Travelers used to rely on guidebooks and word of mouth (and following 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. By 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 always moving now. It no longer just takes the form of dusty guidebooks in street inns and libraries; it also has its own website and social media.
It is also a testament to Lonely Planet’s success that it is the constant point of reference for the industry (“Have you heard of this new travel blog? It’s kind of like Lonely Planet but….”) and is now the measuring mark (and the 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 mash up Lonely Planet essays and turn them into digestible videos, are replacing Lonely Planet (and travel guides in general).
One of the reasons Instagram’s “explorer” feed is replacing Lonely Planet is that it’s much easier to carry a phone with you while you travel than a book (or encyclopedia). From your phone, you can access TripAdvisor destination reviews and guides, individual destination guides and reviews from countless travel bloggers, Google destination reviews, and even reviews and guides (online ) of Lonely Planet destinations. It’s true: even Lonely Planet is on Instagram’s “explore” and “discover” feeds…
Another reason is that Reels and TikToks are easier to digest than books. You don’t have to strain to read or even search for content. The algorithm gives you what you want, what is useful to you and what you like. Just 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 and sunsetstold DMARGE: “I’m always discovering on social media… It’s a huge way to share amazing places!”
Kimmie also told us that, “Lately there has been a huge trend towards inspirational reels and TikToks for travel with either short quick edits of a location or short simple videos panning over a beautiful view with someone. ‘one in the frame doing something so scenic – sitting in a hot tub getting into a hammock or bath, diving into water. These sometimes go VERY viral and when I see a place I want to add to my to-do list, I always record the video and then save the destination to my phone (on Google Maps).
On top of that, the places you find in your Instagram explore feed may seem more unique (even if they really aren’t). You get personalized insights into where your favorite content creators have stayed, eaten and explored – and you can follow their exact footsteps. They even feel like your friends. So while many backpackers in the pre-Instagram era flocked to the same places suggested by the Lonely Planet and made the same pilgrimages to places made popular by books and movies (think Maya Bay in Thailand, made famous by The Beach), now it can be said that there is a greater variety of examples and unusual places discovered.
As Jade Broadus, creative director of Travel Mindset, once said Weekly trip“I only see influencer marketing getting bigger…By partnering travel agents 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, Egypt, through social media. It’s called Farsha Cafe, and it’s an eclectic cliffside restaurant on the Red Sea with TONS of amazing Arabic decor, beads, lanterns, lamps, random objects strewn across the hillside, pillows, colorful rugs, and more.
“We stopped in Sharm specifically to go to this cafe! It was definitely worth it.”
Kimmie added: “I think there’s absolutely a huge ‘underground’ factor when you find something on social media (on a smaller page) or have something recommended to you in person that makes the experiences more exclusive.”
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“There’s something about the guidebooks that makes you think the inside experiences are the most touristy or well-known, and makes you want to find hidden things that are NOT in the guidebooks. Guides are thus automatically disadvantaged, as are bloggers in certain circumstances.
That said, Kimmie didn’t quite agree with us that Instagram’s “explorer” feed had totally replaced Lonely Planet (“partially yes”), but she did agree that it “gets bigger every year”. Kimmie told us, “Social media is a great place to go to understand the vibe of a restaurant or destination and see photos and embellished views of it…and potentially behind the scenes as well.
“In terms of travel planning, I think destination geotags and hashtags are huge. You can always get an idea of the best things to do in a destination by browsing a social media hashtag or geotag, and maybe even discover new things too. It’s really convenient to have so many people’s experiences in one easy-to-scroll place.
On top of all these positives for Instagram and TikTok, some people think the Lonely Planet has lost its edge. One of the biggest travel bloggers in the world, Matt Nomadin an article titled What’s wrong with The Lonely Planetwrote, “As I sat down to write this article, I asked readers on social media what they thought of Lonely Planet.”
“While most people were still using Lonely Planet (and guidebooks in general) for pre-planning, they reiterated what I kept hearing on the road: the books seem to be getting more and more stale, the writing has lost its edge, guides have become more upscale and less about offbeat and budget destinations, the website is difficult to use, and the blogs are often better.
As for what else is going on in the travel industry right now, Kimmie told us that travel agents seem to be becoming relics (“To be honest, I don’t know anyone under 40 using a travel agency anymore”), and things are getting more and more personalized (“I think a lot of travel planning is getting more DIY these days- ci, and travel agents are replaced with personal research, smaller planning services and tours”).
Oh and finally – just to make a point in Lonely Planet’s defense (and as Lonely Planet itself points out in this article), social media cannot (yet) replace the nostalgia of leafing through a travel guide: ” Unlike the internet’s inherently ephemeral attractions, these well-known relics of big touring and budget backpacking retain a nostalgic, romantic allure that’s hard to replicate online.
“Open a criss-crossed Lonely Planet and dozens of memories spill out: the faded coffee stains, the reviews of cheap hostels marked in yellow highlighter, the scribbled phone number of a gap-year sociology student you met in Cuzco in 1990- something but never reconnected with” (planet alone).
When Instagram and Facebook are dead and buried, maybe flipping through the “explore” feed will be nostalgic, decades from now… Only time will tell.