Forget Selfies, Use Instagram as Your Travel Agent

Annie Daly swears that Instagram makes her a savvier traveler. (Photo: Instagram)

There are a thousand and one reasons to love Instagram. You get to see what your friends are up to, you get to make fun of what they’re up to, and of course, you get to have fun with filters all day long. But there’s another lesser-known reason to love the app, too, and it has nothing to do with your Valencia obsession: It’s actually a great travel guide.

Wait, what?!

Instagram, home to cat selfies, blurry Friday-night photos, strategically posed bacon and your ex-boyfriend staring off into the horizon, is actually the new Trip Advisor? Yup. Allow me to introduce you to so-called instatourism, in which you use the popular photo-sharing app as a tool to up your vacation game big time. Here’s how:

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1. Find The Best Local Spots—In Real Time

Sure, Yelp has tons of reviews that claim that Sunny’s Roadside Diner has the best waffle fries in all six of your surrounding zip codes. And, yes, Trip Advisor will kindly inform you that you just have to hit up the Coral Reef Café, because it’s been around since 1954 and how else do you expect to hear one of Dotty the red-haired waitress’ impromptu renditions of “Margaritaville.” But, you can also find similar, if not better, recommendations on Instagram. All you have to do is search the geotag or the hashtag or the Instagram handle of wherever you are, and see what keeps popping up.

Example: Say you’re in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. You can either click through the “Santo Domingo” geotag, cruise through the #SantoDomingo hashtag, or, if you’re staying at a resort or hostel, search through its Instagram handle. Whichever way you choose to creep, you’ll find a wealth of information right there in your feed. If tons of people are posting pics of this one beach, for instance, and hashtagging their pics with phrases like #hiddengem and #bestwavesever and #blessed, then you kind of need to find that beach STAT to see what all of the fuss is about, no? Or maybe everyone’s posting from this one restaurant that happens to be giving away three-for-one drink specials and a side of free tostones from 4 to 8 PM every night this week. Behold: Your next dinner spot…found in your, uh, feed.

2. Meet Like-Minded People On Your Own

Back in August, I went camping with my older brother, Tom, at Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur, California. We’re both into photography, and we decided to plan our entire trip around the sun to guarantee that we documented the sweetest light. To take our plan to the extreme, we scoped both the Andrew Molera State Park geotag and all of the #bigsur and #bigsursunset hashtags on Instagram, and discovered that everyone seemed to be posting sunset pictures from this one rock off the main hiking trail. We went looking for that rock on our first night, and when we got there, there were tons of other photographers around with their cameras, ready to record the beauty just as we were. Talk about finding kindred spirits!

Hunting down the perfect sunset on your smart phone. (Photo: Instagram - Mephisto_Philes)

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Tom and I ended up chatting with one photographer in particular, and after we’d all taken about 200 sunset photos each (no exaggeration), we invited our new friend back to our campsite to hang. He accepted our offer, brought his three other friends with him, and the six of us ended up having an amazing, star-filled, red-wine-infused night. Moral: Instagram can be a great tool to meet like-minded people you may not have met otherwise.

3. Meet Like-Minded People Through an Organized “InstaMeet”

You’ve probably heard of, the company that organizes free get-togethers in your area so you can meet up with people who want to do similar stuff. One of the gatherings they arrange, called an “InstaMeet,” is specifically set up to connect Instagrammers so they can get together and take pictures of the local area. There are 1,982 Instagram communities in the world—everywhere from Amsterdam to Melbourne to Hong Kong—meaning it’s likely that there’s an InstaMeet close to where you are. To sign up for one, go to the website, find the community closest to your destination, and click on it to see when the next meetup is. Then, you can either join the area’s Instagram community on the website, meaning you get email updates and whatnot, or you can just show up as a one-time thing. Or, if you’re really feeling it, plan your entire trip around a future InstaMeet of your choosing.

Plan your next trip around your next pictures. (Photo:

4. Score Free Stuff

Start following local restaurants and businesses in your destination, because many hold Instagram contests where they give out free stuff. All you have to do is find some popular places on Google, go to their website to find their Instagram handle, and follow away. A coffee shop, for example, may post a picture of their latte of the day, and write, “First ten people to like this photo get a free coffee!” I once scored free concert tickets in New York because I follow my local record shop, and they just happened to post a picture where they said: “First two people to come into the store get two free tickets to Tom Petty tonight!” My brother and I bolted there ASAP, and the rest is history. Many boutique fitness brands do this, too, and offer free classes as the reward. A yoga studio in Denver, for instance, may write something like, “Post a picture of yourself doing yoga in public, hashtag it with the caption #stopdropandyogadenver,” and we’ll post our favorite photo tomorrow. Winner gets a free class!” That’s an offer worth bending over backwards for.

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5. Go On Better Dates

If there’s one thing most travelers have in common, it’s that we all love to talk about our travels with other travelers.

Is there a better way to start a relationship that a common love of travel? (Photo: Glimpse)

Enter Glimpse, a new dating and friendship app synched to your Instagram account that lets you do just that.

Here’s how it works: Glimpse, which launched in April, shows you each user’s nine favorite Instagram photos. Then, similar to other dating apps like Tinder and Hinge, it gives you the option to swipe yes or no and chat—only you’re basing your decisions on telling Insta shots, not on head shots. A couple weeks ago, Glimpse added a new feature where they will specifically match you up with someone who has a picture with the same geotag. To go back to the Santo Domingo example, then, Glimpse may match you up with someone who also grammed a pic of those killer epic waves! So just imagine: Instead of asking your first dates about their siblings and/or preferred happy hour bar of choice (#playedout), you could talk about how amazing those waves were, where you went after that, and the list goes on. Ice = broken. Boom.

So there you have it. The secret to upgrading your vacation may be as simple as scrolling down on Instagram.

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