Instagram realities: the stories behind 5 of my most liked + most asked about photos on Instagram

Instagram is not reality. It’s a highly curated social media platform with heavy emphasis on branding and aesthetic. We all know this to be true but, for whatever reason, there is still so much pressure for everyone to get the perfect picture. I think Instagram becomes fully dangerous when we compare our every day lives to the highlight reels of others. My Instagram guides are some of my most read blogs, and I love putting them together. But, and it is a large but, I don’t ever want people thinking it’s all easy breezy and that bad things never happening and that life is all glamour all the time.

This post has been sitting in the draft pile {along with exactly 43 others} waiting for me to hit ‘publish’. Returning to Vietnam marks the beginning of another long bout of travels through new {and some old favourite} destinations {again} before I settle down for a little while {more on this in an upcoming post}. Until that time when I’m setting myself up a flat, I’ve got a lot of ground to cover…meaning I’ll be taking a copious amount of photos…meaning a slew of new Instagram photos. Creating visual content is one of my favourite parts of this website but, for the sake of authenticity and transparency, I’ve compiled some of the stories from behind the photos. While most of my pictures capture truly magical moments, ones I never want to forget and feel grateful for experiencing, others get a lot of attention without giving any real context about what was happening behind the camera lens.

read on for some instagram realness


spiritual awakenings

This photo is one of my favourites from my time in Bali in 2017. It wasn’t a photo I had thought about. I went to this temple thinking I’d find peaceful religious ceremonies and sacred shrines. Instead, the place was absolutely swamped with tourists, like me, there for an Instagram photo and a souvenir. Nothing, and I mean nothing, makes me less motivated to take a photo as seeing a bunch of loud foreigners obnoxiously whip out their selfie sticks or buying T-shirts from a temple. It just makes me feel…blah. Laughing at the ludicrousness of it all, I walked passed this doorway {which lies across from a souvenir shop and convenience store}, and my travel partner motioned for me to slow down. I did and this photo was snapped. When I posted this the first time, in 2017, I received comments about how peaceful and spiritual other travelers had found Bali. I am always interested in other opinions, and respect them, but I didn’t connect to the sentiment. Because this photo was not taken in a moment of spiritual awakening or enlightenment. It was snapped as my travel partner saw a pretty moment amidst the chaos of it all.



This photo makes me laugh a little…okay, a lot. The minute I posted it on Instagram, I started getting DMs and comments about how amazing the timing of it was. Like timing has ever been something I’ve nailed?!?! The truth, however, is not nearly as serendipitous or romantic— I looked up departing flight times, went early to the empty market parking lot across from the airport, and snapped the pic. I also edited out the cleaning shed next to me {poorly, I’ll add} because it took away from the airplane. This photo, which I love, is not the product of impeccable timing but rather the product of careful planning.



One of my favourite experiences as a Backstreet Academy Ambassador has been, without question the Hmong cooking class I took. Sadly, as wonderful as the tour itself was, I was in a real state. If you were to really look closely at this photo, you might notice red bumps all over my arms and even my face. The guesthouse I stayed at the night before was filled with bed bugs. My entire naked body was bitten from toe to scalp. Despite moving rooms in the middle of the night, the damage had already been done. I only felt relief in the shower or naked and smothered in antihistamine cream. In fact, over the course of the entirely restless night, I showered multiple times which only made the problem worse. Most Lao guesthouses do not have filtration systems for their showers, so I was essentially washing myself in dirty water that likely only irritated them further. I tried to dress conservatively, since I knew I’d be in a local village, but underneath my clothes my body was itching so fiercely my skin felt on fire. On top of it all, my lack of sleep meant I was rushing around in the morning to get ready and forgot to eat breakfast. Three hours spent cooking Hmong food over a fire in the heat, with no breakfast in my belly and my skin dealing with its own kind of hell. I ended up losing my vision and then passing out right at the end of the tour. Being forced water, I eventually recovered and enjoyed the meal I had helped make. Was this photo’s smile genuine? Yes, of course. Did I cry and tear off my clothing as soon as I arrived back to a different room? Yes, of course.

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I try to put together a café guide and Instagram guide for most destinations I go to: one advantage of longer traipses and return visits. A return to Kuala Lumpur was no exception. However, Etc. wasn’t on my list of brunch spots to intentionally try. After a beautiful morning brunching at Breakfast Thieves and getting photos at Thean Hou Temple, I started to feel ill. A few hours later, a slight fever, headache, and stomach pains overtook. Having only finally begun to heal the damage done to my body in China, I knew that I was going to hit a wall and my body would feel weak and nauseous soon. My travel companion, recognizing what I was attempting to hide, suggested we take a breather somewhere close where I could grab a lemon tea or something to eat to get rid of the shakes. Across from the temple we were visiting near Chinatown were two cafés. One looked alright, but didn’t offer much for light snacks or refreshments. The other had black and white tiling, a neon sign, and affordable food options alongside a bevy of herbal teas. Decision made. I hopped into Etc. and grabbed a tea. After an hour of enjoying the atmosphere, I knew I’d want a photo to add the little spot to my list of cafés in Kuala Lumpur. Thus, the above photo came into existence. While this is a day and a trip I look back at with great fondness, the photo itself was taken while I was in great physical discomfort and not in the highest of spirits.



Finally, one of my most-liked photos to date {due to the vulnerable/honest caption, no doubt}, was from my January return to New Zealand. I went ‘home’ at the beginning of last year and felt completely overwhelmed by just how right it felt. This candid photo, taken by Tash, got a reaction I didn’t expect, and I think it’s because the authentic moment in time translates. My DMs were filled with beautiful messages from people who have found home in a place that isn’t their place of birth, or who have found family in friendships. Wind in my hair, sharp rocks beneath my bare feet, endless ocean— all after a morning when I finally got to see some of my favourite little ones and made the decision to see someone I had previously decided I wouldn’t. I felt emotional the entire trip in the best way. I found myself leaving New Zealand reaffirmed in my belief that it is home and that the people who were are there remain the most important people to me. Just an hour or two before this photo was snapped, however, I was just trying my best to navigate very new territory in the most familiar of places. This photo, to me, is proof that some of the best photos come from afternoons spent eating veggie burgers and hiking up rocks with a dear friend— no posing or planning necessary.


AT THE END OF THE DAY, even when it isn’t glamorous or easy, traveling feels like a privilege. Soon, I’ll find myself in a little Wellington flat, scrolling through my phone to see the highlights from some of my journeys around the world, planning my next trip across a new continent. I just hope that I remind myself now and then that as beautiful as it all looks on a grid, it was never without obstacles or imperfections. Because those imperfections are as much a part of the experience as the magical moments.


instagram realities: the true stories behind 5 of my most liked photos