Five Facts About Travel That Instagram Won’t Tell You

Instagram has been in the news a lot lately. Well, by news I mean Twitter and gossipy social media types. But if you’re a fan of the photo-sharing platform, then you’ve no doubt noticed many of the changes that have had millions of users up in digital arms. Yeah, this post isn’t about all that, but it did prompt this post so I thought it important to at least mention. It spurred this post because as I considered the fact that a relatively small percentage of my followers are actually allowed by Instagram to even see my photos, I thought about many of the more popular travel accounts out there and how unrealistic they really are. There are exceptions, there is to every rule, but a significant percentage of travel-related Instagram influencers are actually doing a disservice not only to their fans and followers, but the broader travel community. Instagram has been an incredible force for good and many experts now believe that it is at least in part responsible for the incredible percentage of Millennials who travel the world. And that’s great. Well, it’s great until their hopes and dreams are shattered once they actually visit that so-called idyllic spot. So, with all of this in mind, as well as a fair dose of crankiness, I want to address some of the realities of the travel experience that you most likely will never actually see as you scroll down your Instagram photo stream. (Note: All photos in this post are mine, proving that we all evolve and grow.)

Matt Long LandLopers

Not everyone is a model

I don’t know about you, but after going through just a few images on Instagram I immediately wish I had 6-pack abs and could look as wistfully into the sunset as many of those Instagram “models.” That’s actually a major problem with what’s going on in the travel-related content on Instagram, it’s too focused on these influencers who think they should be gracing the pages of Vogue or Men’s Fitness. Instagram for travel should be all about story-telling. Sure, once in a while it’s good for us to get in front of the camera IF it furthers the story, but in most cases it should be about the destination. A PR pro recently confided to me that an influencer they worked with refused to share any photos of the hotel she was visiting, even though she was being paid to do so. Instead, it was all moody pictures of her in the pool or in bed. If travel bloggers and influencers want to be successful in the long term and not just short term, they should learn how to craft a story through imagery instead of finding the perfect bikini.

Zinneke Pis

Not every place is a postcard

While the world is indeed a stunning place, that doesn’t mean that every square inch of it is. In my opinion, and it really is just my opinion, Instagram shouldn’t be a running montage of the travel experience but rather a carefully curated gallery sharing images that are representative of one’s travels. I don’t want to see five dark and unedited photos of the same dreary street in a row by the same person – that is of no interest whatsoever. If that’s honestly the most interesting thing you did all day, best to leave it off Instagram in the first place. No, rather think about your day, the experience that was either the most impactful or visually appealing and share that instead. Tell us why it’s important and why the destination is so special. If you really can’t stop yourself from over-sharing, at least keep it relegated to Instagram Stories so that we may elect to see the photos or not.

Sphinx Egypt

There’s a Pizza Hut next to the Sphinx

This is actually an issue that has been covered by the mainstream press in recent months, all keen to disrupt the influence of platforms like Instagram. At issue is the fact that most photographers and influencers on Instagram sometimes show only the cheeriest side to destinations, they fail to mention either the drawbacks or qualities which may diminish the travel experience. I don’t think this is a new phenomenon. If a National Geographic photographer shoots the Sphinx, they will probably look for the best way to showcase that impressive world monument and not the Pizza Hut across the street. Yes, there is a large fast food restaurant next to the Sphinx, but the Giza Plateau is next to modern day Cairo and it’s one of the most important tourist spots on the planet, so the fact that there are restaurants shouldn’t shock anyone. But perhaps the detractors are right, perhaps we as creatives should do more to share the full picture of a destination and not just the stereotypical images we know are commonplace.

Bora Bora Tahiti

No one eats that much breakfast in bed

This is somewhat similar to the other points made, but if there is something Instagram doesn’t need more of it’s moody photos of the “artist” eating a hotel breakfast in bed. First of all, who does that? I don’t want crumbs in the bed and the coffee would just spill everywhere. No, normal humans eat on a table and I suspect that these influencers do as well. But, the image of white bedding, white breakfast linens and the pop of color from fruit is visually just too hard to resist. It’s not realistic though and ultimately it doesn’t help their hotel clients at all. Every decent hotel has room service, it’s not some great innovation that deserves publicity. Instead that influencer would be better off taking a photo of the hotel itself, otherwise known as the reason why they’re there in the first place, and share with their audience what makes that particular property unique and special. A fruit plate doesn’t accomplish that goal.

olga australia
Ugh, I destroyed this photo with editing.

Purple rivers don’t exist

I edit almost every photo I post to Instagram although, over the years, my approach has been much less heavy handed than it used to be. For the most part, that’s the norm amongst the professionals who use Instagram as a way to showcase their work, but there are some who cannot quit their addiction to HDR. High-dynamic range (HDR) imaging seeks to mimic the range of luminosity that the human eye interprets and as a tool isn’t a bad one, if used properly and with a light touch. Sadly, too many people posting to Instagram see the option on their photo editing app and just click it, without fine-tuning it in any way. The results are images that seem too fantastical to be real and that’s because they’re not real. Rivers shouldn’t be purple, food photos shouldn’t have that weird washed out halo effect around them and horses aren’t bright red, unless you somehow managed to stage a photo shoot in Oz. The goal with any editing app, I think, is to reproduce as well as possible what the actual experience looks like in terms of color and light. Going overboard looks ridiculous because it is.

I admitted at the beginning of this post that I was slightly cranky and I am. I’m frustrated by the lack of commonsense, creativity and honesty on Instagram. I’m tired of so-called influencers buying both followers and engagement not from a place of jealousy, but because they harm all of us who share on the platform. Most travel bloggers and photographers are good, honest people sharing amazing content. But not all of them are, so if you see these negative qualities in someone you follow, I’d encourage you to take a closer look and determine if they’re really providing valuable content at all.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

14 thoughts on “Five Facts About Travel That Instagram Won’t Tell You”

  1. My Mum went to Egypt a couple of years ago and I couldn’t believe it when she told me there was a Pizza Hut opposite the Pyramids.
    There are a lot of things on Instagram which need to be taken with a pinch (0r sometimes a tablespoon) of salt. I have blogged and used social media for over 10 years now but I think (for me, at least) Instagram is easily the worst platform for rewarding staged reality. Of course, that’s what most of us do anyway but it feels a bit out of control on Instagram. I’m also feeling quite bitter about the recent algorithm changes.

  2. I love this post! So true about all the fruit bowls and breakfast in bed shots. I’d much rather see a muffin on the go in some cool spot. Even around NYC I see so many tourists with selfie sticks trying to get the perfect shot, I have to wonder if they are even taking it all in…

  3. Glad I’m not the only one who’s noticed all the moody, staged photos A LOT of influencers & bloggers are posting. Seeing those photos once in a while is okay but it’s now gotten to the point of stupidity. Everyone is posting the same stuff & instead of the destination getting the attention it deserves, it’s the bikini & that red dress that gets noticed. Its almost a competition on who can post the most unique photos of themselves in the beautiful destinations they visit! And then there’s the over saturated photos. I had to point it out to one influencer couple that the lake in their photos wasn’t that pink in reality & anyone who visited it after seeing their photos would be so disappointed to see it’s a very pale pink! People need to just stop. So many pristine, previously unknown places are also getting ruined because they’re getting so many more tourists now, thanks to instagram!

  4. Oh god I agree with all of these points. I’ve never really liked Instagram because of this. Swinging in a hammock in an snow-covered alpine forest in the middle of winter with a cigar . I don’t think so!

    Give me reality – the real experience I feel I can replicate. If a g-string bikini appears in my feed showcasing another beach destination, it’s an instant unfollow. I don’t want to see your butt. I want to see the beach.

    And the over edited photos drive me crazy. I too want to see what my eyes will really see when I arrive. I’m okay with basic editing to give it a lift but not the extreme stuff. I like my rivers blue!

  5. I so agree with this. Instagram has become all about the imagery and not about the destination. I love how you write miniature blog posts on your Instagram posts Matt, to really tell a story and give a sense of place, and I get so annoyed at how Instagram “edits” my feed in a way that makes no sense at all. And don’t even get me started on the bikinis and moody shots of backs….. middle aged lady rant over….

  6. Can definitely relate to many of your frustrations, man. A lot of this is social media in general, but Instagram surely has show travel in an unrealistic light. It seems as if many of these influencers just use the travel as a background to themselves (or the product they are flogging, I mean sponsored by), where really it should be the opposite. Nothing wrong being cranky every now and again either.

  7. Right on!!! One of my greatest frustrations with Instagram these days is how I feel so pressured from some colleagues (not you obvs) and fans to post pictures that are more aligned with these trends and “untruths” that frustrate you as much as they do me. And if I give in, the photos do better than my others. If I don’t, my content now bombs. It’s hard to stay a course that feels authentic when soooo few others are authentic anymore. It’s become the high school of social media, alas. Not completely, but mostly. I miss the days when Instagram was different and was far more specialized, where each of our feeds weren’t about trends but were genuinely more about storytelling and community.

    1. Thanks so much for adding your thoughts, I appreciate it. I love Instagram for the ability to tell stories in creative ways, but the mechanism, itself has been troubling. The level of stress I feel about posting to Instagram is absurd LOL

  8. Noelle Campbell

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this! I completely agree!!! I want REAL travel experiences from the people I follow on Instagram, not fantasy.

  9. You forgot the KFC !! its a pizza hut & KFC combo across the road from the pyramids and I’ve sought refuge in their amazing air con many a time.
    i think i took a pic out of pizza huts window once with the logo next to the sphinx perfect ???? dont
    forgot the jumping or yoga pose next to said monument sooooooo over done now.

  10. I wish people were more real on social media instead of always portraying the “dream”. The staging is so fake and sometimes leads others to underwhelming experiences because they expected the IG life upon arrival. Take photos of “regular” streets or doing mundane things like laundry. Don’t over edit. Find the balance between living in the moment and getting a photo for a memory. Take pictures of actual experiences and not just stop-and-go monuments. These iconic places are little more than Walmart photo studio backdrops. At the very least, try a different vantage point that 1M other travelers haven’t used. Go during sunrise or sunset.

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