I’ll start off by saying that I’m not a travel influencer nor do I aspire to be one. I have a day job at a tech company and I love what I do. My opinions have developed from three years of travelling and encountering some of the worst camera-wielding characters while exploring the globe.
Imagine you’ve paid €20 to get into Porto’s famous Livraria Lello, one of the oldest bookstores on the planet, only to find that you can’t take the stairs up because some girl is hogging the stairs and striking poses while her friend or boyfriend bends backwards and forwards to get the “perfect shot”. In the meantime, everyone else waits for this woman to get out of the way so that the rest of us can go up to explore the rest of the shop.
Imagine a girl who posts a really beautiful shot of a lake on a popular travel group on Facebook with the caption “Woke up early to catch the sunrise and we had to sneak into the park before opening time to catch this beautiful shot! Totally worth it!” and having everyone else comment “Oh my goodness, such a beautiful picture!” and “Stunning!”. Erm, is everyone ignoring the fact that she and her photographer broke the rules? Or is it totally fine because she’s going to get a lot of likes on Instagram?
Imagine tourists trespassing protected land to get the most “authentic” photo, sorry, I mean, experience, while totally ignoring the negative impact they leave on local society and the environment. Imagine going on a paid tour with a group of 20 people, and having all of us wait an extra half an hour just so 5 people could go off to find the perfect spot to, wait for it, take a goddamn picture.
Now, imagine these incidences happening on a large scale, as every other person tries to become an influencer, as every other person hogs the stairs so that they can get 50 odd shots to find the perfect one that will get the most attention on social media. Imagine travel in a year or two, where the fun of travelling is lost because travellers are becoming more and more obsessed with getting the right shot.
Hang on a second, we don’t need to imagine any of this, it’s already happening.
Let’s switch roles for a second. Now, imagine you were born and raised in one of these cities? Every street you walk down, someone is blocking the walkway because they’re taking a picture of something obscure that they found cute or charming, like a manhole cover or some graffiti painted by some teenage punks.
Coupled with a boom in the number of tourists to top European destinations, you begin to see why destinations like Venice have started separating tourists and locals, turning it into some dystopian Disneyland. Dubrovnik has taken a less harsh approach by limiting the number of cruise ships allowed to dock. Even the Taj Mahal is raising entry ticket prices and limiting tourists visits to three hours.
Barcelona is struggling to survive with the number of tourists that flood into the city all year round. Lisbon’s sudden rise to fame has led to a huge influx of tourists and all their bad habits. Iceland seems to be losing its charm too. Not to mention all the beautiful islands that are going under thanks to their inability to cope with so many tourists. Other destinations facing the same problems include Tokyo, Phuket, Rome … but I’m digressing.
While these measures were put in place to curb overtourism, a crazy phenomenon that has been happening for years in Thailand and Indonesia but has only recently become a topic of serious discussion because it now plagues Europe as well, my guess is that it is also to relieve some of the annoyance locals face on a daily basis.
How annoying must it be to see foreigners ignoring rules that were created to protect them and the environments they’re exploring. How annoying must it be to witness people who seem to think that getting the perfect shot is all that matters, even if that means standing in the middle of an entrance to a curvy tunnel such that drivers from the opposite direction would not be able to see or avoid these incredibly dumb camera wielders? And this happens on a daily basis! The lengths people seem to go through, and put others through, just to get a great photo are increasingly outrageous and downright inconsiderate.
Growing up, my dad would always take pictures of birthdays, family dinners, parties and of course, family holidays. Sometimes he’d linger a little too long at a spot, annoying my mother and I. Over the years, my sister picked up the same habit so we didn’t feel so bad leaving them both behind while we continued exploring.
My dad loves pictures and he enjoys looking through them on the couch after dinner. He likes reliving the moments he spent with his family. These will be images that will remind him of fun times when he gets old and memories start to fade or blend together, when he becomes more forgetful than he already is.
So I get it. I get the value of pictures. I get why people take them and why they treasure them. When I lost my phone in Bali, I was upset because of all the great memories I had lost of my first ever solo backpacking trip, all the people I had met, the food I ate and the places I visited. I started routinely backing up my photos ever since.
But what it’s become today, is not the same. Picture taking and video making are not as much about the memories as it is about bragging rights and Instagram likes. If that’s what you prefer to take home from your vacations, that’s cool with me, just don’t do it on my time as well.
Want to get a great shot with no one else in it? Go early before everyone else gets there. At the same time, don’t break the fucking rules and encourage others to do so. Also, don’t blame the city council for deciding to repair or renovate an old temple because it has ruined your picture. It’s not about you, boo. Lastly, stop dangling your feet over a cliff or getting as close to the edge as possible just so you can call yourself a daredevil.
If you call yourself a citizen of the world, it’s time to start acting like one.