I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately online, on TV interviews, and in person about the effects social media, in particular viewing the world through your lens, has on your in-the-moment experiences.
The growing consensus is that people rarely participate in the travel experience in body form anymore, they see it through their camera.
They arrive, pop up their lens, and shoot like crazy then put their phone in their pocket and walk away. That is after they’ve edited the photo, laughed about it with their companions, uploaded it, and hashtagged the crap out of it.
Even worse is the selfie epidemic that is causing humans to lose their sanity, place themselves in such dangerous positions that you have a greater chance of dying from a selfie snap than a shark attack, and heinous acts such as mobbing a baby dolphin for a selfie pose and causing its death.
All for a like and a look-at-me social share.
As someone who fell in love with travel for the experience way back when postcards were the norm, and have been travelling ever since with a full gypsy heart, I feel as if the soul of my greatest love is being destroyed.
Connecting a little deeper
I recently wrote to my email community about these rumblings of discontent as to how the soul of travel was being lost to selfie snaps and ridiculous staged scenes like someone swinging on a hammock in the middle of a snow-covered alpine forest smoking a cigar, or someone striking a yoga pose on a rock in the middle of the ocean.
What’s happened to the stories and real life connections? Does anyone travel for this purpose anymore?
It’s getting harder for the stories to be heard and it can be so draining to produce them that many people are opting out.
Many of the stories inside my soul – the journey of travel and how it shapes you – gets lost because of the effort of publishing words on the blog. The art of polishing to get it right for the online world strips its soul and my motivation to write.
To keep those stories alive, we created a travel podcast – to share the authentic purpose of travel, about meaningful memories and deeper connections.
The response I’ve received from it shows me the discontent is happening to more than just me and people want the real-life travel stories back.
What does the discontent really show?
Grumblings and discontent help us dive deep and figure out what’s going on within – if you’re aware and open to introspection.
If you’ve been a reader of ours for awhile, you know I believe there’s a greater magic at work lining up experiences and lessons to help us learn and grow. Sprinkled in between are messages and signs helping to steer us on the right path.
You miss them if you don’t pay attention and end up stuck in frustration, discontent, and wearing a fine pair of cranky pants.
This feeling of not sharing the stories and discontent with social imagery brought into my world an experience on my recent trip to MacKay that upset me but helped me inspect and figure out just who I want to be and how I want to make an impact.
I’m totally disgruntled with Instagram, which I’ll explain more of within the post, but it’s not Instagram’s fault, which is what your ego will make you believe when the discontent starts happening – it’s the tools, the circumstances, other people – everything outside of you causing your unhappiness or lack of success.
The truth is, the discontent is a glaring sign that YOU are off path – out of alignment with your true purpose and values. Once you understand that you can readjust, re-evaluate and start afresh.
Usually, when we travel, Craig will take care of the photography while I play with the girls or take a quick photo or SnapChat on my phone. Nothing fancy – raw and unedited doing my best to capture a moment or memory.
Craig likes to take photos. I thought I once did, but now I realise I don’t. I’m not an artist. I’m not a photographer. I prefer to be in the experience absorbing it, not framing it up and balancing the light and shade of it, and the changing it later in the light room.
I want to be a storyteller and dream shaper and a person who empowers people to experience authentic travel.
It’s different for everyone and it’s important to think carefully about your values and dreams and not let the demands and pressures of social media take that away from you. That world can suck you in so quickly you don’t even feel the compression until your breath is gone.
Trying to get the perfect kangaroo photo
I completely fell apart when it came to take photos of the kangaroos on the beach in Mackay. My focus became on getting a perfect Instagram shot – I mean come on, this is the moment for it, right – kangaroos on the beach. Tourism Australia would love it and feature it.
Since when do I give a shit about TA featuring my photo and what hashtags to use? That’s the sign of a good trip to me?
I’m a traveller. I care about connection, about authentic experiences, and helping others do the same. I don’t care about how many likes I get, but this social media world was sucking me in.
I felt so pressured and had so much going on around me that I completely forgot how to take a photo and was devastated once I saw what I’d produced. Not only did I drop the bundle and get so un-worthy Instagram shots, but I walked away with scant memory of my time with the kangaroos on the beach – a really special moment.
What did I experience instead?
ISO, aperture, a focus that wasn’t working, fear of the raindrops breaking the camera, and dragging tripods and equipment around. Before I knew it the kangaroos were gone and I was left on my own wondering where the time went. I didn’t even get to experience it with the girls. Thankfully, they had friends they happily played and weren’t bothered at all.
So began a process of totally beating up upon myself as to what a failure I was. I should have taken my camera off the tripod and got closer to the kangaroos, I should have put my shutter speed up higher, I should have chased them down the beach and cornered them for that selfie shot. I’m such an idiot.
Everything in life represents a lesson for us, and I knew there was something the Universe wanted me to know because I was so bothered by this.
Why did I hang back so much? Why did I drop my bundle? Why did I mess up?
I found my breath to reflect.
Who I really am
The evening before, the girls became friends with some other children at the Cape Hillsborough Tourist Park. They were beautiful, kind, sweet children and I hope will be the type of people my girls would be blessed to have as friends throughout their entire lives, no matter where they lived or roamed.
I remarked to nine-year-old Shaun that Savannah can be shy at first before she gets to know someone.
I paraphrase his reply, “That’s okay. You know the shy ones are really smart because they sit back and watch and learn from everyone else.”
The hairs prickled my skin at his profound insight.
The next morning, after the kangaroos at sunrise, his words came back to me and I realised he was also talking about me. I’ve always been an observer, especially when it comes to travel. I travel for connection, to be fully engrossed in a moment and walk away with a memory. If I don’t have that, I feel I have not travelled.
I’m terrible at taking photos. I often walk away from events and social gatherings thinking I forgot to get a photo. It feels like such an intrusion of the moment to me. I even had lunch with my parents the other day and walked away thinking, “Gosh I didn’t even get someone to take our picture together.” followed by a shrug. I don’t care. I was enjoying talking with them too much to interrupt them with a staged photo.
I’m not naturally inclined to be a photographer, even though I like the idea of it. I’m glad Craig takes care of it when we travel because then I can be the engaged observer and the absorber. It’s how I find my stories.
I unconsciously held myself back from the kangaroos because I did not want to invade their space, chasing them and shoving my camera in their face. As Shaun said, I like to hang back and learn through the bigger picture – the beautiful colours of the sunrise, and the kangaroos and wallabies gently picking up seaweed from the water lapping up on shore.
While people were hustling for the kangaroo selfies, I chose to hang back and so missed a lot of opportunities for Instaworthy photos.
I don’t want to be the person that haggles and hustles and forgets about an animal’s comfort zone just to get a photo.
I wanted to capture the gentle story of the kangaroo in their natural moment playing at the water’s edge, scratching themselves, and play fighting. I captured those photos of the roos and wallabies, just not in a technically brilliant way worthy of an Instagram feature.
My frustration really stems from me forgetting who I am and not staying in alignment with that.
I’m not an artist or photographer. That’s someone else’s role who can do it was better than me and with a lot of passion.
I’m a storyteller and a gypsy. I don’t feel right unless I’m travelling, experiencing the moment and then sharing it. I don’t want to give our community beautiful images – I want that to be a part of it – but my priority is to tell you stories you can connect to and then empower you to do the same.
Here come the signs
The universe is always working in our favour, and as I was going through these mixed up emotions, that remark from that sweet young boy gently reminded me of my truth.
But another beautiful message from the Universe arrived via Lisa Wilkinson, the host of the Today Show and a lady I admire a lot. I’ve not met her personally, but I’ve met people who have and have spoken only to her kind, caring and authentic nature.
She shared one of our photos of the girls taken at Kings Canyon on her Instagram feed talking of how this region of Australia creates so many treasured memories. It was a photo snapped on my phone – definitely not technically amazing, but amazing because of the story it tells.
This is my truth. That was my lesson. I’m not here to do things the way others do it. I’m here to share the stories. I love capturing these unstaged moments with my children the most. These are the ones that make me reach for my phone to quickly get it. I want that memory with me forever. Raw, unfiltered, exactly as it was.
They won’t get featured by people on Instagram, but I’m sick of that being the only important thing in travel anymore, and playing that game. I’m over the hashtagged life.
I’m happily handing the camera back over to Craig. He does a way better job than me, and I’m moving back into observing, absorbing and creating memories.
I came home upset and told him how much I failed with the kangaroo photos. “I felt so pressured and so distracted. I just couldn’t do it.” He helped me edit and rescue them a little reassuring me that they weren’t a disaster at all, that I was being too hard on myself, and I’d captured a different story.”
Finding the balance
As long as I have this travel blog, social media will be a part of my world. It is a valuable medium as long as you’re careful it does not overrun your life, steal way your sanity, and the joy of travel.
I’ll continue to share our photos on Instagram and Facebook, but I don’t care if they’re perfect or not. I don’t care how many likes they get, and what Tourism Australia thinks. I’ve been travelling for twenty years not caring, why start now? With each picture I upload, I’m going to share more of the story of the moment and more in-the-moment stories.
I’m happy that I’m finding a way to make this work better for who I am and what my values are.
It might be different for you. You might be the artist and the photographer and spending time with the frame to create a beautiful image and have it seen is your thing. I like to have my words read so I understand.
What’s important for each of us to inspect is who we are and live in alignment with that. If you don’t, you’ll feel off, dissatisfied, disgruntled, frustrated and ready to lay blame.
One thing I think we can all do better at is to put the camera down more, absorb ourselves in the golden light of experiences more, and harass animals less. They don’t care for selfies they care about roaming, playing, eating and sleeping. Let them do it in peace.
We’re emphasising a bigger theme through our blog now about unplugging – I’ll share more next week as to how I mean that to be more than just digitally.
One way we can unplug is from the expectation to be like others or from doing things we don’t really value or care about.
Please note that this was my own story caught up in a job I’ve taken on. I’m redefining how that looks so it stays in alignment with who I am and my mission. This is in no way reflective of the travel experience you’d have visiting Cape Hillsborough. The kangaroos and wallabies on the beach at sunrise is special – and there are so many of them!
My only advice is to step back, take in the glorious colours of the sky and the rising sun, watch the kangaroos and wallabies do their thing, and take fewer photos and more memories through engagement. They last forever in your heart, where a social media update only lasts about four hours.
Although the majority of my time was spent frazzled trying to figure out how to capture the perfect roo shot, I did have one precious experience that gives me that feeling of having truly travelled.
The girls and I walked straight from our cabin door with only the faint hint of light. I saw the shadows of the kangaroos on the beach and gasped with delight. They’re here already! As soon as we stepped onto the beach a kangaroo bounced right up to our feet to say hi.
I’ve never had a wild kangaroo come so close before and with such open, curious welcoming energy. She was divine and felt like she was an old friend. I swear I felt her hug me and smile. It was a beautiful, unexpected moment that sent a wave of awe, respect, and wonder through my body. You don’t feel that connection and life energy when you look through the eyes of a lens.
How do you balance social media and photography with being present in the moment of travel? Are you finding it destroying the travel experience?