Have you ever traveled solo without a camera? Solo Travel Society member Denise, a languages teacher from Brazil, did just that on a trip to Rio de Janeiro, and doesn't regret it one bit! Here is her story.
You won't see a single photo of Rio in this post.
I’ve been traveling solo for about 20 years. The convenience of freely choosing when, where, why, and how to go to a certain destination has taken me to dozens of places in the four corners of my country (Brazil), four major cities in the USA, and one in Argentina.
I never knew if I was more of an amateur photographer who was traveling or a solo traveler taking nice photos, since an SLR camera has always kept me company in my journeys.
Making the Decision
Things suddenly changed last May. I had decided not to take my DSLR camera to Rio for safety reasons. On the night before my departure, I went to recharge my compact camera and found out that, out of the blue, it was not working. That came as a shock to me! However, instead of freaking out and rushing to the closest shopping mall to buy a new compact camera, I took the incident as fate and accepted the challenging task of traveling without a camera for the very first time in my life. Oh, in case you are wondering—yes, I am a weirdo who doesn’t own a smartphone. The decision had been made: there would be no pictures of this trip at all.
I had already been to Rio de Janeiro on business many times and twice with my family when I was younger. Thus, on this occasion I aimed to take only a historical and cultural trip which didn’t include, for instance, going to the famous beaches.
Fascinating Rio de Janeiro
What makes Rio a unique and fascinating place is the integration of its urban setting with nature. I’m not referring only to the sea. At least in the whole south area of the city, there is green anywhere you look. You will see trees on the sidewalks, in the squares and parks, around the lake, along the beaches, on the mountains—simply everywhere! The population takes advantage of it all, enjoying life outdoors on weekdays as much as on the weekends. The omnipresence of Christ the Redeemer Statue and Sugar Loaf provides a constant reminder that you are in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as you get a glimpse of them nearly everywhere you are in the south area.
Safety and violence seem to be a matter of luck in Rio. I had heard really bad news about a teenager and a man having been murdered on the bicycle path around Rodrigo de Freitas Lake. The weekend before I arrived in the city, there was a serious conflict between drug dealers in a favela near Santa Teresa, which scared me away from the Literature Festival that was taking place in a park in that neighborhood. However, in my personal experience, I didn’t have any problems walking around the city center and parts of the South Zone, even after dark and late at night, maybe because I didn’t show off any valuables or expensive electronics. So get informed, come to your own conclusion, make your decision on whether the city is safe or not to you, and be on guard.
Liberation and New Discoveries
Not having a camera with me was definitely liberating. As I wasn’t busy looking for the best angle or composition for this or that photo, I had so much more time to actually contemplate what I was seeing. I was freer to observe and listen to the locals and learn how they live. I even had time to sit outdoors to taste delicious cotton candies that reminded me of my childhood, when time was slower and we fully enjoyed life.
Without a camera the trip joyfully switched from just going places to really doing things. In addition to visiting old majestic places such as the National Museum of Fine Arts, the National Library, the Royal Portuguese Library, the Municipal Theater, the City Council, the Brazilian Academy of Letters, the Republic Museum, and the National History Museum in order to appreciate their architecture and learn about their rich historical contents on guided tours, I also devoted more time to contemplating the green landscapes by visiting Eduardo Guinle Park, Corcovado Mountain, Lage Park, The Botanic Gardens and Rodrigo de Freitas Lake, locations where I was able to get—literally—a real picture of what makes Rio so pleasant and beautiful.
Best of all, there was room for two great experiences that I had never had before and will never forget: watching a horse race at the Brazilian Jockey Club and a match in Maracanã Stadium, where the most traditional soccer team of Rio de Janeiro, Flamengo, scored 2 goals for a tie with the visiting team Sport (from Recife, in the Northeast). Being on both tiers made me nearly feel like a “carioca” (a person who was born in Rio),sionce I was doing what they love to do on the weekends.
Without any previous planning, I also went back to the Municipal Theater on Sunday morning to watch and listen to a classical music concert performed by a local orchestra. The big surprise was finishing the concert with Guns n’ Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine” played by a classical orchestra!
You Won't Miss the Camera
Solo in Rio for five days without a camera was one of my best trips ever! I didn’t miss taking photos that much, I had 5 days fully booked with historical and cultural visits (which taught me more about Brazil than I had ever learned in a History class), with fun activities that I had never tried before in my hometown of São Paulo or any other city in the world.
Oh, I must say that I also met friends on Friday and Saturday evenings, when I had the opportunity to drink cold beers and eat typical “carioca” food in those traditional bars in the city center (near Candelaria Church) and in the bohemian neighborhood Lapa which, honestly speaking, is too noisy, messy, and dirty for my perference.
It’s also worth mentioning that my trip took place in the low season and fall, meaning the tourist crowds and the extreme heat were not as problematic as they are in the high season and summer.
Whether you are an experienced solo traveler or just starting out, I kindly invite—and challenge—you to leave all your cameras at home next time you travel somewhere nice and just enjoy the pure experience of wandering, observing, and learning. I’m sure you won’t regret it.
Finally, take a look at the scrap page I created with the tickets, leaflets, and stuff I collected everywhere I went: they perfectly play the role of records as much as pictures would do.
Have you ever left the camera at home while traveling? Would you try it? Please share your thoughts below.