Guest Post: Instagram is changing why we travel. But is it a change for the better?

Guest Post: Instagram is changing why we travel. But is it a change for the better?

Since when did the platform become an alternative authority on where we should be heading on holiday?

Paulo Palha, chief executive of Travideo

‘The seven best honeymoon destinations according to Instagram’, ‘20 destinations to travel to if you want a lit Instagram’, ‘15 Instagram-worthy travel destinations you can visit on a budget’: this is just a sample of the titles that will greet couples, friends and families researching their 2019 holiday destination online.

Travel agents might be less in demand than they once were – but since when did Instagram become an alternative authority on where we should be heading on holiday? And when did ‘Instagram-worthiness’ become a real and deciding factor when it comes to where tourists spend their valuable annual leave?

Before ‘free’ data roaming in the EU and an abundance of Wi-Fi in cafes, restaurants, and even street corners, holidays were a welcome opportunity to switch off the mobile phone and head to the beach with no more than a book and your travelling companions in tow.

Picture perfect moments would abound as holidaymakers explored beautiful destinations, cities and beaches, and people monopolised on these with a quick snap of the camera; but photos would enter family albums, not Facebook feeds, and would be taken and forgotten until travellers returned home.

For most people, taking photos has been a by-product of (rather than a reason for) travelling, and beauty would be appreciated for and of itself, rather than for its Instagrammable potential.

Fast forward to 2019, and taking photos seemed to become travel’s raison d’etre. The world’s most beautiful landscapes and distinctive landmarks are often swamped with tourists clamouring to get the perfect shot: an almost impossible task (unless you’re happy having photos of strangers).

Queuing for photos has become a bizarre yet common occurence at particularly busy destinations. In front of the lens is an idyll; but behind it stand hundreds of others, intruding on the magic and poised to take an identical shot.

The pre-holiday rituals and wardrobes that will feature in the holiday photos seem also to have taken precedent – certainly no thanks to Instagram. Getting the perfect manicure for that Instagram engagement photo, getting a spray tan to avoid looking pasty next to the locals, getting lash extensions and waxes and pre-holiday haircuts.

It seems that Instagram’s one billion users worldwide are both the casualties and harbingers of totally transformed expectations when it comes to what we gain through travel, with the new focus on aesthetics and images changing where we go and why.

Majestic sunsets, mountain tops, active adventures, golden sands and crystal-clear waters: all these and more make great Instagram fodder, and the money shot seems to have become as highly prized as the lasting memories that also come with a trip away.

Travellers want their followers to see that they’re living the dream, regardless of whether this is true; because if it doesn’t make ‘the ‘gram’, was it even worth going?

Arguably (and perhaps accurately) there’s no real issue here. A holiday is a great opportunity to capture special moments and memories, in stunning settings that you wouldn’t usually find yourself in.

Everybody else does it, so why shouldn’t you? And anyway, sharing photos on social media does wonders for destinations’ tourist trade, particularly when top Instagram influencers are the ones in front of the lens.

But with the already unprecedented ideals social media feeds us about what we should do, want, see and value, travellers must evaluate the motives behind the experiences they seek; and remember that there are incredible destinations to be explored that are magnificent with or without an Instagram filter.

Travel agents and tour operators must show customers that there are some moments that cannot be captured in an image taken at a selfie arm’s length, but are only done justice when they’re simply experienced; and as everybody is put under ever-increasing pressure to succeed in life and at work, experts working in the travel industry must encourage holidaymakers to truly value their time abroad, away from the expectations and judgements of their followers’ ever watchful gaze.

This year, why not encourage travellers to let a little mystery shrowd their travel plans and let Instagram change their holiday in the most radical way, by not letting it play any part in it? How about encouraging people to take a trip that isn’t intruded upon by ‘the ‘gram’, but instead imprints itself on their memories, relationships, creativity and wellbeing?

The internet is brimming with beautiful travel content created by a wealth of experienced professionals – so holidaymakers need not worry about adding to the melee next time they’re sipping sangria in the sunshine.

Trips will be no less amazing if less people hear about them; in fact, travellers might get more out of an experience that’s only shared with the people that are right there with them.