In the last few years, social media has infiltrated almost every aspect of daily life. Almost all of us are now unconsciously writers, bloggers, photographers and promoters, and nothing inspires an Instagram post or Facebook status more than travelling to a new place.
Travel has always been a means to escape the pressures of day-to-day life; however, the rise of social media has made it impossible to disconnect from the world whether globe-trotting or just exploring a new place close to home. With data roaming charges falling and phone companies offering competitive package deals for texting and making phone calls overseas, it has never been cheaper to access the internet when abroad. Although, this is a positive thing for many obvious reasons – easy access to the internet also means it is increasingly tempting to constantly refresh your Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds. Even when thousands of miles from home, ‘thanks’ to social media we are now able to check up on family, friends, current affairs and work, and in return we update the world with how much fun we’re having whilst away.
Instagram posts (with captions such as ‘hot dogs or legs’ and ‘#travellinggoals’) and Facebook albums of approximately 1,231 holiday photos, mostly of views from the plane, have replaced the good old fashioned postcard and sadly it doesn’t seem impossible that this tradition, which dates back to the 19th century, might one day be extinct. Being able to stay connected with the world whilst abroad is advertised almost as a blessing; but is social media actually ruining our travelling experiences? Is being able to stay connected when travelling really a good thing?
Arguably, the biggest criticism of social media is that it distracts us from the present and prevents us from living in the moment. When travelling this means that when seeking to immerse ourselves in new cultures and try new things, social media tempts us out of the present by encouraging us to instantly share these experiences, before the memories have really been created. We photograph food before we taste it, we photograph a landmark before we really appreciate it. On a recent trip to Tuscany, whilst visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa I was amazed that the beautiful site was littered with people labouring to take the perfect photograph rather than appreciating the architecture and design of the buildings. I was even more shocked that I was one of those people. Surely, if we’re just going to experience places from behind a camera we should stay at home and sift through a brochure or watch a film?
The draw of social media is that it is instant and, thus, when travelling we can share what we’re up to whilst its happening. However, by posting photographs and other updates as the memories are made, arguably we also diminish the enjoyment to be gained from sharing stories and experiences with family and friends at length when we’re home.
However, when it comes to travel social media is not all bad news. Social media sites are excellent sources of travel inspiration. There are endless numbers of instagram accounts and blogs set to serve this purpose and following these pages might introduce you to a travel opportunity or destination that previously hadn’t crossed your mind. It was reading a blog post on Tuscany that convinced me to book a spontaneous trip to Florence; which turned out to be my best city break to date.
Furthermore, the benefits of social media when it comes to keeping up with friends on gap years and sustaining long distance relationships whilst travelling are undeniable. Moreover, in January the family of an injured backpacker travelling in Thailand were able to use social media to mobilise people to donate blood for their daughter’s much needed blood transfusion.
In many ways the rise of social media has changed travel for the better; however, I can’t help feeling a tinge of sadness for the things I love about travelling that are being lost as a result. In this case social media can be both a blessing and a curse, it’s all about using it in moderation. But, next time you’re in a far flung exotic location or just a new place round the corner from your house, perhaps take that one photo to capture the moment, then turn your phone off, take a look around you and enjoy.