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NOTE: I wanted to share this post again with a few edits and updates, most notably, the Leave No Trace Center’s Social Media Guidelines which I was unfamiliar with when I originally published this post.
I’m bad at social media. I very much love to use it, to share and consume content, but I’m not consistent. I’m sure that part of that is a byproduct of the really weird hectic schedule that I keep. I also have a weird attention span that alternates between obsessive tunnel vision and scattered focus. Still, overall I think social media can be a good thing, and I’ll admit that Instagram is one of my favorites. It isn’t without its flaws though.
Instagram makes it easy for the dreaded fear of missing out to pop up.
“Oh you’re at work? That’s too bad, I’m on a beach in the Maldives.”
“Oh, you have to mow the lawn this evening? Shucks, I’m cliff diving into magical blue water.”
“Oh, busy paying bills? I’m out here on a road trip basking in majestic #VanLife.”
Soon you’re comparing your behind the scenes footage with everyone else’s highlight reel. I’m guilty on both sides; I’ll scroll through my Instagram feed over my lunchbreak, and think, “damn, I wish I was hiking a 14er in Colorado right now.” I’m also the guy who posts photos from Mount Whitney making other people say, “Aw man, I wish I was on a mountain instead of in my cubicle.”
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Yet I keep coming back to Instagram every day, and for good reason. I think the pros outweight the cons, and when you use Instagram the right way, it can help you kick your own adventure life to new levels.
Four Ways to Use Instagram for Adventure
While you definitely risk activating your fear of missing out by checking out your Instagram feed, the opposite is also true; you can find inspiration for your own adventures in those little pictures. Follow people who inspire you, not just make you envious. Don’t just skim the photos, read those captions even when they’re long as hell, and get the full story.
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If you’re following people whose message resonates with you, their photos and stories won’t make you feel bad about what you’re doing, they will inspire you.
Scout Locations and Brainstorm Ideas
Are you making plans to visit a certain place? I recommend looking up that location on Instagram to find photos that will give you ideas of what to do. Search the location and associated hash tags and see what people have been up to there. You’re going to find some interesting shots that will give you some ideas of what you might like to do.
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Engage in the Adventure Community
A lot of people just look at the pictures, maybe “like” them, and then scroll on. That’s cool, but adventure is a community, and you can engage with that community pretty easily. I have had some great conversations with other adventurers and travelers based solely on Instagram comments and messages.
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Instagrammers have opened their homes to me and my wife, and we in turn have offered a place to stay for others. It’s the 21st Century; friendships aren’t location dependent, and it’s awesome to “meet” new people who are having experiences that interest you. So comment on photos beyond just saying, “Cool Pic!” Engage. Ask questions. Be sincere. Who knows, you may be talking to a new friend.
Share Your Experience
Just like there are people out there that you find inspiring, you can inspire others as well. If you’re having an adventure, share it with others. Use relevant hash tags so people can find your posts. When people ask you about your hike in Yosemite, be helpful, honest, and up front about the experience. That doesn’t mean that you have to plan someone’s trip for them, or give them exact locations (keep reading, I’ll touch more on this), but it does mean you should give useful advice or assistance.
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Basically, just imagine how you would want someone to treat you, and treat other people that way. Pretty simple stuff!
When you use Instagram for adventure, you can get some pretty awesome results. That said, having access to hundreds of millions of people comes with some responsibility. So here are couple of warnings that will help you shoulder that responsibility.
Two Warnings about Using Instagram for Adventure
The first responsibility is to yourself. You have to ensure that you are present for the experience, not just capturing it to share for likes.
Clearly, I see the value in sharing experiences. That’s literally what I do. I’m a writer, content creator, and storyteller. But the experience should not be in service to the story, and I have warned of overvaluing the wrong one since Rule #4. As a content creator, it’s all about balance.
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I completely understand how difficult it can be to strike the right balance; like I said, this is what I do, but if you’re not really present in the moment, the photos, the article, the social media, and the whole story won’t really matter. So make sure that when you’re sharing and engaging, you don’t forget to enjoy yourself and soak up everything that’s happening without a lens in front of your face as well. Really be there.
Protect and Preserve
The second responsibility is to the places in which we adventure, and the people who love them. The world may be our playground, but we also need to be good stewards of the land. We can’t all trample the same spots of earth and expect the spot to remain unchanged. It is our responsibility to protect these places. That doesn’t mean people should never visit, it means we can’t all visit at once (or in a short period of time).
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Recently I learned that a lot of the secret spots in the Black Hills, one of my favorite places in the world, aren’t so secret anymore. Because people are sharing online and via social media, these spots are seeing more and more traffic, and this is causing problems in areas of conservation, safety, and management. Most of us want to see something unique and special, to step off the beaten path. I get it, I really do.
But the truth is that some places aren’t meant to be easily found. There are spots in our world that are supposed to be hard to reach. If a person gets to those spots just by reading an Instagram post, they won’t have the same experience as they would had they from talking to a local, unfolding a map, and taking a few wrong turns. That’s why, sometimes, the most helpful thing your can tell someone is nothing. I’m eager to help all of you have more adventurous lives, but I’m not going to show you every secret spot I come upon. Part of what makes those spots special is how they’re found.
Honestly, adventurer Brianna Madia says it better than I can…
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If you’re not sure if you should share a picture or post, or if you’re responsibly using Instagram for adventure, I suggest following the Leave No Trace Center’s social media guidelines…
When posting to social media, consider the following:
Tag thoughtfully – avoid tagging (or geotagging) specific locations. Instead, tag a general location such as a state or region, if any at all. While tagging can seem innocent, it can also lead to significant impacts to particular places.
Be mindful of what your images portray – give some thought to what your images may encourage others to do. Images that demonstrate good Leave No Trace practices and stewardship are always in style.
Give back to places you love – invest your own sweat equity into the outdoor spaces and places you care about. Learn about volunteer stewardship opportunities and get involved in the protection of our shared lands.
Encourage and inspire Leave No Trace in social media posts – given the millions of social media users in the world, think of the incredible potential that social media has to educate outdoor enthusiasts – first timers to seasoned adventurers – about enjoying our wild lands responsibly.
For more info on social media and the great outdoors, check out the Leave No Trace Center’s blog post on the subject.
Instagram for Adventure
So there you go, four ways to use Instagram for Adventure, and two warnings about what not to do. Hopefully this gives you some ideas about how to better use social media, engage with adventure community, and protect the places in which we love adventuring. Feel free to follow my adventures on Instagram, and let me know if you’ve used social media to up your adventure game.
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