The Polaroid Camera: giving back through photographs

The Polaroid is the best item for a backpacking trip

It allows you to give back to local people in a fun way! More importantly, you have a reason for interaction which leads to some of the most memorable experiences. Plus, doesn’t everyone love a Polaroid?

When we started planning our trip to Asia we knew we wanted to visit remote and developing countries. This way, we could learn about other cultures and I could develop my photography and writing skills inspired by these interactions.

The two countries we hoped could bring the most memorable experiences with locals were Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

Our 12 year old guide in Bagan is Ei Ei on the right. We met her family during our tour – her family was asked to look after one of the temples in Bagan.

Why these countries? To us, they seemed relatively new territory to backpackers. In retrospect, both have been open to tourism for years, but both have undergone recent wars which has stumped tourism. Since tourism seemed relatively new we wanted to go.

Even now Myanmar is undergoing strict tourist regulations in parts of its country. As for Sri Lanka, it has become a booming tourist destination since its 25 year civil war ended.

Fun Fact: It took Myanmar ten years to reach a million tourists entering the country. Do you know how long it took Sri Lanka to meet that same mile marker in tourism? FOUR.

We met this man at Mt. Popa, Bagan. We were taking photos for all the ladies and he was in the corner smiling politely, we eventually pulled in him for a photo and his face gleamed! He was so cute

Meeting locals through Polaroid

Before we left home, I got excited thinking about meeting locals in foreign countries. I wanted to learn about their country, their history, and their stories.

Naturally, I also wanted to document my trip for family and friends back home. And one of the best ways to do that is through pictures. My Canon is always with me: I enjoy landscape photos but people’s faces are my favorite.

Portraits or faces seem to stand out to me because they tell the best stories. You can see the age and wear on someone’s face or stories in their eyes. They are uncomfortable pictures to capture because you have to get your camera in someone’s face to get that shot.

In an attempt to meet people, give back, and allow myself the ability to take photos of people, I wondered how I could give something back to the people I met.

I ditched the idea of giving money. Carrying school supplies is too difficult with such a small backpack. Bouncy balls are great for children, but as a backpacker I didn’t have the space.

Then it hit me.

Image of boy with Polaroid picture
Ei Ei’s youngest brother in Bagan

Why not give a photograph to take a photograph?

A Polaroid camera was perfect! Children from rural towns and villages probably haven’t even seen their own photo.

Why not give them their own picture to keep? This way we can both remember the memories we made.

Image of Myanmar girl with Polaroid
A little girl we met in Yangon

And this way photographing isn’t about me,
it is about the people I meet

So before I left I made the best decision I could have before leaving the country: I stocked up on film and bought a Polaroid Snap!

Polaroid Picture
Our dive guides from a live aboard in Surin Islands and Richelieu Rock

Polaroid Surprises

Carrying a Polaroid camera has given me so much more than the opportunity to photograph people. I have had countless experiences meeting locals where neither of us can communicate through words, but we smile and laugh and share a few moments of fun.

One of my best memories was photographing a Sri Lankan boy on a train: We were taking the train from Kandy to Ella and I had my head out the window. A few windows down, I spotted a boy looking in my direction, we waved and smiled. Then, we started playing a bit. I would pull my head in the window then out again and he would mimic me. We continued this for a while.

Eventually, I took a Polaroid of him out the window and gave it to him. At the next stop, he came over with his brother and sister, I took another Polaroid for them, then grandma came over with her granddaughter – one of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen!

We had a blast. When they got off the train, they came to our window to wave and said goodbye. It made that train ride more than just looking our at scenery, we had the opportunity to interact with locals.

If you will be backpacking Asia, give back to the people. I found the best way was through photographs.


Feel free to click the Amazon Affiliate link below to be directed to the Polaroid Snap. 


My adventures and ramblings through Europe, Australia, and now back the United States. I generally write from daily inspirations or from random thoughts.


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