On My Mind: Do We Travel Just for Instagram?

Do you guys listen to A Drink With James? It’s an influencer question-and-answer series with James Nord, who runs the company Fohr (which manages campaigns between influencers and brands). I was listening to a recent episode that really got me thinking.

James went off on this kind of hilarious rant about influencers going to Positano, but he had an interesting point to make. In a nutshell, he talked about his frustration with influencers all doing the same thing, using the example of everyone in the summer going to Positano, taking the same pictures and posting the same stuff. In his opinion it’s “sad” to plan a trip based on what you saw work for another influencer – to say to yourself “so-and-so successful influencer went to Positano, so I’m going to go there and sit in the same restaurant that they sat in and take the same picture of the same view.” It’s something he’s talked about before but this time it really got me thinking – when we travel (or even explore our own cities or areas), are we doing it for the enjoyment of it? Or are we doing it for Instagram?

Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with doing things for the ‘gram, in my opinion. In fact, I enjoy it! I find Instagram fun and I love photography. But does it make sense to travel primarily for Instagram? To go to a place specifically for the Instagrams you’ll take? In a way I can see what James is saying when he says it seems sad – there are so many reasons to travel and taking Instagrams seems like the lamest of reasons when you stack it up against the others (to learn, to meet new people, try new foods, experience a new culture, etc). I think there’s a distinction to be made though – are you doing it because you like it? Or are you doing it for likes?

While he’s right that yes, Instas in Positano aren’t the most unique Instas you’ll take, well, if you enjoy taking them and being there, then in my opinion, more power to ya. Whereas if you’re going there for the likes…that’s a different story. If you plan a trip because you see the trip photos performed well for an influencer, and you go to the same place they went and photograph the same view, partially because you’re hoping your photos will do equally as well for you and you’ll gain social media growth from it – that’s what James thinks is sad. What do you think – is it? 

The thing is though – I guess I’m lame because I still totally want to go to Positano – it looks incredibly beautiful! I’ve seen all of those Instas of the cliffs and umbrellas and they make me want to go so much – and yes, I think it would be so incredibly much fun to take both Instagrams and DSLR pictures there – and also just to be there and enjoy it and explore. To be honest, and hey, maybe I’m fooling myself – I want to take those pictures because I love travel photography and I enjoy putting my best images into my Etsy shop, and sharing on both Instagram and my blog…but I’ve never thought “I want to go here because I’ll get likes from these photos that will increase my following.” I guess part of that is because I never seem to even have a clue as to what’s going to perform well on Instagram, so I’d never presume to even think that a trip would increase my following or get me tons of likes!

I think hey, if you want to take a trip purely to increase your following, maybe that makes you a savvy businessperson, and I hope you enjoy the trip anyway in the meantime! But I can get on board with what James is saying – encouraging influencers not to simply follow the crowd and go to the place of the moment and take the same pictures a hundred other influencers took. The fact is, we’re all going to wind up taking some of the same pictures (this is not a unique shot, people, I can admit that). But let’s at least strive to be unique, right? If you’re a big influencer, I think what James is saying also is that you have a responsibility to try to inspire people and even bring attention to lesser-visited places.

Part of why I wanted to write about this was because it reminded me of my trip to London a few years ago. At the time I’d always wanted to go but I didn’t follow many London Instagrammers. So when I went exploring in South Kensington and Chelsea, everything was new to me. And I’ll never forget how amazing it felt, because I was seeing the most charming, lovely things – for the first time. I hadn’t seen them before on Instagram. I didn’t see them on someone’s account and say “I’m going to find that door,” and then find it and take a picture of it (and I’m not saying that’s a terrible thing to do – we’ve all done it!). It was all a process of discovery, and it was a pure delight.

Then during the trip and after, since I loved London so much, I started following a ton of London ‘grammers – and I saw all of the things I’d photographed again and again! The same pink door, the same mews street, the same pink car, even. And it made me happy that I got to “discover” those things for myself, first, before seeing them online, because there’s nothing that can replace the feeling of pure discovery – of stumbling upon things that delight you, without having first seen them through someone else’s eyes and then hunting them down. I’ve done that too, and while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it – it can feel a little empty at times. To be honest, with so many Instagrammers out there and so much access to travel content, it can almost be difficult to find a place where you can go and explore without having “seen” it before – I’m not sure I’ll ever have that experience that I had in London again, but I certainly hope that I will! And maybe that’s something to strive for – originality not only for the sake of your content, but perhaps more importantly, for the sake of your own experience.

What do you guys think – is it lame to travel for the Instas or is it almost impossible not to? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Marshmallow Photo by Joanna Kosinska, Balloon Photo by Brianna Santellan, Beach Photo by Patrick Ryan, all via Unsplash

Leave a Comment

  1. Julianna Mathers wrote:

    I am probably older than the crowd that reads this blog. I follow it because I love your beautiful photography. But I have a story that relates. 23 years ago I was in Paris visiting the Louvre Museum. A huge tour bus of tourists got out and one by one went and stood by the Mona Lisa for about a second got their picture taken next to it and moved on. It made me so sad because they didn’t stop to ponder its beauty. At the time there were tons of postcards, magnets, tote bags with her image so capturing it on what was then not very good camera quality seemed silly to me. I stood there in front of that painting for probably 30 minutes just drinking it in. And then, Yes, I took a photo. I don’t think I was in it because I knew I had been there being the author of the photo! Anyway, my point is there are always going to be popular tourist destinations and if you have the means and resources go to them! Enjoy them! But make sure you experience them. Sit under those umbrellas in Positano and have a cocktail and be there. Let the experience be written on your soul. As corny as that sounds. Then the Insta pic will just be a reminder of a beautiful time instead of a reason for going. Ever since humans figured out how and could afford to travel we’ve flocked to the “popular” spots. Those change over the years And it’s fine to go just don’t miss the experience of being there. Advice from an older lady. ❤️

    Published 9.12.18 · Reply
    • York Avenue wrote:

      Thank you so much for your insightful comment – I love what you said about letting the Insta or picture be a reminder of a beautiful time instead of a reason for going – I feel like that really captures the crux of the situation. Of course even before Instagram there have been people going to destinations just for the picture, I think Instagram has just made it worse. I’ve had the same experience of going to visit a famous painting only to see a ton of people sticking their iPhones and iPads at it instead of looking at it (The Scream at MoMA a few years ago), and it drives me nuts. There are a million pictures out there of it – LOOK at it! Like you said, don’t miss the experience of being there. Very wise advice!

      Published 9.14.18 · Reply
  2. Rebecca wrote:

    This is such a great post! I struggle with this idea a lot. I started visiting Paris way before Instagram started. Now I see so many people with the same exact shots and going to the same places just because they know it will bring them likes/new followers. It frustrates me and I am torn. Instagram is a great way to discover new places and cities. It encourages people to travel more and see the world. Can it be a little bit of both? Thank you for starting the conversation. Keep the good posts coming! xo

    Published 9.12.18 · Reply
    • York Avenue wrote:

      Thanks Rebecca! I can see how frustrating it would be to have discovered and photographed all of these beautiful things and then see a million people copying it on Instagram. It resonated with me that you said “can it be both?” I think it is and it has to be – there are so many good things about Instagram (I discover new things to see and do and eat and read constantly on there), but there will always be those downsides too (the copying, the comparison, etc). I like that you pointed out that it encourages travel…I think it also helps people who don’t have the means to travel see beauty that they might not otherwise get the chance to see. I don’t see myself traveling to India anytime soon but I was inspired seeing @paperfashion’s pictures of the Taj Mahal. Anyway thanks for your insights!

      Published 9.14.18 · Reply
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    Great post! Very insightful. How about the influencers who get paid specifically to photograph these places? That has got to make up a portion of these travel photographers. But this issue has been around long before social media – it’s just made it more rampant and accessible. Interestingly, its so easy to document these experiences now and it’s almost expected, I think ppl don’t realize what it’s taking away from their travels. And the ease of use makes it even easier to not soak in the experience as Julianna notes. I personally think there should be a balance and as someone who only follows your blog and insta regularly, it’s all new to me! Love seeing the photos in your Etsy shop too !

    Published 9.12.18 · Reply
    • York Avenue wrote:

      So many good points – Instagram has made an already common issue into a more rampant and noticeable one – and people may not even realize how it’s detracting from their experience. It is all about finding a balance, something I continually strive to do myself – it can be a challenge. Thanks for your comment and for reading!

      Published 9.14.18 · Reply