Travelling on Instagram versus Reality: Seeing the World Without a Filter

All text and photography © Tess McLennan.

Recently, I’ve noticed a growing trend amongst my social media feeds: travel photo forgery.

I’m a seasoned traveller, there’s no doubt about that. I’ve taken many photographs all over the globe. I’ve seen the best and worst parts of the world. I’ve been inspired, mesmerised, and had my life changed by my experiences overseas.

However, I’ve also realised how many parts of travelling never make the Instagram feed. Flight delays, cranky travel companions, lost luggage, tired eyes and itching skin… People have this growing need to portray their lives as ‘perfect’ on the social media stage, and this includes the way they document their travels around the world.

In reality, travelling rarely looks like it does on Instagram. Maybe in a perfect world, yes. But not this one.

So I’m here to rip off your rose coloured glasses. To ask you to ‘be real’, to do away with the filters and see things for the way they really are. Life is messy, rarely perfect. So is travelling. But in its imperfections, lies its true beauty. So here is my comparison piece, which I hope you might get a laugh from: ‘Travelling on Instagram versus Reality: Seeing the World Without a Filter’.


Unfortunately, no amount of photoshop could make my snowman bigger. 


Travelling on Instagram: Getting off a long haul flight, with amazing hair, skin and armpit smells.

 Reality: You have breath that could probably kill a mule, and your lips have gone all crusty because you left your chapstick at home.

You will never see a photograph of me on social media after a long flight. Why? Because nobody wants to see that. Nobody. I don’t even have a photograph for this example. My hair usually resembles a bird’s nest, I’m wearing no makeup, and clothes that are two days old, almost always stained with aeroplane food. I’m all for being ‘real’ on social media, but don’t show me a picture of yourself that has been edited and photo shopped to get rid of your eye bags and sweat stains after a long flight.

Challenge: Either be real, or don’t post it. Simple.

Travelling on Instagram: Blurry clubbing pictures… caption about the late hour, focal point of picture: your breasts, brief mention of the city (twenty times), random guy in pic to make it look like you scored. 

 Reality: You were so exhausted from the day exploring, that clubbing was the last thing on your mind.

 I admire people who can sightsee all day, still have the energy to go out at night and party until dawn. I am not one of those people, and when travelling, I usually have so much planned during the day, that the nightlife is the last thing I want to be part of. In all honesty, no one cares if you’re in a club at 2 am in Berlin. Most clubbing pictures are blurry, with the worst lighting and filters, and are just a blatant attempt to show everybody how fun loving and free spirited you are (hence, the random guy in the picture).

And what’s even worse… if you go to the club in Berlin, just to post about going to a club in Berlin.

Challenge: If you go to a club, put your phone away and live in the moment. What does it matter if Facebook/Instagram knows you’re there? We know you’re awesome IRL, and that’s all that matters. Tell the story later on, to your real life friends, in a real life conversation.

Travelling on Instagram: Any situation, such as a long bus ride, an inflight meal or foreign public transport is made to look as comfortable, delicious or easy to get through as possible. Photo complete with filters, appropriate lighting and encouraging caption.

 Reality: You have a crick in your neck because sleeping in your bus seat is the equivalent to sleeping in a dollhouse, your inflight meal was some form of stew (unidentified contents), and the public transport was crowded, smelly and unpleasant.

 Not to be a Negative Nancy, but if you try to convince me that sleeping in a bus seat, or an economy seat on an aeroplane is comfortable, I may tell you to get your head checked. Yes, some plane food is pleasant… but usually not worth posting about on Instagram. Neither is your trip on the Rome Metro system.

 Challenge: Do we really need to know about your plane seat, food or public transport adventures? Not really. Save your Instagram posts for more memorable moments on your trip.


Okay, some people can make sleeping in transit look comfortable. For real. 

Travelling on Instagram: Model shots, staring pensively/wistfully/vacantly at the Eiffel Tower, or any other prominent landmark.

 Reality: It took one hundred shots and a damn good filter to create that photo.

Would you actually stare at the Eiffel Tower like that in real life? What ever happened to a beautiful photo of you smiling in front of the Colosseum? Why are you looking at me like you want to devour my soul?

When I see a photograph, I want to see a moment from ‘real life’ captured forever… not a moment that has been edited, filtered and distorted beyond recognition. Filters are great, when used properly. And sparingly.

When you try to make every photo from your travels look like a perfume ad from a magazine, nobody will be thinking how good looking you are … well, they might. But they’re also probably thinking that your sulky looks and lack of smile mean you’re having a shit time. Because that’s what most amateur model shots look like.

Challenge: I love that everybody’s smile is unique, and I want to see more of them. Take a beautiful picture of you smiling in front of a landmark. Simplicity is often the most effective.


Yes, I’m a travel cliche… but at least I’m smiling. No model shots necessary. Shame about my wardrobe choice though.

Travelling on Instagram: That gorgeous shot of a cityscape or scenic view, with perfect lighting, colours and oddly tinted hue.

 Reality: That gorgeous shot of a cityscape or scenic view, with colours brightened, blemishes photoshopped out and filters added.  

 I am guilty of this one (I’m happy to throw myself under the bus and admit my flaws). Have you ever seen those beautiful photographs on Pinterest of exotic locations, usually with clear waters, blue skies and vibrant colours? They’re either the work of a fantastic photographer, or crafty editing. Most likely the latter.

Every day, I see photographs of places that I’ve visited, and I can usually tell straight away which ones have had the absolute life edited out of them. Their souls replaced by a filter. The scenery destroyed by Photoshop.

I am more lenient towards this type of editing, as sometimes it is simply an enhancement of what the photographer is already seeing.

But when editing photographs, one needs to ask themselves where the line is drawn… where does editing stop and distorting the true content of the photo begin? If you’re trying to make the sky in Santorini blue, when the day was actually grey and miserable, then you aren’t being true to your travel self, are you? However, if a filter can merely enhance the colours already in front of you, whether miserable grey, or vibrant blue, then why not?

Challenge: Enhance your photos, don’t distort them.


Colour enhancing in beautiful Vancouver 😉 

Like what you read on this blog? Check out some of my other posts, just head to my archive… you know you want to 😉 


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