I’ve been toying with writing this piece for months. As journalists, we have to hit the right balance between showcasing the destinations we visit in their best light – and telling the cold, hard, sometimes embarrassing truth.
Like the creepy ‘ideal woman’ filters getting backlash on Instagram stories, I’m calling out the travel industry online – specifically #TravelGoals – for its negative impact on our collective mental health and diverse thinking.
We all have our own ‘dream destinations’, places we just have to see, but there is huge danger in having our hearts set on an artificial image of what a place looks like. Earlier this year, Twitter blew up after uncovering the complete scam of the Gates of Heaven influencer shot in Pura Lempuyang Luhur, Bali. The stunning, pure, mirror-like water under the gates, reflecting the perfect outfit and pose was just that – a mirror.
The sad truth is that social media has changed travel irrevocably. In our culture of ‘photo or it didn’t happen’ how many of us are – consciously or unconsciously – driven to travel for the opportunities to get that shot or tick that box? What are we travelling for? Do we even take in the culture of the places we find ourselves in?
In Alain de Botton’s brilliant book ‘The Art of Travel’ he recalls adding time onto a work trip abroad, writing: “And I wondered, with mounting anxiety, what am I supposed to do here? What am I supposed to think?”. When did travel become a competition of who would have the best time or get the most mileage of out a place? Are we really #livingthedream or are we trying so hard to prove it that we aren’t even experiencing the dream?
Travel has always been an opportunity to learn, not just about other cultures, but about ourselves. Sadly, with our ulterior travel motive – of getting our carefully geo- and hash- tagged story to hundreds – we are missing out on that opportunity, or wilfully ignoring it. From the hordes of influencers trampling the poppy super bloom and destroying native tribes’ medicine crops – to unthinking shots with animals in cruel captivity – we can all wise up.
Here at Team Coco we have a duty to elevate our industry. We can all do better, we can all post the ‘outtakes’ alongside that perfect photo snapped by the pool and show that life, and travelling, isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. We can all step outside of the privileged traveller bubble and truly seek to engage with and understand the place we are lucky enough to find ourselves in.
Consider this our line in the sand and our pledge to travel more consciously, to put away our mobiles, halt all thoughts of ‘doing it for the ‘gram’ and immerse ourselves in the cultures we visit to be able to share the true experience.
But first, some ‘behind the scenes’ revelations from our team to get off our chests – some thought provoking, some hilarious. Reach out and tell us yours!
@travelwithcrusoe : “I’d really urge you to go beyond the tourist hot spots as these aren’t usually representative of the destination’s culture or heritage. Read up on these areas before you arrive filled with preconceptions and stereotypes. Respect the places you visit!”
@bonnejournal : “I hiked Trolltunga in Norway only to wait 3 hours to get “the shot” on the ledge that juts out over the fjord… I still say it was worth the 3 hours and a suitable reward to the gruelling hike we did to reach it. There were a lot of people who weren’t appropriately prepared to do the hike but were still attempting it – all because it has blown up on insta over the last few years!”
@thebohobaker : “I had to pack this food shot up and run after realising the group of people setting up nearby were not squirrel enthusiasts, as we had previously thought… but filming a porno! I remember running up the embankment and shouting “LEAVE THE CHEESECAKE” at my friend in an attempt to get out of the woods as swiftly as possible. I wish I was joking!”
@melbuhannah / @teamcocopup : “My husband has limited me to 3 insta shots a day – which is a catastrophe for a content obsessed traveller like me! Charlie aka TeamCocoPup is usually so well behaved and we have a blast covering dog friendly events in London. In a recent dog yoga class, however, Charlie was clearly feeling really relaxed, so relaxed that he decided that he didn’t need to go outside… so ashamed!”
@sixpenceinyourpocket : “Last year I spent a month in Bahrain working with a corporate client. After a few luxurious but frankly embarrassingly OTT dinners at 5* hotels and accidentally seeing Paris Hilton release a new perfume at a mall, I escaped the airconditioned climes. The most rewarding experience was exploring the dusty, storied streets in Al Muharraq, following the Pearling Trail, receiving encouraging nods and pointed directions from gentlemen on the way to prayer. Yes, I got the shot of the Ritz-Carlton flamingos but came away with so much more!”
@emmahwriter : “Throwback to the time I ended up in an emergency medical centre after being bitten by what was possibly a snake or some weird insect. No one knew! A photo of my leg was being What’s Apped across the state with people trying to figure out what was going on… all because I was doing an Insta story and wasn’t paying attention to where I was walking…”