Budget Travel

The 'me' tourist: Social media, selfies and travel

Missing the view to get that perfect selfie? You're not alone.

Missing the view to get that perfect selfie? You're not alone.  (iStock)

When you think about travel, the word "experience" comes to mind. But it’s hard to “experience” what’s all around you when you’re spending every moment with a smartphone in front of your face.

These days, walking through Times Square in New York is like navigating a maze in constant motion. Instead of staying on a fixed path to get where you’re going, you have to weave through countless thousands of people – mostly tourists – who are either snapping photos or walking aimlessly with their heads down, looking at their phones.

And it isn’t just in hot spots like Times Square. Go to any tourist destination and you’ll see the same thing. Have people forgotten why they travel? Or has travel become less about "what" and "why" – and more about "me"?

The ‘Me’ Traveler

Now screaming from your Facebook page: “Look at me I’m standing in front of the pyramids!” “Hey, look, I’m at the Eiffel Tower!” “Bet you wish you were me!” But the pictures are like a visual checkbox that says, “Another one off the bucket list!” They barely touch on the experience.

Selfies are a big part of this, and some have become the subject of hot debate and even scorn. Take the case of National Basketball Association player Danny Green, who posted a selfie at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial with #Holocaust and LOL in the same tweet.

But Green was hardly the first, and unfortunately he won’t be the last, to post something offensive. This is what happens when a solemn site is open for tourists. Addicted to social media and self-promotion, they are seconds away from sharing their “experience” with the world, even before they stop to understand it. So let’s do our best to limit how often this happens by helping travelers understand, in a positive way, how travel changes lives for the better.

Make it About the Experience, Not You

Some of the most amazing experiences in life come when you travel to new places. They can change how you view the world, if you’re prepared to take them all in. They get captured in your psyche, not in your iPhone.

Think about why you travel and what a trip might mean to you. Understand and be sensitive to your surroundings, especially the culture of the people whose country you’ll be visiting. You’ll feel more connected to the place and its history if you take some time to learn about it and understand it before you go.

Leave it in Your Pocket

Whether it’s an amazing rainbow over Diamond Head in Hawaii or a museum that reminds you of the horrors that haunt our history, you’ll be free to take in everything around you if you leave your iPhone in your pocket. It’s like breaking an addiction, but it’s worth it. Notice the expressions of others. Be part of an experience that is unique to you and those around you at that given moment. It will happen only once. Think about what you’re seeing and how it makes you feel. You won’t need a selfie to remember it.

Travel Forward

Instead of sharing a tweet with an LOL or a hashtag that shows you standing somewhere for a moment, try sharing the feeling. Write it down, but in a notebook. Go beyond a 140-character tweet and a photograph and capture the moment in words and feelings.

Travel can be used as a metaphor to move your life forward. But if you still feel the need for that selfie, use #TravelForward and share the feelings, not just the pixels.

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Mark Murphy is a noted travel expert, author and founder of TravelPulse.com.  You can follow him on Twitter at @murphytravels.