Instagram Is the Reason I Travel

The author hiking in Zion National Park in Utah. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

In the past couple of years, there’s been a slew of groundbreaking scientific research that has found using social media can actually help you get healthier. The basic premise behind the studies is that when you announce your intention to lose weight or eat healthier on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter, you’re more likely to stick to your goals because your followers hold you accountable. In other words, if you make a public declaration that you’re going Paleo, you’re less likely to hit up a pizza place late-night because your friends are *watching you* and they’ll know what you did last summer.

But the wellness world isn’t the only place where social media can give you a much-needed swift kick in the butt. Using it while you travel can also encourage you to become a better version of yourself. Chalk it up to so-called “instamotivation,” in which you are motivated to do things you normally wouldn’t just so that you can Instagram them. And while being “in it for the Instagram” sounds narcissistic and shallow on a surface , the deeper and more meaningful truth is that the app simply gets you somewhere you may not have gone otherwise AND you’re still left with the far bigger joy of a memorable experience. Here are five times #instamotivation can and will seriously improve your vacation:

1. You will try exotic food.

One of the best parts about traveling is trying out all of the local cuisine. But while that’s pretty easy to do in countries like France (who doesn’t love bread and cheese?) it can be a lot harder to, ahem, swallow in places like Thailand, which is known for adventurous dishes such as fried cricket. In those more eek-inducing situations, I say: Do it for the gram. Everyone loves a good #WhenInRome (or wherever) photo, so make it your mission to seek out the place with the best bugs in town, order them, gram them with the caption #WhenInThailand, and try them. Your followers will live vicariously through your bravery, and you may end up actually loving them, too.

I should know. Right now, I’m in Sydney, Australia, and last night, I instamotivated my way to a restaurant called The Australian Hotel that serves kangaroo pizza. I’d heard about the place from my friend, and though I thought it was a little weird to eat kangaroo before I’d actually seen one in the wild, I knew I had to do it for the #WhenInAustralia #kangagram. And guess what? I loved it, and I’m not just saying that for the purpose of this article. I truly loved it. It was like having steak on pizza, only more chewy—and a lot more memorable.

Kangaroo pizza is absolutely delicious. (Photo: Annie Daly)

2. You go on adventures.

Another great part of traveling is doing craaaazy things that you can’t or wouldn’t do at home, like skydiving, para-sailing and zip lining. However, if jumping out of a plane that’s 12,500 feet in the air with nothing but a parachute that could hypothetically malfunction and leave you plunging to your death scares the crap out of you (raises hand), it can be hard to convince yourself to sign up. And to that I say: Think ‘gram. I’m deathly afraid of roller coasters, yet I went on one in Hershey Park in Pennsylvania with my friend solely for the ridiculous photo they give you after. I still have it to this day. I want to blow it up and frame it and give it to her for her wedding. Point is, you + any sort of apocalyptic look of doom > fear. Always.

3. You seek out sunset spots.

One of the truths that professional photographers know is that most good sunrise and sunset photos don’t happen accidentally. Rather than waiting for a sunrise or sunset to just come to them, these guys intentionally follow the sun and plant themselves in scenic locations during “magic hour”—the half hour before and after the actual sunset, when the sky paints rainbows—in order to practically guarantee an epic light photo. As a result, they often discover sweet, off-the-beaten path spots they may not have stumbled upon sans light chasing.

I worked hard for this Big Sur sunset. (Photo: Annie Daly)

Related: The Best Instagram Filter For Every Travel Experience

Traveling is a perfect time to follow their lead. Not only will you get stunning photos, you’ll get to discover and explore cool places in new areas. There’s actually a free GPS-based app that makes it easier than ever to do make it happen. It’s called “Magic Hour,” and it tells you exactly when magic hour starts and ends each day, for both sunrise and sunset. I use it whenever I travel to guarantee magic hour perfection. Right when I arrive at a new place, I ask the locals or people at the desk where the best sunrise and sunset spots are. Then, I check the app to see when magic hour begins and ends, and plan my entire day around it so I’m sure to be in the exact right place at the right time. Sounds borderline neurotic, yes, but it’s worth it. I’ve discovered tons of amazing secret spots around the globe doing so, and I’m even working on a sunset photo wall in my apartment to display all of my favorite ones.

Related: The Golden Hour in Petra—My Favorite Sunrise in the World

4. You cuddle with cute creatures.

If there is one thing Americans love more than adorable little furry animals, it’s looking at pictures of adorable little furry animals on the Internet. (I’m even surprised that someone hasn’t invented a Cat GIF detox bootcamp, because you know people would pay for that).

Related: 7 People’s Real Instagrams That Will Make You Want to Travel Right Now

In light of the Internet animal obsession, it should come as no surprise to you that I am going to recommend specifically hitting up places where you know cute animal selfies are a possibility. I went on a day trip along the Great Ocean Road in Melbourne, Australia, not only for the beach views, but also because the guides promised that we would get up close and personal with koalas and kookaburras, one of Australia’s most famous birds. They delivered on their promise.

Nevermind me. I’m just photobombing this adorable Kookaburra. (Photo: Annie Daly)

I snagged the picture above, and also met lots of cool people along the way. Similarly, I once went to a restaurant in Costa Rica because I’d heard that they had an obese pet pig. Again, I did it for the ‘gram—evidence above—and it turned out the food was delicious, too!

That’s some pig. (Photo: Annie Daly)

5. You plan more trips.

Of course the main reason to go on an adventure is for the experience. Of course. But another side effect of our Instagram nation is that it encourages people to go on adventures for the photo ops, too.

Related: Forget Selfies—Use Instagram As Your Travel Agent

My friend just returned from a trip to Thailand, and her Instagrams were amazing. The skies were blue for days, the greenery oh so green, and the water! Clear is an understatement. I wasn’t jealous when I saw her pictures, either, as many people claim to be when they cruise social media vacation shots. Rather, I was simply inspired. Motivated. I wanted to see those skies! I wanted take pictures of those clear blue waves, too! So much so, in fact, that Thailand is now at the top of my travel bucket list.

The wanderlust lesson here is this: The thrill of a good post can be enough to drive travelers to engage in activities they may not have had the guts or know-how to do otherwise. Just be sure to put your phone down after you document the event so you can enjoy the rest of the experience to the fullest.

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