After saving up my pennies washing dishes for two years, I finally headed off on my big trip to Europe last summer.
It was everything I wanted it to be. I met new people, saw things I’d always wanted to see, and was immersed in different cultures.
But I couldn’t help wondering if I would have gained more if I did not have my phone with me. I found myself wondering what I missed while my head was down.
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At first, I didn’t put any photos up on Facebook. But soon I was receiving messages asking where they were. This only came from a place of love; my family and friends simply wanted to see what I was up to, know I was safe, and share the experience.
But with that comes pressure to ensure that the photos were exciting. I couldn’t possible put up the same shot of me smiling in front of a famous site could I?
It became about the quality of the shots as well. Take ‘The Swing’ in Gilis, Bali. It stands in the ocean off the northern coast. How many times have you seen that photo? It looks cool right? But people are always looking off into the distance, pretending they don’t even know a photo is being taken of them. Or raising their arms in the air to show how free they feel.
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What you don’t see is them grabbing the phone when they come back to land, scrolling to see which photo is the best, and searching for wifi so they can put it on Instagram, and then checking the amount of likes they receive over the next couple of hours. Would you be content with simply swinging the the middle of the ocean looking out at the sky? Why is that not enough?
The Ocean swing. (Image: Instagram/@thegilitraveller).
There is also a feeling that the picture must be extremely aesthetically appealing to viewers. The things that you see overseas are pretty damn cool. That’s why you go; to be amazed by things you’ve never seen or experienced before.
The moonlight that hit a castle in Poland was stunning, and of course I wanted to capture that. But because of the camera quality available on my phone, the picture just did not encapsulate the beauty of the scene.
I felt dissatisfaction because of that. Frustration! In Poland! Looking at a thousand-year-old castle! Crazy. I had to remind myself that the priority was my own experience, not how well I could provide that to other people.
The artwork on these cave walls were made of salt. But the camera didn't capture that. (Image: Supplied).
We’re no longer lost in the moment. I remember walking over the Carrick-A-Red bridge in Northern Ireland. The bridge is rickety and made of wood and rope, and connect a tiny island with the mainland. Waves crash below you and it would be a long fall down.
And what was I doing?! I was filming myself walking over the bridge, because obviously that was the coolest part! I also carried a polaroid camera so that my friend could take a photo of me. I was so worried about dropping my cameras that I barely stopped to look up and around me.
The whole adventure was sapped out of the moment, and it became about capturing the experience to share with others.
While walking over the Carrick-A-Rede bridge. (Image: Supplied).
Social media makes travelling a ‘to-do list.’ Much of the time, I had already seen something in someone else’s pictures from their trip on Facebook. I did not ‘stumble’ upon it. I wanted to see it for myself. There’s nothing wrong with that because it’s normal to want to see the best things in a new country.
You’re not going to avoid the Eiffel Tower because you’ve seen a photo of it before. But it does take away from the adventure. The fact is, you have seen it before. Yes, it is different because you’re standing there in the flesh. But because of prior exposure there can be a sense of normalcy about it.
I do not ignore the benefits of social media. I’m not envious of my parents who sent letters to each other when they were overseas, or the children who had to write home to organise a time be in a public phone box to pick up a call from their parents. Social media gave me the ability to be instantly connected to the people that I loved and that reduced a lot homesickness, which helped me to go explore the world.
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All beautiful. But not all pictures made it into the public album. (Images: Supplied).
But everything has advantages and disadvantages. That constant contact with the people you miss can be intoxicating. And it is harder to make friends in shared accommodation if everyone has their face lit up with the blue light of the Facebook screen. It takes away the chance to really ‘get off the grid’ in places where wifi is widely available.
Travel is an experience where you learn more about yourself than the other places sometimes. You can’t do that if your only concern when looking at something is which filter to use on it. Social media will lessen your experience if you let it. It is up to us to put the phone away.