Don't blame Instagram for destroying travel – it's our fault

It's so easy to blame social media for travel's current malaise. Damn the 'Gram, you could say, for the fact destinations are so crowded now and everyone's so annoying and nothing seems undiscovered anymore. Easy.

You could look to all the bikini-clad influencers and the people posing for photos while holding onto the photographer's hand and turning back towards the camera and think, you guys are stuffing this whole thing up. You could consider the stupendous popularity of previously unheard-of sights like "That Wanaka Tree" – #thatwanakatree – in New Zealand and complain that the whole travel world has gone crazy.

You could stand around at any tourist site across the globe, in fact, and stare at the inevitable crowds of tourists taking selfie after selfie, posing ridiculously for shots that are clearly being set up purely for the eyes of Instagram and think, travel is being ruined. All because of an app.

And you could have a point. Social media has changed the travel game. It's altered where we go and what we do when we get there. It's brought sometimes unwanted popularity to previously peaceful places (remember lovely Hyams Beach? Now it needs traffic controllers). And it's filled the travel world with gurning, selfie-taking idiots who always seem to be in your way.

So yes, you could blame Instagram for travel's ills. But let's be honest here. The problem isn't really an app on your phone. It's us.

Instagram is a bit like Donald Trump: it's the symptom, not the disease. It's a reflection of where we are right now as a society – and what we see in the mirror is apparently not all that comforting. Easier, then, to blame the mirror.

It's become fashionable to accuse Instagram and those who make a living from posting on the app of ruining travel, because it never used to be like this. There weren't so many people in all the same places. Selfies weren't a thing. Destinations weren't so microscopically focused as to have crowds of people chasing the exact same photograph.

But this is just a new spin on something that has been happening since tourism began. There have always been tastemakers in the travel sphere. Lonely Planet, for example, has been doing it since 1972. Travellers have been taking their cues from other people, for better or worse, forever.

The problems have always been the same. We always used to complain about the restaurants that would be full because they'd got a mention in the Lonely Planet. Or the hostels that had basically stopped even trying because they had earned that magic inclusion in the "bible" and could sit back and do nothing for the next two years and the backpackers would pile in anyway.

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Travellers look to others for guidance and inspiration. It's just that the source has now changed. And, far more importantly, the volume of us doing it has changed. There are just so many of us out there now, so many, in fact, that the worst of human behaviours are obviously going to be on show, just as much as the best.

Instagram isn't ruining travel. We are. Yes, we might be using the app in order to do that, but still, the problem is us. The people mindlessly lining up for the same photo; the diners all ordering the same dish; the travellers inundating the same beach. That's our fault.

If anything, this is a handy wake-up call. It should act as inspiration to put your phone down, to get away from the popular places and discover your own influencer-free slices of heaven.

It's actually pretty easy. Take Wanaka, for example. You know where That Wanaka Tree is, and you know the shoreline nearby will be rammed with influencers and amateur photographers every dusk and dawn. You know, too, that people will be queuing – literally queuing – to have their photo taken at the top of nearby Roys Peak, overlooking the lake, at pretty much all points of the day.

So, don't go there. The area around Wanaka is littered with spectacular viewpoints and quirky natural features. Get out and find them. Take a chance.

That, admittedly, might lead to a day when you don't find anything of particular interest, but the joy is supposed to be in the searching here, rather than the discovery. The idea is to make travel less goal-oriented, less focused on getting that great shot, and more about the pure experience of it all.

Try restaurants you've never heard of. Wander backstreets that haven't already been captured and hashtagged. Visit cities and even countries that just aren't even popular right now.

Or, of course, don't. But don't blame an app on your phone when your destination feels too crowded.

See also: The one reason being a backpacker now is much better than 20 years ago

See also: The freedoms Europeans have that 'uncivilised' Australians don't

Do you think Instagram is to blame for overcrowding? Is the app ruining travel? Or is the behaviour of travellers to blame?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram (irony noted): instagram.com/bengroundwater

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