Why ‘Perfect’ Instagram Photos Ruined My Vacation


Alright, maybe ‘ruined’ is a strong word, but I did learn a valuable lesson in travel: always keep your expectations in check when visiting new destinations.

I’ll start out by saying that this is not a post for me to vent or complain. I wake up each and every day so grateful for the freedom and opportunity to spend the little time and money I do have travelling around the world. But I experienced something that I thought would be important and hopefully useful to share with you in hopes that you can steer clear of avoidable disappointment.

In April of 2015, Katherine had the chance to spend three weeks exploring Thailand with a few of her closest friends. I had just secured a new job and therefore didn’t have enough vacation time banked to join them. We spoke nearly every day, since I was so eager to hear about the incredible things she did and saw. She visited the southern islands, the laid back northern region of Chiang Mai and the bustling city of Bangkok.

The pictures that she posted on Instagram were so beautiful!

Different shots of gorgeous beaches, playing with elephants and mysterious temples. Keep in mind I had never been to Asia at this point, so everything I saw further fuelled my interest to visit. I mean, who wouldn’t want to swim in turquoise, sparkling waters on secluded beaches? Who wouldn’t want to make incredible memories connecting and playing one-on-one with a rescued elephant? Who wouldn’t want to explore hidden temples that look they were ripped right out of an Uncharted or Tomb Raider game/movie?

So when we were on the plane headed to Thailand for part of our winter vacation this February, I couldn’t wait to experience all the magic that Katherine’s pictures showed.

But that’s not at all what happened.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people crowded the beaches we went to. The beach we went to was polluted, while crystal clear water could only be found along certain coasts and around certain islands. Four or five other people vied for the attention of the elephants at the sanctuary and I had to wait twenty minutes for people to move before getting a picture beside the impressive temple of Wat Pho.

Expectation vs Reality

And this is exactly what Katherine explained to me in her own pictures of her previous trip. There were tons of people behind them on the beach, but the angle and cropping made it seem like they had stumbled upon a secluded paradise. Many people played with the elephants at the same time as them, she just happened to be blocking the others from view and snagged a great picture. Based on the photos I had seen of Thailand, I had set myself up for certain expectations before even giving it a chance to show me what it had to offer.

Naturally, I was disappointed when my mental images didn’t match the ones I saw before me. It took some careful reflection to realize what had happened and learn to make the best of each and every situation put before you.

Again, this is not about whether Thailand is beautiful or not (because it DEFINITELY won me over in the end), it was a learning experience with regards to the expectations you might have from pictures you see on the internet or social media, such as Instagram.

Pictures capture unforgettable memories, but the ones you see don’t always represent the actual setting or experience of that point in time.  I just wanted to take this experience in my life and share it with you in order to hopefully remind others to always travel with an open heart and mind. Be wary of your expectations and let the moment create its own magic instead of trying to hope for something or force it out. It is true that pictures tell a thousand words, but sometimes they also hide a thousand people 😉

Have you ever been disappointed by a destination?

How did you deal with it? Let us know in the comment section below!

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Instagram Photos Ruined My Vacation

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Co-founder of travel and lifestyle blog World Abound, Jordon has a passion for discovering what the world has to offer. When he isn't on the road, he can be found on the ice playing hockey or slaying monsters in the latest video game.

4 Responses

  1. stephanie

    Great article! Most people (especially on instagram) makes ‘it’ look much better/nicer than it is….
    I remember when I arrived at Koh Phi Phi two years ago…everybody had told me how amazing the beach was….
    When I got to the beach..there was no sea…. I freaked out and thought WTF?
    Then it turned out Koh Phi Phi has tides (eb and flows)…..
    But they do not tell you that by the photo LOL.

    • World Abound

      Glad you liked the article! 🙂 Though we are probably just as guilty of making our photos look awesome, it’s definitely something we will constantly have to keep this in mind when doing travel research through Instagram.

  2. Allison

    I feel the same way so often. This recently happened to me at Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest — so hard to get a good photo because of the crowds but I felt so much pressure to take a good photo anyway! Sometimes I wish I didn’t use Instagram just so I could just enjoy the scene without trying to get that ideal photo.

    • World Abound

      Right?! However, we are glad that we learned this lesson – we will definitely manage our expectations for future travels and just try to live in the moment a little bit more instead of trying to get that ‘perfect’shot that everyone else has anyways…

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