Constantly leaving home is a lifestyle that travelers need to do in order to feel satisfied and whole with life again. If you’re like us, you’re always thinking about travel, searching for flights, and researching a way to gather up the funds to explore another part of the world. This lifestyle is supported by desire, passion, drive and that insatiable wanderlust and curiosity embedded within.
So, in the modern day of travel, what’s different? The growing and ever-changing social media landscape of today has had a major influence on the way travelers see, experience and think about travel. I scroll through Instagram every morning while on the subway and see castles and plazas, gelatos and beers, museums and bars that I would’ve never been able to see before unless I physically went to the places that were tagged in the photos for myself. I tap through Snapchat and get glimpses of my friends’ travels in real time, from that necessary passport photo at the airline terminal to the struggles at baggage claim to taking a taxi and getting to their Airbnb. Social media has allowed us to experience what our fellow travelers are experiencing, almost as if we were physically there with them.
And that’s both a blessing and a curse.
I don’t necessarily think that if social media didn’t exist, I wouldn’t want to travel any more or less than I do now. I’d want to travel just as frequently and have my experiences abroad continue as an active, consuming and necessary part of my life. Before social media took over the travel landscape, my desire to visit London, Paris, Tokyo, Bali, among the tons of other places I have and haven’t been, was still there. Films, TV series, books and even music did back then what social media does for me now. Even using my imagination and solely envisioning myself somewhere that I’d never been to was testament to the fact that you don’t always have to know or see a place in real life to want to go there. There’s a subtle charm in not knowing. The first experience in a new place can be less contrived and more organic that way, and therefore, a lot more special.
What I can say, however, is that there is a sense of longing, a fear of missing out (colloquially called ‘FOMO‘) sort of syndrome that comes from seeing people you follow on social media travel. It’s like, “well, why am I not traveling? Or why can’t I go there? or “why am I not there right now?” It makes us envious of opportunities that other travelers have, the choices they’ve made or the means in which they’re able to travel in the way they do. It causes envy, dissatisfaction, and even bitterness and resentment towards our fellow travelers, but also in ourselves, which isn’t what travel should be about. Social media also has a tendency to not represent the whole story or paint the entire picture when people travel. Things happen, plans don’t often follow through. Cameras get lost and phones get stolen. Planes are delayed and luggage gets misplaced in transit. It’s inevitable and completely out of one’s control, but more often than not, the people behind the photo or video only show their friends, followers or subscribers the highlight reel of their travels, not the behind the scenes.
So, while social media has changed the ways that travelers travel and future travelers make their plans to go off to explore the world, it’s important to take a step back for a second and question those moments of envy that turn us negative too quickly. On the one hand, it’s a wonderful thing to show the world what you’re up to or where you’re going, but it’s also okay to not have to highlight it at all, too. It’s also okay to highlight your travels in a way that is raw, real, authentic and true to yourself. It’s okay to highlight and talk about your struggles, because travel doesn’t have to be perfect. More often than not, it isn’t. On the other hand, for us as viewers, it’s okay to have those envious moments at times. Those feelings we get from those photos are valid, but they shouldn’t have to be the make or break factor for you when deciding on your own travel plans or how you feel about other people’s. I wanted to travel before I had Instagram and I want to travel just as much with it because now I understand that social media is never an accurate representation of what someone’s experiences are like.
There’s so much that social media doesn’t show us.
It doesn’t show us the connections made with other people. It doesn’t show us the conversations had with locals. It doesn’t show us how savory that arepa tasted in Caracas or how flavorful that cappuccino felt on your lips in Naples. Yet, it doesn’t make those moments any less important just because they aren’t online. It doesn’t make those conversations had any less valuable, those tender ‘movie moments‘ with others any less real. The person behind the screen just decided that they weren’t going to (and didn’t have to) share everything with the digital world.
Ever since I started to realize that there’s more to traveling that documenting every part of it, my perspectives have altered. The way I travel and the way I document is presented in a way that I believe to be my truth — my own unique experience. In a way that works for me and in a way that allows me to highlight the good, the bad and the beautiful parts of the world. Or not highlight any of it at all, but rather keep it in my memory for myself, instead.
I thank social media every day though. And I think every one of us as travelers should do the same, regardless of how we use it and feel about it.
Do you agree? What are your thoughts on social media and its effect on the travel landscape? Let us know in the comments below.