Lately, Instagram seems to have become the app that everybody LOVES to hate on but in my honest opinion they’re probably just not using the app right!
The last two or three years has seen a major shift in the way most people use Instagram. What originally started as a platform to share super personal (and sometimes boring) instant updates with friends and family has morphed into a tool used by many to connect, share, and influence others. But some people, myself included, use Instagram to enhance their life experiences.
Face the facts and let go of the days of just being random and sporadic with your use of the social media app and focus on how you can make it work for you, not against you.
Keep reading if you want to learn how to make the app work for you as a solo traveler.
Putting the social back in social media
Early last year I realised something quite interesting about Instagram. Even though it falls into the category of a social network, I wasn’t using it to socialise – and neither were many other people in my social circles. When I would log in, I was bombarded by ads, ‘influencers’ trying to sell things and people trying to look like their lives were actually interesting.
None of it was adding any value to my life.
If this sounds anything at all like your feed, it probably feels like every time you open up your app you’re walking into the world’s largest live auction house where everyone is constantly trying to get as many likes on their generic photos as possible.
Tailoring Your Instagram
Instagram is a give and take. Don’t expect to just show up and receive life changing travel tips. Okay, you’ll find one or two “instagrammable spots” and learn how to save some coins here or there but trust me, if you really want to get the most out of your travels by using Instagram you should keep reading.
Find Your Niche
The first thing I had to do was find my niche. And no, travel is too broad of a niche to begin with. I’m a Caribbean woman of colour teaching English in Madrid. That means SO many things when it comes to travel. So for me I started to follow and interact with accounts that were similar to mine. Other young black (Caribbean) women traveling around the world. Other young women teaching English abroad (in Madrid). Or just young black women in general. As an auxiliar de conversación in Spain you don’t make bank, so other budget travelers were also on my radar.
Following similar accounts to yours, or accounts in your niche, is extremely important because chances are they’ve traveled to where you want to go and have a wealth of resources of tips and tricks that can help you save so much time planning the perfect trip (if you’re a perfectionist).
The thing about life changing travel is this – it is is unique to you. What changes my perspective won’t shift yours in the same way. So start thinking about what kinds of things you want to do or see on your trip and connect with people with similar interests and that’s sure to take your trip from being just another weekend in Paris to a life changing experience.
Getting likes on Instagram is extremely overrated. It means so much more when there is genuine interaction and conversation going on whether it be on the photos I post or in my DMs.
This doesn’t mean you need to leave random comments on every single person’s posts. Au contraire! I usually leave comments on posts that resonate with me and it’s hard to do that if you skipped past curating your feed to follow people who post content that’s remotely meaningful.
I have to say, the community of young melanin queens slaying the travel game that I have curated on my feed are some of the most uplifting women I’ve come across. Interacting with their accounts through the content they share has resulted in some genuine connections that have resulted in some wonderful travel moments for me over the last year and you can get the same value out of your Instagram too.
Share. Share. Share.
If you’re not actively using Instagram yourself then benefiting from the app is going to be tough. I enjoy documenting my travels using the Stories feature so people always know where I am and what I’m doing. This generates a lot of conversation in my DMs because people genuinely want to help me (especially after I’ve left such sweet comments on their posts).
When I post to my feed I talk about past trips, where I’m at in my life, or where I’m going next so people also have a chance to connect with me on a deeper level. That may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it does make communication less one sided. When you create much more authentic Instagram posts, I’ve noticed that people are just that much more willing to help.
Optimise your account
First of all, having a private Instagram is such a weird flex. I kind of get it though, especially as an aux in Madrid. When I taught high school almost everyday my students would ask if I had Instagram and if they could follow me there. A few did find me even though I didn’t tell them my @ and they still follow me to this day.
Open your account up to the endless travel possibilities that await you! Hashtagging your posts WORK! Location tagging your posts WORK! BUT they only work if your profile is PUBLIC!
So many people visit my profile after I drop a photo and decide to stick around because they like my content.
I usually include in my bio where I’m off to next not so people can see that I’m always going somewhere but so that they can hop in my DMs and let me in on anything I should know about heading off there!
Okay, Aneakaleigh? How does any of this actually help me plan a bomb trip?
Earlier this April I was stuck and wondering if booking a three-day trip to Manchester was actually worth it. The roundtrip flight cost less than €60 and as a Manchester United fan the city was high on my bucket list. I found myself second guessing spending three days there because this was going to be my first solo trip in Europe and let’s be honest – ya girl was scared and underprepared. Not a good combo!
With only two weeks before my trip I still had zero plans. None. I knew I’d be going to Old Trafford but for some reason their website refused to let me pre-book the tour so for all I knew at that point I wasn’t going to Old Trafford. I also wanted to go to Liverpool which wasn’t too far away from Manchester on the map and my trusty travel app Omio was showing really cheap roundtrip train tickets so I thought why not? Again though, first solo trip and I was scared shitless!
One day I was just minding my business on Instagram commenting on posts, sharing to my stories and whatnot when an account I’ve never interacted with liked a comment I’d left on a mutual’s post, liked a bunch of my photos and followed my account.
My Instagram etiquette handbook dictates that I should reciprocate the same – like photos back and maybe follow too if I’m interested in whatever they’re sharing. A few hours later she sent me a DM as she’d noticed that I was heading to Manchester next and she was from Manchester herself.
Okay, GREAT! We chatted a bit but unfortunately she wouldn’t have been back in her home city in time to meet up with me and show me around. Instead of leaving it at just that she decided to put me on to her friend who lives there so that she could show me around instead! Suddenly I had one less thing to worry about in Manchester!
Part of my account optimisation process was including a Trini flag in my bio and using appropriate hashtags that would allow my posts to reach other Trini travelers on the ‘gram as well.
My Liverpool day trip was still up in the air but Tanya’s heroic slide into my DMs reminded me that I could do the same and reach out to anybody I had connected with on IG who’d be in a position to help me out. So I reached out to one of the Trini travelers I’d recently connected with after remembering that she was Liverpool-based to ask if she’d be there then or knew anyone who’d be willing to meet up.
As it turns out, she wasn’t going to be in Liverpool at the time of my trip but she had a Trinidadian friend who lived there so she put us in contact, we connected and Rachel happily agreed to meet up and take me around the city when I came!
At the end of that day, the only issue that remained was the Manchester United tour not being booked, but in the end I ended up showing up on the day and getting a student discount with my NIE anyway! Wins all around!
So you be the judge!
When I showed up in Manchester and Liverpool and finally met Safrana & Rachel (both of whom I barely spoke to much leading up to the trip) it was like meeting old friends. They were happy to show me around, take my photos, and were two of the kindest souls I’ve had the pleasure of meeting over the last year.
Safrana and I hung out like old pals at a Kizomba dance class/party on my first night in the city. She’s an artist and does murals with lots of floral designs and so she took me around the city to see all the cool graffiti the city of Manchester had on display. Thanks to her I had probably the best aloo bengan curry in the world in Manchester and I can’t wait to go back and try it again!
Honestly, if I had gone to Liverpool on my own I wouldn’t have done HALF of the things Rachel and I did. Part of traveling with a local is getting to experience the city like a local!
In 10 hours we ate so much good food, watched a great Spike Lee film at the International Slavery Museum (I even won a poster), met the Beatles and spent the afternoon learning all about the May Blitz which nearly complete wiped Liverpool off the map during WWII.
How are you using your Instagram to create better travel experiences?