Has Instagram made us lose sight of why we travel?

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, probably because it’s a very personal one, but it’s also a post that might generate varied opinions. I’ve just got back into the swing of real life after two weeks away in California, the main reason for our trip was to attend Coachella Music festival, which I’ve been lucky enough to visit twice before.

This time we were going with two friends who had never been before; I was really excited to spend three days showing them around and dancing in the desert listening to live music. Like in previous years when golden hour crept in I knew what to expect, the Instagram models and photo takers came out (myself and my friends included). But this year unlike previous festivals, I started to notice something which made me feel quite sad. I noticed people arriving at golden hour in their most ‘Coachella’ style outfits with their photographer in tow. They found their spot in front of the wheel and spent the next 40 minutes posing to get that classic Coachella shot; but then just leaving the festival straight after.

I’m in no way naive to the fact that some people, especially those who make money from their Instagram profiles (sometimes myself included) may have been sponsored by brands to create posts; but I think this goes deeper than people just creating content. As I stood in the golden light taking photos with my friends before heading to the next music act, I started to think about how Instagram has created this culture where people are taking these photographs as almost status symbols, but not actually experiencing what’s going on around them.

It’s something I’ve grappled with for a long time; like the people who turned up to take photos at Coachella and then left, the same thing occurs in beautiful places all over the world. People turn up to get their token photo in front of whichever giant swing or beautiful backdrop they’ve seen on Instagram and leave. The reality of this generates a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach and to me isn’t why I travel. In my opinion, it’s not about going to that famous Instagram spot and getting the same shot that everyone else has, it’s about travelling to that place and experiencing the different culture, getting to know the locals as well as seeing the sights. We’re inundated with images of people travelling to these amazing places all around the world, creating these perfectly poised photographs, which is supposed to emulate a life of sometimes unattainable perfection. Recently I’ve started to see a trend of people taking similar images, in the same place and the real reason you would visit that particular spot is somehow lost.

I’m in no way negatively speaking about anyone who does this or enjoys taking these photos while they’re travelling; but I think it’s sometimes good to get to the depths of why we travel.  Nowadays travel is more accessable than ever, however unless you’re being paid by a brand to travel to that said place and stay in that luxurious hotel, it will cost you a lot of money to do so. That’s the point that I have a problem with, the skewed view Instagram generates of travel, you don’t have to get that shot in that beautiful hotel half way around the world from where you live, you could travel 100 miles from your own home and experience something new. Or travel to the same place as the Instagram photo but visit the local community and experience how the people live in that new country you’re visiting. It’s a privilege to be able travel anywhere in the world and just because you don’t stay in that hyped up hotel or location, doesn’t mean your travel means any less.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s so much more to travelling the world than getting that token posed photo, there’s so many people to meet and cultures to experience and I worry that sometimes amongst all the noise on the internet that’s sometimes forgotten. People travel for so many reasons and each one is personal to them, but I would say (to myself included) that next time you arrive somewhere new and reach for your phone or camera to take that photo, stay there a while, experience that new place for what it is. Use Instagram to search for local hidden gems, places to visit and experience, not just take photos. Social media is all about community and the best thing we can do is use it to connect, we shouldn’t lose sight of the human element of it, because at the end of the day when your phone is switched off and the token photos are put away, it’s the human connections and memories that you’ll remember.