A few weeks ago I was scrolling through Facebook and stumbled upon a video about “Yolocaust,” a controversial photography project by Shahak Shapira. He is an Israeli artist and satirist who was outraged after seeing posts of tourists doing yoga and taking selfies at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. Shahak responded by photoshopping the backgrounds of their photos to include the malnourished and deceased Jewish people who lived in the concentration camps where tourists were now snapping photos for Instagram likes. Amidst my disappointment and frustration with the lack of respect for the tragic history of the Holocaust, there was the uncomfortable realization: have I ever posted an insensitive photo while traveling?
As expats and tourists alike we are in a unique position. We see wonders of the world, eat delicious food from a variety of cultures, immerse ourselves in languages and meet interesting people everywhere we go. We create personal blogs to document our adventures, tweet our most embarrassing moments, and post Instas of beautiful panoramic views with the dopest filters. All of these outlets make it very easy to get caught up in the hype of “going viral,” but for all the wrong reasons.
Are the tourists who posted those photos at the memorial terrible people? I doubt it.
But their mistakes should be a warning to us all about the importance of mindful traveling, understanding the legacy of certain sights we see before we post, and what can happen if we are culturally and historically unaware of our whereabouts.
Now, how can you be a more mindful traveler?
Posting on social media can take away from the raw emotion or impact of an experience so put the phone down...at least for a bit. Take in what you see and live in the moment! If you’re still feeling it go and snap a photo at the end of your visit.
Research Your Destination
It’s possible to stumble upon a UNESCO Heritage Site and not even realize it! Before visiting a new place, research its main attractions.You don’t have to make a full itinerary, but learning about famous sites at your destination is a great start to being more aware of your surroundings.
As travelers we see and experience a lot, even cultural practices we don’t understand nor agree with. Remember that we are in their space as visitors and should respect and acknowledge their history. This doesn’t mean you’re gullible and don’t question anything; be curious and stay engaged. Just know that seeing another cathedral or memorial for us can symbolize a larger meaning to someone else.
Whether it’s personally or publicly, reflecting is one of the best ways to process any situation. Consider writing down your thoughts in a journal first, not a caption, because sometimes it’s best to get out your thoughts on paper before the world reads it.
So, I encourage you to enjoy life abroad! Take that scenic photo in the French Pyrenees with your back to the camera and hands open to the sky. Show off a new artsy yoga pose on the Italian beaches in Cinque Terre. Educate your news feed about the impact of the visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. We all have a few cliche, self-reflecting or touristy photos on our profiles. However, in a world where the blatant disrespect of other religions, races, genders, sexual orientations and ethnicities is being normalized, the caption “Jumping on dead Jews” carries more weight than ever before. Instant gratification makes it much easier for a seemingly harmless photo to become a massive mistake the more it’s shared around the web. While social media is just a highlight reel of a life, what you post you can’t take back and it’s out there for the world to see forever. Take the extra time to think before you caption and for once, let’s not have history repeat itself.
Sojourner is a 22 year old traveling chocoholic from Milwaukee, WI. A graduate of Bradley University with a double major in Psychology and Spanish and minor in Women’s and Gender Studies, she currently resides in Logroño, La Rioja, Spain as a Fulbright Scholar. When Sojourner is not teaching, she can be found writing, eating or wine tasting her way through life at sojournies.weebly.com. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @sojowhite to keep up with her journeys to come!