Is Instagram ruining our holidays?
By Emily Parker
Is our preoccupation with how we look and what we post costing us both money and holiday enjoyment?
I n October I went on a two-week trip to Vietnam with my boyfriend of three years. We visited Hanoi, Halong Bay, Mai Chau, and finished up with three nights in Hong Kong on the way home. The trip was incredible - anyone who hasn’t already been has to go to Vietnam. Particularly when you're young it makes such a difference how much you can afford out there - 30p for a beer, £2 for an incredible main dish of fresh Vietnamese food, £10 per night in some of the nicer hostels, £100 per night for the best five-star hotels. You can’t go wrong when you’re on a budget.
This particular trip got me thinking though. I analysed my own behaviours and emotional reactions to things in a way I hadn’t really before.
My boyfriend knows by now exactly what it’s like to go away on holiday with me. The incessant panic leading up to the trip, getting everything (mainly myself) into some inexplicable state of “readiness” for our departure. This includes the three-night ritual leading up: the exfoliation, the moisturising, the fake tan, the eyebrow and eyelash tint, the hair toning, the manicure, the pedicure, and a whole lot more pretty pointless beauty stuff. It also includes the purchase of a few, for some reason to me, 100 per cent necessary new (but always shit) pieces of clothing I’ll wear once on holiday and then probably never wear again. Cami-tops, floaty jumpers that look nothing like they did on Depop, crop-tops, bikinis, jewellery that’ll go rusty before the end of the trip, flip flops that start to break a few days in. Anything goes so long as it’s new! And here’s where I began to consider, after the rituals were complete for this particular trip - do I think these garishly cheap items will turn me miraculously into some new, cooler, happier version of myself, simply by virtue of their being new? What am I really hoping to achieve by spending so much time on these beauty rituals? Who are they actually for?
I meticulously pack for several days before the holiday, to ensure there’s nothing I could have possibly left behind that I might end up wanting out there, and subsequently cursing myself for forgetting. Meanwhile my boyfriend packs everything just before we go, having been out with friends the night before, and out with work the night before that. He enjoys the lead-up to two whole weeks off work, arrives at the airport after work on Friday night ready for a beer, and expects absolutely nothing unreasonable or unrealistic from the trip, or, crucially, from the person he’s going to be from the very beginning of the trip.
Whereas I arrive at the airport sweating in an effort to keep my hair in place and my nails un-chipped on my suitcase handle, smelling strongly of chemically-recreated coconut from the fake tan I have just baked in on the hot underground, feeling flustered at the realisation that I have already failed to meet my prior visions of myself as some sort of Gigi-Hadid-holiday-goddess for this short period of my life.
And this isn’t a phenomenon unique to my holiday experience either. The average Brit spends 30 hours preparing for a holiday, and forks out an unbelievable third of their holiday budget on beauty products before the holiday. When I read these stats even I was shocked at the cost many are willing to pay to arrive on holiday as close as they can to their idea of being “perfect”. And greedy high-street consumerism loves this, raking in an average £1.8bn every year from consumers on “holiday wardrobe” products.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we feel pressure to arrive at our holidays looking like we have already experienced every bit of the relaxation, exercise, nutritious food, fresh air and sun that we are actually going on holiday to get in the first place? To feel like that new and improved version of ourselves that we hope to turn into after a period of being away, but before we have even left the airport.
It could be something to do with frugality, and us Brits wanting to extract every bit of holiday value by being utterly joyful right from the get-go, already that relaxed, confident, beautiful, happy person the trip is supposed to mould us into, but from day one: maximum bang for buck.
But I think it has more to do with a claustrophobic awareness that we are about to be wheeled out (by ourselves), bleary-eyed and self-conscious, onto the Instagram stage that has been waiting for this one moment all year. Without holiday pics, our Instagram profiles would have to rely on content themed around”‘what I ate today”, “what café I brunched at this weekend” and “this is me in the gym...again”. Finally, we're going to have something interesting to post; we can’t miss that opportunity to get a good photo just because we’ve let ourselves down and we’re not looking at our best. How irresponsible would that be of us.
Just under 70 per cent of Brits say that the "Instagrammability" of a destination is the primary factor in choosing where to go on holiday. Whether we like it or not, the majority of us are going on holiday, at least partly, to take pictures that will be seen by people back home. And more than half of women airbrush their social media photos before posting them online. The reality of the trip, and more disturbingly, the reality of who we are, just doesn’t seem to be good enough for us. It’s a wonder we even manage to enjoy holidays at all, with such a weight of expectation on the trip and on ourselves just waiting to be unmet.
So, should we never post on social media when on holiday? Because then we won’t feel so much pressure to look perfect and to do the holiday perfectly when we go away? Thing is, how can we ever hope to persuade our snap-happy mates not to post pictures of us all constantly when we’re on holiday; somehow always managing to select and post the exact shot in which they look like Michelle Keegan and we look like a pale, dumpy version of Piers Morgan in a wet wig, posing awkwardly like we've just been stung on the vag by a jellyfish?
And even if we could persuade our mates to join us in a social-media-exodus when we’re all away on holiday together, could we ever actually convince ourselves to abandon Instagram that completely for two weeks? When we FINALLY have something envy-inducing, "aspirational" and #sorrynotsorry-worthy to post. And when culture today has indoctrinated us with, “pics, or it didn’t happen”.
I was away for two weeks with my boyfriend who doesn’t even have Instagram, and who genuinely couldn’t care less about people seeing photos of us away. He’ll Whatsapp photos to family and close friends back home, but posting on Instagram while we’re away couldn’t feel more pointless to him. And I agree with him. It is pointless. And yet I can’t convince myself not to do it. And I don’t know why I can’t. Did I post on Instagram pretty much constantly while we were away? Yes, I did. Was there anyone in particular back home I was posting for, hoping for likes from, hoping would see what we were up to, and what I looked like? No, absolutely not. So why did I do it? I think it might be something much closer to home.
It seems bizarre that we fly to the other side of the world, only to think more about what we look like than what we’re looking at. Jacqui Alexander says, hitting the nail on the head,
“We have exhausted our global architectural icons – they have been reduced to photogenic backdrops for our selfies. We want to be seen at these sites because they allow our audiences to instantly locate us. But, as cultural experiences, they have become empty and cliched”.
The annoying thing is, deciding not to Instagram it won't mean it didn’t happen. It wouldn’t make the experiences any less real, or the memories any less clear. I could even redirect my energies into turning my photos into a physical album when I get home, and keep those memories, quite literally, forever. In fact, forgetting what I owe to Instagram for the two weeks that are supposed to be my holiday away from these exact pressures, could actually mean the holiday happens for me in a far more real way than it ever has before. I'll let you know how I get on.
Image by Emily Parker