Self, Health And Wellness

How To Travel The World Without Letting The 'Instagram Effect' Ruin It

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How To Travel The World Without Letting The 'Instagram Effect' Ruin It

Note: I wrote this article to better inform millennial travelers and travel bloggers. It is not meant to disparage fashion bloggers or people that just enjoy taking pictures of themselves — you guys keep doing you!

I was up at 6 am today reading travel articles in order to come up with my travel destinations for 2019. I somehow ended up at a lonely section on the internet where travel writers opined on how the 'Instagram effect' has ruined travel; it was not a topic most millennials, including myself, would appreciate or identify with.

But as I continued to read these whiney articles with hypercritical titles, I realized that they are kinda right.

Lately, I’ve consciously and unconsciously let Instagram influence the destinations I want to travel to. I have a rising urge to go to Bali and get shots of myself posing at Besakih temple; or travel to Croatia and post pictures of the party animal that I am (even though I don’t step out of the house past 8 pm because pants); or go to Maldives and stay in those resorts with pools that lead into the ocean so I can boast about how awesome my life is.

Of the several articles I read, one writer’s opinion stayed with me:

“We’ve turned the camera around, focusing not out, but in. Photography no longer encourages seeing; it simply encourages projecting, turning the world’s great vistas into mere backdrops for the self.”

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It’s absolutely true. Check out the Medium post on Iceland that I wrote 3 years back and then take a look at the Medium post on Japan just a few months ago. The latter contains many more pictures of me in “faux-spontaneous” shots (as the author above puts it) — a desperate attempt to focus on Japan, but not without me thrown in the mix.

So what can we do to travel right again? Maybe it’s time to go back to the basics:

1. Let’s pause on traveling to the highly popular Instagram-destinations.

Iceland, Maldives, Bali, Croatia, Peru, Portofino. Let these places chill for a bit.

2. Discover destinations by reading travel articles again!

Sure, it’s way more work, but you may end up finding an actual hidden gem undiscovered by Instagram.

3. When we do take photographs, let’s challenge ourselves to capture the emotion or experience of the place without us needing to emote in it.

PS — this does not apply to dog Instagram accounts. Dogs can continue being the center-of-attention all they want.

One of my favorite photographs of all time is this ship cutting across the sunset in Oia, Greece.

15 years ago, my camera was awful, the resolution grainy and the picture actually embodied the hashtag #nofilter. Yet, this picture is still so magical to me.

4. Always keep in mind the bio-impact you are having on the place you visit.

I just learned that the famous Maya Bay in Thailand closed due to hordes of tourists dumping plastic, sunscreen, and other waste into the water. We managed to ruin 80% of the coral reefs there. I’ve never been to Maya bay but I’m relieved to know it’s closed indefinitely to allow the reef to recover.

Maya Bay has a film of sunscreen that floats on the surface of the water. The coral reefs are almost dead. The place is riddled with plastic and trash. But Instagram bloggers won’t tell you that.

5. When you do post or write about your travels: be honest.

Today’s pictures and travel blogs are so one-sided — and, sometimes, downright inaccurate. No vacation is perfect; us trying to portray perfection through our posts is sad, at best, and misleading, at worst.

A picture by Instagram account, Bruised Passports, shows one of them walking through a tea estate in Kerala.


Private backyard situation in Kerala - undulating tea estates as far as the eye can see

A post shared by Savi and Vid (@bruisedpassports) on Oct 20, 2017 at 4:14am PDT

However, all tea plantations in Kerala are closed to the public to prevent trash accumulation by tourists. It’s very likely that these guys were just trespassing on private property.

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And look, we don’t need to feel too bad about the whole ‘falling-for-Instagram-and-letting-it-ruin-travel’ thing. Even before Instagram, movies and books inspired travel to places, often leading to a surge in tourism and destruction of local ecosystems. In fact, Maya Bay was made famous by Leonardo Dicaprio’s movie “The Beach.” Ironic that he now raises awareness of sustainability.

What we need is simply a slight shift in perspective on how we travel. Try looking back on your travels and think of your most fun or unique experiences. What were they?

It certainly wasn’t the Instagram-worthy shot of your back facing the camera, poignantly looking over some grand vista. Nor was it the shot of you facing the camera, but now solemnly looking away into the aforementioned grand vista.

My favorite travel memories didn’t even end up on camera:

  • Like that time in Greece when my dad rode a donkey at the edge of a cliff and kept yelling at it to slow down. It’s been more than a decade but we still make fun of him.
  • Or that time I ate Fava beans at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Santorini with a group of local grandpas who played cards there every night, for almost 30 years.
  • Or when my girlfriends and I randomly stumbled across a pristine, secluded beach in Puerto Rico and re-enacted famous scenes from Baywatch while tourists looked at us like we were crazy.
  • Or that time I went on a game drive with my mom in Kenya and watched a leopard jump from 40ft in the air, with such grace and agility that it brought on simultaneous feelings of admiration, humility and shame.
  • Or that time I biked with my husband through the farmlands in Westvletern and drank the best beer of my life at a brewery run by monks.

I promise you — none of these moments are on my Instagram account. In fact, these were days before Instagram: where I could lose myself in the experience and, yet, never forget about them; where I would be too busy having fun to take pictures.

And if I did get the privilege to pause and admire the incredible scenery around me, my camera and I would humbly try to capture the enormous gratitude I felt at that singular moment in time.

So yes; for the love of God or, better yet, Science and Nature, let us go back to traveling like that.

RELATED: I Would Rather Travel The World Than Ever Have Kids

Read more of Shilpi Chakrabarti's writing on Medium.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.