February 12, 2020

Going on a holiday isn’t just about relaxation anymore. We’re living in a world where the desire to flaunt our stunning vacation photos on social media for public validation, is stronger than ever. If you didn’t ‘gram it, were you even there? Unfortunately, we spend too much time on our phones—and in the process of capturing the beauty and magnificence around us (to simply flex), we neglect being present in the moment to soak it all in. As long as you are in possession of a half-decent camera phone, you, too, can sort of be an influencer. Notice how their pictures possess an alarming homogeneity? An image of obnoxious perfection that cruelly mocks us? Everything about the composition is astonishingly immaculate. Contrived and one-note, there are unspoken guidelines influencers seem to adhere to. 

The backdrop is usually an envy-inducing locale like an infinity pool that stretches out into a never-ending expanse of blue, with the subject staring pensively into the distance in faux contemplation. Another scenario entails a toned derrière perched on a white sandy beach in a designer bikini, with perfectly coiffed hair courtesy of a Dyson Airwrap. Hashtags include #soblessed and #nofilter because they have to #keepitreal for their followers. Don’t be fooled. These holiday snapshots of influencers posing with such careful insouciance and panache is a skill that is hard learnt. Many put an extraordinary amount of effort into looking effortless #wokeuplikethis, as there isn’t room for an off day. One bad, unflattering filter can translate into getting fewer likes—and God forbid, a drop in followers.

When we base our travel plans around the unrealistic images we see online, it does affect our behaviour. The sad truth is that people will hunt down a specific place due to its Insta-famous status, but care nothing for the historical and cultural significance behind it. To let photo opportunities dictate an itinerary isn’t the way to travel. We have become prisoners of our own obsessive narcissism that we forget what it is like to wander, without the confines of an agenda. The essence of travel is now submerged beneath an ocean of superficiality, and in our relentless chase for social media likes, we’ve become disconnected from our surroundings. If you are guilty of letting social media rule your vacation, here are a few tips to help you look up, not down.

1. Learn to get off the grid. Immerse yourself in your surroundings and form real connections with real people. 

2. Practise mindfulness. Listen to your breathing. As you walk, engage with your five senses.

3. Stop obsessing over taking the ‘perfect’ picture and go with the flow. What you see on Instagram is all heavily edited and VSCO-ed to death anyway.

4. Get lost. You don’t have to follow what every influencer is doing or eating. Sometimes, the best discoveries are made when you go off the beaten track. You might just discover the most sumptuous plate of carbonara that has yet to be documented. 

5. Set a time limit on your social media access, if you must. Keep it to a maximum of 30 minutes and leave your phone behind. (Videos and photos can be edited and shared after your vacation.)

In order to reap the full benefits of travelling, we must realise that the idea of ‘perfection’ is a fallacy.  As French writer and poet Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said: “He who would travel happily must travel light.” It is not just the physical baggage that we must drop but also the metaphysical burden of being weighed down by an impossible checklist dictated by social media. Only when we learn to stop letting our devices control us, then can we experience the pure sense of freedom that travel encompasses.