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Travel on Instagram — Real or Staged?

We may not invite relatives over to sit through a film reel or slideshow anymore, but sharing travel photos still has the same thrill. Today, it’s as easy as snapping a shot with your smartphone and submitting it to social media. The “travel” hashtag of Instagram reveals over 19 million posts of vacationers posing at historic landmarks, tasting street food, and hopping on planes.

But while the process looks effortless, vacation photos are serious business. In fact, celebrities have been known to hire professional photographers to capture that perfect moment to share across their social networks. And for those of us who can’t hire our own paparazzi, taking the right photo can be an art form. 

On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, I had a horrible time kayaking. The guides were great, the atmosphere was beautiful, and as it turns out, kayaking is not my thing. I wasn’t dressed right for getting into the boat, I’m totally uncoordinated, and my husband and I were not displaying our best teamwork. Regardless, I managed to push two boats together at the edge of the dock and snap a serene shot for the folks back home:

Travel on Instagram — Real or Staged?

(Photo: Annemarie Dooling)

Travel writer Christine Amorose, who boasts 29,000 followers on her C’est Christine Instagram account, knows those pains well. “Overall, I do try to be authentic in the photos I post; those really are the places I’m going, the things I’m doing, and certainly the food I’m eating,” she says. “But I will often set an alarm to wake up at sunrise expressly to take a few photos for Instagram — and then go straight back to bed.”

So why do we stage our travel moments? “There’s been a lot of talk about using social media to show off a person’s ‘best self,’ and while I understand the phenomenon, I don’t necessarily adhere to it myself,” said Joseph Hernandez, a Wine Enthusiast editor and food writer who has gained a following for photos of his meals, and who thinks the trend can be simplified to basic aesthetics. “For me and my photos, sometimes I just want a picture to look a certain way. I don’t need people to necessarily drool over my photos.” 

Check out these Instagrams from the road — and the real stories behind them. 

bali instagram

"I knew these Balinese women were going to walk through this rice paddy eventually, but because they were having a religious ceremony, I couldn’t ask them to do it. So, I waited them out for like an hour in the scorching tropical heat until they made the move." — travel writer Megan Snedden

yoga on instagram

“I had four mosquitos enjoying dinner on various parts of my body, including my backside, while I was trying to be all ‘ommmmmm.’ Other than that, the Farm to Yoga class was divine. Next time I’ll bring bug spray.” — Yahoo Travel managing editor Jo Piazza


instagram  chicago

"My friends and I were enjoying an alfresco hang at Parson’s Chicken & Fish in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. The server brought out our food while my friends were filling their glasses with rosé. That’s when I noticed my friend Wendy’s fingernails and loved the contrast against all the other colors on the table. When the server left (so I wouldn’t embarrass myself), I asked my friends to reach out for their glasses again. I love this photo for feeling ‘lived in’ and relaxed, which is exactly how I feel when I’m home in Chicago." — Wine Enthusiast editor and food writer Joseph Hernandez

instagram purto rico

"That photo was taken on Christmas morning at a Caribe Playa in Puerto Rico. I forced my non-Instagram-loving, not-a-morning-person friend to take about a million photos on my iPhone to get the light and position right (aka flat stomach, skinny arm, etc.) as soon as she woke up. I ended up spilling hot coffee all over that (brand-new) bikini and having to throw it out. And it actually started thunderstorming later that morning — tried to make those clouds look as non-ominous as possible. But hey, it looks like it was the perfect casual and tropical Christmas morning, right?" — travel writer Christine Amoroseimage"I probably took the photo 25 times at various heights, but couldn’t get the right height to make it look good. I ended up kneeling on the stool over the table, looking crazy while making Brandon (my boyfriend / java chip frap drinker) hold his hand there and not drink, till I got an angle I liked. But hey, even he agreed the picture looked pretty exciting for a domestic flight home!" — Travel writer Ashley Hufford

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