Don’t do it for the picture

Last winter my family and I took a trip through Australia. I remember my dad particularly insisted that we visit Uluru, a huge red rock surrounded by miles of desert. Apparently he first heard about it 25 years ago when he studied in Germany. He visited a presentation by a German guy who just returned from a month-long trip to Australia and was sharing his experiences. Since then, the image of that red rock stuck in my dad’s mind and he promised himself he will visit it.

28341009_1207208202715568_399011350_o.jpg

The thing that stuck in my mind though was the fact that 25 years ago that was a way for people to learn about travelling and different places in the world. Nowadays, I would never think about going to some presentation if I wanted to learn about Australia. I would just Google it and find more pictures and travel tips than I ever wanted. Thanks to the Internet and social media travelling and learning about different cultures became much more accessible. Hospitality industry and travel is one of the industries that technology is rapidly changing. Less and less people are using travel agencies and book everything online themselves. Airbnb is providing more affordable and authentic lodging. With the help of Yelp and TripAdvisor you can easily find great places to experience local cuisine. And you do not have to circle around the foreign roads looking for a particular place thanks to the GPS.

There are no doubts that travelling and learning about different cultures is more accessible and easier than ever before. And that is great! However, I think that at the same time influence of social media is ruining the authenticity and unique experience that travelling provided before.  I noticed that recently visiting new places does not make me as excited as it used to. And I wonder if the way I travel has anything to do with it.

87% of millennials are looking at Facebook at travel inspiration. And I have noticed that myself. Couple years ago I started seeing more and more pictures of South-East Asia on social media. And now it’s the new post graduation “must” trip for college students. This summer my Instagram feed was full of my ex-classmates’ drinking out of a coconut at Phi Phi islands or enjoying a swim in an infinity tour among skyscrapers in Singapore. The same thing happened with Iceland. Travel bloggers transformed it from a random cold island to a cool trendy destination. I wonder what will be the next “go-to” place.

Often when a beautiful and picturesque place becomes famous it becomes overcrowded and hectic. And all of us instead of enjoying the beauty of nature will wait in frustration in line to take THE picture. Some people even die trying to get the perfect shot.

Instagram:

28217995_1207207059382349_1164428935_o

Reality:

28275942_1207207026049019_252839197_o.jpg

And I have done it myself so many times. On multiple occasions I made my mom take hundreds pictures of me just because “I HAD to have a good picture with a famous landscape so I can post it on Instagram later”. And due to this obsession with the pictures I did not learn anything about the place. The other problem I noticed is that often I am not as excited when I see a place in real life because I have seen it in pictures so many times. When I was younger, I never looked up places my parents took me and everything was so exciting and new to me. Now, after doing research and seeing photos I am sometimes even left disappointed. Recently, when I went to Halong Bay in Vietnam I was not lucky with the weather. The bay did not look as great as bright and colorful pictures I have seen. Nevertheless, the place was still stunning, but because it did not look like the images I felt like my experiences was lacking.

halong-bay-is-it-worth-it.jpg28278149_1207207072715681_249528126_o.jpg

I am not saying we should not use social media for travel inspiration and avoid taking pictures. Pictures help us make memories. And social media is a great resource of information about an unfamiliar place when you are planning an itinerary. I am saying that many of us overuse it and end up living someone else’s experience instead our own when we travel. We follow the path of famous travel bloggers to take the exact pictures they took or to eat at the restaurant with the same view. And often while on the pursuit of the “instaworthy” shots we miss out on our personal unique angle or on a hidden culinary gem. Inspiration turns into imitation. Most importantly, we miss out on the little details of local life and culture and on personal observations and thoughts that make travelling unique. I think we all should be more mindful of social media usage when travelling (and in general) and try to be more spontaneous. Sometimes getting lost leads to the best memories.

 

7 comments

  1. I know exactly how you feel Ksenia! Social media, travel websites, and professional photography have all taken away a portion of the mystery of traveling today. You already know what to expect before you arrive, and the bar is set extremely high. However, I do fully support planning trips in advance. I would hate to miss out on something amazing, especially when traveling such long distances, due to a lack of research. While it can be hard to not compare our own personal experiences in these places to their online versions, I think it is just as important to put down the camera/phone and take it all in without looking through a screen. Photos almost never do these places justice anyway.

  2. I really enjoyed this post because it brings attention to social media’s effect on how we experience our physical surroundings as well as how we impact our natural world. The photo you provided of the tourists and caverns saddens me as I think about my own experience at places like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and Cozumel where the beauty of the landscape is obstructed by our own overpopulated species and accompanying refuse. In addition, people seem trained these days to experience their physical world through the literal lens of social media and their devices. To better explain what I mean take this example: I was recently at a concert where a man held his phone over his head and recorded the entire 3-hour concent start to finish looking only at his screen. He did not lose himself in the experience nor was he present in the moment. He paid $123 for a night of staring at his screen. People do the same things in our natural world and quite frankly it makes me sad. All these photos and videos destined to sit in a database warehouse with a slim chance of ever being looked at again. I would love to keep talking about this topic as well as society’s inflated expectations of the natural world and simultaneous destruction of those same delicate ecosystems through consumerism and unsustainable tourism. I know this isn’t Twitter, but this should definitely be a #D.

  3. I thought this piece was wildly accurate and super interesting. I was lucky enough to go to Iceland for an educational experience on alternative energy and we engaged with the locals and saw the sights. When we spoke with the locals they like the idea of tourism increasing the first year or so and now they fell overrun by tourists. The land has stayed pretty reserved but they have already begun to see certain landmarks tainted from their original forms. I agree with Kyle, I think this is a #D worthy post.

  4. Ksenia, this was an awesome post. I went abroad last Spring to London and did plenty of traveling while feeling the pressure to take photos. Interestingly, I took a lot of photos but the entire semester, I didn’t actually post anything on Instagram. My friends actually were surprised and many whom I wasn’t close with, actually didn’t know that I had gone abroad. Even the ones whom I did know, even asked if I left London because I had posted so few photos.

    I felt like worrying about the “social media” side of my abroad trip wasn’t actually that important but I did feel like taking the photos would mean something to me to be able to remember the trip. I have actually gone back through my photos of Italy and Switzerland multiple times and I’m glad I did take the photos, but I do constantly fight with the idea that immersing oneself in an experience just as important as the “digital” memories. I personally think there is a fine balance between the two ends. If I completely leave my phone in my pocket, I wish I had taken some photos to respark my memory of a place. However, I shouldn’t feel that my experience is defined by the memories through the lens rather than the ones created with my own eyes. I hope that cameras can be integrated more seamlessly into experiences rather than getting that “perfect shot”

    Lastly, my favorite thing that you mentioned was this idea that your trip can be corrupted by expectations. Not seeing a place with the filter on it can actually be detrimental to experiences. I hadn’t really considered it because I don’t go places based on an Instagram but they can spark my interest so oftentimes, it does genuinely look similar to a photo I’ve seen because my memory of that photo isn’t that great in the first place.

  5. Ksenia, I found your post incredibly relevant and interesting. The power Instagram and other social media has in preparing for a trip can be helpful to draw inspiration, but like you said this can lead to imitation and when you’re comparing your reality to Instagram it can seem less exciting.
    Last year, before departing to my study abroad program in Australia I got to travel South East Asia with two friends. We actually visited Koh Phi Phi… we were the ones taking pictures drinking out of coconuts. The island was beautiful, no doubt, but pictures never show how populated it is there. It is a small island, with more foot traffic covering the ground than sand, so every 5 feet is a tourist company or massage place fighting for your business. It is remarkable and beautiful, however, in pictures people only show the isolated aspects of the island, never the reality of it’s commercialism.
    Additionally, when speaking to friends about post-graduation travel plans I caught myself stating that I wouldn’t want to travel to Iceland because it’s too mainstream. Since when is a destination on earth too mainstream?! Social media has quite the effect on travel, and while it is helpful in planning, I sadly agree that it does take the authenticity away from the escape.

  6. We read an article a few years back about how people were getting injured/ killed in Hawaii by trying to pose for the best selfies in dangerous locations.

  7. Hey Ksenia, this is post I can relate to and as someone who considers themselves fairly well travelled, I feel the same way. The internet had made it crazy easy to plan trips to exotic lands and it has also revealed many of the world’s hidden gems. With Yelp and TripAdvisor, there is no restaurant, hotel, landmark, or experience that has not been done a multitude of times. In that sense I feel that travel has become a little formulaic. From the research stage to the planning stage and for the travel itself, we go to the same websites to guide us. On the plus side, this as made travel very accessible. On the down side, it seems that travel has lost a little of its allure.

%d bloggers like this: