Back in May I spent a solid three weeks in the US, connecting with old friends and getting some much-needed fresh air in my lungs. It had been a while and as such, I packed my adventure full to the brim with as many special moments as possible. It is by far my favourite way to travel; visiting friends or family in a destination that’s exciting to me. I get the comforts of home in a foreign place, a familiar face to contemplate life with and the inside knowledge of the best places to, well, do as the locals do.
I encountered a strange situation on this trip though; one that was entirely new to me and has stuck with me ever since. It was the act of sharing photos on Instagram without giving away the exact location. Because, who was I to disclose to the world a secret spot that I was fortunate enough to have been given the key to? Who was I to shatter the pristine and silent wilderness that had been entrusted to me by those who enjoy it as their backyard?
We live in a strange age where we can be connected to each other via social media every second of every day, if we want to be. With that comes great power, but also great responsibility. Primarily for our own sanity, of course, but also when it comes to maintaining that which is sacred.
Travel is a luxury that not all of us can afford, but there is certainly a growing number indulging in jaunts across the globe for work or pleasure. It’s one of life’s most wonderful gifts; experiencing new cultures and everything that delights the senses as a result of that. Travel is something that enriches our lives and makes us better people. It teaches us about others, helps to eradicate discrimination and gets us in touch with the natural world.
But as more of us travel and wish to excitedly share our adventures, there is a growing fear amongst some (now including myself) that those sacred spaces that hold enormous appeal are becoming fewer and fewer. Pristine wilderness untouched by the footprints, toilet paper and granola wrappers of man slipping through our fingers.
Are Instagram and Facebook to blame, I wonder? With each of us seemingly trying to outdo one another with the most beautiful and inspiring photographs of what are now iconic ‘wanderlust musts’ around the globe, are we propelling ourselves directly into that which will destroy the very thing we hold dear? I see photograph after photograph of Antelope Canyon and Joshua Tree and I realise that the chances of me getting to go to those places without a single tourist in sight are almost nonexistent. And that’s incredibly disheartening.
If you’re like me, you travel to get away from all the hustle and bustle; away from all the connectivity to instead gain perspective on what truly matters. My favourite moments in the world; the ones I hold closest to my heart and help me settle to sleep are those are those where I am truly immersed in the wilderness. There’s nothing but me and a couple friends and real, untouched terrain. With a growing population and many of those in power giving, well, not a flying fuck, about preserving these spaces, it then becomes, surely, my responsibility to protect them?
So adventure and share photographs, I did, but the exact location of some of these has remained inside knowledge. Is it wrong of me to think that the best spots in the world should be reserved for locals and those who happen to find them of their own accord? No, I genuinely believe not. It’s so easy to scour Google for the best places to eat, mountains to climb and beaches to surf, but can you really call it an adventure if a search online from your couch was all it took to get there? I hardly think so.
It’s only natural to want to sing and dance and shout about the most phenomenal places in the world. It’s why there are a thousand blogs and books written about the topic and a thousand more Instagram pages dedicated to it. But would it maybe serve us better to hold off a little on the exact coordinates? In this age of know it all, leave just a little something to the imagination? Leave a little mystery? After all, it might just make us talk to each other a little bit more and adventure a little further if it took more effort to get there.
I don’t ignore the fact that shining a big, bright light and lots of publicity on certain places has indeed helped them gain protected status. And that’s great and one of the pros of social media acting a vessel for the coming together of conservation enthusiasts. But travel all for the sake of getting the shot so you can show others just how great of a time you’re having? That just doesn’t cut it, in my eyes. You can’t really say you’ve been somewhere if you haven’t made that emotional connection with the place. I don’t say that to sound pretentious, believe me. I say that because I bet your bottom dollar that the next time you really go somewhere and experience the stillness and serenity of a land untouched by tourism, you’ll think of this. You’ll recall this idea of preserving sacred spaces a little part of you will experience the sensation that you don’t want the world to know about it. It’s the realisation that you don’t want to risk anything destroying it. And that’s okay. You go ahead and keep it sacred. I encourage you to do so. And I only hope that one day I discover it on my own so I can understand just how special it is and exactly how it made you smile.