The Epidemic of Selfie Tourism
Johannesburg’s Lion Park. Lake Tahoe. Poland’s Auschwitz. Each of these travel sites conjures up a different emotion: excitement, relaxation, and heartache. There is one thing they all have in common: selfies have been banned due to tourists’ foolish behavior. And the behavior extends beyond idiocy– it has resulted in serious injuries and even death for many tourists. This issue sparked my interest, as it has been escalating in recent years. In fact, in the world of travel news reports we are witnessing a downward spiral of decent, respectable behavior from tourists.
With the advent of Smartphones (and social media), it has made travel interesting and easier in some ways, but toxic in others. The use of social media sites during travel has led to the rise of tourist selfie culture. Instead of enjoying the beauty of Vietnam’s Sapa rice terraces or the Pyramids of Giza, travelers have become obsessed with taking selfies, posting them on social media, and enjoying the rush of dopamine as the number of “likes” increases. For selfie tourists, travel has become less about appreciating, learning, and respecting the countries they visit. Instead, for many of them it has become more about staying relevant on social media, boosting their self-esteem, and humble-bragging.
With the advent of Smartphones (and social media), it has made travel interesting and easier in some ways, but toxic in others.
According to a study by the National Library of Medicine between 2011 to 2017 there were 259 deaths resulting from selfies. In 2018 a study of news reports was conducted and found that India took first place as the country with most selfie-related deaths. Causes of death have included animal attacks, drownings, falls, and transportation accidents. Tourists are willing to risk their lives to take selfies atop buildings, dangerously close to a cliff’s edge, or even trespassing into an animal’s living environment.
During 2018 in New South Wales, Australia a 19 year-old man fell to his death from a cliff. A year later at Arizona’s Wildlife World Zoo a 30 year-old woman climbed over the barrier to capture a snapshot of herself with a jaguar. When traveling most of us want to capture the memorable sights and sounds, but perhaps risking our lives for the perfect selfie is just not worth it.
Nowadays, it seems that an overlooked aspect of travel is being present in those spectacular moments and appreciating them. Many travelers have given into the misconception that if they aren’t taking selfies (or pictures) then those moments didn’t happen. However, if we’re too busy clicking away we might miss out on other moments that make travel memorable: a cat enjoying his siesta against the backdrop of Chefchaouen’s blue walls, the soft rustling of tree leaves as a light wind blows through them at Mesa Verde’s Cliff Palace, or the Heisenberg t-shirt on display at an Algiers underground shopping bazaar.
The Epidemic of Selfie Tourism.
Through my years of travel, I’ve made a conscious effort to take less photos mainly because appreciating the moments is what’s been important. Since it might be a while until I re-visit certain countries, when I’m there I want to soak up those moments and truly enjoy them– and sometimes keeping the iPhone tucked away is the best way to do so! In fact, according to psychologists, there are several benefits of grounding ourselves in the present moment: less emotional distress, more energy, improved moods, and discerning what really matters and what doesn’t. In this American rat race lifestyle that many of us get pulled into, grounding ourselves in the present should be near the top of our day instead of putting it at the bottom (or delaying it until the weekend rolls around).
French novelist Marcel Proust once said, “The only true voyage of discovery…would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another…” When traveling, one way we better understand and appreciate a country is during interactions and conversations with the locals. Whether it’s chatting with the owner of your Quito guesthouse or with the shopkeeper at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, we learn about their life, what they love most about their country, and leave with a different perspective. And no selfie can substitute for that.
Photos for The Epidemic of Selfie Tourism by Unsplash and Rebecca Biage.