Many of us spend our mornings and evenings scrolling through FOMO-inducing Instagram feeds. We’re faced daily with carefully-curated #selfies backdropped by the world’s most famous monuments, loved-up couples in crystal-clear waters and travel bloggers slapping a Valencia filter over picturesque landscapes.
Immersion in foreign cultures is crucial for personal development, but today’s “age of the influencer” means that these explorations are usually painstakingly documented online. Forget fears of being snatched Taken-style in a budget-friendly hostel – millennials are more concerned with stumbling upon a ‘Gram-worthy shot with a dead phone battery.
Foreign exploration should be about enrichment, a broader cultural education, forging friendships, navigating tricky situations and developing strong organisational skills. Try arriving at a foreign airport alone with no map or wi-fi – these are the experiences that truly test you. Not only will you acquire the ability to deal pragmatically with unfamiliar circumstances, but you’ll check your own personal limits and realise – for better or worse – the extent of your own resilience.
Technology may have spiked over the last decade, but the fact is that social media is making many of us less social. Why use words when Kimojis exist? Exploring far-flung regions, however, can reveal a series of universal codes available when navigating an unfamiliar, unknown language: kindness, good intentions and frantic sign language can usually bridge the gap between any culture.
These, however, are the experiences not shown on Instagram. How many of your favourite bloggers have posted lengthy captions about misunderstandings in hotels abroad? Or the unwavering stress of ordering your treasured no-foam latté in an alien language?
Many travel bloggers are well-versed in the art of converting followers into modern currency, subsequently used as a bargaining tool for free or subsidised trips. The catch is that these trips are, essentially, work – they’re usually meticulously organised with tight itineraries created with likes and retweets in mind. What you don’t see online is the glam, ’Gram-famous influencer frantically searching for a portable charger, or refreshing the hotel wi-fi every five minutes to post that peak-time envy-inducing #vscocam shot of the local surroundings.
Ultimately, there’s a lot to be said for travelling with data-roaming firmly switched OFF. Budget flights and cheap accommodation have opened up the world to so many of us, but the key to enrichment lies in experiencing unfamiliar surroundings without distraction. It’s easy to justify travel as the perfect excuse for a geo-tagged bikini pic or a cracking new profile pic guaranteed to rack up likes – I’ve done it before and will likely do it again. It is, however, crucial to extol the virtues of travel as an opportunity for self-discovery.
Most of us have to squirrel away savings and treble our workload to pay for these trips if we’ve not racked up enough followers to get these trips paid for (or don’t happen to be independently wealthy enough). But this is ultimately to our advantage: it means that we can travel without having to hashtag a brand or continue to raise our profile. Instead, we can enjoy travel as the form of free spirited joy and life education that it was always meant to be.