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.
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.
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.
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.