Has Instagram Changed The Way We Travel For Better Or Worse?
There is no denying that Instagram, and the internet in general, has changed the way we travel. Just 5 or 6 years ago, choosing a travel destination was as simple as finding a cheap flight somewhere new, or heading to that city your friend had always recommended. In fact, I remember that for the first few holidays I went on with my friends, we had little to go off other than a 100 word description in a travel brochure (yep, I really am that old...). These days, it feels like we all have a never ending travel bucket list, inspired by all of those gorgeous influencers travelling the world in tiny bikinis and serving alllllll the international inspo. We have tonnes of in depth city guides to pore over, and a curated image in our head of what somewhere is going to be like before we even arrive. "Instagrammability" has become a key marketing tool for hotels and restaurants, and you only have to look at the queue outside those pastel perfect city centre hotspots to see that it's paying off.
Something I found myself thinking about a lot while we were on holiday is whether the explosion of Instagram and influencers has changed the way we travel for better or worse. Before this trip, I was definitely in the camp of better - I love Instagram, and I've thoroughly enjoyed being able to use it as a visual tool when researching a new destination or planning a trip. I've found lots of brilliant restaurants and bars this way over the years and I'd even go as far to say that Instagram has influenced the destinations I've chosen to travel to - both Iceland and Madrid made it on to my bucket list as a result of seeing beautiful photographs captured by others on their travels. So many people are quick to slag social media off, branding it as shallow or superficial, but I have always found the platform to be a huge source of inspiration, and never more so than when engaging with the travel community.
And yet, while we were in the States, I started to wonder if perhaps it's all gone a bit too far. We were lucky enough to visit so many beautiful iconic destinations, from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to the rugged coastline of Big Sur, and time and time again, I stood and watched people get that perfect Insta snap before moving on, not giving so much as a second glance to their surroundings. It was obvious that for so many people, the focus wasn't on soaking up the moment and enjoying this place that they had waited so long to visit, but simply getting the ideal shot to share with their social media followers. It seemed like they wanted the souvenir snap more than they actually wanted the experience.
And of course, because I'm human and I quite like Instagram, I wasn't guilt-free myself. I dragged Sam to the famous Paul Smith pink wall in LA so that I could get the classic Instagram photo, and waited around while everyone finished their mini shoots in what is essentially a car park. I refrained from sharing the photo of me at the Griffith Observatory because my outfit was a bit naff, instantly discounting the fact that I was surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever witnessed. I too found myself drawn into this game of perfection, even while I was on the trip of a lifetime.
But what struck me most about how Instagram has changed the way we travel was not the burning desire to get the perfect photo, but how it has changed the way we actually explore a new place. For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of travel is that element of discovery - the smug joy of finding an unassuming but amazing back street restaurant that's teeming with locals, or the sheer delight of turning a corner and unexpectedly stumbling upon a beautiful sight. Yet these days, we're often guilty of turning up a new destination with a list of places we want to visit, and those little moments of discovery get missed in the chaos of running from one hot spot to the next.
It was something I really noticed while we were in Portland. Unlike LA or San Francisco, I hadn't seen hundreds of images of the city online before we arrived, and as a result, we felt like we had no obligation to do any one particular thing. There was no pressure to visit the coolest cafe or hippest bar, and as a result, we were able to fully relax and enjoy the city. We wandered aimlessly, delighting in the ridiculously cheap thrift stores we found, and feeling smug when we stumbled across the perfect market for picnic supplies. I felt like we truly got to know the city, not because we could leave knowing we'd visited all of the coolest places or seen all the big sights, but because we had allowed ourselves to relax and truly soak up the spirit of the city. We may have only seen a tiny slither of what Portland has to offer, but what we did experience, we experienced fully.
It was a big lesson for me, and one I want to remember for future adventures. I still love Instagram, and I will continue to use it to enhance my travel experiences where I can, but I'll also keep in mind that when I'm old and grey, it won't be the pastel perfect Insta snaps that I'll be remembering and sharing with my grandkids. I won't be waxing lyrical about the aesthetically pleasing brunch spot that we queued an hour for, or the artfully painted wall that just looked so good on my grid.
No, instead I'll be regaling tales of how their Grandad and I found ourselves accidentally crashing a local boat party and supping free beer as the sun set behind us. I'll tell them about the amazing burritos we ate in a dingy cafe, how we were slightly worried that they would give us food poisoning but devoured them anyway because they were delicious. I'll tell them about that time we saw sea otters swimming in the wild, or the day we spent driving through vineyards and forests, singing loudly to the local American radio at the tops of our voices.
I don't have a perfect Insta snap to document any of those moments, but that doesn't matter. Because what matters is that I have the memories, so deeply etched onto my brain and heart that I will remember them forever. I might not have the beautiful pictures to share with the world, but I have the stories to tell to the people who matter, and that is so much more important.
I think it's something we could all do with remembering. Maybe I feel it more because I'm a blogger and there's a certain pressure to get the gorgeous snap, but I think social media has impacted the way that we all travel now, whether you have 100 followers of 100,000. It's truly amazing that Instagram has inspired so many of us to travel more regularly, to go out and explore more of our beautiful world. But we owe it to ourselves to truly live those experiences, to bring home stories and anecdotes and lessons and memories rather than just another beautiful picture.
What do you think? Do you believe Instagram has had a positive influence on your travels, or do you too struggle with getting the balance right?