Travelling Narcissism: The Excess Baggage of Travel

Recently, the internet has been shining a lens on the rise of the travelling narcissist.  

Let’s start by understanding what we mean we say someone is a narcissist. A narcissist is someone who has an “excessive interest in or admiration of themselves”.  An article was published by Matador Network recently, written by a self-confessed travelling narcissist discussing the rise of such a phenomenon.

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While the author delved in to some detail around his own online ogling habits and both sides to his story, I started to ask myself why this would appeal to a traveller. How do self-indulging desires even emerge when you travel?

Many of us live in a privileged world of opportunity and travel is a privileged activity hundreds of thousands of people practice (given they have the funds and drive to do it). With the rise of social media, we as users are also enticed by the urge to share the best moments of our travelling lives, with little to no room for imperfection or ‘epic fails’. We are drawn to images of where and when life is perfect – the popular phrase ‘making memories’ comes to mind. Perplexingly, the moments we’d rather be sprinting from rarely appear in newsfeeds.   

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Sure, there are moments in travel which are immortalised by social media in order to journal said moments. One thing that brings me joy as a traveller is to look back over my photos to relive said moments in my mind and the lessons they taught me. But when does this cross the boundary between retrospective reminiscence and blatant narcissism?

You could say that travellers who Instagram and Facebook their travels might be seeking that self-serving, self-gratifying sense of ‘look at me’. Is this now the aim for travellers – to ‘share’ their experiences with those in their virtual world without a sense of higher purpose or ambition? Travel can be a vehicle for communicating to the world how amazing one’s life is and, as Matador Network’s article explores, rather than challenging travellers in situations that may be dire (even detrimental) for locals or local habitats. It seems that some travellers may be stepping further away from learning and self-exploration, and rather be aligned with attracting more likes and gratification from friends or followers instead. Whatever happened to being inspired and motivated by our own curiosities to travel to a destination rather than following the road paved by others? It’s one thing to be inspired, but truly another when we are inspired to travel somewhere on a Facebook whim only to experience exactly what another traveller has experienced.

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Each travelling experience is unique, so why not start with that thought? Why not start with that first step being: “where do I want to travel to and what can my world teach me?” Then, it’s a matter of removing ourselves from the frame. Shine the lens on what’s being discovered, what knowledge is being learned, what can others in foreign lands teach us and what information we can share with friends and family when we arrive home? I still believe that sharing on social media is a great way to share such knowledge, but it’s the way in which it’s being done that’s important. What other ways can we do this as travellers when we surrender to the open road? One, take more photos of what’s around you rather than you. Two, understand and respect local laws or rules rather than becoming oblivious to what’s happening in that moment. Three, use social media to educate why you can’t do something or can’t explore a particular area then start a conversation rather than creating a never-ending stream of perceived ‘awesomeness’.

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Create your own travel itinerary and set travel intentions rather than simply following someone else’s. Switch off your inner auto-pilot in order to discover the road less travelled and pack your backpack with those mindful intentions. Finally, try to switch the phone off every once in a while. You’ll be surprised on what you’ll discover – both within your surrounds and within yourself.

Exterior acceptance doesn’t have to be included when you travel. Shed yourself from the excess baggage that is travelling narcissism and explore the beauty in the imperfection instead. 

So, Travellers – have you encountered any travelling narcissism while on the road? How do you shed this excess baggage and what lessons did you learn as a result? I’d love to hear your thoughts…