Instagram Fail: Don't Use Social Media To Plan Your Vacation... Here's Why.
I spent a few weeks before my recent vacation to Europe on Instagram, obsessively scrolling, searching, saving, organizing and filing what I thought were the cutest, most 'grammable spots in London and Paris. I scoured the accounts of influencers and bloggers for cute cupcakes, ornate entry-ways, over-the-top interior design - the pinker the better. Complicated cocktails? I'm in. Serve 'em to me in a repurposed Spam container, please. Eggs for breakfast are fine, as long as they're no bigger than my thumbnail and came from a quail or smaller.
I had a spreadsheet and a couple Google docs, organized by neighborhood and meal for both London and Paris, and was all set to have the cyutest Euro-trip ever, boyfriend/photographer in tow. What could go wrong, right?
Um, lots, it turns out.
There are several issues with Influencer-approved spots, and here they are:
It's a one-off. There's nothing else around, so you've made it to the one nice place in a sketchy or residential neighborhood where there is no place that isn't an uber ride or subway trip away to head to afterwards. Alternately, on the one-off spectrum, the cute cronut that blogger posted on Insta is the only thing on the menu that you'd want to eat, i.e. that isn't made from a wisp of local air and farm-to-table quinoa dust.
Everyone else saw it on the 'gram and is waiting for a table. Forget getting in. Perhaps a bathroom selfie could suffice.
It's closed. That kind of thing always happens with trendy, flash-in-the-pan spots that are more shine than substance.
Influencers often get stuff for free. (Hey, I have, and it's awesome.) But they don't always disclose it, so the place you're dying to check out could, for example, charge upwards of $90/person for afternoon tea.
Here are a couple of the Instagram-inspired flops from my trip, and their coordinating transgressions:
Lights of Soho went dark about four days before we got there. According to speculators on Twitter, high rents in the 'hood are to blame. Its shuttered doors left us stranded out on the street with no next move, since we were counting on the neon light exhibit and the on-site (and, yes, cute) cafe to keep us off the streets for a couple hours, not to mention we needed the WiFi there to get us to the next spot.
(Click here to read a brief statement from Light of Soho on the closure, which is appropriately introduced with a hashtagged call to arms, #noartistsnolights.)
Claus, Paris: #1, #2, #4
This celebrated breakfast spot in Paris had a super long wait, which, once we got inside, we soon realized was due to super slow service thanks to over-worked, multi-tasking servers. (I saw one of the waitresses bussing, making coffee, ringing people up, and probably, behind the scenes, whipping up omelettes du jour. Le yikes!) Also, the menu wasn't exactly wowing my boyfriend. "Hen's eggs" were sold individually, and the heartiest thing on the menu was essentially the French version of a bagel and lox. I watched him struggle to try to come up with a combination with enough calories and protein to sustain him to the nearest sandwich stop - it didn't seem doable for less than €25, about $30 - and I all but lost the desire to spend the next hour wondering where the food was. We ended up forfeiting our table and walking out before even ordering.
Floors, Paris: #1
This bar and eatery had très-photogenic food on Instagram and Yelp. Great, except they didn't start serving until 7pm, three hours later than we arrived, and it was in a pretty sketchy neighborhood with nothing else around. By the time we walked downhill to Floors, we were in no hurry to walk back uphill to an area more packed with nice lunch spots. Not a total fail, since the rooftop is pretty kewl, but we were hungry for more than a view.
Sketch, London: #2, #4
This place looks pretty amazing. If you're an heiress. But, um, £58 (about $75) for afternoon tea, for one, sans champagne? (The champagne option was £72, or about $92, which is about the price of two bottles of Moet.) That's a bit exorbitant, oui? Better off somewhere casual, where you can get a tray of cakes, clotted cream, and sandwiches for £25 or so, and still take yourself shopping after. I can confirm, however, that the space itself is absolutely delicious, in a Wes Anderson meets Gus van Sant type of way. And don't sleep on the bathrooms, either - ever peed in a pod?
Forget that, power down your phone, and do this instead:
Walk around, find a cute place, and go inside. Forget FOMO and that nagging "What if there's a cuter place a little further down the street?" feeling. Some of the best meals and best shopping we did were right after being foiled by a shuttered location or an impossible-to-find social media Mecca. Enjoy the ride, make it your own, and take some pics - maybe you'll inspire someone else to seek out your new favorite ramen stop or chic boutique.
Consult a magazine. (Remember those?)
Call me old fashioned, but I think when it comes to travel, reputable writers and editors can be a better resource than social media stars. First of all, there's a lot of lag-time between researching and writing about a place and publishing it in print, so editors are less likely to approve a place that could end up flying by night. Second, they know their stuff! They build their entire careers around knowing chefs and restaurateurs, designers and moguls, creators and doers. They know what actually has legs versus what just has good lighting for a quick pic, and, despite the small issue of advertising, they're less likely to gush over a place simply because of a free meal or gifted outfit.
We found the, ahem, cheekily named Sherry Butt, pictured above, by googling "Whiskey Bars in Paris" and after reading about in in several NYT articles with promising headlines such as "The Slow Rise of Craft Cocktails in Paris" and "Pandan, an Asian Herb, Leaps From Cakes to Cocktails" as well as a solid write-up in TimeOut Paris, it made it onto our Must-Visit list, and not, I'll have you know, because an Instagrammer told me so.