THEME: Travel


by Meg

International travel has never been easier. Flights are plentiful and somewhat affordable, and vacation destinations are growing more and more accommodating to English speakers. There are plenty of places around the globe to stick your feet in the sand, get a fruity-rum drink, and kick back. Thanks to one app, though, traveling has never been more stressful: Instagram, which enables your friends to follow your feed, living their future vacation vicariously through your current one. Your friends need you to have an amazing vacation because they need to know their next vacation can be amazing, too! That’s a lot of pressure, you guys!

My husband, Kevin, and I try to take a trip once a year. This time, we planned to visit my sister in China, who would guide us through the country she has fallen in love with. Though we had this vibrant tour guide to show us around, I’m going to be honest: China is not the most Instagram-friendly destination, due to a lack of  picture-perfect vistas or charmingly well-lit outdoor cafes. Here is how I handled traveling through a country not yet ready for the “take-a-picture-of-every-fucking-thing-so-my-friends-envy-me” generation.


Brushing Jet Lag Under the Table


What the photo is saying:

“Oooh! Look at this exotic fare! We aren’t in Kansas anymore! I’m getting crazy with preserved egg congee and this trippy half coffee/half tea/half milk breakfast drink! We’ve only been here 10 hours and we’re having a blast!”

What is actually happening:

“I don’t know what congee is. Do they have coffee? My head hurts and I’m tired. Do they have coffee? I’m so tired, I could eat anything and it will taste good, I don’t even care … do they have coffee?”


Distract from Non-Ideal Weather


What the photo is saying:

“Hey! Look at the center of the photo! It’s a fun, distinctive cultural statue! Isn’t it charming? And, would you look at that? Isn’t the view also top-notch? But, you know, mainly you’re looking at dragon butt.”

What’s actually going on:

“Quick! It stopped raining. Pull out your phone and capture this moment! Hmm, looks stormy, still. I’ll take a picture of this dragon butt and no one is the wiser.” <pats own back, wears a smug expression>


Seeing a lot of the same thing? Mix up your angles!


What the photo is saying:

“So, at this other temple we walked through, there were beautiful trees and a BLUE SKY! Couldn’t you just sit on a bench and read a book here?”

What’s actually going on:

“As we walked through the 20th temple on our trip, the Sun came out! So I took 103 photos and had to spend a lot of time trying to pick the best one. Also, my feet hurt.”


Focus on the positive… or cute!


What the photo is saying:

“Oh this? This is just an adorable grey fox looking out over the beautiful mountain range I have found myself in. NBD.”

What’s actually happening:

“Christ, it’s cold on top of a mountain. Why didn’t I pack that fleece?! Ok, these foxes are cute as hell, but I wish we didn’t have to stand next to the coldest, yet smelliest squat-toilets I’ve come across in my life. Get the shot and RUN INSIDE FOR WARMTH!… Aw man, I got snot on my phone because I’m SO DAMN COLD.


People are bored of landscapes and architecture! POST YOUR FACE!


What the photo is saying:

“My sister and I are having so much fun! We’re at this great authentic Szechuan restaurant, and we’re drinking peanut milk because we have fun!”

What is actually happening:

“GET ME ANOTHER PEANUT MILK DRINK. MY MOUTH IS ON FIRE! I need all of your napkins to wipe the sweat from my face and then I’m drinking your PEANUT MILK. Thank god we took photos before we started eating.”


If you can’t get the shot, make the best with what you’ve got.


What the photo is saying:

“My favorite view of the Great Wall of China. I guess I’ve always been kind of artsy and just had a different perspective than most people.” <shrug>

What is actually happening:

“Wow, this wall is the definition of epic. I wish there wasn’t so much pollution so I could get a beautiful picture of it. Oh, hey, if I look through this tiny window in one of the towers, you can only sort of see the smog in the distance. Say cheese, Great Wall of China!”


Don’t show your disappointment to the world.


What the photo is saying:

“Here’s my wonderful sister at the Hanging Monastery outside of Datong! What an incredible structure! So much history and so much wonder! We have fun!”

What is actually happening:

“What do you mean we can’t go in due to rain? We have to stand all the way over here and just look at it? We know it’s dangerous, that’s why we’re here, man! Fine, fine, hey, Colleen. Stand here and look excited to see this thing.”


When in doubt, post pictures of food.


What the photo is saying:

“Hey! Look at me! I’m eating dumplings in China! In fact, I’m eating Shanghai Dumplings IN SHANGHAI! FUN! Food is awesome, isn’t guys? Boy am I satiated.”

What is actually happening:

“Hey, Kevin, our flight leaves in 45 minutes. We totally have time to get some food from the food court. Oooh, they have a dumpling place! Keviiiiiiiiiiin, let’s get dumpliiiiiiiiiings!”

My translations may give you the impression I had a horrible time in China, which is not the case. We saw gorgeous temples, beautiful cities, and we ate so. many. noodles. We had a great time. The best parts, though, were not easy to capture on camera.

The best parts were the conversation we had one night with a local in Pingyao. He told us the history of a building we were looking at, and then allowed us to dispel some rumors about foreigners. We played with a little girl and her grandmother in a courtyard while we were getting lost in an ancient city. We spoke with a man who grew up during the Cultural Revolution, and told us what it was like to be targeted for being an intellectual.  

And there were challenges: adjusting to not having a lot of personal space in public, being gawked at in small towns since we were some people’s “first foreigner”, getting hustled for a few US dollars, and wearing a mask as we went out to see some local attractions because the pollution was at an “unhealthy” level.
It’s not everyone’s idea of a dream vacation, and Kevin and I do plan to take another trip that includes hot tubs and soft beds and cozy couches for being lazy. But, I feel lucky I went on a trip that was educational. I returned home grateful for what I have, and that is worth a lot of airport dumplings.

2 thoughts on “Travelgram

  1. Awesome post! I totally get it. I wonder if we get too carried away showing off where we live. “Look! It’s another grey squirrel running across the busy street!” Whoops. Love you amazing writer. Mom

    Sent from my iPhone


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