Travellers used to rely on guide books and word of mouth (and just follow their own noses) to find cool new places to travel. But Instagram’s ‘explore’ page is now giving Lonely Planet a run for its money.
Lonely Planet was founded in 1973. As of 2011, just 38 years later, the company had sold 120 million books. It sparked thousands of imitators and became synonymous with the words ‘travel’ and ‘travel guide.’ It’s also still kicking around now. It doesn’t just take the form of dusty guide books in hostels and street libraries anymore though; it’s got its own website and social media, too.
It also speaks to Lonely Planet’s success that it is the constant reference point for the industry (“have you heard of this new travel blog? It’s kind of like Lonely Planet but….”) and is now the measurement mark (and punching bag) for new developments. Speaking of new developments: I think social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram and their ‘discover’ or ‘explore’ feeds, where users smush up Lonely Planet essays and turn them into easily digestible videos, are replacing Lonely Planet (and travel guides in general).
One of the reasons Instagram’s ‘explore’ feed is replacing Lonely Planet is that it’s much easier to carry around a phone with you while you travel than a book (or an encyclopedia). From your phone you can access TripAdvisor reviews and guides to destinations, countless travel bloggers’ individual guides and reviews of destinations, Google Reviews of destinations, and even Lonely Planet reviews and (online) guides to destinations. That’s right: even Lonely Planet is on the Instagram ‘explore’ and ‘discover’ feeds…
Another one of the reasons is that Reels and TikToks are more easily digestible than books. You don’t have to put any effort in to read, or even seek content out. The algorithm feeds you what you want, what’s useful to you, and what you have a track record of liking. You just have to sit back and watch. Oh and – it’s free.
Travel blogger Kimmie Conn, who has spent 7 years on the road, and who runs the site Adventures & Sunsets, told DMARGE: “I am always discovering on social media… It’s a huge way to share incredible places!”
Kimmie also told us that: “Lately there has been a huge trend toward travel-inspirational reels and TikToks with either quick short edits of a place or simple short videos panning over a beautiful view with someone in the frame doing something equally scenic – sitting in a hot tub getting in a hammock or bath, diving into some water. These go VERY viral sometimes and when I see a place that I want to add to my bucket list I always save the video and then save the destination in my phone (on Google Maps).”
On top of that, places you find in your Instagram Explore Feed can feel more unique (even if they are really not). You get personalised insights into where your favourite content creators stayed, ate and explored – and you can follow in their exact footsteps. They even feel like your friends. So while many backpackers in the pre-Instagram days used to flock to the same places suggested by the Lonely Planet and made the same pilgrimages to places made popular by books and movies (think Thailand’s Maya Bay, made famous by The Beach), now, arguably, there is a far greater variety of examples being set and quirky places being unearthed.
As Jade Broadus, creative director of Travel Mindset, once told Travel Weekly: “I only see the influencer marketing getting bigger… By travel agents partnering with influencers, they can gain a level of trust. People trust influencers like they trust their best friend.”
On that note, Kimmie told DMARGE, “I discovered one of the COOLEST restaurants I’ve ever been to, in Sharm El Shiekh in Egypt, via social media. It’s called Farsha Cafe, and it’s an eclectic cliffside restaurant on the Red Sea with TONS of incredible Arabian decor, beads, lanterns, lamps, random items strewn about the hillside, pillows, colorful rugs, and more.”
“We stopped in Sharm specifically to go to this cafe! It was so worth it.”
Kimmie added: “I think that there’s absolutely a huge ‘underground’ factor when you find something on social media (on a smaller page) or are recommended something in-person that makes experiences seem more exclusive.”
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“There’s something about guidebooks that makes you think the experiences inside are the most touristy or well-known, and makes you want to find hidden-gem things that are NOT inside guidebooks. Guidebooks are put at an automatic disadvantage in this way, as are bloggers in some circumstances.”
That said, Kimmie didn’t quite agree with us that the Instagram ‘explore’ feed had totally replaced Lonely Planet (“partially yes”), but she did agree that it is “becoming bigger each year.” Kimmie told us: “Social Media is a great place to go to understand the vibe of a restaurant or destination and see beautified photos and views of it… and potentially some behind-the-scenes as well.”
“In terms of planning trips though, I think destination geotags and hashtags are huge. You can always get a feel for the top things to do in a destination by looking through a social media hashtag or geotag of it, and maybe even discover some new things as well. It’s really convenient to have so many peoples’ experiences in one easily-scrollable place.”
On top of all these positives for Instagram and TikTok, some people believe the Lonely Planet has lost its edge. One of the world’s biggest travel bloggers, Nomadic Matt, in an article entitled What’s The Matter With The Lonely Planet, wrote: “As I sat down to write this article, I asked readers on social media what they thought of Lonely Planet.”
“While most people still used Lonely Planet (and guidebooks in general) for preplanning, they reiterated what I kept hearing on the road: the books seem to get more out of date, the writing has lost its edge, the guides have gotten more upscale and less about offbeat and budget destinations, the website is hard to use, and blogs are often better.”Nomadic Matt
As for what else is going on in the travel industry at the moment, Kimmie told us that travel agents seem to be becoming relics (“To be honest, I don’t know anyone under 40 who uses a travel agent anymore”), and things are becoming more personalised (“I think a lot of travel planning is moving more DIY these days, and travel agents are being replaced with personal research, smaller planning services, and tours”).
Oh and finally – just to make one point in Lonely Planet’s defence (and as Lonely Planet itself points out in this article) social media cannot (yet) replace the nostalgia of flicking through a travel guide: “In contrast to the inherently fleeting attractions of the internet, these well-thumbed relics of grand tours and budget backpacking jaunts retain a nostalgic and romantic allure that’s hard to replicate online.”
“Open a furrowed Lonely Planet and dozens of memories come pouring out: the faded coffee-stains, the cheap hostel reviews marked in yellow highlighter pen, the scribbled phone number of a gap-year sociology student you met in Cuzco in nineteen-ninety-something but never reconnected with,” (Lonely Planet).
When Instagram and Facebook are dead and buried though, maybe flicking through the ‘explore’ feed will be nostalgic, in a few decades’ time… Only time will tell.