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  • Writer's pictureChristina Trotter

Travel Opinion: The Problem with Instagram vs. Reality Reels

I’m not a fan of Instagram. I don’t really get it. I got it at the start, when it was just pictures. It wasn’t for me, but I got it.

I didn't want to see someone else’s perfect pictures. I didn’t even scroll on, I just never clicked on the pink camera icon in the first place.

Unfortunately, once I started to get serious about my website, it became apparent that a presence on the platform – and the number of followers – was a critical element to being taken seriously by the editor or marketing department of any media or travel organization.

So now I’m on it, trudging along, trying to get to 1K followers (things start happening then!) to 10K (exponential growth after that!). Sigh.

Shameless self-serving plug.

Truthfully, it’s soul-sucking for me. I want to write more, and build out my site with tools and itineraries and all sorts of goodness, but here I am trying to figure out how to make a reel.

The travel space is overtaken with young, beautiful women who are carefree to travel the world and already had over 1K followers before they left high school. Spoiler alert, that’s not me. I’m middle-aged and have a family. Oh and a mortgage and a lifetime of stuff that doesn’t fit into a camper van.

But that’s not really my rant. The new thing I find confounding is this trend for Instagram vs. reality.

The idea is that you are scrolling through The Gram (did I use that right? I’m so unhip, I have no idea), and you see a gorgeous reel or picture of a place, often with a gorgeous young person in a beautiful, if impractical, dress. For a variation, she may instead have on a large hat (SNL nailed that one).

There’s no one else there. The Taj Mahal, shining like a diamond, is all yours for the taking.

The reality, however, is that it’s not just you and the Taj. It’s you and thousands of your closest friends. That picture in front of the pool of water? You have to wait for 20 minutes to get your shot and then edit out the people if you want something that looks like that.

A man stands in front of an empty Taj Mahal at sunrise or sunset.
Instagram photo (photo credit: Unsplash)

The author and her husband stand in front of the Taj Mahal with a thousand of their closest friends. Three people peer in from the side of the photo.
My reality. Note the people peering in from the sides

In these “Instagram vs. Reality” reels or posts, you are shown both sides from the point-of-view of the poster. Lately, they’ve taken a remake of Wham’s “Careless Whisper” and the regular song plays with the Instagram shot and then the music warps to what sounds like the same song coming out of a deflated balloon while the “reality” pops up and you see the woman’s flowing dress fly over her head or something equally chaotic.

[Sidebar: Wham’s Make it Big was my first album. Yes, album]

Very much to their credit, the influencer has likely gotten up at 5 a.m. for the perfect photo or video.

Getting up early, having the skill to pose, being a photographer and videographer are legitimate and difficult skills. I have a ton of respect and frankly, jealousy, about that. For me, I’m still very much learning how to do that stuff and only when time permits.

I think the point of the trend is to be forthcoming, that social media is a pair of rose-colored glasses on our life and every now and then we need to take those glasses off.

But then, what's the point of showing perfection every other time?

When I see these comparisons, I wonder what service is being given to future travelers that are inspired by the perfect photos.

Will those people be disappointed when they see reality on their own dime?

As if social media weren’t already such a downer. Now, you go to the place you’ve been dreaming of ever since you first saw it on a scroll and reality is that it’s filled with people. And not just a few people. Lots and lots of them.

You instantly remember that you aren’t a fan of people.

Perhaps that’s why I prefer to read about a place. I like to read the history and what there is to do, or maybe it’s just a place that’s beautiful, and that’s why I’m considering it. A place just to relax (read: and be away from people).

Pictures, of course, are important, but they are just one input for me. Don’t sell me on an empty boardwalk to a villa in Bora Bora if there’s going to be a St. Patrick’s Day parade crowd at the end of it*.

Suffice it to say, my preference is not to be influenced by perfection, but rather, by gaining a better understanding of a place and its merits and demerits.

Rant over. Yes, this is probably definitely a lot more about my jealousy than a real problem.

But, for the love of God, please follow me on The Gram;)


*That would not happen, by the way. This is a ridiculous comparison and exaggeration. Bora Bora is gorgeous and you can largely enjoy the beaches to yourself. In fact, everyone is currently in the Maldives so I highly recommend hightailing it to Bora Bora before it becomes on trend again.


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