“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?
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.
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.
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, you getting ready for work?”
“Hashtag, you had breakfast yet?”
You’ll social media blues will be cured in no time, and you’ll be back on the path to reality.