When I talk about my first solo trip overseas this time 10 years ago, I feel like an octogenarian reflecting on simpler times. But I can’t help but feel that travel has changed – and I’m not sure it’s for the better.
There are many ways travel as changed in the past 10 years, but perhaps the biggest game changer has been the advent of social media. Ten years ago, Facebook was a mere foundling. Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest weren’t even around.
And I feel like without these huge influences in our lives, we were different travellers. Perhaps, even, better travellers. So how has social media changed us as jet setters?
People forget to really appreciate the moment
When the National Gallery of Victoria recently hosted a quality Van Gogh exhibit, I was one of the first through the doors. I freaking love Van Gogh. I’m sure I stared at his The Starry Night at the MoMA for a good 30 minutes. So I couldn’t wait to see a collection of his works in my home town.
But I was completely dismayed by the fellow visitors to the exhibit. I watched people wander from one painting the the next, viewing everything through the lens of their smartphone camera. Everyone paused before his self-portrait, capturing their own grinning selfies on their phones, with the melancholic Vincent in the background.
If you have to know one thing about Van Gogh’s work, it’s that so much of it is about texture and emotion. His dollops of paint leap from his paintings. Pause in front of his work long enough and you can feel the emotions he felt producing each one. You simply can’t replicate it – especially not in a photo.
I’ve seen it time and again around the world. People are so caught up in the moment recording their experience to broadcast later on their social media channels that they forget to actual live the experience.
Even worse, they pursue those experiences just so they can broadcast them to their social circles.
The purpose of travel has changed
The Tegenungan Waterfall in southeast Bali is a popular spot for travellers to go swimming under some pretty heavy cascades. I was excited myself about going there, until we arrived to find a crowd of people assembled at the base of the falls.
What struck me about these tourists was that none of them appeared to be readying to dive in. Instead, they stood, fully clothed, as close to the falls they could get without entering the water and experimented with various positions for their endless selfies.
They paid $1 for entry and climbed a thousand steps just so they could get that glamorous waterfall snap.
Perhaps I’m being cynical, but it often seems like many travellers’ primary reason for crossing oceans is to show off the fact to their friends and family left at home. We pick destinations based on their level of “coolness”. We don’t even realise we’re doing it, it’s become so ingrained in our every decision.
As a travel blogger, I’ve struggled with this myself. Sometimes I find myself tempted to see a famous sight simply because it would make a good Instagram post or Snapchat story. I’m pretty much a Yes Man when it comes to travel, but now I always make sure I consider what my motives are before I head into a new experience.
Selfies are used as an excuse to forego etiquette
In Singapore, I sat down on a nicely sculpted chair to rest my wearied feet after exploring the Gardens by the Bay for a solid few hours. I was exhausted. But within minutes, a family approached me and asked me to shove off so they could photograph their kids on the seat. SERIOUSLY?
Taking photographs of yourself does not take precedence over social etiquette. It astonishes me that I really need to say this at all. Also, a seat is first and foremost a seat. C’mon people.
But it’s easier to maintain relationships
OK, OK. So there are a few solid reasons why I haven’t shut down my Facebook profile. But the predominant one is that it’s such a simple, easy way to maintain relationships.
When I’m travelling, I can stay up to date with friends’ and the family’s goings-on at home so that I can integrate fairly seamlessly back into life whenever I return to Melbourne. And they feel like I didn’t disappear of the face of the planet.
But even better, social media has helped me stay in contact with so many friends I’ve made who live around the world. Facebook is a brilliant way to help you know where your travel friends are at any time – it’s been fundamental in helping me actually meet up with numerous travel friends whose paths have crossed mine throughout my travels. And for that, I think I might just be able to forgive it anything else…