Liked To Death: Is Instagram & Social Media Ruining Travel?

Instagram and Social Media Travel Impact
Is Social Media Ruining the Travel Experience?
Travel Photography

The massive growth of Instagram, social media, and travel blogs in recent years has had a profound impact on how we travel. Not all of it positive. Has travel changed forever?

As someone who makes a living as a travel blogger and photographer, inspiring others to travel, this topic has been on my mind a lot lately.

Over the last 9 years I’ve witnessed first-hand how travel destinations have become overwhelmed by tourists and Instagram selfie-seekers, many of whom seem to be destroying the places they visit.

In fact, I’m part of the problem. And I don’t know how I feel about that.

As you’ll see below, this is a multi-faceted issue, with many different components involved. Social media isn’t the only culprit.

But how do we fix it? Is it even possible, or are we too late?

Tourists at Tulum in Mexico
Overcrowding at Famous Destinations

Overtourism Is A Problem

Tourism helps drive local economies, and countries spend a great deal of time and money attracting travelers to their destinations for that very reason.

But there can also be too much of a good thing. The phenomenon is called “overtourism”, and it’s beginning to take a toll on local communities, and even entire countries.

Tourism helped save Iceland after its 2008 financial crisis. But now many residents have had enough. Since 2010, the number of visitors has more than quadrupled — putting a ton of strain on infrastructure and the environment.

Just 800 people visited Norway’s picturesque Trolltunga “Troll’s Tongue” viewpoint in 2010, while 80,000 people made the hike in 2016. This massive surge of tourism (and rescue missions for those unprepared for the 10 hour trek) was fueled in a large part by social media.

Recent protests in Venice and Barcelona showcase what unchecked tourism is doing to these popular European cities. Neighborhoods become too expensive for locals as investors buy up apartments to rent out to tourists.

More People Are Traveling

Over the past 10 years tourism in general has surged, driven by a rising middle class around the world. This is especially true for emerging economies like China and India.

With more disposable income to spend, millions of new travelers are hitting the road and collecting photos for their Instagram feeds.

Travel has become more affordable and accessible too, with budget airlines like WOW Air and alternative accommodation options like Airbnb.

Studies have shown that Millennials prioritize experiences over possessions, and 72% of millennials say they are planning to travel more, compared with 59% of Gen Xers and 40% of Baby Boomers.

Travel is just hot right now. While the world saw 500 million international travelers in 1995, it has swelled to a massive 1.3 billion tourists in 2017 — and is growing even faster.

For those of us who’ve been promoting the benefits of travel, hey it’s actually working! But there have been consequences…

Many of these new travelers are visiting the same handful of destinations, creating some massive issues with overcrowding. The tourist experience itself is deteriorating due to long lines and a lack of patience.

Social Media and Travel
Social Media Influences People

The Power Of Social Media

If you still don’t think social media has the power to influence people, you’ve got some catching up to do. A new report by Fullscreen & Shareablee shows just how powerful it is.

“Almost half (42%) of 18-34 report trying a product recommended by an influencer, and more than one-quarter (26%) say they have actually made a purchase based on a recommendation.”

Another study by the University of Georgia highlights the “bandwagon effect” and the “snob effect” that social media has on travel.

Some people choose their destinations based on what’s currently trending, while others try to be “cool” by picking destinations that aren’t as popular. Either way, social media is influencing their decisions.

I personally found this study interesting, because I try to do a combination of these two things as a strategy for my business. Highlighting a mix of popular and “undiscovered” places. LOL!

The town of Wanaka, New Zealand saw a massive 14% increase in tourism to its region when it focused on inviting social media influencers to visit, far surpassing traditional marketing methods.

Social media is very effective at inspiring people to purchase plane tickets, book hotels, and visit the same locations as the influencers they follow.

The Culture of Selfie Photos
Just Taking a Shark Selfie to Show Off…

Selfish Selfie Culture

When the crusaders reached Jerusalem, they visited the tomb of Jesus at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and proceeded to carve graffiti into the walls in order to say “I was here.”

Humans have always been a selfish bunch. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is the tools we use to feed our narcissism.

In the 12th century, it was a medieval dagger. In the 1980’s, it was polaroid cameras and those agonizing family slideshows full of bad travel snapshots.

Just check out photographer Martin Parr’s 1990’s coffee table book Small World if you need reminding what tourism was like before Facebook.

These days, we’re simply using Instagram, Facebook, and selfie-sticks to more effectively indulge in our narcissism, and to a larger audience.

Look at me! I’m so worldly & cultured, right? Like & comment if you agree!

We have to make our mark somehow, to feed those egotistical tendencies — and carving graffiti with daggers is no longer allowed.

Travel as a Bucket List
Chichen Itza? Check!

A Checklist Mentality

Famous places are famous for a reason. They’re beautiful. Or strange. They have historic or cultural value. You’ll probably want to see them for yourself, and take a photo, just like countless others before you.

This isn’t new to Instagram. As someone who was shooting travel photos before Instagram was a thing, just look at any postcard rack and you’ll see many of the same famous locations on display.

People have been holding up the Leaning Tower Of Pisa for 30+ years.

The only difference is that our travel photos are public now. No longer hidden away in family photo albums.

Instagram has become a publicly accessible bucket-list of places you NEED to visit, fueling a FOMO (fear of missing out) attitude. We’re trying too hard to impress everyone with our list.

Taj Mahal? Chichen Itza? Great Wall Of China?

Been there, done that. Got the t-shirt (and Instagram photo) to prove it.

A post shared by Insta Repeat (@insta_repeat) on

The Algorithm

Instagram’s algorithm pushes certain types of images to the top of your feed because they naturally get the most attention. Epic landscapes. Colorful sunsets. Famous attractions. Bikini bottoms on white sand beaches.

Even if you want to see other kinds of photography, the algorithm makes it difficult, because those images get buried at the bottom of your feed.

While you can certainly ignore the algorithm, and post whatever the hell you want, those photos most likely won’t be seen by your followers.

So people who are trying to “make it big” on Instagram and get the most likes and followers — keep posting the same damn things over and over again, because they work.

It’s a vicious cycle that leads to the repetition of un-inspiring images that you’ve already seen 100 times before.

Photography Statistics
Photography is Booming! (Source: Statista)

Everyone’s A Photographer Now

The hobby of photography has grown exponentially over the past few years with technology like digital cameras, smartphones, and online storage and sharing of images through social media.

This means there are simply far more photos of everything now.

It’s estimated that 1.2 trillion digital photos were taken in 2017.

Photography has become more accessible to more people. Everyone and their grandmother is attempting to jockey into position for a memorable shot with their iPhone, iPad, or travel camera.

Countless professionals and non-professionals are sharing free photography how-to YouTube videos online. More of us are getting excited about photography than ever before!

Which is great — as long as we’re following the rules, and not causing a nuisance for others.

Unfortunately, with so many new enthusiasts, there’s a lot of ignorance about common photography etiquette too.

For example, walking directly into other people’s shots, or taking too long to capture a photo when there’s a line of others waiting their turn.

Posing with Lava in Hawaii
Not Illegal, But Not The Smartest Thing I’ve Done…

Destructive Human Nature

While the rise of Instagram and social media has certainly contributed to the problems, we can’t discount the powerful effects of human nature, ignorance, and our tendency to trash the environment.

Social media has just amplified these consequences to new levels.

When a small sunflower farm in Canada was overwhelmed with visitors due to Instagram, police were called in to shut down the roads and protect the farm from further destruction.

When two women began arguing over a photo-op at Italy’s most famous fountain, it soon escalated into a violent brawl.

Members of a popular group of YouTube/Instagram stars who were jailed for breaking multiple laws in pursuit of fame tragically died while attempting more stunts.

But this has been happening before Instagram too. For years people have been climbing Mount Everest, risking death for bragging rights, all while destroying the mountain with trash and human waste.

Travel Influencers and Money
Make Money – Make Money, Money

Travel Influencers & Money

The “Rick Steves Effect“. The “Lonely Planet Effect”. Even National Geographic. The ability to make a profit through travel writing and photography has always had both positive and negative outcomes.

Introducing millions of people to a new place and inspiring them to visit can inject a lot of money into a region. It can create new jobs for locals. It can broaden the minds of travelers who make the journey.

But it can also wreak havoc and chaos if the destination isn’t ready for the onslaught of tourism that follows.

The internet broke down barriers to entry into this world, allowing anyone to become a travel photographer, travel writer, or YouTube video host.

It’s how I got started 9 years ago creating this travel blog — chasing a dream, with no professional training.

As the world consumed more news and entertainment online, advertising dollars followed. Myself and many others have been able to make a good living sharing our travel adventures via social media.

Would you believe I’m able to charge up to $4000 for a single Instagram photo? Or $15,000 for a destination marketing campaign? Others with more reach can earn even more…

Suddenly, getting the perfect photo isn’t just a hobby, it’s a job. And more people become fixated on chasing dollar signs than having a real travel experience.

Iceland Plane Crash
Iceland Before the Crowds

Yes, I’m Part Of The Problem

I’m fully aware of the irony of being a tourist myself, complaining about other tourists. And the further irony that I’m making a living doing it in the process.

While helping to promote these destinations to a wide audience as part of my business, they eventually get overwhelmed.

I’m not so egotistical to think that my content alone created these problems, but I certainly share some of the blame.

Example #1

Back in 2014 I traveled to Iceland for the first time, renting a campervan and driving the country’s Ring Road. I wrote an article about my experience, which has been read over a million times by other travelers.

One location I mentioned was completely altered after my visit. Due to a surge of disrespectful tourists, the Sólheimasandur airplane trail was closed down to vehicles and the plane itself was wrecked by graffiti.

Example #2

Back in 2013 I visited a special monastery in Thailand where monks would give you a traditional Sak Yant tattoo, etched by hand, in exchange for a $3 donation. Filled with locals, and a few tourists, the experience was very authentic and cool.

However after word got around and the activity became super popular, the site turned into a gimmicky tattoo factory, with regular dudes doing the work (no longer monks), and charging upwards of $120 USD.

So What’s The Solution?

Do travelers with “influence” need to be more careful about what they share online? Or will no location remain pristine and undiscovered for long, regardless of what we do?

Do governments need to do a better job managing their tourists, spending more money on enforcing laws, permit systems, sustainability, and infrastructure — rather than tourism marketing?

Or are we just undergoing an unstoppable change in how the world travels — due to a combination of population growth, a rising worldwide middle class, and our already narcissistic nature combined with social media?

I really don’t know. Maybe there isn’t a solution. But I’m hoping that together we can at least acknowledge that there’s something troubling going on, and maybe try to do our own small part to make a difference.

  • Pick up some trash on your next adventure.
  • Observe posted signs and local customs.
  • Read up on travel photography etiquette.
  • Put down your camera from time to time.
  • Shame & report those who aren’t following rules.
  • Learn more about the people and places you visit.
  • Don’t treat travel as a competition or checklist.
  • Be aware your actions may have negative consequences.

If you agree that something needs to change, please share this article. Awareness and discussion are the first steps!

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Is Instagram & Social Media Ruining Travel? A look at what's causing overcrowding and bad behavior. More at
Is Instagram & Social Media Ruining Travel? A look at what's causing overcrowding and bad behavior. More at


I hope you enjoyed my story about the impact of social media & photography on travel! Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

Do you think Instagram & social media is ruining travel? Can you share any additional examples? Drop me a message in the comments below!


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
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Comments (70)

  1. I’m way late on this article obviously, but I just have to say, today I had an unfortunate experience that completely validated this problem for me. I went to an location in Arizona, devils bridge trail, which was unbeknownst to me solely a place for an Instagram photo opp. I’m not a big instagrammer I just lime hiking and nature so I wasn’t aware of the hype that surrounded this spot. I had seen photos but I thought it was just a nice hike with some scenery on the way. The parking lot was full people are parked on the street. I later read that a couple arrived at 6:15 am and there was still a wait to get in. We went at 9 am in a Tuesday. And it was packed. As it turns out when you get to the top of the 2ish mike trail there is just a long line of people, over an hour wait, the line is for people waiting in line so they can take the exact same conceded self centered photo as everyone else does and post it in social media. Like it’s Disney world or something. The photo they take where they are the only ones standing on the natural bridge. So it gives this obviously false perception like they’re adventurous and going on this hike completely wild and free and alone. This is all fake I now know if I ever see those photos on Instagram. I wasn’t aware this was a even a line to take a photo, I didn’t even think it was a line, everyone was just standing around in no order that I could see. So I just slowly walked around some people to get a better view of the bridge, not to take a photo myself, not to walk on the bridge, however people perceived this as me “cutting the line” which was not my intention, I promise, I was just unaware, and if someone had told me nicely this was a line I would have said oh I am sorry and realized my mistake. I also would have explained I wasn’t intentionally trying to cut or offend anyone because that’s just not me. Instead the situation escalated rather quickly, they all became mad at me at thinking I was ruining their chance at an Instagram photo. Thinking I was going to get there first. I was met with rude sarcastic comments, yelling from mostly millennial aged people but people of all ages saying how did I not know this was a line to do a photo opp, and what did I think they were all up there for, looking the scenery? They talked trash about me within ear shot but not to my face, just like a bunch of highschool students. All this anger over getting a photo for social media. The whole situation put a bitter taste in my mouth. I agree maybe I should have been more aware but I really had no idea. I apologized and explained to no one in particular this was my first time there and I wasn’t aware. Even that wasn’t enough to keep them from mumbling angrily under their breath. I immediately left after that, after the ‘angry mob of perfect photo seeking instagrammers’ chased me down the mountain. If they had been holding tomatoes they would have thrown them at me. All this immediately took away the allure of the place and took away from the beautiful scenery. It made it all seem fake and staged. Now I will always think of that when I think of that trail. And I wouldn’t have gone in the first place if I had known. And it left me feeling bad about myself as well. People care more about getting their Instagram shots than being good or at least half way decent or polite people. That is sad to me. On top of that the bridge they were waiting to walk out on is dangerous and narrow, and falling off of it could potentially happen. And with all the people going there I am sure it could one day and they will have to close the area down and regulate it. The trash is throughout the trail. People’s masks. For this reason I was disappointed in humanity, decided I was fed up over repetitive copy-cat Instagram photo shoots and found your article. I also realize now I too have contributed to the problem by posting photos on social media that are geotagged. I feel like this entire over crowded situation was due to people all trying to get the same cool photo and now I understand the repercussions of social media more than ever. I won’t be doing that anymore. If this is what people do to each other and themselves over Instagram photos… it’s not worth it.

  2. Completely agree and yes you are part of the problem. Went to Spain in off-season and it made no difference. !0 years ago Parc Guell was just a nice park. Now every narcissist with a selfie stick had to take 10 minutes modeling to get the perfect shot at all the best vantage points. It was the same everywhere I went. Some people carried a cell phone in front of their face at every Alcazar and monument. So why not just stay home and look at these places on YouTube since you’re not really seeing them. Don’t people realize few other people really care about their photos and just see them as what they are: A pathetic cry for validation? I can’t stand most blogs because the noteworthy place I want to see if blocked by a human.

  3. IMO:
    From a traveller’s perspective, overcrowding doesn’t bother me much.
    1) The Earth is huge. There’s a ton of places I’ve wanted to visit. If anything, overcrowding in certain areas helps me cross those off and narrow it down to others! I used to really want to visit certain classic places in Western Europe, now I’m more interested in others like Eastern Europe or South America or Canada or Alaska etc. Does that bother me? Nope!
    2) Surely travelers wishing to escape the crowds will go to less developed locations that haven’t historically been well-visited and lift communities with tourism dollars that wouldn’t have had them otherwise.
    3) With appropriate planning and research (perhaps with the exception of very small cities, I’ve always found you can beat the crowds. Take Antelope Canyon, the poster child for the beautiful now-selfie trap. There are slot canyons that beautiful and more so ALL over the state of Utah. And they’re way more fun! It takes some research, but that’s part of the fun! And that leads me to…
    4) Knowing how bad overcrowding can be makes it all the more satisfying when you have something beautiful to yourself! Haha.
    Also, I really have trouble believing that anyone travels just for the photos and the likes – all you know about a selfie-taker’s trip is that one moment. Everyone gets excited when they see something famous, and the peer pressure from everyone else doing it adds value to the prospect of taking a selfie as well. But maybe that’s me looking through too rosy of glasses. And even if they are traveling purely narcissistically? Well, their narcissism is their problem not mine!
    It usually doesn’t sit quite right with me when tourists complain about other tourists (besides obvious things like rudeness, etc) bc travel styles can vary so much, and just because I may not not think someone is “traveling right” by taking a selfie doesn’t mean anything. It’s their vacation not mine.
    Thats the selfish perspective. My heart goes out to locals who have experienced damaging changes to their hometowns, especially if it results in lowered quality of life. I think it’s up to each individual place to create permits/visitor limits. Even though the responsibility to travel sustainably lies within each of us, these highly desirable places should also seize the opportunity of mass engagement as education opportunities to help out with local knowledge. But, like you said, the population is growing and mass amounts of people are becoming wealthy enough to travel the world. I’m sure everyone reading this knows the benefits travel brings to the soul, so more travel has at least one good side that can’t be ignored! And I agree with your suggestions and with everyone else that cruise ships suck.

  4. Hi, Thanks for post. I actually used it in my post as a reference while disseminating selfie culture as psychological and social problem. Insta-travel is one of the tools now for impression management. You, me and probably some small % of population travel for experience, but majority indeed does it to feed narcissism and boost low self-esteem. Had horrible experience in recent years in places like Greece, Spain or Italy and learnt simply to go for trips outside season – I don’t care about the perfect weather, temperature or opened restaurants and I don’t mind travelling with retirees who by the way often make excellent companions.
    Anyway, thanks for disseminating the problem. You are right the solution is not simple but I have noticed that many high touristic places started to introduce successfully camera/phone camera bans – I think this is one of the immediate solutions that could work well.

  5. Hi Matthew,
    Thanks for the post, as someone who has traveled since I was a baby out of necessity (immigrant family), I have noticed the huge change, especially in recent years. For me, it’s not so much the amount of people traveling and touring different countries but more so about the way they do it.
    Chinese tourists and Indian tourists have lately become the biggest culprit of being unprepared travelers and make it difficult for everyone. Of course, they’re not the only to blame. I’ve seen countless tourists ruining the experience not by just being present, but by the way they’re going about it. For example, I live in Portland, OR and a slew of famous hikes and waterfalls that require hiking boots and day packs to traverse are now inundated and I mean INUNDATED by tourists with flip flops and high heels who are trying to climb these hills so they can take instagram pictures. Thus holding up the weekend warriors who actually live in Portland and want to get a good hike in for the weekend. A hike that should have taken one hour took almost three because of the line of people on the trail and the moronic parents who brought their three year old children in flip flops. People need to be prepared and do their research. No stopping in the middle of the trail for a selfie, you can cause a collision and people can get hurt. That’s just one example but it’s the same for every other landmark. Take your picture out of the way and move on. Our forests are beautiful, I don’t blame people for visiting but be prepared. Wear the right footwear and mind the space you take up. You’re not the only person who wants a picture or the experience.

    I just wish people would be mindful. You can tour the world, just don’t be an asshole about it.

  6. This bullshit of seeing everything about a country before traveling and not being somewhat surprised when your there has got to stop. I like the fact you see yourself a little bit but you still do it anyway which is weird. You show off yourself having money and free time to travel no special talent needed, and again you show off anyway, ruined and ruining the natural beauty of these places so you can show off to the people you complain about now. Hawaii suffered this, Iceland is suffering this, soon to turn into hawaii. It was better back then because atleast people weren’t doing it for their phones but for the present moment feeling. Drop your phone or camera dude and stop being a narcissist

    • I enjoy inspiring other people to travel through stories and photos. It’s also how I make my living now. It wasn’t always — but it’s become that.

      There’s an internal dilemma for sure, but it isn’t so easy to just “stop”.

      Photography is my passion. So do I keep shooting images, but not share them with others? That’s like playing an instrument by yourself. Sharing your work with others is part of the fun.

      The conversation is also a bit one-sided when I put myself out there in public like this. What’s your job? I’m sure I could find a moral/ethical problem with it too. Could you just stop even if I pointed one out?

  7. I’m not a travel blogger, and my influence is very limited. But I’ve visited some pristine places that I would simply hate to see flooded with tourists. So it’s simple (while selfish) I shut up about it. I said I had a great time and avoid giving locations, even to friends.
    For example, there is a place in Japan that I love and that is mostly frequented by Japanese tourist (but they are few). I went to the onsen and people were really curious as about why a foreigner would be there. It was a nice experience and that place is definitely not ready for mass tourism. But yesterday a travel instagramer posted videos of the onsen and disclosed the location. My skin litteraly crawled when I saw that. Same with the small Taiwanese beach i used to go to when I wanted to escape from Hong Kong.
    It falls under the leave no trace principle for me. You might ruin people’s lives and usual retreats by doing that, and don’t start me on the environmental damage tourist can cause…
    Iceland became a Disney park with buses and queues everywhere in the south… Lisboa is becoming a giant open bar… People can’t afford living in my city because of airbnb and other tourist locations.
    So to all travel bloggers and writers, really if you love a place, take beautiful shots, give a few tips to help others getting around, but also do it a favor and keep the exact location a secret. It will have even more value for those who find it by chance and a real will to explore.

  8. This is an interesting topic for sure! It is also concerning when a place becomes reliant on tourism and then the tourism dollar dries up (like Egypt for example). I always respected Lonely Planet when they made a conscious decision not to promote a place…. And this is why. Maybe the industry needs to do some self-governing..but how and who is the question. Sigh..thanks for making the brain juice flow this morning.

    • That’s a good point too Heather. A location might get pumped up so much that the whole economy is reliant on the tourism, then something happens that wipes it all out in a heartbeat.

      I mean that risk is there with any business, but a local community relying too much on tourism is also a bad thing. I can’t imagine what will happen when air travel starts to become super expensive with carbon taxes in the future… there will be a drastic reduction in tourism worldwide is my guess.

  9. Great article Matthew, I have an upcoming article on the same subject…after returning from Rome and seeing the same thing. I got up very early to get the shots I wanted because any later and it was impossible….3 levels of crowds between you and the Trevi fountain…not my idea of a fun time.There was even a neighborhood that had a sign out in front of the residence that said “our neighborhood is not a tourist destination…we live here” (or something along those lines).

    I believe it all boils down to respect and consideration – you know, those things we learned in kindergarten. As always, change will begin and build with us.

    This “trend” reminds me of camping when I was young. We did it in tents and away from the popular “car camping” destinations. We always said, if you can only reach it by car…don’t go. Although, now that I’m older I understand the other side of that coin as well. Better a little nature, than none at all, I suppose.

    Still, even back then, as camping got more popular, the lakes and streams collected more human trash that was tossed rather than packed out. And, like you said in your article, many people don’t know what they are looking at (from a historical perspective)…so, I think, they miss out on a big part of the experience.

    Travel is still important – it has the ability to expand our minds and our viewpoints…bringing people closer together as we realize we are really not all that different after all. I remain hopeful that as we grow to appreciate our world and the people who occupy it, we will also grow in our care and nurturing of it as well.

  10. Yes, I’m discovering the algorithm problem too. As a sustainable travel blogger who tries to advocate the experience over the specific destination, or alternative destinations, or curious things over recognisable sights, I do find the algorithm doesn’t favour images it doesn’t already know are similar to popular ones. I know it’s not the content itself because engagement is high among those it reached. It just doesn’t reach very far.

  11. Awesome article and it is really difficult to know what the best solution is. Without getting all political I think a lot of the problems stem from how governments see our environment. 99% of decisions are made from an economic standpoint without thinking about the impacts on the environment and society.

    When people see governments disrespecting natural environments it’s hardly setting a good example for people travelling to some of the most delicate parts of the world.

    Obviously people should be intelligent enough to make their own decisions but I don’t think it helps.

    If you had to pick one solution to the problem what would it be?

  12. This post was fantastic. The best part for me however, is the picture you have used in the Pinterest post.

    I have never experienced a level of narcissism on par with tourists in the Louvre. You could smell it all the way from Notre-Dame.

    Everybody entering at the same time as me rushed through the initial galleries to get that all-important photo of the Mona Lisa which they don’t know the slightest thing about.

    People would take 15 minutes standing on tip toes, jumping in the air and doing whatever they could to get that shot screaming, “I’m cultured and well travelled”.

    I took my time, and when I got to the Mona Lisa, of course I wanted to see it. But, not being tall enough, it was impossible without charging through the sea of selfie sticks. Without a stick of my own, getting a picture seemed a helpless endeavour. It would have been closing time by the time the crowds evaporated. So, I took solace in the much quieter and far more interesting Middle Eastern Art section.

    If anybody wants to see some first-class narcissism, I recommend a visit to the Louvre!

  13. Excellent post, Matt, well written and researched. The list you added to the end should be printed on each flight ticket! :D I can also highly recommend travelling without a smartphone (leave it switched off in your luggage, just for emergency cases).

    You’d be surprised how simple that works! Being trully present in your travel destination will make you aware of its beauty. You won’t be tempted to climb over a fence or barrier to get the next Instagram banger. You’ll also won’t “accidentally” slip or leave trash behind while texting with your friends back home. You might suddenly realize that you have no more right to be there as anybody else.

    For once, just watch the world with your own eyes and you’ll see it as you haven’t seen it for a while. That would help.

  14. Matt, it is one of the best articles that I have ever read! Actually I don’t know what is the solution of the problem, not because there is not a solution, but just because most of the traveling people would not follow it. In the end of the article you give some great ideas, but unfortunatelly we all know that the majority of the tourists will not follow.
    Maybe the governments will do something? I can say an example. Although China is the most populated country in the world, a large part of its territory, called Changtang, in the Tibetan plateau, is highly restricted to visitors. I am very interested of this area, because I know (not from Instagram, but from my knowledge of geography) that it is one of the most beautiful and adventurous lands on the Earth. Being a traveler, I complain secretly the government why they make it so difficult to visit this place. But seems although I don’t like it, they are right.
    Should more and more lands or places become restricted like Changtang? I don’t think the governments can do it.
    So, I am afraid the overtourism will disappear soon, but in the worst way- due to the destruction of the destinations to visit- the people just would not have anything beautiful to see. And we, travel bloggers, photographers and influencers will stop doing it too.
    But then (to not sound so pesimistic), a new age will begin, maybe a new resurrection…

  15. Loved this post. The problem of over tourism is becoming important. I think people should not post so many pics about an already famous place but also about those which are less popular.

  16. Over-tourism is definitely becoming a big problem ruining environments and lives. While people can’t and shouldn’t stop traveling, I think we do need to think about our actions and maybe curb some of our behavior. I think your list at the end is pretty good.
    I thing that travel bloggers should consider sometimes not providing all the information for cool places, like not giving the specific location of that secluded beach or the name of that beautiful village. This way, travelers would need to do some research to find these places rather than just have travel blogs provide everything.

  17. When I started reading this I was worried it was going to be another travel blogger moaning about other travelers BUT it was a very different take to others I have read and very well written :) Great read, but unfortunately I think it’s s problem that might never go away.

  18. Thank you for letting me know that a bikini on a beach helps the Instagram algorithm. I am going to give that a shot.

    I am glad this is happening. Herd all the tourists in one spot, and then I will take a bus five hours in the other direction. There is a reason they call them tourist traps. Now they will call them Instagram traps.

    • I believe this is actually a deliberate management strategy in some areas where wilderness conservation is considered important. You encourage the masses to congregate in a small number of well known sites, keeping the wilderness areas relatively free of people. The tourists are happy because they got to see Old Faithful, and you’re happy because you got to find solitude in the Lamar Valley. Popular travel bloggers could follow a similar policy: Go ahead and publicize places that are already tourist traps. For places that are not yet “discovered” keep them a secret by telling your story without revealing the specifics of the location.

  19. I love this post, and it’s something I really agree with. Some social media channels are better than others, but I personally believe Instagram is nothing more than a necessary evil. It’s so full of overexposed, unrealistic photos to give of a “dreamlike” impression of every place that normally doesn’t express what travel is about. It’s all image, and just feels mostly vapid. For most trying to grow their account, it’s a full time job that feels kind of like you’re peddling cigarettes instead of showing the reality of travel. And at the end of the day, at least for us, it’s the least useful of all our social channels. Much prefer Twitter or Pinterest.

  20. I find this to be a very thoughtful piece as are many of the comments. Bad manners, sometimes born from cultural differences, seem to be a fundamental issue along with increased mobility, affluence, etc. One other issue underlying it all is the sheer number of people alive. Perhaps we will have to move on to a different planet because this one will be overrun.

    It seems the implied challenge of this post is: if social media is largely to blame for the problem, how can we turn it around to be responsible for a solution? And who is “we?”

  21. What a eye opening article! I had no idea travel had grown that much in the last 10 years. I love traveling, but hate crowds and lines, so off the beaten path is my preference. I have a 2 month trip to Europe planned next summer, renting a campervan, my goal is to find small villages and towns to immerse myself in the culture. Meeting people with different backgrounds is what I love. Maybe if we turn the focus to people and culture, rather than destinations and photos, we all would live in a better world, social media or real world.

  22. that’s totally true! bloggers are actually coming up with the idea of making a list of “most instgrammable places on earth” etc.

  23. First off, thanks for introducing me to the insta_repeat account. That made my day… And I lost an hour psychoanalyzing the comments on their posts, which are a simultaneously hilarious and saddening microcosm of the issue.

    As for solutions, since people will always be narcissistic, it’s a matter of channeling the narcissism for good, don’t you think? And couldn’t we do so by stigmatizing this copycat mentality and rewarding true individuality? If powerful influencers start doing so, their minions will follow along. #DontCopyMe #FindYourOwnPhoto. The insta_repeat account may be an example of that happening.

    It’s also a matter of education, don’t you think? Teach people that the greatest reward from traveling isn’t “social return” but experiencing (and learning from) unique and unforgettable travel stories that you’ll share with your grandkids one day. And you can’t experience a great story by copying others. It’s up to you and other influential travelers to promote this and teach people how to travel independently.

    One last less serious solution: Require disclosures just like the ones required for affiliate links. Anyone who photoshops crowds out, is given special privileges for the location, or otherwise misrepresents reality has to clearly say so on their post. Too many followers see these photos, go there to see the same thing, are sorely disappointed by reality, but then make the issue worse by taking and posting unrealistic photos of the same place themselves! It’s a ridiculous cycle.

  24. Hi Matt, great article and you make the point here. I don’t think this is necessarily bad but the extremes as you stated definitely are. Educate travellers to bring value to local communities as suggested by your and others in the comments, is the way to pursue.

  25. Great Article.
    The only good thing about being older is that I got to see a lot of the world in the 70s and 80s before the internet and the freedom to travel became available to Eastern Europians, Russians, Chinese and Indians. Several Billion additional travelers is great for those individuals but not so great for me.
    The cruise ship industry is ruining so many port cities without benefit to the citizens of those cities. These people sleep on the cruise ship so do not benefit hotels, eat most meals on the cruise ship, return to the ship before dark to cruise on to the next port and therefore do not benefit nightlife, taxis, etc.
    Cruise ships primarily benefit Port Authorities with docking fees and bus companies to move the masses around.
    Municipalities need to wake up to this and either tax cruise visitors and use the $ for the public good or ban large cruise ships.

    I would love to return to Barcelona which I last visited in 1977 or Krabi/Bali in 86 but know I would be sadly disappointed.

    Look forward to more thoughtful pieces from you!



    • Sadly, Steve, you seem to award yourself with the possibility to travel other places such as Krabi/Bali, but you deny “Eastern Europians, Russians, Chinese and Indians” the very same opportunity? How extremely racist and close-minded, if I may say so.

  26. Matt, you know you’ve written a great post when you’ve driven readers not only to read the entirety of your well written piece, but all the comments, and do some research on Google before commenting. So thank you for that!

    While I’m not sure what the solution is either, I can speculate that it may have to do with the destinations putting caps on visitors, limiting cruise ships to ports, or maybe otherwise finding inventive ways to reroute visitors.

    Why I would say the solution may be in the hands of the destinations? Unless social media dies down (which I don’t see happening – us humans like to be a connected bunch! – Instagram might, but not social media in general) I think this uptick of social media influencers for destinations will continue to happen in one form or another. Technology is making us more connected, after all.

    Plus, if it’s social media today , maybe tomorrow it will be another technology that will drive people to destinations – for example, Virtual Reality is evolving, and while you can visit destinations “virtually” right now, maybe one day it will be the norm to explore the destination through a headset first before going there (and actually maybe drive up or down tourism? who knows!)

    Combined with the fact that as you said – businesses want to make money (i.e. cruise ships, booking sites, travel agencies, etc..) – which won’t change, my personal thoughts is that while we can say that the technology (and the people who use it) are causing overtourism today, it may just be replaced by another form tomorrow. I think that for the time being, the destinations who receive the over-abundance of tourists (regardless if it’s “fair” or not) will have to think of inventive ways to curb the issue. Because I don’t think the tourists (such as you and me) will stop.

  27. A few other ideas for making travel “better” for those affected:

    – Support local shops rather than supermarkets, chains, etc.
    – Support independent accommodation (i.e. family-run B&Bs or locally owned boutique hotels/hostels)
    – Use local guides and experiences rather than large commercial tour organizations
    – Support cultural events and try local cultural activities (i.e. dance, art, cooking, etc.)
    – Speak and treat locals as equals
    – Respect religious values and traditions, even if you don’t agree with them.
    – Avoid activities that support corruption, mafia, or exploitation of people (drugs, prostitution, activities without transparency as to where fees go, bribery, bars/restaurants that take advantage of their workers, etc.)

  28. I couldn’t agree more with you Matt. I’ve pretty much stopped blogging and am considering drastically reducing my travels going forward because I no longer find it enjoyable and am becoming more aware of the consequences of promoting tourism to the masses.

    There are still a few hidden gems out there (which I tend not to share) but a lot of the places I used to love for their culture have been overwhelmed by Insta-tourists and holiday-makers. It’s so funny to see families with children walking the streets of Khao San Road or trying to hang with the Ticos in Costa.

    As you, I struggle knowing that I have a negative impact on destinations – raising the cost of living and sucking away local culture – just by being there.

  29. Wow this is so well written & thought out.. Thanks for being willing to discuss openly a sensitive issue, where there really probably isn’t one answer.. but like you said there is something we can all do as we travel to help. As a VERY new blogger I am so glad I came across this. Thanks

  30. Thanks for being willing to hold up a mirror.
    I think there are two separate issues at play here: “Is social media destroying travel for the person USING social media,” and “is social media destroying travel destinations?” I would answer yes to both questions.

    • Yes, it’s messing with both. Like any new powerful tool, there are going to be upsides and downsides. However I think we’ll eventually reach a tipping point when travel stops being fun — and I’m not looking forward to that day.

  31. Great article and I ponder this whole “overtourism” issue constantly. This week I was in a gorgeous part of Thailand where virtually no tourists exist … but the tourism authority wants to change that and gets people like me there to try – and I really struggle to know whether it’s a good thing to promote it or not. Hard to find a good solution but I do like your list of suggestions.

    • They should learn from other tourist destinations that made the mistake of spending too much on marketing, and not enough on management.

      New Zealand, Barcelona, Venice, Alberta, Crete, etc.

  32. I have to agree with you here. Tourism is great, but overtourism is not good for anyone involved. I’ve seen this too many times in South East Asian countries, with an increasing number of tourists every year, places like Bali are getting worst and worst, with scammy locals, misbehaving tourists and irreversible damages to nature.

    I’m currently traveling in Flores and Komodo island and from what I heard, they want to turn the island into the next Bali. :/ I’ve heard notorious stories of divers breaking the coral reefs for souvenirs, moving marine life out of the way by hand so they can get a nice photo. The local dive instructors did nothing about it and made excuse for these kinda behavior saying that they are on holidays and want to have the best experience so they allow it.

    It makes me sad when I hear stories like this as Flores’s nature is phenomenal and it is one of the best places to go snorkeling and diving. If they keep that up, I don’t think there will be anything left for future travelers to enjoy. :(

    Thank you for raising the issue and getting the conversation going Matt!

    • This is so sad to hear Pete! Humans really do destroy everything they touch. The environment truly is f*cked unless we start taking responsibility for our own actions.

      It won’t be long before we destroy all the beauty on this planet, above and below. A few years ago snorkeling in Mexico I watched some girl grab a sea turtle and try to ride behind it. So much stupidity!

  33. Wonderfully said. I’ve noticed it too since I’ve started traveling a lot more. I went to Niagara Falls in May for the first time in over ten years and one thing I noticed was how many people simply wanted the perfect selfie shot. It was like they pulled up or got off the bus, went and took a selfie, and got back on the bus. Very few were actually enjoying the view…or noticing it. It was already super crowded (Victoria Day weekend) and people were blocking the views for other people for minutes trying to get the perfect shot. Your great photo at the Louvre is what it was like except that the majority of people with cameras were not facing the painting. On a positive notice, I did notice that it was like a universal handshake. People of all races, genders, nationalities, all standing side by side with their back to a major landmark taking a selfie. Kind of sweet in its own weird way.

    • I can’t stand bus tours. It’s like “lets just cram as much as we can into a few hours”. I understand some people don’t have a lot of time, but I think they’d enjoy themselves a lot more if they spent more time in fewer places.

  34. That was very nice of you to write this point of view Matthew. I have myself faced this trouble a lot nowadays. I travel with my husband and choose places on basis of our mood. But honestly the instagrammers of today spoil the experience. You cannot get lost in nature and appreciate its beauty because they are all over the place for hours just clicking and making noises till they get their perfect insta shot. However, the solution is not simple. It is a behavioral issue which is difficult to be resolved. People have insta friends and their happiness quotient is being defined by likes and comments on their social media post. Quite dissapointing indeed! I guess we will just stick to off season or less touristy or off the trend vacation spots to enjoy the places and make sure we are never causing any discomfort to anyone around us be it nature or humans.

    • I’m just waiting for that Black Mirror episode “Nosedive” to become a reality. It feels like we are well on our way…

      Anna had an issue with an airline recently, and after exhausting all our “normal” options, we finally made a big fuss on social media for them to pay attention, and they only did because of our status on those platforms.

      As social media becomes more & more important, people dedicate more and more of their lives to it.

  35. Matt, your article highlight crystalizes the issues that are almost an inevitable conclusion as the world effectively becomes smaller and increasingly more accessible to us.
    One of the biggest problems I have seen is the increasing cruise ship traffic. I visited Dubrovnik in June this year and at around 9.30am there was a pleasant bustle of activity and people but a couple of hours later it was what I could describe as a Tsunami of tourists arriving from cruise ships on their shore leave excursions.
    Barcelona feels this especially and in fact when I was there last year there were several examples of local graffiti stating “cruise ships not welcome” or “cruise tourists go home”.
    With cruise ships getting larger and increasing their passenger capacities the pressures on popular destinations to cope with such influxes of tourists are only going to increase and its difficult to see what would be an appropriate solution. Will we see a restriction on the number of ships being allowed to dock? who knows

    The increasing accessibility to the wonders of the world is brilliant but at what cost?

    • Cruise ships are big business for the boats, and the destinations. Money seems to be driving a lot of this.

      But there will be consequences eventually, when the local population has had enough — which is starting to happen in more and more places.

  36. Hi Matt, I cringe when I view 90% of the travel of vlogs on YouTube. It reeks of narcissism most of the time, for a 25-year-old to tell me, at 58 years of age , their “look at me” opinion of travel is ludicrous. Matt you’re definitely one of the good ones, you’re humble, your content is above par, and you have manners.
    The world is definitely getting smaller fast, and social media is not helping. But it boils down to respect and manners, it’s not just tourist it’s every segment of society seems to be lacking those two things . I hope this last blog of yours goes viral. Perhaps we can use social media to remind people of manners.

    • I certainly agree with this! I have traveled around the world, am in my 30s and have lived in other countries viewing it more like I lived there than just came for a selfie, and the biggest concerns I had were other people’s lack of manners and respect. I love to travel for the experiences, but when I also see many of those talked about, written about, shots in movies, are just crowds of people, I don’t want to go. After spending a day in Athens visiting the ancient ruins, I was so disappointed following around large tour groups, school groups, and soooo many others, that I walked away wondering why I even bothered to come. I still love to travel and will certainly look for the positive experiences, but social media certainly has changed so much about travel. Yet, social media more accurately has been abused causing this change….it always boils down to people and their actions. Raising awareness and offering solutions will always help dire situations.

  37. Hi Matthew.
    There was a scene in the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, where Mitty finally catches up with the photographer, O’Connell, in the Himalayas. O’Connell was there to take a photo of a rare snow leopard. But when the snow leopard finally makes an appearance, O’Connell doesn’t take the photo, deciding instead to relish the event as a personal, spiritual moment. Afterward, he and Mitty play a spontaneous game of soccer (football) up in the mountains with some locals, with not another tourist to be seen.
    Like O’Connell, the challenge for popular travel bloggers and photographers like you will be to resist the urge to popularize the extreme and to abstain from introducing the unusual, and, instead, to find a fresh and unique way of narrating and photographing the common. Some amazing places have been sacrificed to the masses, but our real gems could be kept as our secrets.

    • I love that movie, and that scene! Although I’m not so sure I could have had that much self-control to refrain from taking a photo of the snow leopard…

      Yet I’ve been in plenty of travel situations myself where I realized it was not polite, or not worth ruining the experience, to whip out my camera for a photo.

  38. It’s now a crapshoot to be a successful or even a break even IGer/travel blogger/social media personality. There’s simply too much content out there, and it’s only going to grow.

    I’ve been putting my phone and camera down a lot more often, and am willing to bet the technology exists to create an up-to-date 3D image of the Earth and everything on it, given how many photos are taken of the same location from different angles. Why even take pictures at all if someone has already captured not just the perfect shot, but the shot YOU wanted, at the time of day you were thinking, at the moment a cheetah ran by?

    I don’t think we’ll be able to prevent these places from slowly eroding from overuse, but travellers can change their behavior to more enjoy the experience. Your rules are a good start.

    • I mean if you love the art of photography, you’ll always want to try and capture your own take on a famous destination. Even if it’s been done before.

      It’s a tough situation. Shooting a location with 10 other people is fine. But when there’s 50-100, all getting in each other’s way, it starts to lose some of the magic. You can avoid the crowds with some planning, but even that’s getting more difficult.

  39. This might be my favorite post of yours honestly. I admit I’m a person that follows many travel accounts and has a desire to go to several of the places I see. I honestly prefer the more natural destinations that are away from the crowds though. Recently I went to a swimming hole that became a state park only just in the last few years. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to but there were hundreds on hundreds of people there. For the most part, it was people enjoying themselves and taking in the beautiful weather with family, friends, and their dogs. While it is still a very beautiful and natural area, I’m worried that it will soon be ruined now that it is becoming more and more popular. It wasn’t much but you would find a bottle or two where people were careless. It’s a shame really. Hopefully influencers like yourself will continue to show and educate about the negatives of social media’s impact on these destinations. Maybe if you see trash laying around or a negative aspect, make a post on that as well as the beauty of the spot so people can see what it is they need to protect. That’s one thing I do enjoy about National Geographic, they post amazing photos of places, but they also post photos that show what we as a people need to fix in our world. Knowing is half the battle, and I have faith that you’ll find a way to help the cause. Keep up the great work!

  40. It’s a difficult balance for sure, and you outlined it well. Destinations can become tourist destinations these days simply from the social posts of a few ‘influencers’, but that increased traffic doesn’t always bring common sense along with it. Too many tourists are valuing ‘the shot’ over the experience…and I feel this is directly related to your point about everybody being a photographer now (and how many folks online want to become influencers themselves, so those shots become crucial in their minds).

    I love communities like Instagram simply because I find them inspiring, but I have found it to be less of a community lately and more of a business. I’d love to think that the algorithm will change one day so that I actually see content from people I follow, but I’ve got my doubts.

    Thanks for the post…always enjoy your content.

  41. If people could just be more mindful when the travel it would solve a lot of the problems. I see local landmarks that are covered in trash and discarded clothing because people just want to have a good time in some waterfalls. They think in the moment and not the long term. It was shocking to see considering we are considered to be a very green state.

  42. Wonderfully said. So true and sincere. Thank you for sharing this. I has been on my mind for the last years, ever since I started travelling more. I am one very strict with my personal space and started to hate it when places become overcrowded, no place to take any kind of picture (just as a memory, bc most of my pics I don’t even post on social media).
    I was always stressing about this over tourism perspective. I feel like those already famous locations, don’t need any more publicity. I also enjoy nice and authentic experiences, where not many people have been.
    I agree with educating ourselves. What is acceptable and what is not. Be ing a nice human can make all the difference. For the locals. Because we can always become the locals.

  43. This is something I think about a lot. I have a day job and only travel for vacation once or twice a year. I also have a small non monetized blog where I’ve started sharing my travels. I hate feeling like I’m contributing to the problem and I always wonder if I could spend my money in better ways. That being said, I love to travel, learn, and experience new cultures. It gives me something to look forward to when I’m drudging through another day at work. I also justify my travels by telling myself I’m stimulating the local economies. I try to travel in the off season and avoid over visited places and I’m a fan of slower travel and really soaking up a destination, rather than just ticking a box. I also think it’s important to visit the shops, restaurants, and sights outside of a cities tourist area.

  44. This article is written so well and many of its points are so very true. As a fellow vagabond, I relate to everything written.
    My only wish is that you had really concluded with a better ending. More ways to change this behaviour. I believe many travelers feel this way already and already follow your list of recommendations, including myself. That isn’t enough though. It’s still only getting worse and worse every day. We need influential people like yourself to step it up a bit and really push for serious change. You used your life creating this, now it’s time to spend your life helping to create a balance by advocating a mindset change.

    • You’re right. I don’t have any solid solutions to share. I guess I was hoping to get a few ideas from others, to start a discussion. Maybe I can update it in the future with some of the most promising ones?

      One possibility is maybe taking the extra time to highlight an environmental or cultural issue with each photo or blog post? Of course that doesn’t guarantee those reading will pay attention (or even scroll far enough to read it), but it’s better than doing nothing I guess!

      • Really well-written article and and important topic. One additional idea I would suggest is to consider embracing the “anonymous location” approach. Of course that doesn’t work if someone is hiring you to write a promotional piece, but if you’re posting a photo or a story, consider that the value is in the image or the story and not necessarily in divulging the specifics of the location. “Somewhere in the Southern Alps of New Zealand” could be just as good as “from the summit of Mount Roy just outside of Queenstown.”

      • Action to all of what your complaining about is….. enjoy the moment, don’t show and tell everyone, take down your pictures of you traveling and having selfies and write articles to tell people to do the same thing.

  45. What a insightful and to the point blog. I am relating to all the points covered. Huge usage of social media and rat race to get likes has become rampant nowdays. Blame it on mobile/unlimited internet data/easy to use photography applications with readymade filters effects.

    One thing I would like to mention is taking wierd kind of photo has become trending nowdays. I really wonder if this is called photography. IMHO photography is all about capturing moment and emotions in your pic.

    • It’s really a mix of different things — all of them adding up to create these problems of overcrowding and bad behavior.

      Photography is photography. There’s no one way to do it. However some kinds take a bit more planning & creativity, for sure.

  46. Excellent points, Matt. Reading this article kind of bummed me out – because it’s true.

    It irks me every time I read about sometime trying to visit every country before they’re X years old. Or every time a place becomes suddenly extremely popular. The world is full of jems, but there are few left to be discovered. I’m reminded of the quote “Born too late to explore the world, and too early to explore the galaxy.”

    Almost everything to see has been seen, and those who seek to try to see it all anyways often do so without reflecting on the ugly consequences. There’s an environmental cost to travel, and a degradation of the things everyone is trying to see.

    I don’t know the answer either, but you made some good suggestions. We should strive to leave the world cleaner than when we arrived, and remember that the journey is the destination.

    Definitely going to share this.

    • While the world is getting smaller, there’s certainly more places to see that haven’t been overrun just yet. How long that will last though… I’m not sure.

      Bring on the space tourism! :-)