I remember a time when the art of travel revolved around first-hand tales from friends and family, watching attractive presenters on travel documentaries, and secrets buried deep inside the pages of guide books. Truth be told, that feels like a lifetime ago. These days, it's all about where the people on your Instagram feed are jet-setting off to, or if a destination is deemed Instagram-worthy.
Sounds all too familiar? Fight it all you want, but the force of social media has gone above and beyond being just apps on your mobile device. We live, breathe, and eat through our online personas. The leader of the social media pack? Instagram — the unassuming picture-sharing app that has birthed an entire empire of influencers, shifted countless of business models, and given rise to #hashtags and Vlogs. It's ingenious but also powerful and unstoppable; and amongst many other things, it's also changed the way we travel. Sure enough, I profess to fall predictably into that category. As much as I would love to blame my travel habits on being a millennial, I know it's probably more because we've all been sucked into a narcissistic movement growing larger by the day.
"I already feel like I've seen all that I needed to see, thanks to the flood of images I've seen on Instagram"
Where is that sense of self-discovery? Is it still present in our travels? What exactly are we missing whilst staying connected and scrolling through our Instagram feeds? It's a common practice these days to go through Explore pages, lock down picturesque places that are outlandishly cool, then meticulously plan their travels around it. But the beauty of travelling arises from that feeling of uncertainty, one that makes you tingle with excitement whenever you're in a foreign land. That comes from discovering something for the very first time and thinking, "Wow, this is nothing like I've ever seen before." But all of that goes away when we've seen it all on Instagram — i.e. Sketch, the perennial, or should I say millennial's favourite pink spot in London. I have yet to set foot into the place but I already feel like I've seen all that I need to see, thanks to the flood of images I've seen on Instagram. Now I'm actually slightly concerned seeing it up close won't measure up to its photogenic reputation online.
"Enter the unfortunate circumstance of falling ill to predictability."
It's almost ironic, but with every geotag a popular lane in a certain country gets, the less interesting it actually is. Enter the unfortunate circumstance of falling ill to predictability. Take the Yayoi Kusama exhibition, for example — the brilliance of the installation on our shores was undermined by the number of stylised shots I witnessed on my feed. To be honest, it took away the novelty of it all, which was a terrible shame. I can't speak for all, but there were probably a handful of people who went to the exhibition only to boost their social media following. Do they have a real interest in art? No. Same goes for hotspots like the black and white columns at Paris' Palais-Royal, Arizona's Antelope Canyon, and Kyoto's Fushimi Inari Shrine. Those places are stunning by their own measure and represent an important part of their respective cities, but yet also gets lost in a travesty pool of touristy photos online.
"There are the fleeting moments that can't be framed in a photo, nor achieve over a hundred likes, but that's all part of the voyage."
Ever heard of the term, "Pics or it didn't happen?" Please, please make that stop. It did happen. That week-long trip happened; serious packing went into it, money was exchanged — you either enjoyed yourself immensely or had the worst possible trip of your life. There's no shame in documenting your travels through Instagram posts, but while we're at it, we shouldn't base our entire trip around it, so much so that we're losing the value of our travels. I remember times when I've missed out on important conversations at the dining table or was too busy coining witty captions that all that delicious food went cold. Every city has its charm, whether it's in their culture, cuisine, or daily encounters with locals. There are the fleeting moments that can't be framed in a photo, nor achieve over a hundred likes, but that's all part of the voyage.
Will I quit searching for #travelinspo on my feed? Not if I can help it — but I'll most certainly dictate my next vacation without Instagram monopolising the experience. My best trips were the ones without detailed itineraries or pre-'grammed expectations. They were made possible through fanciful decisions, random sightings, and embarking on unexpected adventures that I could talk about for days. These raw experiences belonged to me, and no one else, not even my followers.