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As I peered through my binoculars from our Jeep, which had stopped alongside others on a dirt track in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, I managed to catch sight of a leopard’s tail that dangled down from the branch it was lying on. This was the third time that day we had been lucky enough to spot the elusive creature but it was no less magical.
Not so, it would seem, for the American man in the Jeep next to us who loudly proclaimed that he had seen them on a documentary so didn’t need to look.
We were baffled…was that not why we were there, to see the wildlife with our own eyes? Is seeing it through a screen enough now? I have seen plenty of exotic destinations and animals in photos and videos but that means, if anything, I am even more eager to see for myself now.
Instagram is my go-to for inspiration – it helps us to discover the world as others travel it and enables us to decide for ourselves where we would like to visit next.
I’m not alone, this photo-sharing app has more than one billion users worldwide, uploading around 95 million photos everyday.
The most followed travel brand, National Geographic, has 100 million followers on Instagram and, in its own words, allows you to experience the world through the eyes of its photographers.
There’s no denying that we are keen to both share and scroll through images – especially ones that depict far-flung destinations.
In fact, according to Facebook for Business, 60% of millennials turn to Instagram for travel inspiration. Meanwhile, a study by Schofields Insurance found that 40% choose to travel to places based on its “Instagrammability”.
But the latter is part of a growing problem. We are seeing the same “Insta-worthy” locations appear in our feeds time and time again. As more people head to get their own shot of these destinations they become overrun with tourists, not only having negative implications for the environment, but ensuring that it isn’t as tranquil and idyllic as these carefully curated feeds would have you believe. Step outside of that little square and you’ll no doubt find a queue of people waiting to get their own photo to share on social media in a bid for likes.
Travel blogger Vicky, from Vicky Flip Flop, agrees that social media is changing the way we travel. She said: “There are the classic insta-shots – the hot-air balloons of Cappadocia, the colourful riads of Morocco, the impressive mountains of Norway, for example. Tourism in these locations is booming, just so people can “get the shot”. There’s even a fake breakfast spread set up in Cappadocia, so you can look like you’re having breakfast with the balloons behind. There’s apparently a long queue of people waiting to pose by the impressive “food”.
The twirling dress, hat in hand, in front of a landmark look just doesn’t appeal to me, and I hope it will soon have its day. I feel like it’s been done now and we need something new: travellers who actually care about the places they’re visiting and portraying.
“Like a lot of travel bloggers I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram, but I continue to use it every day and even more so when I travel. It’s a great tool for finding amazing spots, and for inspiring others to travel more, but I think in the wrong hands and minds it can be toxic.
“I just think you need to be careful with who you follow, whether you can believe their stories and advice, and how their pictures make you feel. Use that follow button carefully and accordingly.”
Seeing an image and flying off to recreate it ourselves is also causing us to lose the true essence of travel – discovering places with our own eyes instead of seeing every part of it through others. We can instantly conjure up images of the Taj Mahal and the sea swing in Bali, for example, even if we haven’t been. But does this take away from that incredible moment when you see it for yourself?
Blogger Flora McCormick thinks so: “Social media is great for inspiration, or seeing parts of the world we’re otherwise not able to see for ourselves due to money, physical ability, safety, etc. But there’s something sad about realising there are very few corners of the planet you’ll ever truly see for the first time. We’ve all “seen” killer whales or the Northern Lights online, which makes you wonder – how much of its impact is lessened for us compared to earlier generations?”
Aspiring to travel to places simply because they will fit our feed or we have seen them on another’s means we will miss out on discovering so many other wonderful corners of the world. However, when used correctly, it is one of the best ways to introduce us to new places. Watching stories, looking through photos and reading the description of the destination will ensure you can make the most of your time when you go.
When Broadway Travel predicted the travel trends for 2019 it found that two of this year’s destinations are popular because they will be on the big screen. Head of marketing Tom Davies said: “Set-jetting – travelling to part of a country that you have seen in a film or on television – is going to be on trend this year especially with the release of the final series of Game of Thrones in April when even more holidaymakers will flock to the destinations seen on screen such as Dubrovnik in Croatia. We think this is a great way to show people parts of countries they may not have considered. In the same way, Instagram is ideal for sharing travel images and experiences, and giving an even better insight into what it is like to actually be there, inspiring others to visit for themselves.”
Perhaps we just need to head away from the overdone staple shots because there is so much more to discover and then think about travelling in a more ethical way and using platforms to promote this. We need to make the most of our time on earth by seeing as much of it as possible and, as we do so, helping it to remain a place of natural beauty rather than adding to the problem. This needs to be done with our own eyes, not vicariously through a stranger’s photos and videos – or around getting likes on social media.
Travel the world and take photos but don’t just do it for the ‘gram – do it to make memories and preserve them. So, in years to come, when Instagram is spoken about in the same way as Myspace is now, you’ll be able to look back on the pictures fondly. They will have captured your experience rather than being a reminder of what you missed out on because you were so desperate to take the perfect one.
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