Don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking people’s lives consist of nothing but bougie meals, cocktails at swanky bars or plush hotel suites.
My Instagram is an adorable collection of snapshots from my travels in Madrid, Los Angeles, Hawaii, London, Berlin, Lisbon, and wherever else I’ve had the grand privilege of frolicking in. From these beautiful, filtered images, you’d think that my life consists of nothing but lounging on spectacular beaches, taking in breathtaking views and looking flawless and elated at all hours of the day – as Instagram is so good at tricking people into believing.
But, alas, most of my life isn’t on display on these cute little squares and there’s a lot behind every travel photo that no one sees. I didn’t write this to convince anyone that I don’t enjoy the life I live – I’m incredibly privileged to be able to travel at all – or that travel bloggers aren’t happy, but rather to remind everyone that people’s real lives are full of problems and imperfections that they’ll never ever show in those pretty little squares.
For example, take this photo of me at the Tiber River in Rome. What you don’t see in this photo is how fucking exhausted I was from having spent the previous night trying to sleep on the floor of the airport. Most of the time I can’t afford to take a taxi to and from airports, so sometimes when I have an early morning flight I have to take the last bus or metro there and spend the night in order to save money on taxis and accommodation. The fact that I have a reason to even go to the airport is amazing and I never stop being thankful for every chance I get to hop on a flight. But even for many travelers who are privileged enough to see new places, traveling requires A LOT of budgeting and stretching out every cent, as well as thinking of creative solutions to scrape by in every destination. Traveling as a backpacker is pretty unglamorous most of the time, as one is often posed with challenges such as hitchhiking, skipping meals and going without sleep for the sake of saving funds.
What you also don’t see in this photo is that it was taken on Christmas Day and I had spent the entire day alone, talking to absolutely no one in person. Sure, I had all of the Eternal City to explore in front of me, but I had no one there who knew who I was or cared. There was barely anybody in the streets because everyone was busy being with the people they care about; as I should’ve been with the people I love. Traveling doesn’t ever feel as special as spending time with the people who love you – at least to me, personally – and I’ve learned that the hard way over the last few years.
You say that my travel photos give you FOMO? You know what gives me FOMO? Seeing my friends go camping together, planning trips to Hawaii together, getting wasted at wine bars together, watching 30 Rock on a couch together, drinking tea and raising a goddamn cat together. I feel massive regret every day for all the memories, experiences and bonding I’m missing out on with my people back home, all of which I’ll never get the chance to make up for.
Check out this picture of me looking hella fly, drinking champagne at a swanky rooftop club on New Year’s Eve. If you didn’t know me, you’d think that this is my life every day, running around glamorous clubs and staying in five star hotels. The only reason I was even in this place is because I had the opportunity to do a feature and I got hooked up, so that I could “experience” the establishment. Behind every five star hotel suite and Michelin meal you see on Instagram, there’s almost always a comp, a feature, business negotiations and most importantly, hard work. Don’t let any Instagrammer or travel blogger make you think they have it “made” or that they can actually afford all those luxury suites and yacht parties all the time. Most of us couldn’t even afford a cup of coffee in those stylish hotel bars with a skyline view we love frequenting so much.
Look at me living in Spain eating bomb food, drinking Rioja wine and chilling in Mallorca. It’s great, except for all the racist bullshit I have to deal with on a regular basis. In the street, as well as at my work, I get assholes catcalling me based on my race, asking me where I’m really from after I’ve told them a thousand times, laughing at me because they automatically assume I don’t speak Spanish from the way I look. Apparently people feel entitled to assume they know who I am and then scream it at me with absolutely no consideration of whether it makes me uncomfortable or not. Nobody sees the immense stress I feel from having nobody to talk to about what I go through, since the majority of other expats are white and most of them just change the topic of conversation or feel uncomfortable, and god forbid white people ever feel uncomfortable thinking about their racial privilege.
What you definitely don’t see on Instagram is the loneliness and crippling anxiety that keep me from going outside for days at a time. There are many times when I get overwhelmed by how foreign I feel in my current surroundings, that I just don’t have the energy to deal with the stares and unsolicited attention I get in public. Throughout my travels, I’ve spent hours crying from feeling totally isolated and void of any meaningful human connection. The life of a traveler consists of a lot of sitting in rooms alone, wandering around aimlessly and being that one lonely person at the bar who doesn’t talk to anyone.
Last, but not least, something that might slip by you as you look at my travel photos is how hard I actually work to put it all together and make it all possible. Travel media is perhaps 90% research – creating content, negotiating business, endless promotion – and 10% traveling and seeing new destinations. Even when I’m traveling I’m constantly working on interviewing people, taking photos and putting together travel guides. Lounging on beaches and sipping cocktails isn’t all I do as a jetsetter.
This applies to all other professional travel, fashion and lifestyle bloggers on Instagram. Yes their lifestyles look stylish and rad, but more importantly, it’s their business and their means of making a living to make it look that way. It’s their job to post photos with swag from various brands in exotic destinations, and they get paid to have tens of thousands of followers and post amazing pictures that give you FOMO. No matter how dope and exciting people’s lives appear on platforms like Instagram, never forget that social media is a business, in which people work extremely hard to curate their lives but would never publicize the challenges they go through in between posting each photo. The scenes they choose to share only make up a small fraction of their daily lives as most of us work boring day jobs that have nothing to do with social media in order to pursue what we really love on the side.
Don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking people’s lives consist of nothing but bougie meals, cocktails at swanky bars or plush hotel suites. People only show you what they want you to see and the rest just don’t fit or wouldn’t look as good on them pretty little squares.
Photos: Nadia Cho
What’s really behind YOUR Instagram travel photos? Let us know in the comments.