American travelers are taking to social media to vent about their trips. Experts explain how social media is affecting expectations.

A photo illustration shows a torn-up leather armchair near a palm tree on a beach.
Some Americans are not having fun abroad. (Photo illustration: Alex Cochran for Yahoo; photo: Getty Images)

It is the summer of European travel, at least according to many social media feeds, where it seems like everyone you follow is either in Paris or on Italy's Amalfi Coast.

In response, it has also become the summer of being mad at travel influencers — for hyping up far-flung destinations that, some complain, turn out to be less idyllic than said influencers made them out to be.

"Europe ain't nothing but hype," griped one TikToker, Malfoy, in June, when he went to Paris and said that everything was "ugly and smelled like pee."

Call it the global, 2023 version of Paris Syndrome — a term coined by Japanese psychiatrist Hiroaki Ota in the 1980s and referring to the extreme disappointment felt by those visiting the City of Light after arriving with sky-high expectations.

But is it fair to hold places, as displayed on curated social media posts, to such a high standard? Here, experts weigh in on the psychological impact of the latest Instagram vs. reality debate.

What people are saying online

Malfoy's post about the "hype" of Europe has received over 900,000 likes.

But there are many with a similar tone, including one in which a woman shared a video calling out "every single influencer and TikToker" who has posted about the Amalfi Coast, for not showing how "impossible" it is to reach the destination.

"First of all, it's impossible to get here. You have to fly into Naples. Then you have to take a train from Naples to Sorrento. Then you have to stand in 90-degree weather waiting for a ferry to get on a ferry with all of your luggage," said Lexi Jordan in her video, which got over 60,000 likes on TikTok and started even more travel discourse on Twitter.

Meanwhile, plenty of other content creators have been returning from European vacations only to sound off about them being devoid of AC, ice and even vegetables.

What is causing the disappointment?

It's well known that one of the biggest jobs of an influencer is to, well, influence. And experts say expecting the same experiences as those curated by creators who are paid to woo their audiences can be a recipe for disaster.

"It's an expectancy violation," Jacqueline Sperling, a clinical psychologist and faculty at Harvard Medical School and the author of Find Your Fierce: How to Put Social Anxiety in Its Place, tells Yahoo Life. 

"What you're seeing posted is what you're expecting to see or experience. And if it goes in a direction that is less pleasant than we were expecting, then that can be disappointing and frustrating," she explains.

Additionally, Sperling says, the financial and mental effort that goes into planning these trips can exacerbate pressure for travelers to have a "picture-perfect" trip.

"You've invested a lot to make it happen, and you may get there and it's not what you're hoping for. That may be very disenchanting," she says.

Sperling adds that Paris Syndrome has likely plagued travelers going anywhere in the world due to promises made even pre-social media, through glowing depictions in books, TV shows and movies leading to lofty expectations. It can all leave travelers feeling let down when their globe-trotting adventures don't mimic what they've seen on the silver screen. "It's important for people to realize that maybe what they're seeing is just a snippet that may not reflect the full picture of what actually happens," says Sperling.

Still, experts say, it is possible to utilize social media in a healthy way that enhances travel.

How to manage expectations and use social media as a travel tool

In order to enjoy social media and traveling, Sperling says, it's important to examine your relationship with the apps.

"Are you using [social media] actively or passively?" she asks, explaining that active social media use, such as sharing posts of your own, has been found to have less of a negative impact on users as compared to passive social media use, such as "scrolling through one's news feed."

She adds that passive usage can often translate into "opportunities for comparison" and suggests rating how you feel before and after using the apps to gauge whether or not you need to make changes to your social media routine.

Others say it's important to remember that people typically share only their "highlight reel" online and are careful to leave out "negative experiences," says travel agent Molly McShea.

"Pictures online don't always capture the crowds or the heat," she tells Yahoo Life, explaining that perfection is not a realistic expectation for any trip.

"That's just not travel. Travel is never perfect, but that can lead to really great adventures," says McShea.

Regarding travel logistics, she notes that social media should serve only as a preliminary guide when planning a trip — and that actual research regarding a destination's climate, culture and transportation system is imperative for a well-planned vacation. It also helps with managing expectations.

"Establishing those expectations beforehand helps people, when they actually go on the trip, to know what they're getting into," says McShea.

But keeping an open mind, she stresses, might be the best travel hack of all.

"Looking into cultural norms beforehand is definitely important," says McShea. "But also be open to learning [once you arrive]. That's the whole point of travel: to learn, and to have new experiences."

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