Last week when I scrolled back through the Instagram pictures I shared from Grand Teton National Park (park #45 of our 59!), I suddenly felt deceitful.

The eleven photos we took in and around Grand Teton are pretty… bright blues and greens, white mountaintops, and contemplative stares fill those little squares. But they don’t really describe our span of our time there.

It rained in Grand Teton. And snowed. And it was cloudy. Almost the whole time.

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True story: There are mountains back there somewhere!

We were in the park from about 12 p.m. on Monday, May 23rd through about 12 p.m. on Thursday, May 26th. Ninety-six hours. 64 waking hours.

And from 6:30-9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, it was clear. That’s it.

(And we ran around like crazy getting these views!)

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True story: our two and a half hours of blue skies were freaking beautiful!

We saw plenty of partially- or fully-obstructed views of the Tetons, (and they were gorgeous too!) but most of those pictures we shared the week featuring the iconic peaks all came from that same two and a half hours one morning.

Okay, so why is this stuff important at all? It’s something I like to call the Instagram Illusion: the attraction and then envy we have of polished, over-curated feeds we see on social media. And I don’t know about you, but I’m victim to it all the time! 

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True story: As soon as the Garmin crew showed up, the blue skies disappeared! 🙁

I think this concept applies to all pictures and all kinds of feeds, but for the sake of relevance, let’s talk about travel photos. A friend goes on a two or three or seven day vacation, and naturally they post a couple of pictures. A beautiful secluded beach, a smiling family on a hiking trail, a plate of delicious-looking food, or my personal favorite, their hot dog legs at the pool.
We get jealous. We start to question our own lives and vacations. We think about that vacation where we argued with our husband the whole time about how many hikes a person can physically do in one day. (That last one might just be personal experience…)

I am of the opinion that social media is mostly good, (connection, happy pictures, announcements, etc.) but it has a sneaky evil side. And that evil side comes in the shape of comparison. This isn’t a new revelation, but I think it’s an important one to occasionally return to when we talk about viewing other people’s travel photos.

Please keep in mind that people only post their good pictures.

Right? Isn’t that what you do?

(For example, I’m not going to post this picture, where we were kayaking on the Snake River in Grand Teton and black clouds started following us.)

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True story: this is what the majority our time at Grand Teton looked like!

Even though I try to be transparent and not overly “best day everrr”y, these cloudy days still just aren’t something have wanted to include in the brand of Switchback Kids if don’t have a very funny story about it. So it’s going to sit in my camera roll until I get around to deleting it. I might mention in a caption the mass amounts of rain we got and how our $8 Walmart air mattress finally busted and I woke up damp, but it just hasn’t been something I headline on our social media pages.

Until recently, I have told myself that our message should be Kimmy-Schmidt-positive: We are seeing beautiful places! We love America! We are tough outdoorsy millenials who don’t miss our Netflix at all!

And all of these things are true.

But if that’s the only message we put out there, you guys are missing out on like half of our emotions. Where is Frustration with the weather? Anxiety about bears? Homesickness?

I think this is a tough topic. Few people want to be that vulnerable in a public space like Instagram. And should they? I don’t think we are going to see a realistic view of anyone’s life anytime soon. So we have to protect ourselves and combat it from a follower’s point of view.

Here are a few cures for the Insta-illusion fever:

  • Remember that people mostly only share their good, bright-sky photos
  • Remember that photos only represent two seconds of a week-long trip
  • Remember that people tend to avoid sharing negative emotions or stressful times during their trip. But trust me as someone who loves her husband but also has been on the road for a year, they are having some stressful times.
  • Remember to own your adventures. All of them. Your actual experience of walking around your neighborhood with a friend can bring more joy than someone else’s stressful trip to Disney World, even if they portray it as an amazing dream vacation. There’s just no way to know.
  • Remember to put your phone down and go outside. Every single day.

Grand Teton National Park

True story: Cloudy can be beautiful!

Do you ever get caught in the Instagram illusion trap? How do you deal?

Don’t miss our Grand Teton video and People of the Parks!

Written by Elizabeth

  • It’s so easy to get caught in the illusion trap! We’ve had our fair share of adventures so I know there are highs and lows on every adventure. I will say though, when I come across feeds that appear to be overly processed or set up I stop following. I want to see real people and real adventures. Your account is great though, so keep up the good work. 🙂

    • That means so much coming from you, Caroline! I totally agree.

  • I try to be as honest as I can on my blog without sounding too “ungrateful” which can sometimes be really tough. When I recently went through and blogged about the first trip my husband and I took to Yellowstone, I tried to focus on the positive as much as possible, which got a little hard, as the trip we went on (a 35ish mile backpacking trip) was honestly completely miserable. I didn’t want to sound like a complete ingrate, but even 3 years later it’s hard to recollect the memories without complaining about how much pain I was in or how horrific the mosquitoes were, haha.
    That being said though, I think it’s really important to be real about your experiences on all facets of social media. I think one of the biggest problems with the “Instagram Illusion” is that sometimes I’m made to feel like a failure because my trips don’t always go exactly as planned, when everyone else’s trips look perfect on social media. Sometimes you have to be like, “we did this, and honestly it kind of sucked” to remind people that life has ups and downs and everything in between. You guys have been really awesome about being real though, and I personally really appreciate it! While I am still extremely envious, it’s good to remember that there are downsides to every journey in life, and that sometimes you have to just keep on truckin’.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Jen! Our thoughts exactly. People just have to be easy on themselves and their adventures — because everyone is in the same boat!

  • Ryan

    What beautiful pictures with the barn. Is there a book in your plans?

    • Oh, thank you Ryan!! Good old iPhone 🙂 There absolutely IS a book in our plans!

  • Marianne

    Thanks to a friend who just sent me an article about your amazing trip I am now devouring your blog. I enjoyed the post about photography and the one above on Instatgram Illusion. You and Cole are fine writers.
    I have been a NP nut for many years, In 1999 a friend and I started a quest to visit all the NPs. As educators we only had the summers. We car camped in many of the 35 parks we’ve visited. Often, we fly with our gear, rent a car and go from where we land. We have recently retired and this past March we were able to see Joshua Tree and Death Valley…in a super bloom, Just amazing,

    Florida’s three parks are on the docket for winter of 2017. Alaska’s parks for July 2017. I will be anxious to read how you navigate those 8 parks. You will certainly help me plan our sojourn there,

    i love your adventure and thank you for sharing it with others who also love Americas National Parks, A blog takes time to write! If that book becomes a reality I will certainly read it,

    • Thank you, Marianne! Your adventures sound amazing. We will be sharing a TON of tips for planning and executing (hopefully successfully) Alaska’s national parks. Enjoy Florida’s beautiful parks as well! Dry Tortugas is still one of our favorites!