Illustration by Bouklao.
It’s a common trope that a millennial’s priority for travelling is to take an infinite amount of picture perfect moments at beautiful destinations in order to make everyone jealous, but taking this concept of competitive happiness to a whole other level are a new breed of insta-people: Travel Couple Influencers.
I'll call them TCIs for the sake of brevity moving forward; in essence their role is to actively seek out the most elaborate ways to make you feel bad about yourself because you're single and on your third Indomie noodle pack - nay, you've decided to put three packs of Indomie noodle packs together because that's just how you roll, you innovator you, as you plug away at some devastatingly dreary office work simultaneously scrolling and liking your way through Instagram's endless feed and you are not on some far-flung island with a buxom babe or bronzed bro draped across you and most likely you cannot afford to travel to said island, nor are you buxom. Or bronzed.
Essentially travel couple influencer's Instagram pages have found a niche somewhere between Porn Hub, Thomas Cook, and a 15-year-old girl's Medium blog and people can't get enough of them.
There is little to no solid information that could be classified as travel tips within the communication strategy of TCIs. Instead, it's a continuous and repetitive stream of cringe-worthy ramblings about following your dreams (Look, they did! Why can't you?); living in the moment (on the 83rd attempt of them capturing said moment); or how much they love each other (so much so it seems they literally cannot go anywhere without each other, in a constant sort of overly sexual straddling position which would be extremely impractical in economy class to anywhere).
The classic TCI straddling pose, as displayed by four classic TCIs.
If you want to do your homework before moving on I encourage you to check out one of the world's most famous TCIs @mariefaeandjakesnow. After years of putting out utopian pictures and an impressive quantity of different but exactly the same captions which all essentially say “BE POSITIVE!” and amassing a huge amount of followers, they most recently referred to themselves as ‘Farmers of Light’. Really, they did. Those actual words. Despite clear metaphysical occupational hazards, I would also one day hope to be a light farmer, which I assume consists of none of the manual labour of actual farm work and all the benefits of a great tan.
Essentially TCI Instagram pages have found a niche somewhere between Porn Hub, Thomas Cook, and a 15-year-old girl's Medium blog and people can't get enough of them.
Influencers are supposed to be a dying breed and yet brands are still ploughing insane budgets their way. The influencer marketing industry is on track to be worth up to $15 billion by 2022, up from as much as $8 billion in 2019.
Uber-successful TCIs Marie Fe and Jake Snow, express their hope to become "farmers of light."
But whilst someone hocking several versions of the same ‘aspirational’ product over the period of one month - “I can't get enough of my Lancome skin whitener!”, “I absolutely live and die by my Avon skin whitener!”, “OMG I can't believe how white I am, thank you L'Oreal!” - starts to become questionable, there are some aspirations which are evergreen. Find someone you love, travel the world. Every romantic novel and movie revolves around this concept - TCIs bottle that ethos and package it in 720p with surreal filters and sell it as an everyday reality.
The ultimate 'dream' of a TCI is to eventually get paid to travel the world, or at least have your pick of vacations anywhere covered by some hotel/resort/agency/khaleeji royalty.
But not before they sell you their presets. What's a preset you ask? Well it's basically a Photoshop setting that famous TCIs template and then sell to you at $40 a pop with dreamy names like 'Sunkissed in Sri Lanka' or 'Maldives Magic' to make your pictures look professionally edited but the drawback being you kind of still have to actually have some sort of exotic backdrop for it to work. Using them on the blurry picture your mate took at the afterparty, passed out under the table surrounded by empty Stella cans won't make it look like you're enjoying a beautiful sunset in Sri Lanka with the Boyzzzzz.
Find someone you love, travel the world [...] TCIs bottle that ethos and package it in 720p with surreal filters and sell it as an everyday reality.
The ultimate 'dream' of a TCI is to eventually get paid to travel the world, or at least have your pick of vacations anywhere covered by some hotel/resort/agency/khaleeji royalty. And this is how the conversation started between myself and my wife F about potentially starting our own account.
We already had a couple of family/work trips and a honeymoon coming up, and surely we would take some pictures anyways. What's the harm, I thought, a few minutes of posing here and there - easy. Let's see where this goes. Oh, how wrong I was.
This is the cut-throat world of championship influencing
You see, this isn't your standard mum and dad holiday photo. It is not a stand in front of the landmark with a big smile, thumbs-up, one-take, say-cheese shot. This is the cut-throat world of championship influencing where one does not just simply turn up leisurely to the Trevi Fountain or Petra Monastery during the midday swarm of tourists, all of whom are taking the same photos that may well have been retrieved from a Google image search. You've got to hang off a moving vehicle, do some acroyoga, surround yourself with floating candles, jump off a cliff, capture a synchronized contemporary dance routine via drone, summon the ancient spirit of Xargiancia from the 8th dimension while balancing on a pair of oxen - all totally valid poses to get you some major TCI virality.
In our attempts to be successful TCIs we have taken to hanging off boats as this is a proven method of garnering likes.
In order for us to be a true TCI, we have learned that we must wake up before dawn while both nursing a horrific hangover, we must not waste too much time enjoying the hotel breakfast buffet (unless we’re taking videos of it) but eat just enough to ensure we don’t puke all over our carefully selected outfits. And under no circumstances should I attempt to try and 'style' myself or pretend that, as the guy, I am anything more than an accessory in the frame. She will wear avant-garde, perfectly color coordinating bespoke outfits and I will never, ever deviate from a plain white H&M t-shirt size M and occasionally a white dress shirt.
You've got to hang off a moving vehicle, do some acroyoga, capture a synchronized contemporary dance routine via drone, summon the ancient spirit of Xargiancia from the 8th dimension while balancing on a pair of oxen
So, equipped with an iPhone 6 camera and my aesthetically meticulous wife's ability to turn nearby strangers into Annie Leibovitz (with a few gentle prompts - “sorry it’s great, you’re great, thank you, but do you mind doing it again from this angle instead so it’s not shit, thanks”) we began our journey into the world of TCI-ing with @WanderLikeAnEgyptian (I challenge you to come up with a better name, the cheesier the better). This is a world where identical looking people (perennially half naked blondes) travel to the exact same places, to take a picture with the exact same poses to show how off-the-beaten-path they live their lives. Our edge, we hoped, is that we are brown and can write a great caption.
Our edge, we hoped, is that we are brown and can write a great caption.
Alas witty writing is not a defining feature of this community, but small talk certainly is. As I discovered through a little online research about the influencer market, apparently there is a seedy underbelly of this scene. This comes in the form of undercover guilds who gather a sophisticated network of TCIs in Instagram message groups who aim to support each other with the most banal commenting on each other’s posts in order to boost engagement. Here's a typical conversation thread we might indulge in on one of our posts:
Sarah & Juan
OMG. Wow, that's such a beautiful picture. It reminds me of the sunsets when we went to Bali. *sunset emoji* *kiss emoji*
Farah & Timmy
Yes, it was so nice. We've always wanted to go to Bali! *leaf emoji* *sun emoji* *guy running emoji* *girl running emoji*
Sarah & Juan
Oh, we would definitely recommend it! *star emoji* *plane emoji*
Farah & Timmy
Thank you for the recommendation, we can't wait to go one day! *Creepy sun face emoji* *hand over mouth like he's said something cheeky monkey emoji*
Sarah & Juan
Yes, one day *smiley emoji* *fingers crossed emoji*
Sarah & Juan
You definitely won't regret it!! It's absolutely beautiful. It's just like the picture *sunset emoji*
Timmy & Farah
Thank you for the lovely comment! *sunset emoji*
Sarah & Juan
Have you tried L'Oreal's skin whitener!?
These aren't even social media bots, these are real actual humans creating their own algorithms to connect to other humans with as much sincerity as a sayes’ compliments. Ya basha walahi, inta zey el fol, ya kabeer, ya bashaaaaaaa, nawart el donya! *Shifty eye emoji*
Now in order to attract such vast amounts of drivel on your post which in turn makes your post be seen by more people, there must be some sort of call to arms. This often comes in the form of a mundane question at the end of each caption. And so, standing on top of a mountainous expanse, winter storms a-brewing, medieval trumpet pursed to lips, we cry out to our comrades: “So, like, what's your favorite beach?” or you know, “What's the best view you've seen?” (say it in a ditsy valley girl voice in your head, I always do) and the comments come marching in.
These aren't even social media bots, these are real actual humans creating their own algorithms to connect to other humans with as much sincerity as a sayes’ compliments.
Obviously we don't give a fuck what Sarah & Juan's favourite beach is really, do we? But the favour is of course, returned, in a solipsistic cycle of fake vacation content creation - though to be fair, you can end up crowdsourcing a few great nuggets of travel or general advice/opinions.
Now imagine traveling two hours by plane, and then another three hours by bus to a remote village in the North of Thailand for the opportunity to visit a collection of the most awe-inspiring ancient temples in the world, delve into the magical secrets of Buddhist heritage, spend a lifetime gazing at the pure architectural imagination that brought these colossal structures to life... NO. No. Stop it. No time for that.
we have learned that we must wake up before dawn while both nursing a horrific hangover
The tour guide (big mistake) has given you a total of 15 minutes to observe these ancient temples and about 350 other people had the same idea to come to this remote, off the grid (or so you thought) temple, so there’s no chance of you seeing it without swarms of tourists, let alone getting in a single decent photo. And when you factor in time for a bathroom break - because both F and I are unable to hold it, like children - you have about 43 seconds to get a photo. You don’t even have time for the outfit changes you’ve packed to colour coordinate with each temple.
Also, the rush for photos is made increasingly more angsty because many of the most Instagrammable temples around the world are overpopulated by ‘worshipers’. These people have barely any followers and linger around all day praying, blocking off some of the best spots.
under no circumstances should I attempt to try and 'style' myself or pretend that, as the guy, I am anything more than an accessory in the frame
TCI-ing is essentially the shiny veneer of travel without the real fun stuff on show - the missed flights, drunken nights, the food fights, the jellyfish sting, insulting a king, lost bags, fake bags... Sorry I can't think of any more rhyming words but these are all things that happened and I couldn't think of anything that rhymed with geriatric Asian sex worker wanting a threesome.
Well it's basically a Photoshop setting that famous TCIs template and then sell to you at $40 a pop with dreamy names like 'Sunkissed in Sri Lanka' or 'Maldives Magic'
Now maybe one day I shall eat my words (after taking a video of them) as F and I are whisked across the world on someone else's dime. The 'dream' so to speak. But maybe as our likes grow and grow, our love will begin to dwindle and the account will represent nothing more than the bastard child of a romanticised business relationship. Maybe sunsets in Bali will become merely trivial and five star suites will just mean extra pressure for on-brand content. Maybe years from now when we scroll back on Instagram, all these utopian pictures we’ve taken will feel estranged.
Of course you wouldn't ever know would you, because we've absolutely nailed the overly sexual straddling pose and at the end of the day life is about the journey, not the destination. What's your favourite destination?