Instatravel

“No addiction is good.” – Jose Mujica

There’s no doubt social media and various websites like Airbnb and Google Flights are changing travel, it’s just not quite clear exactly how. Every time you connect to Instagram you’re bombarded with images of happy people visiting exotic locations around the world, and feel a little bit jealous/bad about yourself. Even Airbnb makes something like staying with a stranger, something that used to rarely happen organically, completely commonplace. This weekend, for example, I’m staying with a couple at the foot of the Colima Volcano in Southern Jalisco, Mexico, and I venture to say this experience would never happen without the aid of the internet. I’ll probably take a few pictures while I’m there. I’ll probably write a few blogs.

The question is: Is this a good thing?

hashtaguear

Airport, CDMX.

Travel these days is becoming more in the hands of the people. Instead of getting in a cab, you get in an Uber, and average Jane/Joe takes you where you want to go. Instead of staying in a hotel, Average Jane/Joe rents out their spare room. I have no doubt this peer to peer system will soon extend to even more areas, though my feeble brain is incapable of forecasting where. Airbnb already has Airbnb “experiences,” where Average Jane/Joe takes you on a tour of their town, or teaches you to dance, or cooks you a fabulous risotto dinner, all for a reasonable fee.

One place I don’t think it will ever extend is to the realm of air travel.

“Hi, my name is Billy, and welcome to Uber JET. I have exactly 12 hours experience in the cockpit. Buckle up.”

But then again, what do I know? Maybe one day buying a plane won’t be that much more expensive than buying a car, more people will have their pilot’s license, and this will actually be an option.

With things like Facebook and Instagram, vicarious travel has also become much more accessible, if not unavoidable. Every time you open Instagram you’re transported, sometimes against your will, to places like Thailand, or Paris, or Thailand, and come to think of it, usually Thailand. Telling the world about your trip has become much easier, to the point where everyone is telling everyone else about their trips, all of the time. You go to Paris, take 50 pictures, and all of them go on Facebook and Instagram. You friend does the same thing, but with Rome, and her friend the same thing with Malta, and her friend the same thing with Madrid, and her friend the same thing, again with Paris. It’s a never-ending web of travel images, and suddenly, even though you’ve never been to the Great Wall, you’ve seen 6,000 pictures of it, and it no longer feels as exotic. Maybe it makes you want to travel less. Maybe it makes you go insane. I don’t know how this is affecting us.

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Let me take a selfie. Somewhere in Northern Chile.

In the end, the most special travel experiences are still the ones that arise organically. You meet someone in a cafe and they tell you about some dilapidated castle five miles out of town you simply must see (followed by an exchange of telephone numbers and medium-term romance), or you meet someone at a bar and they invite you to a party the next day. The reason these organic experiences are more special is because they’re not based on some kind of algorithm or criteria. There are more mystical forces at work, like attraction, mood, and even luck, like the possibility of overhearing a conversation in a cafe. Just as apps like Tinder and Bumble have cheapened dating, the overuse of websites like Airbnb, as well as posting all your experiences on Instagram, cheapens travel. The mystique of travel remains, but I dare say not nearly as much so for the traveler who travels to then post pictures on Instagram. Not that this is a new phenomenon. People have always traveled to brag about their travels, even when it was just inviting the neighbors over for a slide show. But showing a slide to your neighbors isn’t quite the same as posting a picture on the internet for everyone to see.

menos face mas book

Menos Feis, mas Book. Santiago de Chile.

In the end, travel can’t change for you if you don’t let it. Instagram and Facebook can enhance your travel experience when used in moderation (maybe), or cheapen or even ruin it if used ad nauseam. Just try one thing: When you wake up, don’t let checking Facebook or Instagram or Twitter be the first thing you do. Get out of bed, stretch, and say the word “hashtag” a few times out loud. Then, for everything you say that morning, precede it with, “Hashtag.”

“Hashtag, how are you doing this morning?”

“Hashtag, fine.”

“Hashtag, you getting ready for work?”

“Hashtag, you had breakfast yet?”

etc.

You’ll social media blues will be cured in no time, and you’ll be back on the path to reality.

La Teteria

la teteria guadalajara

When I come to La Tetería, Guadalajara’s premiere tea house and where the song “Here With Me” by Didot is currently playing over the speakers, I usually order a matcha frappe. But sometimes, as the waiter Gustavo just informed me, who is quickly going from being just a waiter at a tea shop to a kindred spirt (he’s Argentinian and there’s been talk of us drinking mate together), they have “stock problems.” Today is one of those days. There are no matcha frappes. There are no green chai frappes. And the girl sitting in front of me, who might be part goddess and who I’ve spent the last five minutes staring at, just ordered the last piece of cheesecake.

The first time I ever had a matcha frappe at La Tetería I was on a Tinder date with a girl named Daniela. Daniela was beautiful and funny and smart, but I barely noticed, so engrossed was I in my matcha frappe. I try to limit my matcha frappe intake, because they’re kind of expensive and very sweet. Even so, if I’m bored, or feeling a bit down, or just feeling any emotion that is vaguely human, I try to make a visit to La Tetería for one of these drinks. It would be hard to have a bad time while drinking a matcha frappe. Maybe if you were bleeding from a head wound, but even then I think you’d forget about it until the frappe was gone.

I never thought I’d be a frappe guy.

Life is full of surprises.

La Tetería is located in Guadalajara’s Americana neighborhood, a five minute walk from the American Consulate and about a seven minute walk from Chapultepec, an area (basically a street) famous for its nightlife, bars, restaurants, high prices, pedestrian walkway, outdoor market, and apparently (according to Marta, the lonche lady) weekend violence. This is the area where I work, and so I walk by La Teteria at least once a day. It’s perched on Calle Libertad, a street with low traffic flanked by all kinds of towering tropical trees that provide bountiful amounts of shade. The front part of La Teteria is a cool terrace where there always seems to be a breeze even on the hottest days. There’s also an inner courtyard where I sometimes like to go at night and sip my matcha frappe and look up at the sky and think about what might’ve been, what is, and what still could be.

Today La Teteria is slow and I’ve ordered a regular chai frappe, which I’ve already finished. When I got here Gustavo and I had a long conversation about my MacBook charger, which broke last night and which I spent all morning trying to replace. We also talked, as we usually do, about his upcoming trip to Argentina.

“I’m so jealous,” I said, “I should be in Argentina or Chile.”

“But you get to be here,” he said.

“Yeah, but…”

I trailed off, because Gustavo had a damn good point. I could be jealous of the people in Buenos Aires, but I get to be here. I could be jealous of the people in Paris, but I get to be here. I could be jealous of the people in Hyderabad, or Seoul, or Tokyo, or Regina, or Montreal, or Port Orchard, or Saskatoon, but I get to be here. Here in the shade, in a comfortable chair, feeling the breeze, sipping a chai frappe. Which isn’t matcha, but almost just as good.

A special thanks to the chai frappe currently in my stomach for supporting this blog.

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