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Step-by-Step: A Snapchat Tutorial for Travelers

by Daniel Schwartz

Snaps around town. Snaps by @alice_gao, @beritbaugher, @hellowithyou.

Daniel Schwartz is Fathom's resident young person and, therefore, Fathom's in-house Snapchat expert. He wrote a step-by-step guide for using the social media platform and makes a fun and compelling case for snapping while traveling. Not sure what to make of the latest app craze? Read Daniel's Snapchat overview to figure out what Snapchat is and why it's so great.

Getting Started

1. Do You Even Have The App?
Snapchat doesn't exist online. Download it for free from the app store. Sign up and choose your username. You can add friends with Snapchat accounts from your address book before setup is over.

2. First Things Second. Get Acquainted.
You will see your face every time you open Snapchat. Get used to it, as this home screen is also the camera screen. From here, orient yourself with the main screens: Keep track of private messages from the inbox on the left; look at public updates on the right. Your account settings are above. (Memorize this!!) To change screens, tap the cardinal icons (box, three-lines, ghost) or swipe from the edges of the screen. If you get lost, just keep swiping until you see your face.

Home Screen

The inbox, home screen, and stories screen.

Making and Sending Snaps

Snaps are vehicles of communication on Snapchat. You can view other people's updates without really knowing how to make snaps, but the creation process is half the fun.

1. Up Your Selfie Game.
Tap the shutter to take photos, hold to shoot video. Easy, right? Here's where things get interesting. One of Snapchat's unique and popular features is its ever-changing collection of special effects (they're called lenses) that transform faces with movie-quality precision. Lenses make you vomit rainbows, give you laser vision, slim your cheekbones, turn you into animals, and mess with your facial proportions.

To unlock them, center the camera on your subject's face (or your own), then tap and hold the face until a meshwork appears and lenses show up. Mousing over lenses will activate them, though some require facial movement to trigger effects (open mouth to vomit rainbows). Once you find the perfect lens, use the shutter to capture.

Lenses Screen

Tap face, choose filter, vomit rainbows.

2. Tell Me Without Telling Me: Using Filters.
Your snap will live on-screen until you share it. But first, you can customize it even more by swiping to add filters like color overlays, a time stamp, a speedometer stamp, frame-rate adjustments (for videos) and, if location tracking is on, a slew of stickers reflecting your time and place: a dragon sticker when in Chinatown, a trophy sticker during award season, voting results during election season.

Layer up to three filters on one image by holding the screen to lock in the current filter(s) while swiping for the next.


A color overlay with well-placed pizza emoji. A regular snap with a geofilter. The author's face with lens effect and geofilter.

3. More is More is More: Adding Text.
If lenses and filters aren't enough to get the message across, say even more by tapping the screen to add text. The "T" atop the screen will toggle the font from small to large and from left-oriented to centered. Using the large font, scroll the color bar all the way down to turn text black (always a solid color). Drag the text to the desired position (or leave it alone), pinching and pivoting to change size and spin. And just because you need more happening, the pencil icon allows you to add a hand-drawn flourish and the post-it button reveals a menu of emojis.

Text Screen

Tap the screen to add text. Hit the "T" to turn enlarge and customize font. Use the color bar to change text color, swiping way down to unlock black. Drag, spin, and pinch finished copy to reposition, rotate, and resize.

Pencil Icon

Tap pencil, then draw with your finger. Use the color bar and undo arrow to make it perfect.

4. Send It Already
When you're finally ready (this entire process takes less than thirty seconds for teenagers), look down for sharing options. Start from the the bottom left corner.

The timer controls the lifespan of the snap. The download button saves the snap to the camera roll. The square-plus pulls up public sharing options: "My Story" is a highlight reel that all your friends can view, and any other stories that pop up are Live stories curated by Snapchat (more on that later).

Share privately with friends by hitting the lower-right arrow, which pulls up the in-app address book. Select one or multiple friends and send. Hooray. You sent your first snap!

Sharing Options

Set timer, then share. Select "My Story" if you want all your friends to see your snap, and/or any other story that pops up if you want to be featured in one of Snapchat's Live stories. To share privately, select one or more friends and hit the arrow.

Viewing Private Messages From Friends

Once your friend recieves your snap, they will (hopefully) snap back. And since private messages are fleeting, be prepared to receive anything — a spelled-out quip, an ugly selfie, a video in fast-forward. Here's how to view them and keep the conversation going.

1. Let Me See. Let Me See!
On the home screen, the box indicates when you have new private messages. Swipe right or tap the box for the inbox. New messages are on top and a record of all messages sent and received is displayed below, coded red for photo, purple for video, and blue for text. Tap to view photos or videos (look quick: they're on a timer). If the snap runs out before you had your fill, hold the message to replay. Each message has one replay, and senders know when you use them. They also know when you screenshot their snap, so don't try anything sneaky.

2. You've Got Mail.
Swipe right on a chat to open the message and respond immediately with words, emojis, or photos from your camera roll. (A recent update allows you to start audio and video calls here, too.) Note that conversations are wiped after exiting chat, though messages can be saved in-thread by tapping them individually. To start a new chat, swipe right on a recent contact or hit the bubble to select a recipient.

Text Chats

A full blue box means you recieved a new chat. Swipe right to open. Respond with text, photos, or emojis. Tap the center circle to bring up the camera if you want to respond with a snap. Tap individual messages to save them within the thread.

Using the Stories Screen

Snaps that are shared to "My Story" can be viewed when you swipe left from the home screen. You can save story snaps to your camera roll and see who has viewed them using the three dots next to your update reel. Kick back and watch other public stories here too.

1. The Discover Tab
Whether we're on the go or chained to our desk, our wandering minds reach for ever-shorter and sharper media. "Discover" is the answer to short attention spans, a line-up of custom content created by Snapchat media partners like CNN, VICE, VOX, Mashable, and Nat Geo, where a video, photo story, or cultural tidbit serve as a small dose of travel inspiration. Content is distilled with poppy visuals and viral-leaning attitude — fun facts, video loops, wallpapers, and headlines. To view: Select a channel, swipe horizontally to view content, swipe up to see more. A swift downward tug exits the feed, while holding the screen turns the page into a sendable snap.

Discover Tab

Select a Discover channel and tap through to view. Swipe up on headlines to see more.

2. The Live Tab
The live tab is a series of stories curated by Snapchat that capture timely events locally and around the world. Comprised of crowd-sourced snaps, the feature brings new meaning to living vicariously through others. You can virtually attend the Olympics, the Oscars, music festivals, sporting events, and political rallies, as well as enjoy city profiles and local tours. Snapchat populates the live tab by curating their favorites images from Snapchatters who opt to pool their snaps to create 360° perspective of an event.

Live Tab

Select a Live story and tap through to view. Swipe up to see more snaps of the scene.

3. Your Friends' Stories
If you haven't figured this out already, stories are thread-together feeds of individual moments shared publicly. This is where you watch Alice Gao (@alice_gao) sip champagne in first class, Erica Firpo (@ericafirpo) lead tours through Rome, Beth Kirby (@localmilk) explore the world as an expecting mom, and Hiroaki Fukuda (@hirozzzz) do his thing in Tokyo. All snaps in the Stories section live for 24 hours. If the person you follow follows you back, you can send them direct comments by swiping up on a snap.

Traveler Stories

Screenshots from the stories of @localmilk, @hirozzzz, and @ericafirpo.


Add friends from the profile page, accessible through the ghost icon at the top of the home screen. The yellow ghost centerpiece (officially dubbed Ghostface Chillah) is embedded with a snap code that carries account information. Photographing the code with the in-app camera adds that account to your friends list.

Alternatively, tap "Add Friends" below the ghost and search for friends with their exact username (there's no leeway on spelling) or upload a photo of their snap code. Users can share photos of their snap codes by tapping Ghostface Chillah and hitting the share button.



Follow us on our travels! We're @fathomwaytogo on Snapchat.

We make every effort to ensure the information in our articles is accurate at the time of publication. But the world moves fast, and even we double-check important details before hitting the road.