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Instgrammer on Skye

How to Use Instagram Ethically When You Travel

Posted on 20 Sept 2019

The mantra “do it for the gram” is something we’ve heard a lot lately. And when taken too seriously, it can have a toxic effect on how we experience our holidays. After all, isn’t going on vacation supposed to be about relaxation, discovery and new connections; not hanging sideways off a cliff wearing your best pouty face for an hour to get THE shot to wow your Instagram followers?

We may poke fun at this behaviour, but photos have been an integral element of travelling for decades. However, a few things have changed over the years.

The pressures Instagram puts on you to share these moments sometimes skews our idea of what’s important when globetrotting. And you may not realise it, but your posts affect local communities, the environment, and fellow travellers.

So, we’re going to share our top tips to travel responsibly, ethically and sustainably as an Instagram user.

Respect the locals

This is an important practice for every traveller, Instagrammer or not. When you go on holiday, local communities welcome you into their homes and invite you to immerse yourself in their traditions and culture. It would be poor form to thank them by jeopardising their privacy, interrupting their way of life, and disrespecting their wishes.

Do your research

Read up on the customs and traditions associated with places before you snap away with your camera. Many sacred spaces prevent tourists from taking photos for a variety of reasons. As do places of business wishing to hide trade secrets. Temples may enforce dress restrictions on those who enter; and in churches, you could be asked to remain silent. In other places, you may be given a choice: it isn’t unlawful to enter a site and take photos, but it could be considered disrespectful. Make sure you do your research and choose wisely. Will you be disregarding someone’s way of life by snapping a photo or entering a sacred site? As always, being informed will assist you to be a more considerate and respectful traveller.

Ask permission

Taking someone’s photo and sharing it with the world can be upsetting for many people. If you wish to take a photo featuring a person, especially a portrait where the face is easily recognisable, you should ask first. Be upfront about what you’re going to do with the image; not everyone wants to be Instafamous.

Think before you geotag

Many small villages can become so inundated with tourists in high season, facilities such as sewage and power simply cannot cope. Undisclosed locations or ‘local secrets’ must often remain so to preserve fragile ecosystems and protect infrastructure from stress. Chat to the locals and get a feel for their opinion of tourism in the area before promoting particular places through geotags on your Instagram account. You don’t want to exacerbate a problem if you can avoid doing so.

Be a helper, not a hinderer

As an Instagram user, you can help local communities regulate tourism in the region. Encourage your Instagram followers to visit popular villages in winter. It’s a quieter, cheaper and more accommodating time to travel; and small businesses may appreciate an economical boost in the off-season.

You could also advocate local conservation programs or charities which assist places to improve infrastructure to keep up with tourist numbers or regenerate environments.

If you fell in love with a place and wish for others to experience its beauty, help the locals to maintain it by using your voice on social media to spread positive messages of awareness and lend your support.

Keep it real

Photos of places can be altered to appear different from real life. This becomes problematic on Instagram because people gain an unrealistic view of certain destinations. They flock to these sites expecting to see them through a rose-coloured Instagram filter. When in reality, they’re jostling amongst hundreds of other tourists who’ve seen the same romanticised photo and hope to recreate their own. This causes congestion and can harm the surrounding environment. So it’s important to consume travel photography on Instagram with a grain of salt, and try to depict an honest representation of the places you photograph or be transparent about the changes you’ve made to the image.

Know the risks associated with disregarding boundaries

Between October 2011 and November 2017, there were 259 deaths caused by people taking unnecessary risks to get the perfect selfie. People frequently traverse ‘no entry’ signs and jump over safety barriers to capture a photograph. Perching precariously on the edge of cliffs, wading into fast flowing water or getting up close and personal with wild animals may produce a stunning photograph, but can also put yourself and others at risk.

In 2016, three girls slipped and drowned trying to take a selfie near the waterfront in Mumbai. A man jumped in to save them but also drowned. The tragedy was caused by negligence, but the sheer number of selfie-related deaths proves it isn’t a freak accident. It’s vital to be aware of your surroundings when taking photographs.

Furthermore, many barriers or no entry signs are placed in heavy traffic tourist areas to protect wildlife and their habitats. Travellers are often asked to refrain from taking photographs WITH wild animals (which is very different to taking photos OF them) to avoid dangerous altercations or prevent gradual domestication from occurring. Make sure you consider the consequences of your actions carefully before hopping over a roped off area hoping to capture the perfect photo. You may be endangering the surrounding environment, yourself and other people.

Leave no trace

We’ve been taught not to litter since we were kids, and most people don’t need reminding when they’re out and about on holiday. But there are other things to consider when committing to leaving no trace while you travel.

Something as simple as building small stone stacks or moving rocks around the landscape can harm grazing livestock. Likewise, removing shells from the beach or transferring soil, seeds and insects to other fragile ecosystems can affect the natural course of life.

The concept of ‘leave no trace’ doesn’t just refer to binning your rubbish. In nature, we like to touch, explore and learn, but this should never endanger an ecosystem. Sometimes it can be difficult to leave absolutely no trace, especially when many people tread the same tracks day after day. But we can be respectful of the area, stick to the marked paths and refrain from moving native objects around to suit our aesthetic preferences. Don’t alter a landscape for a travel photograph, capture the moment as it is.

Be considerate to other travellers

Whether you’re on a tour or travelling solo, be aware that others want to get a holiday snap too. So refrain from standing right in front of the lookout for half an hour trying out all your best poses when there’s a group of people waiting for their turn to take a photo. If you’d like to take your time, visit the location during off-peak hours.

Everyone deserves the chance to document their holiday. But this should never be at the expense of local communities, environments, animals and other travellers. It’s easier to make more ethical decisions when travelling and using Instagram when we are informed, engaged and compassionate. So let’s spread the word and commit to being a positive force of change amongst the Instagram travel community.

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