In four days (and three nights), I fell in love with Paris. It was my first time in Europe and I happily became a cliché. But it wouldn’t be a real vacation if I didn’t sully it with a trivial predicament: How was I supposed to effectively stunt on Instagram without appearing obnoxious?
For the overly self-conscious, neurotic traveler, there’s a perfectly normal fear of appearing like a show-off on social media. Frequent listicles like this mention the gloating globe-trotter as an irritating Instagram trope. (Nausea-wise, it’s up there with baby pictures and piles of kittens.) Some people go overboard, while others manage a casual balance to avoid the silent social shaming that comes with posting photos of your life. Vacation-Beyoncé pulls this off; her photos have the guise of “looks like she’s having fun but these pictures are mighty staged.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. You need zero excuses to post pretty pictures.
During this trip, I just wanted to be myself without being overindulgent. I love pictures. I love taking pictures. I love the voyeurism of Instagram and the narcissism of selfies. I love the stories and personalities people create on Instagram. I love (and occasionally hate) all these things. What’s ultimately fascinating is how people choose to capture the world around them. How we present what we see on our Rorschach timelines.
I’d only renewed my passport last year, so my international stamp game is pretty atrocious. The purpose of me posting any pictures on Instagram at all during the Paris trip was to have a record of my cool travels. Back in the day, I’d use a digital camera and Shutterfly to archive memories. But Instagram introduces another element and a much larger, easily irritable audience. As psych professor Dr. Marla Vannucci put it in this 2013 article:
Posting photos of yourself on vacation is like impression management. People paint a particular picture of themselves to get the reaction they want. People who have that narcissistic motivation, they want to provoke envy. They want people to wish they were with them.
People are really excited about their vacations but for the rest of the world, it’s just not that interesting. It’s like the idea that you have to sit through someone else’s vacation. Every meal, every step and you’re not really experiencing it with them.
Okay, got it. Allons-y.
I arrived in Paris with a definite thought process behind my Instagram vacation-pic approach. The issue of what to post and when was a topic of discussion between my friend Tracey and I on our first day there. I can safely say this wasn’t a process that gobbled up our sightseeing/chill time—it was literally a few minutes out of our day—but “should I post this or nah” was a definite thing.
I’d already posted a photo of the “Welcome to France” sign to my feed while in the airport. I guess to say, “Well, I’m here...”
After we’d traipsed through the Louvre, meh’d at the Mona Lisa and ate exceedingly raw salmon sandwiches in a corner cafe on Avenue de L’Opéra, we found ourselves back in our room, which was roughly the size of a walk-in closet, at Hotel Malte Opera, flipping through pics to see what was worthy of posting.
While appraising the first half-day’s photos, we asked ourselves:
“How much is too much?”
“What’s, like, the maximum number of photos per day?”
“Is this pretentious?”
(It’s hard to even call it a proper dilemma now, having been back in America for less than a week. We’ve quickly returned to more pressing matters; we’re back to violence and death. But as some faraway destination, Paris had served as a breather from depressing reality. A 3000-mile respite.)
Time-wise, surfing Twitter was largely off limits. Through Instagram, we stayed connected to home. We kept our phones on airplane mode, but cutting off our cell service wasn’t necessarily limiting. Almost every cafe and restaurant supplied us with precious WiFi, so whenever we made a food stop or returned to the hotel, we’d cycle through our photos, selecting and uploading.
Caption: Brown people stuff and oh yeah the Mona Lisa
After the first day, we stopped worrying and did what came naturally, with the approach of simply taking nice pictures and posting the ones we loved. The philosophy was simple: It’s Paris. As a marginally skilled, aspiring novice photographer, I tend to aim for the best angles and lighting anyway, and I get unnecessarily dramatic about it.
That meant posing in front of eye-popping pretty doors, Solange-style, and trying to capture the Seine River sunset over the Locks of Love bridge. My captions in this case were more instinctive than calculated. My amateur advice is to use humor and ask: What was I thinking in the moment this picture was taken?
That seems like the best way to avoid coming off disingenuous or humblebraggy, although there’s really no way of preventing this. People will think what they want, and anyway, you don’t get brownie points for being less grating.
Caption: Most of these are now covered by graf’d-up board. Something about the bridge collapsing. Apparently locks are heavy. Just like love. Just. like love 🎻
On our long walk to the Eiffel Tower—part of our extremely unpremeditated, chill itinerary—tipsy on rosé after a trip to Café Ruc, we came across a building with bright green vines that caught my eye. It looked like the perfect backdrop for a picture. “This looks like the perfect backdrop for a picture,” I said. The color contrast turned out amazing (real photographers, please confirm this).
Right after we took several shots, I joked out loud, “This is good ’grammin’,” before realizing how lame that sounded. Later, I posted the best shot and wrote in the caption: “Said out loud: ‘This is good ’grammin.’” It was indeed good ’grammin’—and mad meta.
At the Eiffel Tower, we stood on line and mocked all the crying kids and their parents waiting for the elevator to the top. Tracey successfully smuggled in a wine bottle opener through metal detectors. We briefly interacted with a Canadian couple and joked about whether the French line-cutters we spotted knew a secret shortcut (“Maybe this line is just a suggestion,” I said). We had fun and we had more than a few snapshots to show for it.
Caption: K... (AKA: Took a taxi)
Upon returning to New York, I realized I’d taken over 200 photos on the trip, some of which were of the same image shot at different angles. I only posted 20 on Instagram, a solid ten percent, including a collage of shots from the Louvre, some macarons, espresso and the requisite Eiffel Tower photos.
So what’s the best social media travel etiquette? I still don’t know. The real answer is a mix of “who cares?” and “doesn’t matter.” But the endgame should ideally be sincere: You’re in a cool and beautiful place. You’re happy. Pretty simple. Tracey had the following post-trip conclusion: “While some people will certainly find the ‘gram flexing obnoxious, others want more b/c they’re admittedly living through you...through the ‘gram.”
My strategy turned out fine, I think. I just wished I’d gotten a shot of me in front of the Eiffel, which is astoundingly breathtaking in person (I kept repeating, “Wow”). At one point, on the (again) long walk there, we joked about recreating Kim Kardashian’s pre-wedding moment...with just the two of us. We were only half-kidding. We didn’t do it. We already had our cool photos.
Images via the author.
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