildlife, but also for the way the kids preserved their memories. It was, said Whitt, a "selfie fest."

For this generation, "digital devices are now part of the interpretive experience," said Whitt, co-founder of Adios Adventure Travel.

Indeed, many parents love seeing their kids taking selfies and posting to social media when they travel. It shows "they are engaged and excited about where they are and what they are doing," said Susan Austin, a photographer and Iowa mom. "To some, it might be bragging, but I think it's more about a way today's teens connect with and feel part of a group."

But some adults think there's a downside to vacation selfies. They see them as narcissistic distractions that can detract from the travel experience. And they point to controversial examples — like a smiling selfie from Auschwitz posted to Twitter — as proof of the potential for poor judgment when young travelers use social media.

In addition, when traveling teens spend time taking selfies, "they're so busy documenting, I wonder whether they're actually experiencing it," said Peg Streep, who writes about psychology and millennials. "What should be an experience of learning and growth instead just says, 'Look at me.' It's a narcissistic moment that's really about getting likes."

Streep pointed to a study by Linda Henkel of Fairfield University in Connecticut that found museum visitors remember more about what they've seen if they don't take photos of the objects they're viewing. That suggests that any type of picture-taking can take "you out of the moment of the experience and shifts your attention."

Another concern is practical. A real-time selfie from a far-off place tells the world you're not home. Leora Halpern Lanz, of Long Island, New York, loves it when her three kids take vacation selfies because it's their way "of validating where they were." But they're not allowed to post images until the trip is over: "I don't need their friends or friends of friends knowing the house is empty."

Lanz says the widely criticized Auschwitz selfie also shows "the risks of kids posting on social media" when they don't know what's appropriate.

Breanna Mitchell, the young woman who took the smiling Auschwitz selfie, received death threats and messages urging her to kill herself after the image went viral. In a video interview with TakePart Live, Mitchell said the selfie was misinterpreted. She'd studied World War II history with her father and they'd planned to visit historic sites together, but he died before they could make the trip.

Her selfie from the grounds of the concentration camp was her way of saying, "I finally made it here. I finally got where me and my daddy had always said we were going to go," she told TakePart Live. Looking back now on the selfie, she says, "I just went so wrong with that."

Still, most travel selfies are innocent and purely celebratory — as well as being a way for teens to keep in touch with peers. Taylor Garcia, 17, who traveled to Texas this summer on a family road trip from Oklahoma, says selfies are a fun way to remember places like Disney, SeaWorld and the Caribbean, but she also takes them "because I want to show my friends what I'm doing."

Her mom, Melissa Garcia, who posts her own family trip photos on her blog, ConsumerQueen.com, encourages the selfies. "It's a great way to preserve memories," she said, adding that other families have contacted her after seeing the photos to get advice for their trips.

Austin's daughter Abigail, 18, who shared selfies from a trip to Portugal, doesn't see the point of posting travel pictures without familiar faces in them. She wants a photo that shows, "Hey, I'm having fun! And I like seeing them of other people, too."

But at least one tour company, Tauck, has a written policy discouraging digital devices. For Tauck's Bridges program, which specializes in multi-generational family trips, guests are asked to "turn off and stow their smart phones, tablets and other portable electronic devices during shared group time."

Tauck spokesman Tom Armstrong says the company understands that digital devices can help teens pass the time during long car rides, flights or other downtime, "and we have no issue with that." But "when the tour director is giving commentary, or during museum visits, we think that our younger guests will actually get much more out of their trip if they're engaged in the experience and not distracted."

The bottom line, says Whitt: "Like all new emerging technology, the devices can be fun and wholesome, entertainment for all ages, or misused."




Re: "Teens love vacation selfies,"

Immature presidents at funerals too!



Leave it to Contango to pick any topic, literally any topic, and he will find a way to connect it to his daily Obama HateFest.


Re: "literally any topic, and he will find a way to connect it,"

Thank you for that vote of confidence in my abilities.

Surprising that YOU didn't mention Pres. Bush. :)

Like it or not, the occurrence IS a historical FACT.


Ability to mention Obama disparagingly during a discussion of entirely unrelated topics? Absolutely. You're the King, and I'm in awe of your irrelevance.


Re: "Ability to bring up entirely unrelated topics,"

Like you with Pres. Bush?

I regret to inform you that I'm not impressed. :)

Obama - selfie. The connection looks entirely apropos.


Loves bringing in Off-Topic things to keep it going. It could be an article about a apple and he would find a way to link it to the President.

But remember, you should never bring an in anything off-topic, he will call you out and ignore it.


Re: "It could be an article about a apple and he would find a way to link it to the President."

A fallacious straw man argument; the favorite nonsensical rhetorical method of the POTUS.

The Selfie-in-Chief was obviously enjoying himself.

Aren't you just glad that he could find the "fun" in funeral? :)


It never ends coaster. Really pathetic!

Finn Finn

Interesting and well balanced article. I've always felt that selfies along with Facebook, Twitter, etc. were sort of self-absorbed, popularity contests; kind of taking us back to junior high. It's nice to know there are others who still value contemplative, yet confident and disciplined character traits. I think the "quiet ones" are often marginalized in society because they don't blow their own horns. Yet the quiet ones are many times more self-confident than their outgoing peers. I have nieces and nephews on both ends of the spectrum and the ones who AREN'T posting every random thought to Facebook seem so much more mature. Having said that, I love them all. This is just my observation.


My 40ish husband takes selfies everywhere he goes. I know many adults that have taken to this new phenomenon too. Once upon a time we had to wait for the camera film to be all used, goto the store and then be sent out. Then it was a weekish to get developed and sent back to the store. The instant gratification of digitally seeing your pictures and being able to share with all your friends and family is awesome. Call it bragging, sharing, or just fun.

Stop It

I don't like my picture taken. It goes without saying a selfie will never happen.


Same here


A whole nation of narcissist who are never to blame for anything they do and want everyone to pay their way through life! The quickest way to devastate the entire younger generation is for a solar flare to knock out cell phone satellites. There would be crying in the streets along with most turning into violent animals because they have lost the art of face to face communication.


Why Donegan--you and I actually agree! I love my grandson but I get an update via text from my daughter about everything the kid does. Then I get a picture of it. What ever happened to the on-the-weekend-call-my-mother on the telephone routine? Absence does make the heart grow fonder. Boo hiss to cell phones..a necessary evil in today's society.


Re: "What ever happened,"

Because to them: only old people talk on the telephone?


That's possible- but I believe most people can actually SAY what they need to tell you faster instead of typing it. i.e.--press one button, ring, ring, call answered by husband "Hello?"-- me "Bring home a gallon of milk". Husband "Okay" Me: "Bye" See? Pretty, pretty, pretty darn easy. :}


That was a rhetorical question.

Ask 'em.

That's what I've been told by Gen Xers.

How long has it been since you received a handwritten letter?


RE: Handwritten letter, why actually within the last 8 months from my 93 year old aunt who can't use a computer. :}

JMOP's picture

I personally never liked getting my picture taken. My hairs are outta place, I blink at the wrong times, or whatever reason. I give respect to the ones who enjoy their selfies though.

I make my kids pose for a picture very seldom, I like the ones when they're caught in the moment the best.