1,161,121: The number of photos currently circulating on Instagram when you search #mexicotravel.
Social media has without a doubt changed the travel industry. People are no longer relying on guides books and google searches to plan out their trips. Instead, you can follow travel influencers and get all the details on an exotic location.
As normalized as it’s become to post the most glamorous travel photos, this oversharing of travel content does have a negative effect.
This article isn’t going to tell you to stop posting your travel pictures. But it will take a look at the effects of social media on travel and how every traveler can use the power of social media for good instead of feeding the beast that is overtourism.
If you didn’t post it, did you really travel?
The way some people post vacation pictures makes it seems that the only reason they traveled was to get that perfect Instagram shot. This is evident as more people end up waiting in outrageously long lines at different well-known monuments to get their shareable photos. In fact, content writer Katie Birtles shared in an article on wayfairtravel.com that in Pura Lempuyang, Bali, there is even deception happening as people take photos at the sacred temples. Often there is a photographer at the temple holding a mirror to create the illusion of reflecting water. “There is no pond there, nor is it the tranquil temple depicted on Instagram,” she states in the article.
People seem to be so obsessed with being in front of the lens that they aren’t living in the moment. According to some travel statistics, people are spending more and more time on their phones when traveling. Passport Photo Online recently published a list of travel statistics showing the following:
- Over half of vacationers (60%) post photos on social media while away. When it comes to Millennials specifically, that number rises to 97%.
- Nearly 46% of Americans want to make followers jealous with their travel experience.
- Roughly 40% of Millennials pick holiday destinations based on how Instagrammable the pics will be.
As surprising as these numbers may be, spending more time Instagramming the beach than enjoying it is not the only negative effect that social media has had on travelers’ experiences.
Did Instagram decide your destination or did you?
When used consciously and intentionally, Instagram can help you find and travel to unique destinations. It can also provide you with helpful information such as what to expect when visiting certain locations. However, mindless scrolling and uploading have led to some destinations receiving way more people than expected.
But what’s the problem with more people going to a destination that was popularized on Instagram? The problem is overtourism, which is defined by worldbackpackers.com as a place being visited by so many people that it creates a negative impact on the local communities, the animals, and the environment. This negative impact can look like beaches and natural places being littered with trash. Or it can be the cost of food and goods increasing to make a bigger profit off of the tourist.
France is one country that has noticed the problem with tourism. In an article on France24.com, local experts point out the negative effects overtourism has had on the cliffs of Étretat in Normandy. “After every big weekend, once all the tourists have left, the town is extremely dirty. When you visit the cliffs, you see papers everywhere, masks, cigarette butts,” says Shaï-Hanah Mallet-Bitton.
Maller-Bitton further states in the article that overtourism is frustrating for travelers and tourists as well. “We need tourism, but a balance needs to be found. The tourists themselves would benefit the most. Many of them leave angry after having spent several hours in the car without being able to find parking, some place to eat, or toilets because there isn’t enough infrastructure. This mass tourism satisfies nobody.”
Is the solution cell-phone-free travel?
Now that you see how social media has affected tourism and travel, it’s time to do something about it. The solution isn’t to stop geo-tagging or going back to Polaroid cameras. It starts with becoming a more conscious traveler.
Understourism: Often used as a marketing tactic, National Geographic defines it as a way to attract travelers to come to less popular places because you can still get the Instagram-worthy shot without the crowds. Undertourism can also look like traveling to places during low season and overall seeking out a travel experience where you are welcomed in a destination (unlike Barcelona, Spain, where they are actively discouraging visitors).
Slow travel: Slow travel allows you to stay in one place for an extended time. Instead of trying to hit as many cities as you can in two weeks, pick one or two destinations where you can stay longer. Slow travel offers more opportunities to understand and explore a new culture, find hidden gems that might have been overlooked, and to travel more within a country.
Travel with intention: When your Instagram feed is saturated with 9,000 photos of Bali, Peru, and the Maldives, of course, some part of you will want to travel there. But before you book your flight, ask yourself why you want to go there. Have a purpose for your travel, such as using travel to heal, reconnect, or step outside your comfort zone.
Bring back stories along with your photos: If you’re someone who posts travel content to make others jealous, no one blames you. Everyone is guilty of posting an enviable photo. But what will make your friends, coworkers, and family members even more jealous is having some wild, funny, or inspiring story to go along with photos. Attaching memories to your photos will help memories last longer. The stories are what make travel meaningful.
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Kiersten is a freelance writer and coach. As a writer, she has written for Travel Noire, Passion Passport, BAUCE mag, and various travel and lifestyle blogs. As a writer, her goal is to write content that inspires others to take action. As a coach, her goal is to empower women to be their most authentic selves. In her free time, you can find her dancing to any song any where.