‘Oh, you have to see it,’ is something most people have heard when friends and family get back from a holiday. Our social media feeds are filled with videos of influencers showing off the most beautiful places in the world. Billboards of the most desirable travel destinations are plastered throughout cities. It is easier than ever to plan the perfect trip on paper. But, is any landmark truly a ‘must-see?’
I recently took a trip to Cornwall, an area of the country I had never visited before. When planning the trip, I considered all the locations I wanted to see. I settled pretty quickly on Land’s End due to its extremity. Knowing it was the edge of the country was important to me for signifying the distance we had travelled. It seemed we weren’t the only people who thought this as the place was extremely busy.
Land’s End felt busy for the wrong reasons
I don’t mind when places are bustling as it can often add to the atmosphere. However, Land’s End felt busy for the wrong reasons. Instead of standing and simply enjoying the scenery, individuals were in hour-long queues to see the sights made famous by social media. A charge to get a photo with the renowned Land’s End sign caused me to reconsider why people were really at the Cornish focal point. It seemed people were there to tick an imaginary list of “must do” items, trivialising the spot’s beauty to achievements as you would a video game.
“Pictures or it didn’t happen” is a motto that has gained prominence in the 21st century admist the rise of social media, and the obsession with having the perfect Instagram feed. These two expectations impose a palpable desire to see certain landmarks and get the perfect snap with them. However, when a modern tourist takes their photo, I wonder what their eyes are drawn to first: the beautiful scenery, or how good their hair looks?
On a deeper level, I worry that the obsession with taking “pics” in front of beautiful landmarks detracts from the experience of actually being there in person. This issue is not confined to travel as the same complaints have arisen in the music industry, with a more active dialogue surrounding filming concerts on your phone. Ironic phrases such as ‘not a phone in sight, just people living in the moment,’ are often used when pictures of thousands filming in an arena arise. The fact is we live in a technological world, and many people want to capture these moments on their phones. It is doubtful that will ever change, and I’m not saying it should. However, there is a distinction between capturing what you think should be photographed, such as the Land’s End sign, and taking a photo in the moment to capture the memory. You can see these monuments without taking a photo, but you shouldn’t allow the pressure of taking the perfect picture take away from seeing the monuments.
There is a distinction between capturing what you think should be photographed and taking a photo in the moment to capture the memory
The digital era leads to a second discussion in regards to whether any place can truly be a must-see. Now, the most esteemed spots in the world are simply a Google search away, and with the rapid developments in technology, it is likely that virtual reality will allow you to ‘visit’ these places from the comfort of your home. So, if there is nothing new to see when you discover these places, why do you even need to go in the first place? Some people might be outraged by this way of thinking: how you can even say you’ve seen the pyramids if it was on a screen? On the other hand, such thinking could allow us to reimagine how we view travel: rather than holding on to a bucket lists of landmarks, we should allow ourselves to discover more secluded areas of beauty on our own.
This is a view I have some sympathy for. Whilst we were in Cornwall, the most memorable moment of the holiday came from climbing down a 30-metre rock face to an isolated cove. The beach was rough, covered in shale and the waves were vicious – it was a far cry from the picturesque, Instagram-worthy clear water and sandy beach. Yet, standing on that beach, it simply didn’t matter: we had found our own moment of peace, and it topped anything else we saw on the trip. Watching the open sea, we saw the head of a seal pop-up from between the waves and it made for an unforgettable moment.
Perhaps it is this simple encounter that has caused me to disassociate from the concept of must-see landmarks. For me, travel isn’t a checklist, it is an experience. Stop listening to the noise that says you must visit a certain place, there could be somewhere better round the corner. You just have to let yourself find it.