Life Chats, Travel

Has social media made us worse travellers?

I remember when I was little, me and my family would head into our local travel agent, pick up as many brochures as we could and then spend ages flicking through, turning down the corners of pages we liked before coming together and deciding on the perfect holiday.

I don’t think I’ve looked in physical travel brochure since I was about 13.

It’s hard to imagine how people traveled before the internet. Everything we need is now at the touch of a button. Be it booking a flight, a hotel room, finding a restaurant, or buying tickets for local attractions. We have more information available to us that we even know what do with. Nowadays you could plan every minute of a weeks holiday without even leaving your bedroom.

But is it really all for the better?

Is everything as it seems?

I follow a fair amount of travel bloggers on various social media and am often guilty of wasting hours scrolling through highly curated, picture perfect travel feeds.

But I think the key word there is curated.

When you’re hours deep in an Instagram hole of exotic beach after exotic beach it’s hard to remember that these pictures have often gone through as much planning, staging and editing as a professional advert.

Are these feeds responsible for creating a false image of travel? Are they putting something out there that’s so unattainable to the average joe that they’re setting us up for a fall?

When we strive for these idealistic vacations are we risking spending a week feeling slightly disappointed that the sea isn’t that blue or the sand that white.

And that’s not to say we can start placing sole blame on the incredible travel influencers posting these pictures. It’s important to acknowledge that often there simply trying to earn a living. We must remember that if the images they produce aren’t advertiser worthy they may risk losing out on income either for that campaign or in the future.

So, is it instead, the rise of the social media star as a whole, rather than specific people, that’s to blame? Is there even a need to blame anyone for anything?

Hiding behind a camera?

With the rise of social media came the rise of sharing and documenting our every moment on the internet. And this is particularly true when it comes to travel.

According to Expedia, the biggest priority for young people traveling abroad is how Instagrammable their destination is.

And it’s not surprising.

I think we’re all guilty of taking a photo specifically for the gram while abroad. And while we may tell ourselves it’s to let our family and friends know what we’re up to, I thinking we’d be lying to ourselves if we didn’t want to create a slight sense of envy in others.

It’s time to be honest with yourself.

Have you ever visited a place purely because you knew it would look good on social media?

Have you ever ordered food or drink for the same reason?

Have you ever spent time waiting for the crowds to disappear so you were the only one in the photo? Or headed out super early so no one else is around?

I’m definitely guilty of all three.

Now ask yourself, did doing any of those things affect your overall trip?

Has this oversharing culture social media has created caused us to spend more time and energy focusing on how are travels look to the outside world instead of focusing on whether we’re actually enjoying ourselves?

Is it causing us to stop taking in what’s around us, letting ourselves get lost in a city and it’s culture, just in case what we find isn’t Instagram worthy?

Is this where we blame the social media stars?

I know I’m guilty of trying to recreate shots I’ve seen online but is the desire to copy these picture perfect posts detracting from our travels. Are we spending to much time behind a camera trying to document everything we do in an aesthetically pleasing way that we’re becoming worse travellers?

Social media provides a checklist of must-see destinations and in our world of ever-increasing FOMO, is it encouraging us to jump from place to place, take a photo and move on. We’ve got the instagram post to prove we’ve been so that’s all that counts right?

Where’s the spontaneity?

With the rise of social media planning your next trip has never been easier. Simply type the name of your destination in any social media search bar and you’ll find a wealth of information at your fingertips.

Not only are we able to find the biggest attractions, nearby restaurants and local hotspots but we have access to thousands upon thousands of reviews that tell us whether somewhere is worth visiting or not.

Surely this is a good thing, right?

Maybe, maybe not.

When I think back to some of the decisions I’ve made when travelling there are several times when my thought process has genuinely be based on what I’ve seen on Instagram. I’ve been desperate to visit certain restaurants, museums, attractions because I’ve seen pictures and mentions of them of social media. And much to my own horror, I can actually pick out specific times I’ve decided against going somewhere because I hadn’t come across it in any of my planning.

But if we stick to what we know other people have enjoyed then won’t that almost guarantee a good experience?

Well yes, it might do, but at the sacrifice of missing out on so much more.

Were missing out discovering a city or place for ourselves. The chance to try new things and form our own opinions.

There’s something beautiful about being enticed into a restaurant you wandered past purely by chance and then having the best meal of your trip or even life.

You have no expectations or pre-conceived ideas of anywhere but that’s the fun part, isn’t it?

Is our ability to plan things in just a few clicks causing us to miss out of these types of experiences?

When you have things all planned out, it can end up feeling like you’re simply ticking off a list. Rushing from place to place for the chance to say look, I was here too.

Going where your feet take you, saying yes to new experiences, embracing spontaneity, isn’t that what travel is about?

Has social media changed that? Does having the world at our fingertips mean were only concerned with experiencing what we’ve seen, what we know is popular?

Or is it all simply an unavoidable part of an ever-connected world?

In the generations before us, they were limited to planning via guidebooks and travel agents, so they had no choice but to embrace a bit of spontaneity. It would have been hard to even comprehend the amount of information we have available to us now. So, if social media has changed travel is this way, maybe that was always going to happen with the birth of the internet.

What if it all comes back to our desire to share everything on our social platforms?

I’ve seen an increase in bloggers sharing posts entitled ‘the most instagrammble spots in {insert place name here}.’ I in no way want to criticize the bloggers behind these post, I just think it provides an interesting commentary on the way we travel is heading.

Is our love of sharing causing damage?

There are very few places in today’s world that are unreachable. There are also very few places that haven’t made it onto social media.

The hashtag #hiddengem has over 700,000 posts alone and I can guarantee 99% of those posts are location tagged as well.

When we find somewhere beautiful most people are compelled to share it online.

But in today’s social media driven world we can find ourselves competing for the best content, and often that means the most unique content. Very few people get excited by another picture of the Effiel tower, they want something new, something they’ve never seen before.

In this competitive culture, it leaves few places uncovered and unphotographed.

And in that same vein we then have to ask ourselves if it leaves anywhere truly untouched and unspoiled by human greed.

Think about the places you’ve been that have had an out of place giftshop, or overpriced cafe geared specifically towards tourists.

If you’re heading to a hidden gem that you heard about on social media ask yourself is it really a hidden gem?

And don’t be surprised if you get there and find out that you’re not the only person who knew about it.

While inspiring others to travel and visit new places seems innocent enough it’s causing places to become overrun with tourists.

Over the years several popular travel spots have considered or implemented restrictions on tourist numbers including the Greek island of Santorini.

These places are struggling to cope with the increasing number of tourists. The infrastructure was simply not built to cope with these influxes of visitors.

Not only that but the tourism itself is starting to cause permanent damage to the natural environment too. Places like Maya Beach in Thailand are suffering from a crazy amount of litter and pollution. People are inadvertently destroying what they went to see.

Is social media to blame?

Maya Beach was made famous by the movie The Beach so maybe not in all cases, but still, you can’t help but think it’s played its part.

Is it all that bad?

Well no, I don’t think so.

The rise of the internet has made travel easier, more accessible. And more recently we’ve seen a rise in the number of people searching for authentic experiences.

Social media allows us to connect with people in ways we never thought possible.

It’s allowing local people to take charge of how people view their homes while at the same time allowing travellers to experience things as the locals do.

Whether it’s the rise of Airbnb, or experiences like tours and shared meals led by locals there are a lot of positives that have come from social media.

Most obvious is this sense of wanderlust it has created in our generation. It has shown us what is out there and inspired us to see it for ourselves.

I think as a society and for me personally, social media has made us visit places we otherwise wouldn’t have considered.

Without even looking you can stumble across posts from places you’ve never even heard and within weeks be on a plane to see it for yourself.

And there are those doing their bit to share the stories behind the picture-perfect posts. Showing the realities of travel, be that delayed trains or food poisoning and letting people know that travel isn’t glamorous 24/7.

They’re the people helping us prepare for what’s out there so we can travel smarter and make the most of our time.

 

Social media has without a doubt changed the way we travel but whether this change is good or bad, I’m unsure.

But writing this has made me think about the way I travel and the way social media impacts me. And also, whether I’m going to allow myself to be impacted in this same way moving forward.

This whole post was less about reaching a conclusion and more about working out my own thoughts and hopefully starting a discussion.

With that being said I’d love to know your thoughts too, whether you agree with anything I’ve said or nothing at all.

All my love,

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