Disclaimer: All the thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are solely my own. I’m not speaking for every millennial out there nor do I think we all function and think the same way.
I remember reading somewhere that there’s been a continuing increase of tourism among millennials in the past few years as a result of companies like Airbnb and Uber, that has made traveling easier and cheaper. Based on a little google searching, millennials consist of people born in the mid 1980s to early 2000s, depending on who you ask. I was born in 1990 and can assure you that I have seen firsthand travel’s rise to fame among millennials, thanks to social media.
I started thinking about this topic in depth during my solo trip to Berlin. I was in bed waiting to fall asleep when my head just started running with thoughts and questions, mostly about me as a traveler in this day of age.
“How am I going to take a photo of myself in front of this famous place I know nothing about?”
“Which photo should I post on Instagram and Facebook that will garner the most views and likes?”
“Why do I need to constantly share my travel experiences on social media?”
Reading these type of questions is hard for me to hear, let alone knowing that these are actual questions I ask myself whenever I’m in a new place. Am I that self-absorbed? A narcissist? Or is this an acquired habit for being a typical young millennial during the age of social media? These are the type of thoughts that run through my mind and keep me up all night, and why I began writing this blog post around 3 am.
In my opinion, the age of social media started when Myspace was at its peak. According to startupbros.com, Myspace was the most visited social networking site in the world from 2005 until early 2008. I was in high school at the time and having hundreds of Myspace friends was the cool thing back then…or the thing that made me feel accepted and validated because I was an insecure gay kid. But that’s a whole other story.
Next thing you know, Myspace is no longer relevant and I am all grown-up with a college degree in Commercial Photography and a full time job as a barista. Then Facebook, Instagram & Snapchat was introduced, and my passion for taking pictures and sharing them for the world to see is rekindled once again.
Social media has pros and cons, but I believe it is essential to have to feel connected to people and the world around you today. It’s up to you how often and how you use it to your advantage to get through life. In my case, as an introverted traveler, having a presence in social media is crucial for me to communicate and meet other people.
Now back to that night in Berlin when I started thinking about all this. I came to a realization. This is not good for me, and I need to stop. The constant need to post and share my travel photos for all the wrong and selfish reasons. As a result of social media, the endless content I scroll through every day that reminds me how beautiful the world is and how luxurious some lifestyles can be, has made me feel like my life is less and unfulfilled. But it’s not, and I’m grateful for that. I don’t think social media is horrible nor do I deem it entirely responsible for the way I’ve become. In fact, it is one of the reasons I continue to have a passion to travel the world! Seeing all the gorgeously-edited photos on Instagram of places and things and reading about travel stories on Facebook fuels me to go out there and experience them for myself! But I got carried away. After three years of traveling, I realized that I’ve been doing one thing completely wrong that has prevented me from truly enjoying the place I am in. Surely like a lot of the millennial travelers out there, I have forgotten how to live in the moment for myself. It’s almost as if I was brainwashed by all these people I idolize on Instagram who has thousands of followers and hundreds of likes on every perfectly-filtered photo. Up to this day, I’m still that same insecure gay kid who wants nothing more but to feel included in today’s “cool” trend dictated largely by the millennial society. I’ve let myself be influenced to post the kind of pictures that I feel is going to get the most likes and followers so I can be just like those famous Instagram people. It doesn’t happen all the time, but sometimes I will catch myself trying to improvise the perfect setting for the perfect picture, and the perfect caption for it…and which hashtags to use. Instead of living in the moment for me to cherish and remember the place, I’m looking down on my phone trying to decide which selfie to post because I feel its important for all those strangers who follow me where I am and what I’m doing at that exact time.
I know I’m not alone. This is what popular culture is today. To some, it’s a competition of who’s been to more places, who takes better photos, or who has more followers. I used to believe that I don’t care about all that, but I was lying to myself. Attention feels nice. Validation feels even better. But in my case, it’s temporary and not authentic. I care too much about what other people think of me, and I’ve known this for a while now and find it almost impossible to stop. But there is one thing I can change and that is the way I travel. No I’m not going to stop taking pictures and posting on social media because photography has always been a love of mine and Instagram is basically like my portfolio, and in a way, my travel diary as well. There’s nothing wrong with sharing your experiences with your friends, or even showing off a little bit! However, moving forward I promise myself to do my best to enjoy the present. To appreciate everything around me, even the small details, and remember exactly what the experience was like because I was there and not in my head thinking, “how am I going to capture this moment with my camera to make people jealous or envious of me?” I know it’s not going to be an easy transition, but I know the end result will benefit me both emotionally and mentally. I will probably still take a dozen pictures of the beautiful sunset, or the meal I’m trying for the first time, but I can certainly wait to post the pictures later when I’m back in my room reminiscing what a great day I just had.