Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Why it's time to filter out Instagram and get back to reality when it comes to travel

We all love a good travel photo, but how far is too far when it comes to getting the perfect shot to post on Instagram?

The Bali swing: a classic trope. 
The Bali swing: a classic trope. 

I was still living in the United Kingdom this time last year, and it was during this bleak, dank month that I became fixated on a swing. I was ­counting down the weeks until I flew to Bali with my best friends, and the idea of arriving on the island and being on this swing helped to get us through those long, ­impatient weeks ­running up to the trip.

One of us would have a bad day: “Don’t worry, we’ll be on that swing in no time.” One of us, usually me, wanted that extra portion of cheesy chips: “Think of the swing.” I imagined myself with my toes dipped in the ocean, staring out at the ­Balinese sunset and contemplating life, while ­gently rocking back and forth.

I’m sure most of you know the swings I’m talking about; they have some on Abu Dhabi’s private Zaya Nurai Island. These rustic, wooden structures dot the coastline of Bali’s Gili Trawangan, and are a symbol of the island’s paradise-like credentials.

Like so many things these days, I ­conjured up this vision of my perfect Bali moment while scrolling endlessly through Instagram. The scene looked so perfect, so peaceful. Cliche? Maybe, but to me, it looked like the epitome of escapism.

What I hadn’t considered was just how all those ­pictures made their way on to my feed. I ­forgot about the tricks Instagram plays, and the lengths people go to in its name. The scene I was greeted with wasn’t like those ­Instagram ­pictures, and the ­difference was more than just a filter.

Yes, there are swings and out-of-this-world sunsets. But there are also hordes of other people waiting for their perfect swing ­moment.

And it turns out that their swing ­moments looked very different to mine. For the ­dozens queuing for their go on the ­slippery, wooden seat, it wasn’t about savouring the moment. For them, it was all about the ’gram.

As the swing became empty, on they would get, as an unlucky friend, partner or family member waited in the shallows, doing everything in their power not to drop their expensive smartphone into the Indian Ocean as they conducted the world’s quickest photoshoot.

There was no swinging at all, only posing. It was a systematic cycle to get the perfect picture, and if I wanted my swing moment, I’d need to join the queue, wait half an hour, and get it over with in 60 seconds flat. It really wasn’t what I had in mind.

The Instagram-led travel market is ­nothing new – everyone wants to have ­lovely holiday pictures to look back on, and, if we’re honest, to make people a little jealous with. But the chaos of that scene was the ­“Instagram versus reality” moment that made me draw the line.

I had my moment on that trip – in fact, I had many moments in the end. But they were moments that I couldn’t have had without living in the ­actual ­moment.

A ­picture should add to a memory, ­prompting you to recall the ­scenario around it. But when all that scenario ­provokes is the memory of 48 ­different poses as the sun sets, unnoticed, behind you, you’re doing something wrong.

Updated: February 16, 2019 10:10 AM