Who’s Fooling Who With Their #Dreamy Travel Photos?

Do you obsess over which travel photos you’re going to post to social media?

Do you try to make sure your trip always looks fabulous, even when things go wrong or the destination disappoints?

If you’re a millennial, there’s a 37% chance that the answer is yes. If you’re a baby boomer, probably not.

travel photo posted on social media to inspire envy

This goes out to all the cubicle-dwelling suckers

That’s one of the findings from a survey by Allianz Global Assistance, the travel insurance company. After surveying more than 1,000 traveling Americans for their annual Vacation Confidence Index, they found that 26% of millennials regularly try to “make their vacations look better than they are in reality” on social media, while another 10% said they had done so, but only once.

Many have argued that Instagram is killing travel and injecting an element of competition into a pursuit that really shouldn’t be competitive at all. The platform forces us to put the #nofilter hashtag in a post just to make it clear we haven’t doctored up the image with an extra helping of saturation. I love this post from our archives by former contributor Dana McMahan on how mobbed some travel spots have become, just so everyone can get the same #iconic photo that everyone else has taken before them. (There’s a line at many famous attractions now to stand in the right spot, the one place where you can take a photo that will look like the 500 other identical ones you’ve seen the past year in your Instagram feed.)

Among the younger crowd, it seems they have all turned into East Asian tourists: if you weren’t in the photo yourself, you weren’t really there, were you? So now it’s not enough to document their vacation so the plebes back in the office will be jealous, they have to be looking fabulous and clearly having fun as well.

Envy Through Photography

The elements of jealousy and envy play a big role in what and why travelers post on social media and the younger the age bracket of the survey respondent, the more likely they were to affirm this.

Participants were asked to agree or disagree with the following statement, “I try to make friends and family back home envious by posting pictures of my vacation on social media.” More than one-third of millennial travelers—37%—agreed, while only 9% of baby boomers did.

Another statement was, “I try to compete with others who post pics of their vacations on social media by posting my own, better photos.” This one came out 27% for millennials, 14% for Gen X, and just 3% for baby boomers.

I thought this age difference might have something to do with all the travel babes in bikinis in photos, but it turns out the men are much more competitive: they were far more likely to agree across the board than the women were. (Maybe the women just don’t see it as “competitive” to haul a red dress and lipstick across four miles in their daypack so they can change outfits next to the waterfall…)

The good news in all this is, it’s a small minority that’s creating the doctoring up and the competition. If the worst result is 27% agreeing, that still leaves 73% that don’t feel a need to put up a false front on their social media feed.

Identical backdrops for photos at Machu Picchu

Where we get in to majority level is when travelers are asked how they select which photos to post. Few people are putting up shots of garbage on the beach, the smoke-belching cars that don’t look nice in Havana, or that time they had to wear the same outfit for 36 hours after flight delays. Respondents were asked if they agree with this: “I take lots of pictures of myself on vacation and only post the shots where I look best.” The next one was not just about them, but the place itself: “I take lots of pictures of myself on vacation and only post the shots where my surroundings look best.” On these two, more than half of millennial travelers responded positively. It was almost half for Generation X travelers, 15-20% for boomers.

Do We Trust What We See on Social Media?

Despite all the editing going on, we still have an oddly high trusting relationship with social media. Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy to steal an election in America these days or to trot out blatant lies and have your friends believe them. A staggering 86% of Americans trust posts from people they know personally.

The amazing finding from this survey, however, is that people who knowingly engage in deceptive—or at least “enhanced”—posting practices on social media are actually more trusting than the average person. Not only are they one point more likely to trust posts from people they know, but they are more likely to trust social posts across the board: from media, from brands (69% instead of 55%), and social media users they don’t know (60% compared to 31%). See the findings here in this infographic from Allianz.

Social media sharing envy and trust - findings from Allianz Vacation Confidence survey

Social Media Impact on Travel Decisions

So how much do we base our travel decisions on those all-too-perfect vacation photos we see in our social media feeds?

Once again, that depends on your age and which platform. For millennials, 51 percent feel that social media posts influence their own travel planning choices. Per the survey, “Three in ten Americans of all age groups admit their travel planning choices are somewhat or very influenced by social media posts.” And once again, we’ll believe our crazy conspiracy theory uncle more than a credentialed reporter who fact-checks. “…respondents are still most influenced by posts of friends and family (63 percent), over posts from media and news organizations (11 percent), users they do not know personally (9 percent) or brands (8 percent).”

In all fairness though, if you’ve been following a specific blogger or podcaster for years and seeing their posts, I would argue that you think of them as someone you know personally, part of your circle. They’re not a stranger, and therefore they wield influence beyond their friends and family.

Which platforms really impact travel decisions? Putting aside sales/decision cycles and just asking which social platforms inspire them to travel, respondents put the most popular one on top. A full 49 percent of Americans surveyed say Facebook is the social media platform that most inspires them to travel, followed by Instagram (35 percent), Pinterest (19 percent), Twitter (13 percent) and Snapchat (13 percent). Women are more likely to be inspired by Pinterest (25 percent of woman compared to 12 percent of men) and men by Twitter (20 percent of men compared to seven percent of women).

How about you? Do you carefully curate social travel photos so you and the place always look great? What influences where you go and what you do there? Tell us in the comments!

This post was sponsored by our travel insurance partner Allianz Global Assistance and we have received financial compensation.


  1. Michelle July 16, 2018
    • Ian July 18, 2018
    • Tim July 18, 2018
  2. Jian July 17, 2018
  3. Gary B July 18, 2018
  4. Tom Bartel July 19, 2018
  5. Kerwin July 19, 2018

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