Cross Country Checkup

Why getting that perfect Instagram photo might be bad for your vacation

Surveys find that social media is changing the way we travel — and adding pressure to make our vacations perfect. Psychology professor Jaime Kurtz says that's ruining our holidays.

Surveys find that social media is adding pressure to share your travels

With travellers seeking out social media-friendly vacation destinations for photo opportunities, some say its time to embrace the spontaneous. (Shutterstock)

When Jaime Kurtz finally had the time and money to travel regularly, she too often found herself stressed out by the experience.

"I wasn't enjoying it like I thought I would — and ironically I study happiness and yet I couldn't design an experience for myself that made me happy," she told Cross Country Checkup.

The psychology professor at James Madison University in Virginia and author of The Happy Traveler: Unpacking the Secrets of Better Vacations says it's easy to spoil a good time by checking work emails and creating high expectations of often expensive and thoughtfully-curated trips.

When you add the pressure to stay connected with friends and family on social media into the mix, that once-in-a-lifetime journey can go from thrilling to frustrating, she says.

"Getting that perfect picture to put on Instagram to impress your friends can sometimes trump just being in the moment and enjoying it," Kurtz said.

Social media platforms — photo sharing service Instagram, in particular — are changing the way travellers choose their next destination. 

Surveys suggest that social media are replacing travel brochures, influencing accommodation choices with photo-friendly lodging, and leaving users feeling obligated to post while on holiday.

Staging photos 'too much'

Alexandra Pope, a digital editor Canadian Geographic, has bucked the trend to present an ideal version of one's vacation on social media.

"When I do travel on my own, I'm very concerned with trying to be as authentic ... as possible," the travel journalist said.

"When it's all about the perfect, staged photo — and making sure you have the right outfit and that your hair is correct and your makeup is good and the lighting is flattering — it's too much for me."

When Pope travelled to Yosemite National Park in California for work in 2016, there wasn't much opportunity for glamour shots. 

The trek through difficult trails and mountains left Pope covered in dirt and scrapes. Yet, she wouldn't want to present herself any differently online.

"To me that is what I want to remember about my trips and that would be the picture that I would put on Instagram," she told Checkup.

Be spontaneous

The desire for picture-perfect locations has its downsides, however.

Destinations like Daffodil Hill, a family owned-ranch in California known for its picturesque gardens, have closed in recent months and years due to an onslaught of selfie-takers.

"Sure, we had the Eiffel Tower and Trafalgar Square ... but this desire to capture them in a digital way and superimpose ourselves on those attractions is a really different thing," said travel writer Rosie Spinks on CBC Radio's Day 6.

Pope encourages potential travellers to be more spontaneous in their journeys, particularly when it comes to photos on social media.

"When we publish images at [Canadian Geographic] we're trying to show the very best of something. But on the other hand, I kind of like life unfiltered," she said.

"People need to be more willing to experience travel unfiltered and be open to those things that don't quite go as planned."

When travelling more recently, Kurtz tries to practice what she preaches. The author now intentionally leaves her days open to surprises.

"Sometimes the best things happen when you're just not planning and just being spontaneous."

With files from Samantha Lui and Sheyfali Saujani