May 13, 2019
Issue 05 2019

The Instagram Illusion

It’s 3am. You’re tired and have a 5,000 word essay due before your 8am lecture. But are you furiously typing away at your laptop? Or making an alphabetised reference list?

Of course not.

You’ve accepted the late penalty. You’ve curled up into the foetal position. And now, you are scrolling through Instagram.

In that sorry state —with acne cream applied and hair in a messy bun— you see them. The Travellers.

We all have those friends. The ones that took two years off from school to ‘find themselves’ in Bali. That’s if ‘finding yourself’ means taking semi-nude photos in front of a waterfall.

But the grass definitely appears greener on the other side. Katy, 20, spent two years travelling after graduating from high school, going from Camp America to volunteering at an elephant farm in Thailand.

“Travelling straight out of school gave me so much life experience,” she said.

“(I had) opportunities that most people will spend their whole life dreaming of and never actually getting to do.”

Katy also said that whilst she might not have ‘found herself’, travelling and taking some time off from education did help her to clear her head.

“After a year of trying to figure out what I want, I now have lots of ambition to study and got to experience and see where I would likely end up.”

But life abroad isn’t all it’s cracked out to be. It can be intensely exhausting, emotionally draining and devastatingly lonely. And when Katy came back, the mundanity of life hit her.

“Coming home after two years was hard, realising old friendships were lost and new ones had to be made,” she reflected.

People change a lot in two years, especially in the formative couple years after high school where they are experiencing freedom, partying and alcohol (at least legally) for the first time.

Katy acknowledged that her trip was a life-changing experience, however she also said it had its hardships; social media was a huge struggle.

“It (travelling) definitely looks more glamorous online than the loneliness that comes from being away from your friends and family for months and months” Katy said.

“Everyone I know that’s done it agrees it’s lonely as heck sometimes! And seeing people at home on social media makes it hard too.”

Whilst we’re here scrolling through post after post of exotic fruit, white-sand beaches and Powerade blue water, our travelling friends are doing the same thing about us. Even from their hostel in Vietnam, a lot of our peers are staring at their phone, missing their little sister’s 16th birthday party, or wishing they were adorned in a flimsy white sheet and a Scrumpy bottle at the university toga party.

For her first year of travelling, Katy had a large Instagram presence. She documented her every move on a travel account. She knew that travelling was a once in a lifetime experience and wanted to share it with her friends. But it can become easy for this documentation to fall into obsession. People very easily become obsessed with curating the perfect narrative on social media.

In her second year of travelling, Katy stepped back from posting as much.

“Age and experience taught me that it won’t affect my happiness,” she confessed.

No matter how many likes you get, if you’re not in the right mindset, you can be anywhere in the world and still not be happy.

So, whether you’re flying off to Greece next semester or sipping Mi Goreng noodles in a Palmy flat, make the most of it. Travelling is an option that, with hard work, can be achieved. But working towards a degree and job is equally valuable. Sometimes, a change in environment isn’t all you need.

Instagram posts are less than a second of your day, and an even smaller percentage of your months and months abroad. It can be so easy to see people you love travelling to all of these exotic places and think how much better their life seems when compared to yours.

Especially when you’re still meant to be writing that 5,000 word essay and have now resorted to reading Massive to procrastinate.