Is the Internet Ruining Travel?

17 June 2015

- June 17, 2015 -

Depending on who you ask, you'll get different answers to this question.

If you're a travel agent, you'll probably say yes. The ease which the internet now allows people to access information means that they no longer need a professional to plan trips for them. Why spend a couple hundred dollars on a travel agent when I can just google 'cheap flights' and 'budget hotels' myself?

Likewise, travel writers and travel magazines may feel like they're being edged out by digital blogs. (Though, personally, I still love a physical magazine.)

But what about just the everyday person? Is the internet ruining our ability to have a genuine experience of foreign places?

The ruins of Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli, Italy
I often like to imagine what it was like for people who had to travel before modern technology. Being a child of the 90's myself, I'll never know a life that doesn't involve computers and telephones.

But I think back to the 1700's and the young men and women setting out on their Grand Tour; a trip of several months traveling the countries of Western Europe. As the historian Paul Fussell put it, "travel was conceived to be like study, and its fruits were considered to be the adornment of the mind and the formation of the judgment. The traveler was a student of what he sought.

These people were in a sense the first tourists. They weren't traveling to start new lives, find food, or flee war; they traveled solely for the purpose of seeing something new and learning from it. They didn't have Google to help them find 'the best pizza in Rome' and they certainly weren't scrolling through Instagram looking for ideas to add to their travel itinerary.

So has the internet entirely changed the purpose of travel?

Selfie at Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, Japan
The internet and technology have introduced a whole new factor to the human experience. We can share information more easily than ever which I feel has created a sense of one-upmanship. You see a picture of someone on Facebook and there's subtle feeling of competition, that you must outdo them. I know I've personally felt that urge any time I've seen a Facebook friend post a selfie in a foreign land.

This, as well, lends itself to the phrase born from the internet: "pics or it didn't happen." The idea that just experiencing something is no longer a valid truth and that one must have physical evidence to make it a genuine undertaking. With the unlimited amount of technology these days, there's no reason not to record everything, right?

One of my favorite unknown spots in Hawaii
Some would argue that the internet is also ruining the places that people visit, leading to a less authentic experience for the tourist.

My friends in Hawaii would often complain, "Instagram has ruined Hawaii. All these tourists are showing up in places that used to be secrets, places only locals knew about. Now everyone is sharing these hidden spots with the click of a button."

I personally follow quite a few travel Instagrams and I can see how that could happen. Everything is geotagged these days and if the author doesn't include the location there are more than a few people urgently commenting, "Where is that? I want to go there!"

So these places that were once hole-in-the-walls or off-the-beaten-path are evolving and becoming tourist traps. The quintessential Hawaii or any other place is being lost as we share each piece of it on the internet.

A road trip through Utah with friends
The internet has also changed they way we can interact with people while traveling abroad.

I often travel solo so the internet has been a boon. I no longer have to be alone if I don't want to be. I can log on to Couch Surfing and find a local person to stay with who will teach me all about their culture and show me their favorite places other than the tourist spots. If I want to be social and make new friends I check out Meet Up which always leads to fun stories.

The list of websites go on (I've even heard some people use Tinder as a way to get a personal tour guide for a day) but the point is each of these reintroduces a new reason for travel beyond just showing off on Facebook. These social network sites actually do facilitate socialization that would be otherwise unobtainable as a foreigner.

Planning my trip to Asia
So maybe people are being a bit dramatic when they say the internet has ruined travel. It has certainly changed travel but to say that the way I experience travel now is less genuine than someone from a previous generation is pretty pompous. It's almost as annoying as those people who would insist that their music is better because it's so much deeper than the "pop-trash" on the radio.

One thing that is constant in life is change. Humans evolve, the world evolves, and so does travel.

How does the internet affect how you travel?

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  1. The internet has influenced my travel experiences. I look up travel destinations and hotels online. I watch Youtube and read reviews as part of the research process. It helps me to plan the trip and get excited for the journey. I also take a lot more photos which I post onto Facebook to let my friends and family know where I am. Sometimes, I think taking photos makes the experience feel a bit fake, especially posing at a touristy spot but I know it's good to look back on it. I do have to remind myself to stay in the present and just enjoy the experience. I don't think the internet has ruined travel. I think it is has inspired more people to travel and given a window for people who cannot afford to travel.

    1. Yes, inspiration is a great word I wish I had used in this post. I think that's a great way to put it. I agree with the "in the moment" point as well. Sometimes I get a little caught up in taking pictures haha.

  2. It has absolutely ruined travel. Personally, if you aren't adventurous enough to find things out yourself without the need for social media or something, you aren't cut for exploration, end of. Everything has been instagrammed, facebooked, tweeted, blogged and theres very little left thats unexplored. The mystery of travel or a country is diminishing before you even set foot in the place. Its a travesty!