Everywhere you look, another list of instagramable places you need to visit appears out of nowhere. While I love Instagram as a travel inspiration, I have a problem with naming places as Instagram-worthy as a means for attracting visitors. This might make me unpopular, but as a travel blogger, I feel we owe more to the places we write about than their visual appeal.
In particular, Instagram has changed the way we look at travel and how travel destinations market themselves. As a visual platform, it’s mighty. People get inspiration from pictures they see online and automatically want to see those places themselves. Especially when they look stunning on someone else’s feed. However, it’s not always what it seems, and that is where my problem starts.
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The quest for Instagram-worthy photo
Last year, the Independent published an article about a study that “revealed that two-fifths (40.1%) of millennials choose a travel spot based on its Instagrammability.” That was the number one reason to choose a destination. Let that sink in.
Local cuisine (9.4%) and sightseeing (3.9%) made the list of top five reasons but were not in the top three. No mention of learning anything about the local culture, people or history of the place. Do you see this as a problem? I do.
Truthfully, I don’t think it’s solely a millennial thing. I’m not too fond of generalizations like that, but the sentiment is there. Not all millennials care solely about Instagram-worthy appeal, just as not everyone who is not a millennial is innocent of it. The whole idea of identifying a location as Instagramable creates several problems many fail to mention.
Instagramable only, please
As a society, we have become obsessed with our Insta-game. It seems that a great photo is all you need to become Insta-famous. The articles that rime off the best Instagram-worthy destinations, best spots in [insert any city/town] or establishments where you can find that Instagramable spot plays into that obsession.
Sometimes being Instagram-worthy can backfire. Last year, a sunflower farm outside Toronto opened its fields to the public. I’m sure the idea was well-intended; however, the end game was disastrous. Hordes of people descended on the farm, destroying the beautiful sunflowers in the process. There was also damage from vehicles, people throwing garbage, and just being thoughtless jerks.
The same can be said for other places in the world. If you have ever been to the Antelope Canyon, Rome or Iceland, you have probably come across selfie-stick-wielding, wanna-be Instagram stars. They arrive to take a photo in a spot they saw on someone else’s feed-in hopes of getting that perfect shot or even outdoing it. Once done, they get back into their vehicles, faces glued to their devices. Their experience of these places is limited to how long it took to get that shot. Thank you next.
When everyone and their brother show up
Tourism is a big business, and it’s also competitive. Many places rely on tourists to fuel the local economy, which creates further opportunities for the residents and businesses. The financial benefit can become an attractive incentive for bringing in tourists. I’ve even come across an article that questions the tourism boards whether their destinations are Instagram-worthy. It’s easy to see why many would go out of their way to ensure that they are.
So what happens when an Instagramable location becomes a hit? One thing is certain – they will come in droves. Will they care about the community, contribute to the local economy or will they leave a mess and leave once they have that perfect shot? That really depends on what that attraction is and what infrastructure is in place to keep them there longer.
Overtourism is becoming an issue to the point where many cities started enforcing rules to manage it. Many places, especially ones with natural attractions, are experiencing massive environmental deterioration and increased pollution. All brought by an influx of tourists.
Don’t get me wrong; I, too, want to get a great shot when I go somewhere, and I bring my gear with me for that reason. I have a problem with the people who are oblivious to everyone around them, waiting for an opportunity to take a shot while they finish their photoshoot. Sometimes it’s challenging to get close enough to get a photo while some self-important douche overtakes the area while posting hundreds of pictures. It creates a negative impression and dampens the experience. You don’t expect a brawl over a selfie spot while sightseeing.
Instagramable to death
Sometimes the quest for Instagram-worthy photos can be a deadly one. Stories of people dying while trying to take that perfect shot are sadly becoming more and more common. Sometimes it’s a lack of awareness; sometimes, it’s just plain stupidity. Many people disregard the warning signs posted to keep tragedies from happening. I’ve seen plenty of people ignore a sign not to sit somewhere or cross a barrier. You hear about many plunging to their deaths, some of them seasoned influencers. To me, my life is more important than a picture, but to each their own.
Often, Instagram photos give a false perception of how the photo was taken or how many people were involved in taking it. It’s one thing to see someone sit in a meditation pose on a dangerously looking cliff with clouds as a background, and it’s entirely another to recreate it when you don’t have the same skills and resources. What you see in a picture, especially an edited one, isn’t the whole story.
I’ve seen many stunning photos of people by the Trevi Fountain in Rome with pink skies, sunsets, lights, and nobody around. It’s easy to see how someone wanting the same kind of photo would imagine the place to be. Personally, I’ve never seen the Trevi Fountain without masses of tourists around it, but even without that knowledge, I know that the photos were edited and most likely shot at very odd hours of the day. This leads to my next point.
Instagram-worthy: perceptions vs reality
The people behind the epic shots on Instagram are often professionals or work with them behind the scenes. They have the equipment, crew and time to take that perfect photo. Sometimes that ideal shot, you see, took hours or even days to capture. Not to mention extensive editing.
Photography is partly about having an eye for a great shot and also being able to edit it. Creative editing can transform an ordinary photo into an extraordinary one. Seeing the end product doesn’t tell you what it took to create. Don’t expect to show up at the same spot and expect it to look the same even if you are at an Instagramable spot, especially if there are tons of others like you hoping to do the same.
Another problem I have is the lack of context. I read a post once that named Cuba as one of the top Instagram-worthy locations. According to the author, it’s a perfect place where architecture and heritage have been untouched by time, and apparently, a place where you can’t take a bad photo. While Cuba is a beautiful country with great architecture and landscapes, it’s also where people live in poverty, and buildings crumble from neglect and disrepair.
I have been to Cuba many times. Part of me was devastated by what I’d seen and the stories I’d heard. To summarize the country as a place where you can’t take a bad photo is ignorant and disrespectful to the people who live there. Cuba has a long and rich history, filled with turmoil and survival. Talk about that before you blindly tell people to go there for a selfie.
The role of travel bloggers
I’m not an Instagrammer. I am and have always been a travel writer. For me, I must provide my readers with information about the places I write about on my blog. I’ve been to many gorgeous places that are stunning objects to photograph, but my readers must know what makes them so unique.
I also am open to the fact that I edit my photos. Sometimes it takes me dozens of tries to get one good shot, and that’s before I even start editing it. Quite often, the image it ends up being is nothing like the one I started with. That is the reality.
I recently did a poll on Instagram, asking where people look for travel information. Not surprisingly, most of them said online. That makes me and other bloggers the people they come to for information. I am responsible for providing them with information that would make their trip a better one, not just one that looks good on their feed.
As I see more and more posts on the best Instagramable places and destinations, I wonder if I’m in the minority.