With summer coming to a close, all that seems to be left is you flipping through the comment section of your Facebook album labeled “Summer 2015.” But school is starting, and now those precious hours previously dedicated to capturing where the light best hit the side of your chocolate croissant seem worthless as you’re studying for the ever-looming GRE.
It feels like yesterday that I was packing for my summer trip to Paris. It would be a month of drinking wine along the Seine, passing Notre Dame on a daily basis and eating pastry after pastry. It was all fun and games, but I never forgot to Instagram. The architecture was beautiful, the food was delicious, and I had a lot of fun. But isn’t that all to be expected when one goes to Paris?
But my followers didn’t see that my flight was delayed four hours, my luggage was lost, and my phone died once I landed, leaving me with no way to contact my roommates until a random kind French stranger allowed me to use his cellphone. To that kind stranger, thank you. I never wanted to have to run down a terminal five minutes past departure, hearing them announce that the gate was closing while trying to make my flight. It feels like you just ran a marathon: You’re tired, your hair becomes matted to your head, you need water, and you need to retie your shoes because you were also randomly selected to take them off when going through the TSA check three minutes ago.
The embarrassing nitty-gritty would contradict what I am trying to portray on social media, which was a picture-perfect four weeks. I didn’t portray the sticky humidity, the hoards of tourists with their #selfiesticks or the lack of air conditioners, which simply wouldn’t be acceptable in the virtual world.
I don’t know know how to sum up the bad and the good. When asked about my summer vacation and my trip to Paris, my response will be, “It was good” or “A’ight,” when I’m really feeling especially grateful. Travel is travel is travel. I mean, haven’t you scrolled through Tumblr lately? The illusion of travel as thoroughly glamorous and enlightening has infected the online socialsphere. We are supposed to be one way coming in and different coming out because of the new culture we’ve been exposed to — an assumption perpetuated by the ever-growing presence of social media. But our real-life traveling shouldn’t be expected to be a duplicate of your feed.
I loved the art and the literary passion infused into the city, but did my picture of the “Mona Lisa” show that? She still looks like any of the other numerous images online. But I also got the pleasure of seeing a friend get hit in the head with a selfie stick while trying to get to the front of the crowd surrounding the painting. How do you think I could have captured that on Instagram?
The reality of — or my reality in — Paris was a combination of excitement, a culture-shocked awkwardness, a language barrier and your average traveling mishaps. It was by no means perfect. In fact, I no longer think that any travel experience can actually be perfect; it is rather the imperfections that make the experience your own and not just another social media product. With my trip to Paris being solely mine, by default, it was perfect for me.
A trip of any magnitude can’t possibly be captured through any form of social media. Sure, I can show you what I ate and the view from the Eiffel Tower, but what I can’t show you in that one picture or 140-character tweet is the burst of sudden self-awareness that I felt in that single moment. Our experiences traveling may not be the picture-perfect events we envisioned, but these are the moments we should embrace.
They are, dare I say, life experiences. They are the moments we come to remember the most and what make your trip unique. Though you and some girl from Tumblr may have similar Eiffel Tower pictures, the moments you couldn’t capture are the ones that become your very own stories.
The excitement of the summer travel experience is over, and all that I am left with is my version of my experience in Paris. Pretty soon, the dust will settle on those small trinkets and must-have souvenirs that were everything to me at the time. The smell of sunscreen will be a distant memory in the coming chilly days in Berkeley.
I am now patiently waiting for Wednesday to arrive — just ready to get my last year over with so that I can start that thing called the “adult life.” My luggage has happily found its way home, and all that panic seems like light years away.
My time spent traveling is more than what I can capture on an app, both for better and for worse. The memories behind the pictures will always be stronger than the filters.