Instagram has rapidly changed the entire travel experience from how we discover a destination, what we do when we get there, to the way the restaurants and cafes we visit are designed. How many times before Instagram did you consider going to Iceland? Or know that Reykjavik was its capital, or how to pronounce it? Now you can probably plan a 5-day itinerary based on the Instagram feed of at least 3 of your friends.
This is not always a good thing.
Travel Instagram vs. reality
I always dreamt of travelling the world. I always wanted to understand the world beyond what I could see on TV, and now, Instagram. But that can’t happen until I open myself up to the perspective of the Argentine cab driver trying to make ends meet amid an economic crisis. Or, Brazil’s battle with gang violence and government corruption. Or, Kenya’s mission to eradicate plastic bags from further clogging their shorelines and cluttering their streets. While Instagram has made the “discovery” of restaurants, cafes, and photo-ops easy, you risk missing opportunities for organic human connections; truly immersing yourself in the beauty of the planet, while turning a blind eye, consciously or not, to its uncomfortable, un-Instagrammable realities.
Have we forgotten how to wander?
We haven’t had to experience the feeling of not knowing something for longer than it takes to Google it. We rely on the collective wisdom of the swarm to validate our purchases and our experiences and in the process abandoning critical thought. Humans have evolved to this point by the sharing and exchanging of knowledge and ideas. It’s how we’ve achieved progress. But, at a scale of one billion “users”, this exchange has devalued individuality and over-indexed the wisdom of the mob. Now, the stories we share are becoming identical, familiar, and cliché. Instead of returning with a broader perspective, we feed the algorithm and strengthen the feedback loop.
But, I am also part of the social media generation. How do I reconcile that with my need to delve deeper - beyond the confines of my iPhone? I’d prefer these deep thoughts and observations about the human condition be succinct enough to fill a tweet. I struggle to tame the part of me that will commoditize myself for constant validation and doses of dopamine administered through double taps and “likes”. I am addicted to the confirmation of the self I want people to believe is the real me.
The human experience
On our last night of a six-day safari, after 3 days of travel throughout Kenya over improvised roads, chasing wildlife from dusk until dawn, we spent our last evening together. Three couples united in this remote region of the world by an appetite for adventure, fate, and likely a Google search for “budget safari in Kenya”. Although our relationship with these strangers was forged with the assistance of some excellent search engine optimization, we could not have hand-picked a better group of people to share the experience with.tired from the long hours on the road, someone from the group suggested having a drink together before we parted ways the next morning.
Six complete strangers from all corners of the globe, now seated beneath the flickering fluorescent bulbs of a poorly lit hotel conference room in southwestern Kenya - sharing stories, laughs, contact details over cold beers.
Although I can’t adequately articulate why this moment stood out for me, it did. We shared the kind of moment that is memorable in its seemingly mundane simplicity. Beautiful in ways that don’t get you likes or followers on Instagram. The rare pleasure of travel, good company and conversation. The sort of serendipitous connections I always hope to find when I travel; where glimpses of quotidian life in a foreign country serve as a reminder of our commonalities as a species.
Maybe because at our most basic level, humans were made for sitting in conversation with other humans - with a beer in hand, and not an Instagram-ready phone.