Instagram vs. Reality: sharing your experiences of destinations across the world

Like many, the beautiful photos I see on Instagram often influence the places I visit on my trips – but do you ever reach a destination and feel frustrated that the pretty picture didn’t tell you the whole story of the experience?

I shared my experience of travelling to Bosnia in 2018 – which I’ll cover again below – and it turns out that many others have felt this way.

This post isn’t supposed to come across as all doom and gloom. I think we all have a responsibility as tourists to be aware of the political or economic state of the regions we are visiting, so we can be sensitive and conscious of our actions when travelling. I’ve opened up this post to some of my Instagram followers who were open to sharing experiences of where they have also felt this way on their travels around the world.

Places discussed in this post:

Mostar, Herzegovina

The first experience that springs to mind when this topic arises is Mostar in Herzegovina. I visited for only one day back in September 2018, when driving from Dubrovnik to Split in Croatia. You don’t have to spend long scrolling through travel inspired Instagram posts before coming across a photo of Mostar’s magnificent Stari Most or “Old Bridge” – but unfortunately what you see today is not the original bridge which finished construction in 1566.

The Bosnian War in the early 1990s saw the death of an estimated 100,000 people, and left a further 2.2 million people displaced. It was in 1993, when the original “Old Bridge” was destroyed by the Croat parliamentary forces. The bridge was rebuilt between 2001 and 2004 – and although there are some pointers to the memory of ’93 surrounding the bridge – I doubt this is common knowledge to many of the thousands of tourists that flock to Mostar annually.

Therefore, something that isn’t apparent in pretty photos of Mostar is the recovery from war, and the poverty that many residents still live in as a result. Unfortunately one of the most prominent memories of Mostar for me was the child beggars that surrounded the bridge. The fallout from war also becomes more apparent once you leave the realms of the Old Bridge, and head towards the main city. You’ll see many abandoned buildings & evidence of gunfights with scarred street walls.

Mostar is a beautiful place, and it is obviously benefiting from the tourism to the region. It is however, important to remain sensitive to what the residents have experienced within the last 30 years.

Cambodia

“When I visited Cambodia in early 2016 it was before the huge rise in ‘influencer’ culture and I didn’t really follow any famous travel accounts on Instagram. So it is now, when I look back on the experience and see travel bloggers posting beautiful exotic photos on Instagram, that I realise my view of the country is probably very different to those who has only ever seen photos online.

Angkor Wat and Siem Reap are deeply educational and historical. They are famous tourist sites rich in Cambodian culture. But there is an air of… something underlying the chill backpacker vibes in Siem Reap. The people who live there are recovering and rebuilding. This becomes so much more apparent when visiting the capital; Phnom Penh is, quite simply, harrowing. The brutality and violence which occurredunder Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s was nothing short of a massacre. And I can honestly say I’ve never seen anyone post about this on social media.

However, the coastal towns in southern Cambodia are almost unrecognizable in comparison; they could almost be anywhere in Southeast Asia. All the important things you learn at the Killing Fields and S21 Prison about the horrific genocide – which happened well within our parents’ lifetime – are almost forgotten once you reach the golden beaches of Sihanoukville and Koh Rong Island. 

I’m so glad I travelled more extensively around Cambodia and looked beyond the backpacker hotspots. I urge everyone to do the same and understand that there is more to this beautiful country than white sand beaches and golden temples, and that in order to appreciate Cambodia and its people, we must understand what happened in their recent past.”

– Liv from Where’s Liv blog or @wheresliv_ on Instagram

Mykonos, Greece

“EVERYONE wants to visit Mykonos these days. From the white cobbled streets to the amazing sea views, it’s one of the most beautiful and most Instagrammed places in the world!

I love using Instagram to get good recommendations of places to visit in new countries and Mykonos was no different. Everyone said you have to see sunset from @180mykonos and so of course, we went there for an evening drink to watch the sun go down. It honestly was one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen and I absolutely loved it, but of course everyone else had the same idea as us. We were lucky to even get a table and lots of people were getting in each others ways trying to get pictures. It’s great for Mykonos as an island to have such a strong tourist trade but getting the ‘Instagram-worthy’ shots isn’t always as easy as it seems in the crowds of people!”

– Emma from @dens_destinations on Instagram

Vietnam

“Vietnam, the bucket list destination of millennial travelers… and therefore the recipient of hoards of tourism funds. Tourism funds that don’t trickle down to the average Vietnamese family.

In 2018, I had gone to Vietnam straight from central China so the moped traffic and dusty streets of Hanoi didn’t phase me. What did phase me was the number of street vendors who would literally chase you down the road trying to convince you to buy items from their shops. Why? Because it is much more profitable to ride the waves of tourism than pursuing traditional family trades of older generations.

Vietnam is glamorized as the young people’s destination nation for budget travel, backpacking, and luxury hotels at the cost of a run down motel. This affordable travel and marketing as such, unfortunately keeps the average Vietnamese family in poverty level conditions. This war-torn country is only recently opened to tourism in the hopes that it would boost the economy. And it has, but only for the elite that can afford boats and mopeds and merchandise stocks that tourists would be willing to spend money on. The average family is again being trapped by the plethora of tourism funds that they will never see directly benefiting their families.

Should people still visit Vietnam? Absolutely! But pay attention to where you spend your money and make it a point to learn a little bit of its history before you go.”

– Megan from @meganelisevarela on Instagram

Jamaica, Egypt & Cape Verde

“I have been fortunate enough to stay in several 4 or 5 star all inclusive luxury resorts in places like Jamaica, Egypt and Cape Verde. These resorts have fantastic facilties, amazing pools with fabulous sandy beaches and sea views.

The resorts also provid incredible services such as delicious buffets, sporting activites and crazy live entertainment. I have had fantastic staying at these resorts.

However I was always aware while having a great time myself, that outside the resorts it could be very different. Much of the infrustructure outside the resorts such as roads and buildings are often in a very run down state and in places actually dangerous. Some of the houses are little more than sheds which look very dilapidated and you soon realise that the country has a great deal of poverty. Many of the locals are desperate to make a living selling local jewellery, sunglasses and various paraphernalia to the tourists.

However, it is encouraging to see the resorts and hotels creating employment for local people and that in many ways the hotels are helping the local economies. So, we must all bear in mind that behind all the stunning pictures of the resorts there exits a different world and I hope that the development of the resorts continues in a way that improves the lives and well-being of the local people and their environment”

– Tasmin from @tazgettinglost on Instagram

Do you have any similar experiences? I would love to hear your stories below!

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