Breaking away from the perfection filters of Instagram travel helped Elaine embrace a new love for the lands she explores.
The Art of Travel
I’ve often felt intense pressure placed on us, by ourselves and others, over what travel should be. Sometimes it’s the case that travel can’t meet these expectations.
I recently reread Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel, which has helped me form some thoughts around travel and its purpose in the past. In his quirky and enjoyable fashion, de Botton draws strong parallels between anticipations, expectations, and actualities of travel, using his own experiences and those of recorded writers and philosophers of 16th or 17th century fame. In his book, de Botton writes:
‘We are inundated with advice on where to travel to, but we hear little of why and how we should go, even though the art of travel seems naturally to sustain a number of questions neither so simple nor so trivial, and whose study might in modest ways contribute to an understanding of what the Greek philosophers beautifully termed eudaemonia, or ‘human flourishing’.’
The book was published in 2002, a couple of years before the first incarnation of Facebook, long before the insurmountable travel photographers of Instagram and travel ‘influencers’ were a thing. I’ve been guilty of getting sucked into the perfection filters many of these travellers utilise and allowing it to influence my thoughts and ideas on travel.
Read more: The Effect of Instagram on #Adventure
Over the past year, with international travel off the table, I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time in my own magnificent back garden here in Tasmania. It’s helped me let go of many unhelpful ideas about travel and get back to the heart of why travel is meaningful for me.
In Pursuit of #Travelgram
Nowadays, we’re told exactly why and how we should travel, alongside exactly where we should go. ‘Curated’ content and sponsored posts are all the rage, and it’s difficult not to apply the desirability filters of social media to our own travels, allowing them to influence where we eat, where we stay, and what we do.
Anyone who is anyone will happily write about what they did and where they did it, and the places you have to visit. You probably think that doesn’t sound too bad, and you’re right; it can be helpful advice.
Except when you arrive at the cafe you’ve seen promoted heavily on social media, to find a queue around the block, and everyone who has managed to get a seat too busy ‘gramming the moment to really be interested in the food and coffee in front of them.
Even more disheartening is surveying the perfectly respectable, completely authentic, local cafes lining the same strip, with a range of empty seating options and no queues. This was the very real travel experience we had in Lisbon a few years ago.
Taking and sharing photos as a tourist is not a new practice; it’s been commonplace for many years. A way of establishing ‘I was here’ and creating our ‘in the moment’ memories for later viewing.
In the pre-digital age, you would’ve been lucky to capture a handful of decently lit, non-blurry shots. These would have been developed and lovingly placed in vast albums, stacked on shelves and readily taken out to show guests. Our suggestions of where to eat would’ve been genuine and limited to be heard by those who might remember, pre their own trip, that we’d also travelled to the same city.
In the realm of social media, the immediate gratification of our capitalist society means ‘influencers’ can take multiple high-quality shots, filter, and edit them down to the advertisement perfection needed for their feeds.
The internet has done wonderful things for our society, including opening up new channels to source information and diversify the people and worldviews we have access to. But we’re still struggling to see this across all platforms, social media in particular. You’d hope that Instagram would be adding to the diversification of the images and viewpoints we get access to.
Unfortunately, the most popular accounts (who also dominate the algorithms) all fall short of offering a more inclusive and diverse portrait of travel in particular. Instead of diversity, we’re fed the same stock-perfect images of the same places, hotels, and cafes by the same demographic of users. The popular account Insta_Repeat is a tongue-in-cheek nod to this.
When it comes to travel, it seems that being ‘in the moment’ within the current currency of social media is only as valuable as who’s paying you to promote it.
Letting go of Expectations
The world of travel is pretty different right now. My partner and I usually take 3-4 international trips a year for work, pleasure, and to visit our families who are spread out worldwide.
The pandemic has forced us to scale back and focus on where we live in Tasmania. We moved here a little over a year ago, and we’ve naturally turned to social media to uncover where we should go and what we should see. There’s nothing wrong with this, but we’ve learnt that what we see on Instagram and what we see in reality tends to be filled with discrepancies.
Because these places are heavily promoted across social media, via the traveller accounts I follow and the regional accounts showcasing everything a certain area has to offer, it can feel as though I’m ‘missing out’ on a key part of the experience of travelling to that space if I don’t stay in a certain cottage, complete a popular hike, or visit a specific cafe.
I’ve spent the last year learning that this is ridiculous.
Finding Our Own Way
Of everywhere I’ve visited and lived, Tasmania is the one place where scratching beneath the veneer of social media has led to some incredible discoveries. Getting to know people, locals and making friends within our community means we’ve learnt about lesser-known spots, for hiking, swimming, eating and staying.
We’ve discovered delicious home-grown veggies sold from someone’s backyard, freshly baked bread left with an honesty box at the front of a farm gate, teepees in the bush, and converted shacks next to turquoise lagoons.
Read more: 6 Road Trips in Tasmania
It’s been a helpful reminder to get back to why we travel, what we’re seeking when we leave our home and what we hope to return with (or without). It’s also served to remind us that social media should only ever be a compliment to real-life, not a measurement of it, and the only thing that matters when seeking an experience is what we make of it.
There’s no such thing as ‘missing out’ or #FOMO if you‘re clear on what your own ideas are for each episode of travel, adventure, and spontaneity you embark on. I’ve learnt that every time I pack a backpack and don my hiking boots, I might be seeking something different, that there are times to leave my digital dopamine at home and immerse myself in what this new adventure I’m starting is for.
There’s nothing wrong with pretty pictures for social media, with photographers doing what they do best, and there’s nothing wrong with using these resources to help us uncover and find places we might like to go.
I’ve been (re)learning that genuinely being ‘in the moment’ when I travel comes down to making sure I remember these things for what they are – resources – and not allowing them to dictate how I uncover my own joys and pleasure when I step outside my front door.
Feature photo by @alwinkroon