In this day and age, it's easy to live vicariously through someone else's experiences, thanks to the posting powers of social media. But the pressures to immortalize trips and moments perfectly can sometimes rob you of the simple joys of life and keep you from being fully present. See what happened when one writer stopped posting to Instagram during a truly Instagrammable vacation — and the effects it had on her experience (and mental state) as a whole.
The invitation came unexpectedly. I was sitting at my desk, fresh off a Fourth of July vacation with my family and barely unpacked from a late-June bike trip in Europe with a group of girlfriends when my most well-traveled friend texted simply, “What are you doing in late August?” The message was cryptic at worst, intriguing at best, leading me to immediately respond, “Working?”—the question mark to signify both my confusion and curiosity . “Call me,” was the text I got back within seconds. I did as she asked. And that was when I got to the bottom of my personal text mystery: She was inviting me on a boat. Well, if I’m being an honest, it’s more of a yacht, like the one from the Bravo show where beautiful people live in small cabins and engage in a lot of drama.
The boat—ahem, yacht—would be sailing around the south of France and there was suddenly room for me on said floating vessel. Would I be able to get away? Did I want to see Antibes and Monaco? Did St. Tropez sound appealing? I picked my jaw up off the floor and began to plot how I could make this “extra” vacation happen, because — ya know — YOLO.
From the moment I made the decision I was going to go, one thing was crystal clear in my head: I couldn’t post anything on social media. Not because I didn’t get the trip approved from my very generous bosses or because my friend asked me not to, but because it felt like “too much.” (Please reference the aforementioned European vacation, less than two months before, as well as a slew of other small trips the summer had required, both personal and professional, all of which had made their way onto my feed.) I was prepared to go on the trip of a lifetime—perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime trip, in fact — and I was not going to document it for anyone other than myself. In 2019, that bold decision begged the question: Did the vacation even happen? As an intrepid reporter, I was determined to find out.
Why I Chose Not To Post
I’ve always tried to left my gut lead my life on social media. If I’m about to post something and it feels, well, “icky,” I don’t do it. What leads to these icky feelings for me? Personally, it’s anything that comes too close to bragging or being insincere or trying to be something I’m not (read: a blogger). I’m a writer; that’s what I do. No one cares what new purse I just got or what my shoes look like against colorful tile.
When it came to my trip, something in that aforementioned gut told me posting from a big boat on a big trip was going to lead to big comments that caused me a big headache. “Do you even work?” was one I imagined I would get. (I do, in case you’re wondering. Quite a bit in fact.) “Back in Europe again? OMG, I want your life!” or some version of this was another one I thought might find its way below a photo. The sentiment behind that type of comment is usually (probably?) nice, but it always makes me feel uncomfortable. Hence, the decision not to post. After all, if the trip felt decadent even to me and I was living it, how would it look to the outside world (or, more accurately, my 2,000-some followers).
I know what you’re thinking: Why should it matter what people think? Well, it shouldn’t, but for whatever reason I was feeling self-conscious about it, so I listened to my gut and made my decision. Digital detox (or, at least, posting detox), here I come.
The Benefits Of A Social Media Detox
August arrived, and the trip was upon me, and suddenly I was in the gorgeous waters of the Mediterranean and surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery I had ever set my eyes on. We had a drink at Hotel du Cap and gambled at the casino in Monaco. I danced on a table in more than one St. Tropez beach club and jumped off the top of the boat (yacht) into the shockingly blue (and warm!) water. Of course, I took photos with my phone. I even recorded a few videos, but I never once considered breaking my social-media ban to show others where I was. And you know what? I was relieved. I never felt pressured to craft the perfect Insta Story, scouring my phone for the ideal font or appropriate GIF to make it compelling enough to watch all the way through.
As strange as it may sound, my vacation felt “healthier” without the pressure to post. I decided to consult an expert to find out if that was in fact the case. “Taking a break from social media while on vacation allows us to be fully present,” says psychotherapist Lauren Urban, LCSW. “It means we are giving ourselves the full opportunity to decompress during our downtime, which is extremely important. It also means that we are present with our loved ones — and ourselves! Beginning vacation with the mindset that we will not be engaging with social media in the same way that we typically do is an excellent way to send yourself a mental note to experience your vacation in real time, not through Instagram filters.”
There was no denying that without social media, I was more present, really taking in the experiences and sites around me without considering how they might translate to my feed. Did I still check Instagram? Sure. But not posting while on vacation made me feel more relaxed and almost gave me the feeling of disappearing for a little while, which I relished. My vacation was truly just for me, and that felt like the most decadent part of the whole experience. “We start to filter ourselves and curate our lives in order to control how others perceive us on social media,” says Urban. “We become less authentic, in addition to less present in our day-to-day lives. We become reinforced in this behavior by the ‘likes’ and perceived approval that we receive from social media platforms, and a habit is formed.”
So did this all mean I should give up social media completely? Urban doesn’t think we have to be so dramatic. “Rather than ‘prescribing’ patients with a specific time limit or cut-off point for social media consumption, I recommend they try to be mindful and intentional about their social media use,” she says. “I suggest taking time to notice a few key things when they recognize they are stuck in a social-media hole. Is there anything that they are avoiding or escaping from? Why are they consuming social media — is it a way to numb out or self-medicate? Are you scrolling through Instagram instead of interacting with friends, family or partners — even when you’re with them? Answering these questions allows you to set your own limits around social-media consumption.”
On our last morning on the boat, I watched the sun come up over the Mediterranean, an orange ball seemingly rising out of the vast ocean in a smearing of pinks and purples so beautiful I almost couldn’t believe my own eyes. I looked and I looked, staring at it as the colors slowly changed and gave way to the full light of early morning. I snapped a few photos and then I went back to the breakfast table. Turns out sunrises and sunsets actually do happen even if no one posts them on Instagram. Who knew?