One of the toughest pills to swallow as a college student with intense wanderlust is that you can’t live the life that your favorite Instagram influencers do (or seem to) while also staying to a budget. The harsh reality is that you won’t be staying at the expensive hotels, you won’t be renting the yachts, and you won’t be eating filet mignon in the VIP area of the most famous restaurant in town. But this doesn’t mean you can’t travel! You might just be staying down the street in a hostel (or your car), renting kayaks, and eating street food around the corner from that restaurant. But if you can accept this reality, you can absolutely see the world for yourself, and probably have even more adventures doing it.
Nonetheless, this is the dangerous trap that Instagram sets for those it inspires to travel, which I call “The Instagram Effect.” It shows only the glamor; influencers only show the most fantastic parts of their travels. When this is all anybody sees, it is what everybody thinks of when they think of traveling. However, it is not the whole picture. Although by no means an influencer, I am guilty of this myself. For example, I posted a beautiful sunset picture from the roof of my hostel in Marrakech, Morocco, and that was what everybody took away from my time there. However, they didn’t know that I got athlete’s foot in the “spa” at that hostel, or that my friends and I got a bacterial infection that night at dinner that kept me from eating for five days and hospitalized many of the others. I posted a crazy picture of my feet dangling over Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona, but didn’t mention the filthy truck bed I had slept in the night before, or the fact that I hadn’t showered in over a week.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. All of these things, to me, made my travels all the more rewarding and adventurous, but nobody ever wants to talk about them on Instagram. For whatever reason, athlete’s foot, bacterial infections, and horrible bathing practices don’t seem to bring in the followers. Who knew?
It’s a shame, though, because it leads to a lot of misconceptions about traveling. It gives people this idea that it takes insane amounts of money to travel. In reality, you can stay the night in a Parisian hostel for the price of a typical dinner, and you can buy a good dinner for the price of a coffee; you just have to know where to look. You can fly to and stay a week in Iceland for the same price as a good concert ticket; you just might be sleeping in a tent or your rental car every night. However, perhaps the biggest thing it leaves out is how “roughing it” can actually enrich your experiences while traveling in ways you never would have imagined. Some of the most vibrant and kind communities I have ever become a part of I found in dirty hostels, campsites, and cheap restaurants or coffee shops. I gained lifelong friends over stale bread, I made some of my best memories while sleeping on the ground in 35 degree nights with pounding rain, and I fell in love with people and places that Instagram never told me the stories of.
This is why I have a love/hate relationship with “Travel Instagram” and Instagram influencers. I think it is amazing that they have created a community that continually inspires people to see the world, because that is a goal I am infinitely passionate about, but I am disappointed that the lifestyle associated with traveling is often misportrayed, causing young people with grand dreams of adventuring to believe they can’t afford it. Take it from somebody who has been there: you can do it. It’s not always easy. It’s not always pretty. It’s not always comfortable. But it’s doable, it’s rewarding, and it is life-changing. So, buck up, save up a few dollars, and hit the road. There’s no time to start like right now.