We’ve all seen it- the perfectly curated Instagram feed that gives us all the feelings of wanderlust. But the key word here is curated. Instagram is a powerful tool that I for one love. I’m not here to bash it or tell you to unfollow all the famous grammers with the perfect pictures.
That’s not what this is about.
This is about you as a traveler (or a potential one) realizing that travel is about so much more than Instagram.
Travel is about stepping into another way of life.
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It's about learning about a new culture first hand. It's about listening to a new language and stuttering over the sounds as your tongue tries to emulate them for the first time. It's about tasting a new flavor completely foreign to your taste buds.
It's about so much more than a picture.
Sure, sure, pictures are a great bonus. They're a nice memory or a great way to share an experience with your family and friends. But they aren't why you should go in the first place.
It seems we're swimming in "Instagram Guides" to popular places. And sorry for being blunt but what the hell is that?
I've skimmed through them before out of curiosity and they seem to believe the only reason someone got on the plane in the first place is for Insta. They have you spending your entire vacation hopping from one photo opp to another.
I won't be so hypercritical to say you shouldn't take pictures or post on IG in the new places you explore but that shouldn't be the sole purpose of your holiday.
There is so much more to travel once you put down your phone or camera and open yourself up to your environment.
But if you do insist on using IG to plan your next trip, at least keep this in mind:
A lot of the pictures you fall in love with have been taken by a professional photographer, with professional equipment. They’ve been edited with the best software, or at the very least have a preset on them to make the colors pop just so.
And guys, I do it, too. I use a preset on all of my pictures and my husband probably has to snap 50 shots before I’m happy with the lighting and the look on my face. We’re not professionals by any means but we do try to take great shots.
This is about you keeping in mind this reality and managing your expectations based on it.
Instagram is great in the way it opens your mind to magical places around the world you may have never known about. It has a way to grow your travel bucket list triple fold just by scrolling through your feed. But in the same tune, it has a way of making you feel so disappointed when you finally make it to that place and it’s just not as perfect as the pictures made it seem to be.
This doesn’t mean the place is a shithole. It doesn’t mean the place isn’t worthy and honestly, without previously seeing the place online, you’d probably think it was actually perfect.
I’ve been a victim of it.
I went to a small town in Vietnam that I fell in love with simply because of pictures. We rearranged our trip just so we could go there. It looked so remote, clean and peaceful. It was not any of those things.
First off, seasons will affect your experience greatly, especially somewhere like Vietnam. A place will look lush and green during rainy season and be dry and brown in dry season. I think you can guess which season the picture was from and which season I went.
I honestly couldn’t believe it.
I was new to using Instagram as a resource for travel spots (yes, this was just last year. I’m new to the game, OK?) and I was shocked. Not only did the seasons change it but it was obvious things had been photoshopped to look clean and bright.
We still had an incredible day and loved the minitrip but would have definitely enjoyed it more had I not had my expectations set so high by seeing just 1 perfect picture.
Instagram just isn’t reality.
I’ll go ahead and say it, those expectations were my fault, not Instagrams.
I only looked at that one picture. I fell in love with it and that was it. I now realize that was really dumb. Instagram is a creative platform. It can be used many different ways depending on the person. There is no right or wrong way to post.
You can showcase your life in whatever way you choose. When you sign up for Insta you don’t sign an agreement to show every detail of your life, good and bad. And really, as it’s proven, people like pretty pictures. They like to see the good side of things. People who edit their photos and have a cohesive grid tend to be more popular. So I mean damn, can you blame them?
Instagram won’t change anytime soon so here’s some tips we as users can manage our expectations and build realistic travel goals.
Tip 1. Recent vs. Top
I use the search function a lot on Insta.
Whether I’m searching via places or hashtags, I like to use it to find new places in my city and new people to follow based on my location.
When you search on Insta, you’ll immediately see the “top” posts. These are usually by those professional grammers and honestly, these pics are not typically realistic. But they’re beautiful and fun to look at. So, go ahead and scroll but before you pick your next location, switch over to “recent.” These are shown based on time, not popularity so you’ll most likely get a more realistic view of the place without the editing and without the models.
Tip 2. Follow Small Accounts
Really sick of feeling the insta sham? Follow small accounts.
Again, the big names are generally going to have perfect pictures so if you want to see real pictures, find small travel accounts. Trust me there are an endless number of these. Search by recent to have even the chance to finding them. Small accounts don’t usually have the time, experience or expertise to enhance their pictures like big accounts can.
You can also reach out to expats living in the city you'll be visiting. They know the city well so will be able to tell you what's worth it and what isn't. They'll probably also help you discover some secret spots most tourists miss.
Tip 3. The Only Change Will Come From You
The more the user starts following and interacting with “real” accounts, the big accounts will notice and follow suite. They’ll start to show “real” shit if that’s what we all push for. They’re only popular because of us, remember that. I’ve seen that more people are slowly talking about the lows of their days along with the highs. Support those accounts and you’ll definitely see more of it.
So users, it’s up to you. I honestly don’t think you should spend your energy getting mad about the reality (or lack thereof) of Insta. Instead, understand where the platform shines and use better judgement when searching spots.
The life abroad is not all rainbows & butterflies & beautiful places. Understand you’re not always being shown the bus being late, the landlord not understanding the issue in your rented apartment and it’s not showing you how easy it is to get lost in a new place, without WiFi and without a clue to get back where you started. You’re also not being shown how early in the morning the picture was taken, how many 100s of outtakes there are and how long it took to get the shot just perfect.
Don’t let Instagram be the reason you travel. Travel because you want to, you’re curious about the culture, the food or the gorgeous landscape but not because you saw 1 perfect picture. You’re not only setting yourself up for disappointment but you’ll most likely miss out on a lot of really amazing things that aren’t made for the gram.