If a Millennial travels and doesn’t Instagram it, did it really happen?

No, really. We’ve all heard someone say “pics or it didn’t happen” about something. In this age where we carry cameras in our pockets, travel has become a key target, especially among millennials.

I try to take photos whilst traveling to remind myself of the places I saw and the people I met. When I look at the pictures months or years later they really help jog my memory and bring back stories that would have otherwise been buried. I like turning the pages of printed photo albums and remembering that those moments were real.

That said, I’ve tried to take fewer pictures as I’ve explored more. The ocean may not look exactly the same everywhere, but it’s blue and made of water. I don’t need to take 25 shots of the ocean every time I see it. If the weather is particularly unusual or the landscape surrounding the ocean is unique, yes, definitely. Even better if the photo includes people (either people I’ve just met or those I’m traveling with) as that’s when the pictures truly stop time forever: seeing a day, a moment, a person exactly as it was.

With social media, we now see everyone’s photos all the time. Moments don’t stop. They just keep piling up. People are booking vacations just to get a photograph of a particular location because they saw it on Instagram. While it’s great people are exploring more of this beautiful world, it’s not great when travelers aren’t earth-conscious or respectful of others. Ecosystems are suffering from an influx of human activity which they cannot handle. Economies are booming from tourism and yet the residents are still living without basic necessities. All this, just to get a better Instagram photo than someone else?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t travel. But maybe we should put some thought into our goals and reasons for traveling. Posting a cool pic on social media isn’t really well-thought-out criteria for selecting a travel destination (nor the best use of one’s time, in my personal opinion).  What matters to do? Do you have a list somewhere of things you’d like to accomplish and places you’d like to see? Focus on that. Take pictures and don’t worry about posting them on social media. Stop following people whose posts “give you wanderlust” and choose your own adventure. Seriously, unsubscribe. We’re pummeled with messages about the next coolest destination and the most beautiful locations. Let it go. Those do not have to be your adventures.

It is entirely possible to travel to really awesome places without taking the whole world with you in your pocket. You may find you’re able to enjoy it more because you’re more focused on the moment than the perfect filter for the frame. Don’t travel somewhere because everybody else is. Travel if you want to, where you want to, when you want to. Your adventures are real, whether posted on social media or not. Share your life and adventures with people in real life instead of “sharing” with a screen. I guarantee your grandma will love looking at a photo album and hearing your stories and she won’t care whether it’s the most beautiful picture of the Pacific Ocean she’s ever seen. She cares that you enjoyed yourself and your life is richer because you went somewhere new.

Try traveling and not posting all your pictures. You’ll like it, I promise.

No more newsletters

I’ve mentioned my daily email digests a few times before. They’re how I discovered the Saugerties Lighthouse and Isla Mujeres.

They’ve also inspired a super-long list of places that might be nice to go to, but were never on my personal list for any particular reason. Instead, they fueled a wanderlust I didn’t really have. It’s true, I still want to experience everything on this planet, but do I need to experience the same things as everyone else? If someone else already went and showed me the photos, I can go somewhere different. Just because another person went there and said it was life-changing doesn’t mean it’ll be the same for me.

It’s important to carve our own paths in this wide world. It’s important to seek out experiences that speak to us as individuals, not just following a list of ideas from a trusted travel site. It’s important to be true to ourselves without letting fear of missing out drive us to a new experience that doesn’t change our lives.

I’ve unsubscribed to these travel newsletters. I know where to find the sites, should I need a recommendation for a location to which I’ve traveled, but I don’t want a website to tell me where to go next. I want my inner voice to tell me.

On the Go

If you missed the first post in my “wander lost” series, check this post for some back story!

I love exploring new places – this a blog about going places, after all – but I prefer my adventures to have purpose. I’m not talking about necessarily volunteering everywhere I go (voluntourism can actually hurt some areas, but that’s another post). I also don’t want to travel somewhere new just to work, as Travis has often had to do this year. Rather, my purpose in traveling is to gain an experience I wouldn’t have otherwise. But let’s look deeper. Why can’t I have these experiences in my own backyard? And how can I ensure I have them when I travel?

I’ve been on a plane/out of state at least once per month for the last few months. With the exception of our trip to Hawaii, none of the trips were simply to explore a new locale. We did some house-hunting in different states, attended some events, and connected with old friends. What we didn’t do (again, except for Hawaii) was gain a lot of new experiences. Sure, we checked out new restaurants – with the help of Yelp or recommendations from friends. We hiked and biked in new areas – with the help of park and trail websites allowing us to plan our routes ahead of time. But we didn’t hang out with locals, take chances off the beaten path, or try something we’d never tried before. We were simply doing what we enjoy doing with a new backdrop.

There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but it does make me want to ensure we’re discerning when it comes to places we choose to experience. Hopping a plane to an area similar to ours – suburban, established, close to a large city, commercialized, relatively flat – wouldn’t be our first choice for adventures. If we have to go for work, that’s different, but if it’s our choice, I want to see something new: huge mountains, old trees, desert that extends past the horizon, animals I’ve never heard of. I can’t have THOSE experiences in my backyard because they don’t exist. I can seek them out when I travel, but only to an extent. I can’t create adventure, but I won’t end that with “where there is none” – adventure can always be found. Where we live could be perfectly unusual for someone living somewhere very different, and that’s fine! I think it’s awesome to learn about different ways of living. While working as a nanny in college, I met an Austrian au pair who had never eaten peanut butter because the grocery stores there don’t carry it. I couldn’t imagine a life without peanut butter. She couldn’t imagine why I thought it was so great.

I guess the point is, not every single place in this world is going to excite me. Therefore, I don’t need to go to every single place. The double-edged sword of technology driving travel these days allows me to virtually visit any destination prior to buying a ticket. I won’t see everything, but I can often get enough of a sense (especially in the US) if it’s a destination I’ll find interesting. Can I play outside? Is there fresh produce? Can I have an experience I can’t have where I live? But I don’t think it’s worth my time trying to just check locations off a list. True, without technology, I might want to go more places I’d only heard of once or twice and never bothered researching. But will that truly enrich my life, or has technology allowed me to narrow my focus as to what I really like, so I can cut out the noise and pressure to go somewhere I’m not sold on going?

More to come, as always.

Wander Lost

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why we travel. I love the thrill of getting on a plane and heading off to some faraway place as much as anyone else, but seeing three VERY DIFFERENT friends post the EXACT SAME photo of the EXACT SAME SPOT in Iceland within the past six months has me wondering: what do we get out of traveling now? If you’ve already seen the photo on Instagram and you followed your friend’s Facebook Live tour while they were there, why do YOU  need to go see it too? Are we really traveling more than generations before us did? I think the media wants us to believe that, and I’m not necessarily saying I disagree, because travel is absolutely easier now than ever before, but it’s also very, VERY different. A century ago, authentic travel might have involved a rickety wooden train somewhere in Europe, or a khaki outfit in the African bush, or a very long boat ride to Australia. Your experiences would live within you, probably in your journal, and perhaps only if you were quite fortunate, in photographs. Your friends couldn’t easily click a button and have the same experience two weeks later, as long as their bank accounts approved.

So why do we do it? We say we’re seeking “authentic” experiences, but those are so few and far between now. Is it REALLY authentic if you’re taking the SAME photo as every other visitor? What was this area like before travelers decided it was a worthy destination? Can the environment support the amount of human traffic now passing through?

These are very real questions. There’s a village in Norway that’s become an Instagram destination that can’t handle how many tourists have recently swarmed in. National parks are full of people who drive in (or drive to the top of the mountain), take the same quick snap of the same spot everyone else does, and hop back in the car – or worse, people who’ve never hiked want to get a picture so badly, they head into the wilderness wildly underprepared. I can’t tell you how many people we encountered last weekend who were lost in Harriman State Park, hiking without food, water, shelter, compass, nor any directional sense whatsoever. We aimed them in the right directions, but the sun was setting fast and they had miles to go. Even extremely remote areas like the Colombian Amazon are becoming top destinations.

And yet, as this happens, we know less and less about the world immediately surrounding us. I’ve lived in my condo for nearly a year and just last month, finally saw the inside of my downstair’s neighbor’s place, when he sheepishly asked if I had jumper cables. I don’t event know his last name. In another country I might be able to ignore a fussy baby at a restaurant because I’m preoccupied with an unfamiliar view outside the window, but at home, I would likely be very frustrated a child was interrupting my nice meal. I can meet people once or twice, befriend them on Facebook, and then not even say hello next time we’re in a group setting together.

What is going on? We go on these epic adventures that, if we’re speaking plainly, really aren’t that epic compared to the travels of generations past. We’re going farther faster, but I’m pretty sure American pioneers are 100% more badass than ANY of us catching a plane in yoga pants these days. And then we come home, and go back to work, and complain about our daily life, and how we wish we could travel all the time, and we’re back in our ruts. We’re more hypermobile than ever before, and that’s not a good thing. Our health is suffering as we sit in front of screens and earn our vacations by straining our eyes and flattening our backsides. We get “inspired” to visit certain destinations because someone else went there first. How about we just spin the globe and go where our fingers land? No, that would be too difficult/too time-consuming/not interesting (or Insta-worthy) enough. So what are we getting from traveling?

Lots more on this topic to come.

Why do you travel?