We've lost our imagination
When it comes to travel, I can’t help but think we are losing our imagination.
As I left Norway earlier this week, sat in the car en route to the airport, the driver (who is also a photographer) pulled over in a lay-by. He instructed me to get out the car, stand in the middle of the road and face forwards. Why? Because the backdrop enveloping me, he said, is one of Norway’s ‘must-have’ photo moments when you visit the Lofoten Islands.
His suggested pitstop was intended with irony, as he explained that when he was researching Lofoten this image, along with a handful more, kept reappearing. I have to admit it’s a pretty striking image - you can see the appeal. That exchange kick started some deeper thinking about the impact social media is having on our travel destinations, itineraries and consciousness when we’re away.
Earlier that week local Norwegian guides told me how in peak season - this summer - they were overwhelmed with crowds of tourists fleeing to a handful of locations to capture Lofoten’s ‘iconic’ social media shots. The locals have been left perplexed. In fact, one 91-year-old local who walks his dog along a narrow foot bridge that has amassed huge crowds for its position next to towering granite slabs and the ‘reflection porn’ it offers from the water on a clear day, approaches visitors almost daily to try and understand why they are patiently queuing for photos.
Of course tourism can bring undeniable wealth to areas, but the increase of footfall comes at a greater cost. It’s threatening beauty spots all over the world which, left unmanaged, can cause local infrastructure, unprepared to deal with the onslaught of visits, to buckle. The Norwegians admit they are struggling to cope, but with sustainability at the core of the country and the introduction of day permits to popular areas and tight controls they are managing - for now.
The answer is not to stop travelling, but to travel more consciously and with sustainability at the forefront. As climate change and global warming present a real and immediate risk, it is a critical time rethink our approach to adventure and how we justify the impact of our carbon footprint and the mark we leave on places.
It’s time to stop calling on social media for direction (literally as well as metaphorically) and using other people’s snaps to curate, what should be, our own personal journey’s. Of course, imagery can inspire us, but they shouldn’t dictate our choices.
As someone who uses Instagram professionally and travels a lot with it I realise it may sound contradictory, but my prerogative has always been to use my position of privilege to re-wire how adventure is considered and conducted. Now, I feel more responsibility than ever to bang the drum for how the spirit of adventure needs to be rekindled, not just for the sake of reconnecting ourselves with experiences. We must discover the world with fresh eyes instead of mimicking what we think we should do based on what we’ve seen on Instagram. Let’s get imaginative and step away from the tick-box culture.
Adventure, today, needs purpose more than ever. Let the pictures we share be for the sake of offering meaningful, evocative stories of local struggles, humanitarian issues, environmental and ecological catastrophes. Let our time be spent capturing important scientific data that the increase of social connectivity and citizen science initiatives now allows us be be involved in, and let us share our findings with anyone willing to listen.
But that’s not all, let’s use our adventure to celebrate the positives too. Let’s the stories that can give hope and optimism. I’m not saying we shouldn’t take photos, I’m saying we should take photos of something more than a self(indulgent)ie, one that communicates a bigger story and shares a truthful experience of snotty noses and greasy hair too.
Ultimately, as travellers in a world that has been abused by mankind, we have a responsibility to do better and to be better. It’s time to reclaim and rewrite the purpose of adventure - and it’s role in social media - for the sake of our future.
Want more? You can read more about my thoughts on this in a recent article I wrote for Telegraph Travel.