The Instagram Test

4 minute read

Photo by Allen Leigh on Unsplash

Perhaps the most frequent question in every digital nomad group is some variation of ‘where should I travel next and what should I do there.’

I’m proposing a simple guide to help you with your decision: the Instagram Test.

It’s straightforward: are you going to a place primarily to take a selfie? So that you can hang it on your Instagram/Facebook wall later?

If the honest-to-god answer is ‘probably/yes’ - you failed the Instagram Test and you should re-think whether it’s worth it.

When I started to travel, I was failing the Instagram Test all the time. In fact, I was strategic about failing it!

Here is a fantastic example - hanging out in the infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

Faux chillax in the rooftop pool of Marina Bay Sands

Did it look great on my Instagram feed? Sure!

Did I enjoy it? Not at all!

I was too busy making sure it looks like I’m having the time of my life, and didn’t have a chance to enjoy myself!


The rooftop pool of the Marine Bay Sands is one of the most infamous selfie spots in the world. It easily puts a Chinese beach on the best day of the year to shame.

So I spent an hour waltzing around, hoping to snap a picture free of other selfie-stick-toting, Instagram-test-failing tourists. (I failed. Obviously. There is a famous Chuck Norris joke: “Chuck Norris took a selfie in the Marina Bay Sands rooftop pool. Alone.” My name is not Chuck Norris, so go figure.)

I gave up and spent another hour in Photoshop to remove the extra legs, hads and selfie sticks from the picture.

The weather (and water) was cold - it was raining all the time on that day.

The whole experience felt WEIRD. I stood out like a sore thumb in my 100 Baht t-shirt and fake Diesel flip-flops I bought at Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok next to the business(wo)men whose shoelace cost more than my entire ‘apparel.’

To be honest, I couldn’t afford the price - munching on store-bought biscuits while watching the people eating in restaurants by Wolfgang Puck or David Myers and thinking ‘What a bunch of hypocrites. Sitting there in their thousand dollar suits, stiff as a poker, obviously having no idea how to enjoy themselves. Pfft, pathetic’.


The truth is that the only pathetic hypocrite was me. They enjoyed themselves just fine, thank you very much. I just pretended to, and deep inside I knew I was failing hard.

But hey, who cares? None of my 93 Instagram followers knew these details, so it’s fine, right?

No, it’s not. Unless you want to be fake and willing to sacrifice life’s great moments for your 15 seconds of Insta-fame, that is. After playing this game for a while, I decided this is not who I am, or want to become.

I’m not saying you should smash your phone right now and buy a Nokia 3330 to resist the temptation of taking selfies in the future.

Your pictures and videos capture precious but ephemeral moments: places you perhaps won’t ever visit and adventures you might never re-live again.

Going on a diatribe against selfie culture, then saying photos are great after all might sound contradictory, but:

There is a fundamental difference between personal and perfectly manicured #I-am-oh-so-cool Instagram photos. Broadcasting a highlight reel of your life to strangers on the Internet comes at a high cost. It robs you of moments you should cherish and absorb because you are too busy to find the perfect angle or Instagram filter.

Nothing in life is black or white, though. Some places and experiences are both instagrammable and rewarding.

For example, visiting the Angkor Wat or Borobudur were on my bucket list since forever. Therefore, they passed the Instagram Test. AND I made some of the best photos there. But that was a bonus and side effect, rather than the goal.

However, the Statue of Liberty, Top of the Rock, or Brooklyn Bridge failed the Instagram Test for me. I don’t regret for a second that I didn’t visit them (sorry, New Yorkers! NYC has a special place in my ❤!)

Going for a run in the Central Park, soaking in the vibe of the city, watching Helen Mirren perform live on Broadway or eating the best pancakes of the world in a tucked away local joint didn’t provide any Instagram opportunities but were a more authentic experience for me. (bonus: bumping into Melissa McCarthy by chance when going for a movie).

Too long, didn’t read:

” Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” (The Little Prince)

Do it for the invisible things. The atmosphere. The feelings. The tastes. The smells. The vibe.

Your Instagram posts will be eventually forgotten.

Authentic memories will stay with you forever.

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