By now, we’re all used to hearing about the negative impacts of social media on our lives. We’re too wrapped up in our phones. We’re not interacting enough with other humans. Farm Heroes is ruining relationships. All of this because we can’t pry our hands off the sleek surface of our smartphones. Travel is about experiencing the actual world as it surrounds us (unless Marriott has anything to say about it). So it’s time to ask yourselves: Is social media ruining your travel experience?
Americans spend almost four hours a day on their phones and vacations are no exception. Instagram is now a breeding ground for incessant photo sharing, thanks especially to its story feature. Now people aren’t just posting their best pictures, they’re sharing every step of their journey. And while that journey can be enlightening to some, it can also have a negative impact on your own experience.
Take me for example—I blog about travel for a living. I’m pretty much done with trip reports since they’re so time-consuming, but I still share my travels on Instagram stories. During a trip to Turkey last summer, I realized quickly that I wasn’t seeing and experiencing things first-hand. I was viewing everything through my phone’s camera. All the incredible sights of Cappadocia, the historic streets of Sultanahmed in Istanbul—I had my phone in hand virtually the entire time to record and share the “experience.” To the point where I wasn’t even experiencing it anymore.
There was one day on my trip when I decided to walk from the Bomonti area all the way to Taksim Square, which was about two miles away. Initially, I had my eyes glued to the phone to navigate my way over there. Then I began taking pictures of interesting things and distractedly moving along. Then it hit me (almost literally): This isn’t safe. Also, I’m not taking in all the sights and passing by incredible shops without looking at anything. So I put my phone away for the remaining mile and a half.
My arms were free to swing at my sides, I made eye contact with people who smiled and said hello. I smelled the delicious wet burgers a street vendor was cooking up and stopped to grab one. I found a lovely scarf and haggled with the shop owner until we both walked away happy. More importantly, I actually felt the energy of the city and took in all the sights and sounds. I don’t have recordings of most of it, but it’s seared in my memory and I look back on it fondly. It was one of my favorite days of the trip – just walking through Istanbul on my own and feeling the city with all my senses. Viewing it through a screen? Not the same thing.
Of course, the lesson didn’t really hit home until I got to Cappadocia and decided to film while riding a seemingly docile horse through the Red Valley. Just as we were descending down a mountain towards the valley, my horse threw me and I hit a rocky hill so hard it knocked the wind out of me. And I couldn’t move for several minutes. It was beyond stupid of me to ride a horse while on my phone and I should have known better. After my fall, all the other riders carefully put their own away and just enjoyed the views ahead of them.
I’m not alone: Last year several Instagrammers died while taking selfies. People travel to destinations just because they’re “Instafamous” and who doesn’t want to recreate a shot that’s been liked thousands of times? For a long time, I wouldn’t even go to a restaurant with a 3-star rating and you know what? I ended up eating a lot of generic food at hipster places that were overpriced and over-hyped, thanks to 5-star reviews that were bought.
In exchange for following the herd and keeping our eyes glued to our screens, we’re missing out on the true, unfiltered beauty around us. Travel isn’t just experienced through the eyes (or lens). It has to be experienced through all five senses and spending too much of it looking at our phones, trying to share it with the world, ruins that.
Do you think social media has negatively impacted your travel experiences? Please share in the comment section.