Instagram has undeniably changed the world of travel. Now, anyone can be a travel writer or photographer, as long as they have a smartphone to hand. This democratization of travel, and the art forms produced from it, has been refreshing and surprising. However, just as with traditional travel mediums, it’s not without its problems.
Perhaps, the biggest issue I have is not, surprisingly the travel-envy, the paid trips or the fashion that goes hand in hand with most travel bloggers. It is instead, the over-filtering of trips, boiling down an entire country or destination into one, heavily filtered image. The caption is often an afterthought, while the picture is painfully orchestrated to look perfectly candid.
The reality of course, is that travelling has its hiccups. Maybe it's raining on your tropical island, or you couldn’t park up at Lake Louise, as the site was full. Things often don’t go to plan, but the world of Instagram travel conveniently ignores this, in favour of forced beauty. If travelers were more honest in their compositions, we would have a far rounder view of their experience, and in turn, a more transparent view of the country they are documenting.
For example, when any of my friends ask about our Europe trip, we tell them about the beautiful blue of the Croatian Islands, the delicacies of Italy and cycling in Amsterdam. However, one of my favourite stories is comedic - only funny after the event, and mostly because it didn’t happen to me, it happened to T.
We booked 2 overnight trains during our trip, both to and from Krakow, Poland. We were travelling there from Prague, and as we settled in for a very bumpy uncomfortable night, T began to feel ill. He suffers from motion sickness ordinarily, but he’d had a very strange savoury crepe during the day which involved some suspicious looking chicken. 2 hours into the journey, and T was throwing up. Always the gentleman, he was very discreet in the train bathroom, but I watched as he steadily became greyer and greyer. The original plan had been to depart with our backpacks at 6am in Auschwitz, to pay our respects, however as you can imagine, this was now no longer possible. We carried on and arrived in Krakow at 7:30, a whopping 8 hours before our 4pm check in.
Now, what to do when you’re living out of a backpack, your partner is very ill, and the temperature is steadily rising in a city you’ve never been to before? First things first we bought a huge bottle of water and made it, with T hobbling along, to the nearest park. Here I decided that air conditioning was the priority, and preferably good toilets. T was also in need of a comfortable place to sit/lay/wallow so I suddenly had a thought - a cinema. It’s comfy, has accessible toilets and water, and great snacks for me. The closest one was a mile and a half walk away. T couldn’t face the thought of a moving uber, and especially didn’t want to pay a throwing up fee, so we began to make our way, at a snail’s pace, against the morning commuters of Krakow’s city centre. We stopped every 10 metres or so to rest, or sip, and T bless him, had a couple of further sick moments. We were dirty, sweaty, some of us were an inhuman hue, and must have looked suspicious as hell - what a reputation we must have made on behalf of Britain. However, we made it, 40 mins before the 10am opening of the shopping centre.
We sat in the sun, as T wished he’d never left the comfort of his own home, sipping and laughing at the absurdity of how awful we felt. I’ve never wished for clean clothes more. I found a H&M and purchased 2 tops in the sale, one for me and one for T, to replace his sick stained one. Yes ladies and gentlemen, we were a mess. Sorry Poland.
For the next few hours, we bought pretzels and other stodgy snacks to reintroduce food into T’s system. We then went and sat in the beauteous air conditioning of a Polish cinema, pretzels in hand, and watched the wonder that is Mama Mia 2, in English with Polish subtitles. It was a little spark of joy on a rather interesting morning. Later, we took an uber to our Airbnb in the old town, truly one of the best I’ve ever stayed in, which I hope is unclouded by my then desperation. I forced T to shower, drink a pint of water and he then slept for the next 6 hours.
This is the kind of travel I mean. The real stories and the arguments. The desperation, fear, sick and uncultured decisions of Brits abroad, when things didn’t go to plan. Now as I pointed out to T, I can see why capturing this in photography may be difficult. After all, a traveler who is concerned with Instagram likes and follower traction may not be willing to risk this on posting a real picture, of them curled up with food poisoning. But perhaps we all need to be braver, to reveal the truth and to find the beauty in days that feel anything but beautiful.