I’ve always had a bucket list of places I want to visit someday. So before Instagram I would plan my trips like this:
- Step 1: Choose a location from my said “bucket list.”
- Step 2: Google search and find out as much as possible about particular place.
- Step 3: Buy a Lonely Planet Guidebook from Amazon to help me piece together an itinerary.
- Step 4: GO! And even through all of the planning, you still find that you missed something amazing from the place you visited because you didn’t even know about it.
Step 4 happens all of the time. There’s so much to see and you will undoubtedly have to miss or cut something out of your plans because time passes even faster when you are on a trip or vacation. I’m here to tell you that Instagram actually helps with trip planning. It takes the mundane research and turns it into something fun, meaningful, and definitely memorable.
Instagram is a visual platform. Often, we underestimate its power as a research tool. When I first joined Instagram in 2012, I used the site to assuage my wanderlust. I scrolled through whimsical images and thought to myself, “Someday.”
Then, and especially now, Instagram can be used to dream up someone’s ideal vacation and make it a reality. The photos on my feed serve as much more than inspiration; they offer me the best advice when it comes to destination travel and allow me to discover if that place in the photograph or video is really what I am looking for.
There are many ways we can use Instagram as a research tool, and I will get to those specifics in a bit. First, let me tell you how I planned the best trip of my entire life using social media.
Flashback to the Summer of 2016. I had just graduated from college, and my boyfriend and I talked about taking a cross-country road trip in the fall. We wanted to do two months completely on the road, and our promise was we would camp the entire time — no hotel/motel/hostel expenses.
The task of planning seemed daunting at first, and I honestly had no idea where to begin. I had just finished reading a book about a guy who traveled from Southern California all the way to the tip of Patagonia in South America. I was naturally intrigued, and while we didn’t have the time or necessary resources for a large scale trip like that, we could still make something big happen. Our route became simple: We would drive from Massachusetts to Washington State stopping in as many National Parks along the way. Once in Washington, we would drive south along the entire Pacific Coast Highway from Seattle to San Diego, CA. Then, it was a matter of driving back home through even more National Parks and cool landmarks.
Once we had our tentative route mapped out, the fun started. I had a few books that I used to guide me through the necessary stuff. Best things to pack, best time to travel the PCH, so on and so forth. What we had to decide was what we wanted to see in all of the places we would be. While I wanted to hit some tourist traps like Pike’s Place Market in Seattle and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, we wanted most of our other pit stops to be off the beaten path. We wanted to feel peace with what we were doing and not be overly crowded by the other 7 billion people on this planet.
Cue Instagram’s spotlight. At the time, I followed mainly travel accounts, but I needed the right ones. I turned to some of the feature pages I was following and began going through their photos. Since they always tag the photographer of the image they post, this was the best way to find fellow “grammers” in the locations we would be seeing very soon, and this is when I first discovered @Travisburkephotography. For those not familiar with Travis, he is a travel photographer who spent 3 years traveling the U.S. in a van, creating content, and growing his feed. Now, he is a brand ambassador for companies like Red Bull and GoPro, and he has been everywhere it seems. In addition to touristy places, he’s been off-the-grid to the hidden gems and best-kept secret spots that I was looking for. I immediately followed him and began creeping through his feed, looking at all of his older photos from years back. It can be time consuming if you look at it as a chore, but I approached this task with excitement for my trip, knowing that a lot of the photos I was looking at would be possible for me because of Travis’ unknowing help.
This is how I stumbled upon Big Four Ice Caves. It was this image that made me want to visit this magical place. You might recognize it. Since my road trip in 2016, it has become undoubtedly more popular. Parks Apparel did their fall photo campaign at this location among others. They had big models and photographers working for them, and the location was geotagged a lot, bringing with it the hype for everyone to see it. It was the same with the Escalante Slot Canyons in Utah, which I also discovered on Travis’ page. Instagram has given me many opportunities to find locations that are beautiful and not as crowded.
The use of Instagram continued throughout our trip. Every time we arrived at a new location, we would check out the geotag or the hashtag associated with the place, and we would decide if it was worthwhile to check out. We found many places this way. Cape Kiwanda and Samuel H. Boardman State Park in Oregon was one of them, and in California, it was the Lost Coast.
Overall, some of my favorite spots from my road trips have been discovered solely by research done on Instagram. It’s a great way to know what you are in for before you go somewhere. For instance, we visited Antelope Canyon not because of social media but because so many people told us we should check it out. The canyons were magical, but we were shepherded down into them with at least a hundred other people, which took a lot away from the experience. However, it was nice to know that our visit supported the local Navajo Tribe as the canyons are located on their land. The Slot Canyons located in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah were our jackpot. We explored countless canyons, and we only saw four other people the entire day. The experience felt authentic, not encumbered by people, and didn’t have to worry about anything as our time their was completely our own.
Below are a few ways to best utilize Instagram for you travel plans:
Follow Locals (The people already living in the place you wish to visit).
There are many cities around the world that are home to photographers who want to show the Instagram community the best spots to visit, especially when avoiding the tourist traps. You can find a lot of helpful information this way and can even DM these people to follow up on things that you see in their feed or on their stories. For example, I follow @HamishMorrison, a photographer from Scotland who melts my heart with nostalgia with his Highland images.
Follow and keep checking up on Tourism Boards.
You’ve all heard of them, like @visitcolorado or @visitscotland or @visitlaguna. They all have pages that feature photographs of a particular city or place and help fellow users find interesting places to explore, eat, drink, and fun activities to do. These pages give you a lot of helpful information for when you are actually there on location. Local events are posted, and in some cases, free activities. I also check @aspenco and @snowmass — two pages for Colorado before I plan a trip. I have done many of the hikes suggested on these pages in the last two visits I made out there.
As you know, this allows you to search and see where a particular photo has been taken. You will be able to see where you should go, what other spots are near you, and have a ground perspective. We mapped out our road trip routes using this because it allowed us to see how we could most efficiently connect the locations. You can also save tags so you will be able to look back later and even further investigate those places.
Follow the travel experts.
Follow the experts, the pages that specialize in travel, and the pages that focus on anything you are really interested in seeing. For example, I follow @thecabinchronicals, and I am able to discover many different cabins around the world that I would love to visit someday. But, pages like @smartertravel, @passionpassport, @worldnomads, and @fathomwaytogo offer travel deals and contests all of the time. Great resources to potentially get a sponsored trip, win a giveaway, and expand your network of fellow travelers.
I don’t do this as often, but now with the ability to follow any desired hashtag, it’s an easy way to focus in on the things you are interested in. Find the best places to eat and the coolest beaches with hashtags. Hashtags are a good way to begin a broad search and narrow down from there as you continue to go through photos.
Utilize stories and communicate.
Instagram stories are very helpful. They make me feel more comfortable because they are causal. So reach out to the people you follow based off of the things you see on their stories. I guarantee you will get an answer from someone. Comment on photos, direct message, and tag people. Remember that Instagram is a community, and you should connect with people as much as you can because you never know what sort of opportunity may arise. And click on those locations in Instagram stories. It’s another way to search geotags and can lead you to discover that perfect coffee shop in Portland, OR, with the shelves and shelves of books that you never would have heard of otherwise.
So is using Instagram to plan trips a good idea? Yes, yes it is. You will have fun, discover so many new places, and plan a truly individualized vacation/adventure that you will remember for a lifetime. 2016-2017 was my biggest year of travel. I used Instagram to plan each and every new adventure and because of that it was the best year of my life.