As a travel writer and photographer, last year was heaven for me. I embarked on twelve hotel press trips in seven countries around Europe and Asia. As fantastic as it was, numerous trips to-and-from brand collaborations opened my eyes up to the state of mass travel. This time last year, I was booking trips on a whim. Now, leaving my house for groceries is an exciting outing. The beginning of 2020 has forced me – and other travel content creators – to stop and take stock of what we recently took for granted.
If I’m honest, before the Covid lockdown I was already irked by the state of social media and mass travel in particular. Now, I have to be clear: I am a major lover of both travel and social media, but it’s the superficiality of content creation amongst influencers that annoyed me most.
With the global pause we’ve been on lately I’ve been thinking: I want to get back to exploring the world’s most beautiful, interesting, and beloved places in a more mindful and authentic way.
Before Covid-19, I would scroll through my Instagram feed, feeling queasy at how staged and superficial travel ‘photography’ had become. Perfect outfit, perfect hair. Millennials used the same preset filters to jazz up their snaps and everyone was posing in the same places. Blog posts would list the most Instagrammable photo-ops and travelers pounced. Not only were the photos shot in the same place, the aesthetic was identical, too.
What had happened?
What I saw online was the rat race of ‘fast travel’, influencers caring more about portraying the perfect trip rather than appreciating an opportunity to take in a unique place and fascinating people. A chance to tell stories, creatively. I kept asking myself, how had travel — an adventurous and often unpredictable experience — become about Insta-perfection and likes? Travel as it was portrayed online had turned into a neatly wrapped and well-polished commodity. Red bow and all.
If you look, you’ll find ubiquitously staged content on Instagram. It makes special destinations feel much less, well, special. What I saw last year put me off ‘Insta Travel Culture’ altogether. Experiences shouldn’t feel like a virtual checklist, yet observing people around me in places like Paris, Porto, and Bali made it clear many are running the same digital race minus the travel magic. It was cringeworthy to see people line up at famous spots and viewpoints, not taking it in, but grabbing their photo and leaving without looking around with genuine interest. I saw it over and over again, and it stuck out most especially when I traveled alone. In a nutshell, I guess I’m tired of the vapid-fast-travel that I saw.
I’ll admit I felt the pressure to conform to a degree. After all, engagement is the name of the game and micro-influencers like me are eager to grow and get noticed to work with bigger brands. When I started, I was new to the travel space and was trying my hardest to keep up. Then I realized that regardless of a large following, I could collaborate with great hotels, even 5* luxury ones. From the beginning, I was lucky to collaborate with top-notch properties and found that real interest in the places and great images prevailed at the end of the day. Hotels could sense authenticity. Most importantly, I felt happiest when I created content about the place and its people in my own style.
Now, it’s not to discount successful travel influencers who have hoards of followers and offer useful advice and travel insights. They’ve carved out a space for themselves and it’s well-deserved. But even some of the better known travel influencers are starting to reassess the future of travel. Aggie Lal, author of the book InstaTravel just posted a live video about her frustration with the state of social media travel today. Influencers like her are rising to the occasion and have turned to substance, getting open and real with their followers about health, love, wellness, and other deep topics, not from a Fiji-like paradise, but straight from their living rooms.
I believe wholeheartedly that’s what resonates and will resonate with people once they get the courage to start moving around and traveling again.
Stories and authenticity are key to encouraging people to get traveling again. It’s the key to promoting cities, hotels, restaurants, and small businesses that have been hit hardest. These places and people deserve storytelling and a respectful curiosity for their mission and their ‘why’. They’ve been the hardest hit during the pandemic, and we as content creators should do what we can to give back to these establishments that keep countries’ economies thriving When the time comes, let’s highlight and celebrate the people and places that make a city worth traveling to; let’s embrace the imperfection of travel and of ourselves while we’re at it.
Travel will never be the same and that’s a fact. I believe content creators should take this chance to re-examine the content they actually desire to make and this means shedding the veneer of sterile preset content for one. It means being more present in the places we’ll be lucky enough to visit. Let’s get back to the original adventure and spirit of travel — that’s what global tourism needs most.
Without a doubt, demand will bounce back and eventually travel will thrive again. The hotel owners and managers I worked with last year told me they’re eagerly waiting for their clientele to return and enjoy themselves; they’re especially eager for new people to discover them. Once they ramp up their marketing efforts to attract guests, that’s where influencers can make a difference for the better. As businesses look to collaborations to reassure the public they’re open for business and safe to visit, it’s up to us influencers — both big and small — to look for a refreshing narrative, a new angle. Not the same tired one that is easy to imitate and overlooks unseen gems.
That angle is the place and its people. This, I believe, is the answer to more enjoyable and fulfilling travel experiences for everyone in the future.