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Polaroid Travel – Why You Should Pack a Polaroid Camera for your Trips

One of the greatest joys you can experience while traveling to remote locations is connecting with the local people. What better way to do that than by presenting them with a Polaroid photo of themselves and their friends.

Not only will they be grateful for the photo, but depending on where you go, they may not even know what a Polaroid is! 

Why you should always bring a Polaroid Camera while traveling.
Why you should always bring a Polaroid Camera while traveling.

Bringing a Polaroid camera with you on your travels will be sure to turn a few heads and make a few friends along the way.

You will be surprised how much a bit of excitement and hospitality can not only make your holiday better but bring a smile to someone’s face and a memory that they will be able to treasure for a long time.

Whether you’re heading to Kazakhstan or another rural country, a Polaroid camera is a great thing to include in your packing list. 

Bhutan
A Bhutan Layap nomad, smiling after getting a photo of herself.

Why a Travel Polaroid Camera? 

You might be wondering, “But why can’t I just use my cell phone?”. Well, you could, but

There is something truly special about seeing the undeniable happiness on the faces of those you present with a Polaroid picture.

Camera phones have reached even the most remote places on earth these days, so people are usually familiar with seeing their photos on small screens and even on a general camera screen.

However, many people have never seen a photo being printed instantly.

This unique characteristic is what makes Polaroids and instant photos so special. Instead of just showing a digital photo, offering them a physical photograph that you printed before their very eyes are way more exciting. 

Note: Are you looking for one of the best Polaroid cameras for travel. Here’s a great review of the new Fujifilm Instax SQ6

A few ( i got some houndres) of the Polaroid photos i have taken of people over the years. The people in their photo have also gotten their own compy.
A few (I have hundreds) of the Polaroid photos I have taken of people over the years. The people in their photos have also gotten their own copy.

Break the Ice with a Polaroid Camera

Polaroids are also one of the world’s greatest “ice breakers”.  A change occurs during these precious moments of connection that surpasses language barriers, cultural differences, and nationality.

During my experiences, my travel Polaroids have gotten me a lot of attention. I’ve had entire villages line up for pictures and have even been made the guest of honor.

Apart from this rare occasion, I have also been invited for endless cups of tea, glasses of pristine whiskey, and even accommodation for the night.

Not only are you able to bring joy and laughter to others, but you have the possibility of growing from a regular tourist to an authentic traveler – interacting with the locals and experiencing a side of their life you would never otherwise see. All because of a small photo.

Just be sure to carry enough film as I’ve had to disappoint a few people when I’ve run out.
This can be especially difficult to communicate when you can’t speak someone’s language and you might come across as being rude or selfish otherwise.

Just remember, you’ll probably be more disappointed if you run out of photos than if you return home with a few leftovers. 

What to Do With Polaroids When Traveling

Two Layap miority people posing with their Polaroid photo.
Two Layap minority woman in Northern Bhutan are posing with their newly taken photo.

Although you can use a Polaroid for general photography, it’s generally better to stick to a DSLR camera or a quality cellphone camera for capturing those amazing holiday snaps.

Polaroids (and the precious photograph paper) should be used sparingly when traveling.

Not only could you struggle to find places to buy more film in certain areas, but it’s also better to save your Polaroid camera for those special moments where you want to connect and share with people on your travels. 

Over the years, I have brought my Polaroid camera with me to Western Sichuan in China, South Russia, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Cuba.

In each destination, I have been so happy to have it with me. It has brought plenty of excitement to the locals – even Havana, Cuba’s bustling capital – and helped me make plenty of great memories (and friends) along the way. Presenting these photos always ends the same way, with an unbound number of smiles and laugher.

Another great advantage of using a Polaroid while traveling is that it also saves you from promising to e-mail photos later.

Unfortunately, I know a promise like that is far too easy to break – it’s far easier to just share the photo in the moment.

My Polaroid camera with 2 packs of film.
My Polaroid camera (Fujifilm Instax 210) with two packs of film. This is the version with the big films.

Are Polaroids Worth It? Downsides to Polaroid Travel

Although you might already be planning to purchase your Polaroid camera, traveling with a instant camera may come with a few hassles. These are some of the things I’ve come across on my travels.

1. Other Foreign Tourists – Although sharing while traveling is great and adds to the experience, sometimes you may encounter fellow tourists that are a bit ‘entitled’. I’ve been nagged for photos when I’ve used the camera in more touristy places.

2. Customs – Polaroid cameras are legal to take worldwide, but depending on which country you visit, you may run into questions when passing through customs. Despite a small delay, this shouldn’t be a major problem.

3. Size – It might be smaller than a large DSLR camera, but the camera itself is big and bulky and not travel-friendly. 

4. Film – I’ve had packs of films die from the heat (Dubai) and cold (Northern Pakistan) even when they were safely packed inside my backpack.
The film is also expensive and sometimes finding places that sell Polaroid film is nearly impossible – even in well-developed cities.

However, any amount of hassle is well worth it when you witness the smiles, laughter, and unspoken bond a simple printed photo creates.

Two young Layap´s posing with their Polaroid photo.
Two young Layap girls posing with their photo in far northern Bhutan

Time to Pack your Polaroid Camera

A Polaroid camera will help you experience a side of tourism that you may not have enjoyed.

Especially if you travel to rural areas, these cameras are a great way to break the ice and start communicating with local people that you might not have had the courage to speak to. 

There might be some drawbacks to traveling with these cameras, but the pros far outweigh the cons.

It’s also important to think more about the places we visit (and the people who live there) than just thinking about what’s easiest for us. 

Most of us take pictures for our own memory, but having a Polaroid camera allows those we meet along our journey to remember us as well.

When you return home from your trip, you will have plenty of evidence of your travels, but a simple photo will go a long way to a local from a rural area. 

Don’t be selfish; bring a Polaroid camera with you on your next trip.

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