How to use Instagram as a travel guide

By Meredith Carey

We’ve been using the app to share our travels for eight years now. Here’s how to plan a trip with it.

No, guidebooks are not a thing of the past. But these days, they aren’t the only thing we’re using to plan our travel (shout out to our very own destination guides). We use Instagram posts and stories to share our own travels, but planning trips based on the beautiful, delicious, and photogenic things that make it into our feed is easier than ever, thanks to some key in-app features. We chatted with a few pro Instagrammers and travelers to find out how to use the app to plan a vacation.

Use geotags

Instagram has always allowed you to tag your location in posts and you can now tag them in stories as well. By clicking the location tag, you can not only see pinpointed where the hotel, restaurant, or graffitied wall is located on a map—you can see photos taken by other Instagrammers there.

“Any time I travel and want to check out a new restaurant, I look up that place on Instagram’s geotags to see all the photos people posted at that location. Ninety-five percent of the time I choose what to order off the menu based on people’s photos. It may seem like I’m overly reliant on Instagram, but it’s actually saved me from ordering food that I probably wouldn’t have wanted had I seen a photo of it.” —Rachel Coleman, Condé Nast Traveler’s social media director, @rachelecoleman

“Hashtags have become an incredibly over-saturated wasteland. You’ll be searching a certain destination like China and there will be posts from all other corners of the world mixed in. Generally, geotags are more accurately tagged.” —Brendan van Son, travel photographer, @brendanvanson

Keep your collections organized

You can save individual posts on Instagram by clicking the bookmark icon on the bottom right of any picture. Only you can see those saved posts. In April 2017, Instagram announced collections, which help you sort through your saved posts. In our opinion, collections are the most underrated travel tool on the app. You can make as many as you want, so divide yours up by city, upcoming trip, dream vacations, brunches you have to eat, or even just as a reminder of local Instagrammers in specific cities or regions.

“My bookmarking is not a perfect science but I save accounts of people I love who are based in the cities I want to visit. Then when I finally get to plan my trip, I go back to look at their account to see if there’s anything new that they’re visiting or loving that I can visit too.” —Christine Amorose Merrill, travel blogger, @cestchristine

“I save tons of photos and videos into Instagram collections, label them by the place (e.g. Tokyo, Los Angeles, Miami), and then use that to plan out what I want to do when I go to a new city. My plan for Mexico City when I go next month is basically lots of tacos.” —R.C.

Don’t just follow your friends

If you’re just using Instagram as a social app, we understand if you’re only following people you actually know in real life. But if you’re using it as a travel guide, you’re going to have to expand your network. Lock in on a few key people in the city you’re visiting that share similar interests with you, be it food, shopping, art, or adventure. Feel comfortable direct messaging fellow Instagrammers for advice or travel suggestions, too. You’d be surprised how willing strangers are to respond.

“I’m heading to Georgia (the country) in July. So, I’ve started to follow a bunch of accounts of people who are in Georgia. I’ve also followed the local tourism boards and some local photographers. Being in the travel industry, my feed is also full of my friends, and they’re all doing inspiring things. One of my personal favorites is @paperboyo who always puts his cool spin on travel locations. Also, a big shout out to @alajode whose stories in particular are awesome to follow.” —B.V.S.

“I find inspiring new Instagrammers all the time, often through travel accounts like @CNTraveler(obviously!) or through other travel bloggers. One of my favorite people to follow is Bon Appétit‘s social media manager Rachel Karten (@milkkarten) who is always eating fabulous meals in cities around the world. I trust every place she recommends!” —R.C.

“Last summer I visited a tiny island off the west coast of Sicily called Favignana. I would have never heard about it had it not been for a Sicilian wedding photographer I follow on Instagram. He had shot a wedding there the summer before, and I had pegged it for my next trip. It was one of my favorite finds of the summer. I find Instagram to be incredibly inspiring in that way.” —Gigi Hop, travel writer, @_itsbeautifulhere

Don’t let the ‘gram define your trip

As we’ve said before, Instagram is the highlight reel of travel and while it can provide so many good tips and ideas for your next trip, you shouldn’t rely exclusively on the app for your planning.

“So many people these days focus way too hard on photogenic destinations. I used to go somewhere like Peru and people would obviously hit up Machu Picchu. But, they’d also head to places where the history, culture, and experience in general couldn’t be captured in a photo, but that had a lot of personal value. Nowadays, they just head to Machu Picchu, the Colored Mountains, and leave. They definitely focus too much of their planning by using Instagram, rather than guides.” —B.V.S.

“Don’t just go to a place—whether it’s a new city, an Instagram-worthy museum, or a cafe that sells rainbow croissants—because you saw it on Instagram and want some new ‘content.’ Go because you actually want to go.” —R.C.


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