Travel pictures on social media are breathtaking, but they’re often not as glamorous as they seem, and sometimes, those less picture-perfect moments are the best ones. Here are a handful of my favorite comparisons between what I posted on Instagram vs. what was happening at the same time.
Final product vs. first attempt at the most basic picture I have ever taken. Turns out those cute pics are harder to get than I thought.
This is one of the reasons I love that pictures of your back in cool locations are socially acceptable. It was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit with 95 percent humidity in the Guatemalan jungle and I was sweaty, smelly and tomato red. But you can’t tell from the back!
Bondi Beach, Sydney
Bondi Beach is peaceful in the mornings, but as the day heats up, literally thousands of people crowd together on the beach to escape the heat. As nice as the mornings are though, you haven’t really experienced Australia’s east coast until you lay topless in full view of hundreds of people.
Kentucky, during the Great American Eclipse
I took this Instagram-worthy photo of a crescent sun just minutes after complete totality during the solar eclipse, but trying to take a cute selfie with my brother was far less successful. The solar glasses were so dark that we couldn’t tell we weren’t looking at my phone.
Great Ocean Road, Australia
On Instagram, this is a photo of wild Australian coastline during golden hour but in reality, it was brutally windy, cold and overcast with harsh light (but still beautiful). Thank you, editing software.
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
The Thai islands are beautiful but over packed and aggressively touristy. The second photo here really does justice to the chaos at the top of this lookout. There were so many people packed together, each one fighting for the best place to sit for a photo that made it look like they were alone on a cliff. I’m not sure anyone actually watched the sunset. Beautiful island, but not my vibe.
Fraser Island, Australia
I hiked along this beautiful lonely beach on the last leg of a two-day hiking and camping trip on Fraser Island, the largest all-sand island in the world. Unfortunately, I had a fractured foot at the time, so hiking 15 miles while carrying all my camping supplies, tent and sleeping bag included, did a number on my foot. Worth it.
Blue Mountains National Park, Australia
Here is a pretty picture of me watching the sunset while camping in the mountains vs. what I looked like the rest of the time I was camping in the mountains: oversized sweater over as many layers as I could fit and looking, well…anything but photogenic.
Semuc Champey, Guatemala
This natural wonder is hidden far up in the mountains of Guatemala. Getting to the nearest village takes about eight hours of driving with the last hour along a narrow unpaved road. From there, you’ve got 45 minutes standing up in the back of a truck along a dirt road that winds through the mountains.
There’s a reason that my back is on Instagram more than my face. Those cute “standing in the middle of the street in wonder in a foreign city where the cars are on the wrong side of the road” pics are a lot less cute when you can see my face.
Whitsunday Islands National Park, Australia
This picture was taken about three minutes before I cut my leg on barnacles on the outside of a rock I was climbing on, permanently lodging bits of those barnacle shell into my knee. The picture here was taken a month and a half later, because the original injury and resulting infection were pretty gross. The bits of shell are in the puncture wound in the middle of my knee, and the bruise is from driving a rented scooter that was lacking brakes, but that’s another story.
Coogee Beach, Sydney
This is a cute picture of me learning to slackline with a bunch of fellow backpackers at a beach as the sun was setting vs. what I looked like as soon as I wasn’t holding anyone’s hand.
Zion National Park, Utah
When I’m not taking pictures of beautiful landscapes, I’m busy impersonating cacti.
Great Keppel Island, Australia
I went out to Great Keppel Island with a couple backpackers I’d met, as we’d heard it was a great place to snorkel. We tried to find a beach with some good reef but ended up getting lost in the woods and finding an abandoned car instead. The next day we did find a beach but, as I was barefoot and the trail was mostly washed out leaving nothing but sharp rocks, I didn’t even make it all the way to the beach before letting my friends go on ahead. As I was waiting, I climbed a tree and got this beautiful view of the island which was great, until I realized I was stuck in the tree.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
This pretty picture of a temple glowing at night was taken just before a 45 minute downpour that completely flooded the streets of Chiang Mai. After ducking into a 7/11 for a $1 rain poncho, I made my way back to my hostel by walking barefoot through six inches of flood water. Personally, I think this is my best look.