When I first started preparing for my semester abroad in Barcelona, I couldn’t help but focus on two things– how far away I was about to be and how long I was about to be away. About 7,000km from home for about 4 months. As I packed and collected everything I would need for my time abroad, I noticed the planning and efficiency that had to go into it since I no longer had the comfort of a single item being shipped to me if I forgot it. I would not be able to see my family and friends from home over breaks– I would only be able to see them over FaceTime. I knew that any routine I had gotten used to would be useless and I would have a new routine that would eventually become a new normal to me.
When I got to Barcelona, these thoughts of great distance and long amounts of time apart from the people and things I was used to slipped away. I actually didn’t feel that far away and the span of 4 months didn’t seem too long at all. I wondered why this was and then I realized a huge part of it– it was because of the social networks I was involved with and the power they have to make me feel like I am always with the people I know and love no matter how far or how long I am away. The pictures that are posted on Facebook and Instagram keep my friends and family updated on my life in Spain. There is not a feeling of absolute cluelessness as to what is going on at home, or what is happening with me across the ocean since photos keep everyone informed and spark conversation as if the experiences captured in the pictures were almost felt together.
Studies show that about “…one-half of pleasure travelers post travel pictures on social networking sites” (1). I am definitely part of this one half. I post pictures of the sights I am seeing, food I am eating, and people I am spending time with. My sister at home posts pictures of her senior activities in high school, formal dances, and friends. My friends at home or in other countries studying abroad post pictures of their travels in a similar way to me. Because of all these postings and pictures, I feel much closer to the people who are physically miles and miles away since they can be seen inches away from my face on social networking sites. It is comforting when I talk to my friends and family on the phone or over FaceTime and we can ask each other about specific events or people or places we saw on social networking sites.
Not only has social networking allowed me to feel more connected to the people and places that are far away, it has also given me guidance on my experience abroad. People who have already gone abroad still have the photos they posted on their Facebook profiles. Researchers have noticed how “…images might influence the travel decisions of those who view the photos” (2). During my time abroad, I am able to look at the photos from the places they visited and loved and make sure to travel to them myself. For example, here is one of the Instagram accounts I have looked at with my friends in order to gain some Barcelona food inspiration: Barcelona Food Experience.
Social networking sites and travel are becoming more connected as they become a way to share moments despite a separation of distance and time, as well as a source of travel advice.
Boley, B. Bynum, Vincent P. Magnini, and Tracy L. Tuten. “Social media picture posting and souvenir purchasing behavior: Some initial findings.” Tourism Management 37 (2013): 27-30.
White, Leanne. “Facebook, friends and photos: A snapshot into social networking.” Tourism Informatics: Visual Travel Recommender Systems, Social Communities, and User Interface Design, Information Science Reference, USA (2009): 115.