No doubt if you follow any travel accounts on Instagram you will have seen a picture very similar to the one below. I know those photos were one of the reasons why I wanted to visit Petra, along with fulfilling a childhood dream of going to the ‘Canyon of the Crescent Moon’ – if you don’t get the reference, Indiana Jones baby, look it up.
You clicked on this link having a few ideas of what I was going to say but I’m not here to tell you that Instagram is full of lies and everything isn’t picture perfect bla bla bla because if anything Petra looked just as magical as I thought it would and came very close to all the instas I’d seen. Only thing that the pictures don’t capture is the incessant smell of camel shit wafting up your nose every ten seconds but hey, it’s literally their home so I can shut up. The reason why Instagram made me hate Petra is because it has turned people into actual arseholes. I’ll explain.
When you visit Petra you have the option of walking through the Siq (the long boi gorge) at night and sitting by candle light as you look up at the Treasury (the main attraction) and listen to the sweet sounds of some old guy playing the flute. Sure, this sounds nice, right? NOT FOR ME.
EXHIBIT A: There we are walking along at a leisurely pace, it’s pitch black, rocky and busy. People are literally racing in the dark to get to the Treasury first. IMAGINE, elderly, meek Chinese tourists are hustling and bustling past youths sprinting with tripods and DSLRs (blogger cameras). I literally felt like I was in the stampede from Lion King 1 one step away from Mufasa crushing me or a similar beast bashing into me.
EXHIBIT B: We finally reach the Treasury and the festivities have already begun. The set-up is beautiful, candle lit, traditional rugs laid out on the floor for people to sit on. It was packed and we were two amateurs who had decided not to partake in the earlier sprint.
We scramble to find somewhere to sit as a bedouin gestures to us to sit down. We manage to perch on the end of a rug next to a young couple. Next thing I know the couple next to me have decided to lay down practically on me and attempt to take photos forcing me off the rug and into the dirt while they indulge in some ridiculous photoshoot. IT’S PITCH BLACK YOU MORONS AND YOU’VE GOT AN ANDROID. At almost the same time, I hear an immense shushing from behind as a photographer has just run through the aisles with his tripod to try and get to the front to take a picture of an ‘uninterrupted’ landscape. STOP.
After the performance finishes, a man who works at Petra announces that he will turn the lights on so we can see the Treasury clearly. I shit you not the lights came on and the flashes from everybody’s camera at the same time were more powerful than the lights set up to illuminate a fucking temple. The man had to urge people to appreciate the moment for just two minutes and switch off all phones.
EXHIBIT C: The next day we arrive at 6am. I wanna get in early. Typical, there’s people everywhere but whatever it’s all good. There’s a less competitive air than the night before. We book a guide and he ends up showing us a short climb to a great photo spot. We get up there and there’s people having their lunch on the mat laid down specifically so people can get that once in a lifetime shot. I hang around close to them hoping they get the idea that I want to take a cute photo and leave but alas NO. I had to ask if they could move for 2 minutes to which they reluctantly agreed.
My man Hani took a quick photo and I was on my way. My point is that platforms like Instagram have made people selfish and think they are entitled to this ‘lone traveller experience’. Look through my Instagram and sure, there are photos of me alone with some pretty exciting backgrounds but they’re all real and I go early in the morning to capture these and would never think of disturbing someone else’s experience just so I can get a sick photo. The fact is that there are always people around you, there’s no such thing as discovering a ‘hidden gem’ anymore with the emergence of social media. Countless Instagrammers edit people out of their photos to give the illusion of this ‘lone traveller’ character. The reality is these tourist sites are literally there for the masses to enjoy, learn from and experience.
What’s more is that people are risking their lives due to the pressures of “getting the gram”. I’m sure you will have heard of people falling off cliff edges or into waterfalls all because they wanted the perfect selfie. Our guide had to tell countless people not to stray off the path because of how unsafe it was. NO ONE listened. Look, don’t be an idiot and better yet, don’t be a selfish idiot.
I’m not saying don’t take photos and I’m not even saying don’t pose 100 times to get your perfect shot or spend hours editing your photos because it’s your prerogative to do so. Just don’t be inconsiderate to others around you. I visited Petra in November of last year and this was their busiest November in history. According to The Jordan Times, tourism has risen by 49% compared to the same time last year. Petra received over 100,000 visitors in the month of November alone. Largely, in my opinion, due to the power of Instagram.
Now, there’s many who take this kind of faux intellectual high ground and say that travel shouldn’t be about taking countless photos and parading it on social media but (and I know it sounds like I’m taking a cop out) there has to be a middle ground.
Here’s a quote from an article in Condé Nast Traveller by David Annand called ‘How Instagram Is Ruining Travel’:
At its best, travel is about curiosity, outwardness, a search for authentic encounters with the other. Photography was once a medium that enabled this: with its premium on stopping, framing, thinking, it encouraged seeing as opposed to merely looking. Lately, however, we seem to have stopped using photography like this. We’ve turned the camera around, focusing not out, but in. Photography no longer encourages seeing; it simply encourages projecting, turning the world’s great vistas into mere backdrops for the self.David Annand, ‘How Instagram Is Ruining Travel’, Condé Nast
‘Encourage seeing as opposed to merely looking?’ Sorry hun but what? His pretentious prose is as equally unrelatable as the bouji lifestyles portrayed by the influencers he hates on. The general public aren’t as gullible or stupid as they are made out to be. Of course, people understand Instagram photos are edited, travel photos are more so works of art than they are representative of reality but the fact is I quite enjoy scrolling through my feed and looking at nice pictures whilst heavily aware my eyes probs won’t see the exact same thing in real life.
Sure, I have my own view on what you should be getting out of travel but that’s personal to me. I can’t tell you what travelling is about but be considerate when doing so. Have fun trying to take the perfect pic for Insta but as a general rule of thumb, just don’t be a dick to those around you.
In a bit xo