For nearly two years we’ve been sharing our 3 Days* travel tips and photos with readers. In order to decorate our scribbles with visually enticing images we occasionally have jumped through a few hoops to create photos that are intended to inspire, induce wanderlust and maybe a little envy. All this to say, we are not naïve when it comes to common photo trickery. However:
Browsing for inspiration for a European road trip last summer, I came across an image on IG that tugged at my heart strings like the viral video of howling Husky puppies.
A turquoise Alpine lake surrounded by some of the Dolomites’ most majestic peaks and a single wooden rowboat causing ripples on the surface. Lago di Braies in Italy’s South Tyrol region is truly a splendid beauty and couldn’t be more suitable for Instagram.
Obsessing and romanticizing over the lake like a hormonal teenager, I tried to convince my travel partner that a (considerable) detour from our original route was mandatory and our trip wouldn’t be complete unless we rowed the weathered boat across this idyllic lake, filling our lungs with crisp mountain air and our hearts with overwhelming content for sharing this paradisiacal experience together. Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit but I was still VERY keen to add the Lago to my itinerary.
The traffic jam 10km from our destination should have given me pause. Just like the endless rows of parked cars lining the side of the road. The RV park was the first real indicator that I wasn’t the only one who had browsed IG’s #livefolk tags before a trip to the Dolomites in August. But it wasn’t until we reached the concert-venue-esque parking lot that I smacked my forehead. Hard. Hordes of travelers were crowding the shore, trundling along the narrow path and swarming the boat house like a Termite-infestation. More than anything, I was annoyed at myself for my silly expectation.
As someone who is well aware of the trickery used to create the illusion of idyl I had given my own bum steer. I spent 5 minutes trying to capture what others had achieved more successfully before me - an Instagram worthy picture of a bucolic nature scene that would easily fool a future traveler into false expectations.
Naturally, August is THE travel season in Europe and an early morning arrival would probably have allowed for a more peaceful exploration of the lake, but I still felt duped by my own stupidity.
Continuing onwards we discovered an abandoned sanatorium with an adjacent spring touting acure for all kinds of physical ailments with only a handful of hikers nearby. What a good reminder that unspoiled beauty is truly found off the beaten path, even if it doesn’t make for the most envy-inducing pictures.
For us it’s the Christopher Columbus syndrome that makes the equation ‘beautiful spot + no crowds = true adventure’ so rewarding and brings added joy to a trip when getting the sense of discovery. A silly notion of course as there’s barely an undiscovered inch left on this planet, but the reward still comes with being a step ahead of the lemmings.
This whole excursion had me thinking about the birth of this photo —> (Swing at the End of the World) and the effort that went into creating a visual matching the name - “The Swing at the End of the World”. During a trip through Ecuador with my travel chum/pretend husband/Brazilian birthday-twin Renato, we came through Baños and had to add this photogenic Insta-spot to our list.
A swing in the clouds that screams freedom, adventure “hard to catch, harder to keep” kinda nonsense. And it also happens to come with long lines and the need for some serious photo-trickery. A large Chilean family was hogging the swing(s) - there were actually two hanging from one tree - for a solid half an hour, oblivious or indifferent to my growing impatience level and robbing my will to live, let alone swing.
With dangerously thin patience, it was finally my turn and up to Renato and his acrobatic photo skills to capture my swinging action at the right time and the right angle. Not an easy feat as said large Chilean family weren’t the only people mulling around and the drop that appears deathly close in most photos is actually not life-threatening in the least. Worst case you’d find yourself with a bruised bum and ego on the grassy terrace a few feet below.
All of this ranting is to say, photos can be deceiving. The swing was still fun and Lago di Braies is still a breathtaking destination. But masses of tourists flooding these postcard-worthy spots will take away from your experience. If it’s trending on IG, it’s probably too late to expect a tranquil date between yourself and untouched nature.
That notion makes me unsure about Banff as one of my next destinations. Is the shoreline of Alberta’s glacial lakes now also littered with attractive couples posing for plandids (planned candids, yes that’s a thing now) with steaming insta-coffee in their enamel camping mugs, reaching backwards into the camera? Maybe so…
I recommend timing your travels to new “it” locations carefully so you encounter less crowds- it might mean early wake-up calls during low season, but it will be worth it. Or… go out and explore the still untouched. Yes, sometimes there’s a reason why certain places haven’t been covered multiple times by AFAR Magazine - take Asuncion for example (sorry, Paraguay) - but there’s still great joy and adventure to be found in places that aren’t perfectly curated by social media and possess a more understated charm.
Need help finding these off-the-beaten path locations? Try some of the less-explored ideas in our Guide Section (link), or check out Atlas Obscura, an all time favorite of your 3 Days* crew.