What is the hottest travel destination this year? I mean, where do you have to go, if you want to up your Instagram game, impress your friends back home and hopefully also that cute traveler in the hostel bar across from you? After all, you don’t want to be that person, who has to say, ‘I’ve not been there yet’, when everybody else seems only interested in that one destination.

If I think back to 2017, there are a few destinations I would consider to be ‘hot’. Indonesia, the Philippines, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Morocco and of course Iceland – those are the countries I read about more than anything else; saw more photos on Instagram; and spotted more questions asked in our Facebook group.

But what is it about these destinations that fascinates people? And if so many have been there before them, why do they still want to go?

In short, are we heading back on the beaten track?

Dreaming of a road less traveled

When I started dreaming up my life of travel, I wanted one thing and one thing only: find the paths less trodden and tell stories about the inevitable adventures I would experience.

Now, with the amount of globetrotters exploring every corner of the planet and troops of people quitting their jobs to become digital nomads and share their adventures with the world, these less trodden paths are a bit harder to come by.

They are of course still there – plenty of them to explore an entire lifetime – but I get the sense that somehow the essence of travel has shifted from seeking the road less traveled to a hand-full of popular destinations that dominate every platform from Instagram to travel blogs and glossy magazines.

Rather than going off the beaten track, it has become more important to tick off the same bucket list of destinations, so you can say you’ve been there, done that. And without a folder of selfies on your phone and a trail of snapchat posts, has it even really happened?

The Devil in your Pocket

Apart from looking a certain way, a great way to successfully gain likes and followers on Instagram – and thus approval and admiration for this unusual way of life – is to take photographs in places that people recognize and dream of. It is this kind of aspirational marketing that almost guarantees success, because while the lifestyle is inaccessible to many followers, the destinations seem realistic and relatable enough for them to hold on their dreams.

Blogger or not, the way we engage with social media nowadays, makes it almost impossible not to notice whether a photo has 700 likes or 70. A few weeks ago, I saw a post in one of the female travel groups on Facebook that triggered me to think about this a lot. A young woman was asking for the best touristy photo spots in Sydney, or another Australian city – she wanted to find the most recognizable landmarks and use them as backdrops for her selfies. As a content creator myself, I understand that likes and followers have turned into a hard currency, that allow you to cash in on your social media presence. And yet, as a traveler, I thought, ‘what does this have to do with traveling?’ Isn’t traveling supposed to be about wandering without a goal, exploring what you stumble upon along the way and make unique and personal experiences in a new context?

A few weeks later, I caught myself thinking about good photo spots for an upcoming trip to the Scottish Highlands, putting outfits together that I would like to wear in my photos. The hypocrisy was not lost on me.

Instagram is so inseparable from travel these days and everyone wants to know its secret. On the surface, there is an obvious visual language that clears the way to success. However, there are successful women on Instagram, who prove that there are many ways to reach an audience. Some, like Travelette Annapurna @annapurnauna, are talented photographers who captivate people with their stunning shots of the countries they travel and the people they encounter. Others, like Annika @midnightblueelephant, also a Travelette, tell stories so honest and raw, that reading the captions is as joyful as scanning their images. She even started a small Instagram-revolution called #realwomentravel, highlighting travelers, bloggers and photographers who bring some diversity to the table.

But I’m drifting off – this is not supposed to be an article about Instagram and how to gain followers, but about the way we travel and what impacts our choices.

As I highlighted in an earlier post, I don’t think bucket lists are entirely useless. Preparing for a trip by looking up your personal must-sees and a few recommendations can be useful for even the most-seasoned traveler; and for some it is even necessary to overcome their fears or anxiety, to take care of their physical or mental health, or simply to be able to drift freely, knowing that there is a Plan B saved on their phone.

In the end however, I think traveling is about exploring the unknown, letting yourself go with the flow of a new country or culture and find beautiful experiences wherever the wind may take you.

Instead of seeking out recommendations and playing it safe for every destination, hotel, meal or activity, take our words of advice and inspiration to get you off the beaten track again!

This is a post by Kathi Kamleitner.

Kathi Kamleitner was a regular contributor at Travelettes from 2013 to 2019. Originally from Vienna, Austria, she packed her backpack to travel the world and lived in Denmark, Iceland and Berlin, before settling in Glasgow, Scotland. Kathi is always preparing her next trip – documenting her every step with her camera, pen and phone.

In 2016, Kathi founded Scotland travel blog WatchMeSee.com to share her love for her new home, hiking in the Scottish Highlands, island hopping and vegan food. Follow her adventures on Instagram @watchmesee!