There’s no doubt about it: social media is a powerful tool. The major platforms now count more than three billion total users — a huge population that includes friends and acquaintances, celebrated photographers and popular celebrities, and lots and lots of people you’ve never heard of. Many influencers make a living on the content they post, and large corporations, small businesses, and fledgling startups use these platforms to reach their audiences and raise brand awareness. But social media can (and should) do more than generate money and build brands.
It gives us the power to share meaningful stories about what it means to be human, to discover other cultures, to find beauty in the natural world, and to create connections with strangers and friends and everyone in between.
At its best, and at its simplest, social media represents a powerful way for people to share their experiences online. And for the travel storytellers who figure among those three billion total users, social media gives us the chance to raise our voices. It lets us share our most memorable moments from the road.
If you’re anything like us, you’ll want to use this tool to make the internet a more positive space. With that in mind, this guide will teach you how to do so more effectively.
Remember that “the medium is the message”
Media theory scholar Marshall McLuhan first wrote about this idea more than 50 years ago, but it remains just as relevant today as it was in the 1960s. Put simply, McLuhan meant that the way we share our ideas shapes what we say and how people receive it.
Think about a book that Hollywood has adapted into a movie. Even if the two share the exact same story and include identical characters, they’re never perfectly alike. Many of those differences rest on the director’s shoulders, but the changes also occur because books and movies are just different. Authors and directors have unique ways of handling everything from character development to narrative pacing, resulting in two distinct compositions.
Similarly, McLuhan’s idea has implications for online communication. For example, social posts can’t go as deep as books and essays can. In order to do so, they’d have to be a book or essay. Further, just because something does well on one platform doesn’t mean that it will be popular on another (i.e. if a post has millions of likes on Instagram, it doesn’t guarantee that Twitter or Facebook users will like it). Thinking about which platform you’ll use to share your story is just as vital as thinking about the content you’d like to share.
To better understand this concept, try mulling over the following questions. Jot down your thoughts, or simply keep these guiding questions in mind.
- What types of messages are best suited for social media?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the various social platforms?
- Which messages can your favorite social platform communicate more effectively than the others can?
Now that you’re thinking more critically about social media, take a minute to recall one of your favorite travel memories. Retell the story to yourself, and then try to come up with a way to share that experience online. Since you need to do your story justice, you might want to share it in a Facebook post, where you won’t be limited by text space. Alternatively, you could create a Twitter thread where you tell the entire story in easily accessible chunks of 280 characters. You could even post a relevant photo or set of images on Instagram. Each format will resonate with people differently.
Of course, Instagram’s visual-first emphasis often makes it the best place to document your wanderings. But you can only write so much on Instagram, and (more importantly) people will only read a certain amount before scrolling past your post, so you’ll need to choose both your photos and your words carefully. If you’d like to recount an experience related to local cuisine, you could post a picture of a dish and write an easily digestible caption detailing what you liked. Or, if you found an unbelievable viewpoint and want to share it with others, you could select your best photo, construct an interesting caption, and add a geotag. For longer stories about your interactions, observations, and internal musings, you’ll want to think long and hard about the details that made the experience special, then bring the reader into that moment with you. (More on that later.)
In short: if you align your posts with the various platforms’ strengths, your message will get the reception it deserves.
Think about what you want to share
Let’s move on to a different, but related, topic: what you post.
To begin, ask yourself what you value in other people’s content. What types of messages do you appreciate seeing in your feed? What are the common elements in the photos or captions you like most? How can you imitate those characteristics in your posts while staying true to your own unique voice?
An honest self-evaluation will reveal where you excel and where you fall short in your travel storytelling. With any luck, this will lead to a customized action plan and give you direction for your future posts.
Once you have a clear idea of what to share and how to improve, it’s time to post. When talking about the destinations you’ve visited, focus on the quirks that made each place unique. Write about the people you met and the things you saw. Use your chosen platform to share honest, vulnerable, insightful, paradigm-shifting things about the wonderful world we live in.
It’s okay if your feed feels curated, but your content should never be misleading. This can be a fine line to walk, but you’ll know when you’re stretching the truth, and hopefully, you’ll stop yourself before you cross this line. Social media users have a knack for spotting details that aren’t quite right, and they won’t thank you for trying to twist the truth, even if your reasons were innocent. Remember: you should strive to be authentic in both the words you write and the pictures you post.
We see bad examples of this almost every day. Take the influencer who brought fairy lights on a plane, or the one who tried to pass off a few tortillas as a stack of morning pancakes. They both wanted their lives to look more glamorous than they actually are, and people saw through it.
That said, social media users generally post about the big moments occurring in their lives, so each personal Instagram feed is essentially a highlight reel of someone’s recent past. And that’s fine. This is where curation comes into the mix: you’ll improve your travel storytelling by sharing the most meaningful — and most genuine — moments from the road.
If you’d like a little extra guidance on curating an authentic feed, take a look at the Passion Passport Instagram. For our Photo of the Day series, we post images taken around the world, working with each photographer to find out exactly what made those moments noteworthy. The final caption accompanying each image shares both the story and the emotion behind it, in the photographer’s own words. The written account complements the chosen photo, and the result (we hope) is a short but inspiring travel story that can stick with you throughout the day.
Say as much — and as little — as you can
After you’ve encountered new people and explored a new environment, you’ll find that you have a lot to say. And that’s a good thing. But it’s important to recognize that you can’t say it all on social media. And it’s equally important to remember that no one — not even your mom or best friend or favorite coworker — wants to see all of your vacation pictures.
Journalists-in-training are often taught to avoid notebook dump, or the tendency to load an article with every statistic, quote, fun fact, and technical term that they picked up while researching and interviewing. The same advice applies to social media storytellers. It’s a bad idea to drop too many photos at once, especially if you pair them with long-winded captions. People have little patience for what they view as image spam and caption overload.
Your goal should be to say as much as you can in as few photos and words as possible. Choose the image that best captures the moment you want to share. When you’re ready to draft your caption, close your eyes and tap into your memory. Where were you during that moment? What could you hear, see, and smell? What came to mind, and what did the experience teach you? Take note of all of the above and write about those specific details. Talk about your emotions, your thoughts, and your impressions. Share your observations, and emphasize the elements that surprised you most. Use sensory descriptions, and bring other people into the moment with you. It will not only make your post more interesting, but it will also offer something memorable to your reader.
“There are places in the world that serve as pockets of tranquility. But I was surprised at how peaceful Koysan actually is. It is as if the town itself was designed to cultivate a feeling of serenity. I awoke before dawn and headed to the Garan Temple Complex. As I sat, a cohort of young monks began their morning rituals throughout the complex. Save for the monks and the birds, I was alone in the complex and was able to quietly observe a ritual that has been in place for hundreds of years. I hope that this photo evokes a sense of calm and a reminder that, somewhere in the world, there remains a place that is devoted to positivity and kindness.”
In just 122 words, Andrew has opened a window into a captivating setting. With carefully chosen details (dawn, the monks, the birds), he projects a picture into our mind’s eye — and since that mental image is different from (but closely related to) the photo he’s sharing, the story becomes almost three-dimensional. For a moment, we can feel like we actually explored the temple complex at Andrew’s side, keeping that sense of calm as we continue about our days.
If you’d like to say more than social media will allow, don’t worry. You just need to find another venue for your thoughts, like a journal or a personal blog. Some websites even accept submissions, so you could soon share your writing on a site like Passion Passport.
And remember, these tips are only suggestions. At the end of the day, your social accounts are yours, and you alone have creative control over your posts. After all, it’s nice to have your own little corner of the internet, a safe place to talk about your thoughts, travels, and experiences. We simply encourage you to be mindful of what you put into the world.
Looking for more ways to share your stories online? Feel free to participate in our Instagram Challenges and Twitter chats. And, for more ideas on travel writing, check out our guides to crafting a memorable story and dealing with your inner critic.
Header image by Damon Beckford