Feeling the highs (and lows) of a hike up Mount Rinjani in Lombok, Indonesia.
If you search the hashtag #pinkstreet on Instagram, you’ll find tens of thousands of photos of the same road in Lisbon, Portugal. Rua Nova do Carvalho, better known simply as “Pink Street,” sets the perfect backdrop for a travel selfie that’ll prove to your followers and strangers who land on your Insta page that you really are having the best travel experience of your life.
Naturally, I wanted to catch a glimpse – and maybe even a pic – of the Insta-famous road while I was in Lisbon last summer. I was searching for a hot pink road winding under a yellow bridge with a pastel blue building in the background. Instead, I landed on a muddied, pale pink-ish road that was so washed out I would’ve walked right over it had I not pinned the location in Google Maps.
At this point in the summer I was six weeks into my seven week backpacking trip that started in South East Asia and ended in Europe with a quick stop in Morocco, and I had already learned the lesson we all know but refuse to actually believe: Instagram is not reality.
Not exactly living my best #BeachLife in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Obviously I know the concept of Instagram vs. reality. I know that we all edit the sunset to make it the perfect shade of orange or crop out the plastic bottle floating in the ocean before we post it on our feeds. But I didn’t realize how much this edited version of the world would affect my trip, or how by posting my own altered images, I would contribute to this idealized narrative of travelling. In the months leading up to my trip I binged Youtube travel vlogs, followed backpacker blogs, and scrolled through friends’ pictures in order to plan out my itinerary. With every image of a bikini-clad girl lying in a hammock off the coast of Bali or the golden trinkets hanging in the streets of the Marrakech souks, I built up this expectation that my trip would be picture perfect, just like theirs.
A less than picture-perfect hammock moment in Gili Trawangan, Lombok.
I wouldn’t say I was disappointed and I certainly wouldn’t say I had a bad time, but for the most part, I felt underwhelmed. I’d planned my trip around breathtaking photos and awe-inspiring stories both from social media and from friends. How could I not have set the bar high? I started to wonder if something was wrong with me because I didn’t fall in love with the Gili Islands — the “party island” everyone says is a must and you’ll never want to leave. But I walked the perimeter of Gili Trawangan in a couple hours, rented a clear bottom kayak (which cost more than my daily food budget for most days), and laid in the hammocks until the rope started making imprints on my thighs. Then I was ready to leave. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but I was certainly expecting more.
I kept telling myself the next destination would be my destination. It’s ok if I didn’t love Bali because I’d love Thailand or Croatia or Morocco. But city after city, country after country, I kept feeling guilty if I wasn’t having the BEST. TIME. EVER. I felt guilty when I wanted to stay in the hostel instead of explore or go to bed early instead of get a drink. I felt ashamed that I wouldn’t have these wild stories to tell people when I came back and it was hard to admit, even to myself, that I wouldn’t be longing to return to these places.
#NoNewFriends in Ubud, Bali.
Nevertheless, I chose my best pictures, edited them, and posted them to Instagram, completely masking mundaneness of most of my days with the extraordinariness of the images I’d captured on my phone.
But I don’t want to be part of the cycle that idealizes travelling by editing out the bad days and pretending every day was picturesque. Anybody who’s travelled for more than a couple weeks knows you’re bound to have some crappy days, or at least suboptimal ones, and that’s ok. In fact, it’s ok if they’re all bad, and it’s ok to admit it.
Social media puts pressure on us to only put our best selves forward, only posting the highs and never the lows. I don’t expect that to change, but at some point if we only start documenting the good days we’ll forget the bad ones. The problem is, I don’t want to forget the bad days. I don’t want to forget the days I just wanted to go home or hop on a plane and go somewhere else because those are the days I learned the most about myself. I learned that way I liked to travel and the cultures I found fascinating. Thinking back on it now, it was outrageous to have assumed I would’ve loved every minute of my trip, every dish I ate, and every site I saw. I’m thankful that I genuinely hated some parts of my trip, because now I know for my next journey.
Feeling so fresh, and so clean on Mount Rinjani in Lombok, Indonesia
I wish more people had been honest with me about their experiences before I left for my own trip instead of sparring me the dirty details. That way I could have reset my expectations and perhaps not felt so insatiable for two months.
That’s why when people ask me now how my trip was, I don’t lie and give them the Instagram-filtered version that will make them envious of my summer. I tell them the streets of Morocco were far too crowded for my liking and I don’t have any desire to go back to Bali. I also don’t discourage them from doing their own exploring because no two experiences are the same. However, I want to set people up with real expectations and let them know it’s ok if your trip was just ok. It doesn’t have to live up to anyone else’s experience and it sure as hell doesn’t have to live up to anyone else’s Instagram feed.
(Story by Contributing Editor, Jordana Colomby)