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It’s time we learned to be less selfie-ish, says Chris Schulz.
A sunny day, a beach, a swimmer entering the water. Nothing unusual about that. I was on the grass, soaking up some sun, enjoying the scenery. I thought she was going for a swim. I was wrong.
Once knee-deep, she turned her back to the water, held her phone up in the air, flicked her hair back, angled her shoulders, pouted her lips, and took a photo. She checked it, then took another. And another. She spent at least 15 minutes doing this, flicking water in the air for one shot, turning side on and fake laughing for another.
Did she go for a swim? Of course not. Once she got the photo, she posted it, packed up her stuff and disappeared. She only made it in up to her knees.
I did swim that day, and I can confirm the water was crisp and clear. She missed out.
Of course, there’s nothing unusual about this. Selfie-takers are everywhere. Anyone who’s been travelling recently is forced to negotiate their way through throngs of them from the moment they get to the airport. They’re the ones gathered around border security, taking pics of them, their drinks and their boarding pass to boast about their impending overseas holiday.
I get it. Travelling is expensive. Heading overseas is a rare treat. If you only go once a year, you want to show off about it. Here I am on a beach in Fiji. Look at my Michelin-starred meal in Italy. Check out the Bangladesh markets I’m walking through. These can be useful: after seeing a friend’s photos from a recent trip to Sri Lanka, I’m desperate to go.
But Instagram is dictating travelling decisions just a little too much. It’s become annoying. Make it a rule: Block anyone who posts “throwback” photos to those rooftop drinks they had in Los Angeles 18 months ago when Pharrell’s bare head was in the background; likewise, unfollow anyone who posts daily photos of different angles of the Northern Lights from last year’s expedition. We get it, you spent nine days waiting to see them. What else you got?
It gets worse. Instagram travellers are doing real damage. The Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge has become so overrun with tourists that the glass is scuffed and you can no longer see through it. During poppy season in California’s Lake Elsinore, influencers have been caught promoting everything from nail polish to soup while illegally treading through delicate, protected fields of flowers to get their shot. And Joshua Tree national park’s iconic trees are now so vandalised it could take 300 years to repair. Even Miley Cyrus was caught climbing one.
It happens in New Zealand too. Apparently lengthy queues form at Roy’s Peak in Wanaka, Cathedral Cove can get busier than Auckland’s waterfront, and forget about using Kawakawa’s toilets these days — there are too many people taking selfies. It’s a toilet. Stop it. Gross.
A recent news headline asked the question: Is social media and Instagram ruining travel? I say yes. One of my favourite travel memories is spending a free day alone in Los Angeles. I got a day-trip train pass, got off at random spots, and explored them with no phone, no map. I stumbled into a pop-up Mexican market, and while I was enjoying the best enchiladas I’ve ever had, I was serenaded by a five-piece Mariachi band. I didn’t take a single photo, but I loved every minute of it. It was only later on that I discovered I’d been in an incredibly dodgy part of town. But it doesn’t matter. That’s what travel’s all about.
So put your phone away. Talk to the stranger next to you on the plane. Enjoy the view. Take the swim. That’s the real reason you should be travelling. Not to rack up a few likes. Next time you post a snap of yourself in front of Big Ben, you’ll only get a grumpy face emoji from me.