Screw Instagram! Why It’s OK to Look Like Garbage When You Travel

Contrary to what the internet may tell you, travel is not all Instagram perfect photo ops, light wind-in-my-hair-moments, and oh so casual pristine make-up and lighting. I personally look like garbage most of the time when I’m travelling, and I’m here to say, that THAT’S OK!!!

Travelling, especially on a budget and in developing countries, can be hard enough. No need to put some sort of weird expectations on yourself to look your best in every single picture. Screw that, I want to feel my best, not look my best. And you know what World? I’m a 33-year-old, wine and cheese-loving woman, so I feel my best in stretchy material, sensible shoes, and a light layer of my own sweat.

Screw Instagram!

Why It’s OK to Look Like Garbage When You Travel

Don’t get me wrong, the gorgeous photos that you find on Instagram of travellers in cute dresses and straw hats with questionably un-frizzy hair, those are real people, and I have nothing against them. I’ve even met some of them at travel blogging events, and they are lovely! But I’m just saying, that sure as hell ain’t me! And I have a feeling that it isn’t most of us, am I right?

When I travel, I pack for comfort and convenience, wanting to carry as little as possible. I carry no hair products beyond shampoo and conditioner, and I will debate the real need for mascara. I don’t have room or time for anything with a heel, any item that can’t be shoved into the far reaches of a backpack, or something that has to be washed regularly, or gasp dare I even mention it… ironed!

travel tips for solo female travel

Admittedly, I don’t actually own anything that needs to be ironed at the best of times though I do inexplicably own an iron.

But I get it, I see the pictures of really put together travellers and I am super impressed by them too. I just know, that is not me, nor will it ever be me. It’s a ‘you do your thing, I’ll do mine’ situation, and the fact of the matter is my thing is dictated by chub rub, laziness, lack of motivation, and the need to hide red wine stains.

For anyone who doesn’t know what chub rub is, this post is not for you. And if you’ve never spilled red wine on yourself, well you’re definitely lost!

I know how great people can look in their travel photos, and there have been times that I thought that I would put in a tiny effort to look less horrific in my own travel photos. Like, for a small amount of time in Iceland I put on mascara every morning. Then I stopped, because… why?

I look back on many photos of myself while travelling and think, wow, that was an amazing day! Not until after the beautiful memory has been relived that I notice that I look like a Wednesday Adams – Steve Buschemi lovechild on day 36 of Survivor.

Anybody who interacts with me in real world life knows I can only put so much energy into looking good. I had my hair cut yesterday for the first time in over 10 months. And not because I was growing it out to donate to cancer or making a political statement or anything. No I just plain didn’t bother to get it cut.

Though the last time it was cut was the day of 45’s inauguration, so maybe there was a subliminal statement being made.

I digress.

Back to photos of myself travelling. There are literally thousand’s of horrible photos of me, some of which I’m sharing with you to prove my point. Most of them are saved in a specific folder on my BFF Lindsay’s phone for her to blackmail me with whenever she desires. Nothing like your soul sister keeping a trove of images ready to destroy you at any possible moment. It is also the red file for when I inevitably decide to run for political office.

These pictures of me, they are horrible. Depending on where I was travelling, my skin is a hundred shades between sunburnt red and lily paste white. I have chapped lips, and there are bags under my eyes from not getting enough sleep because of that god forsaken snorer in the neighbouring bunk bed. My hair is more than likely in a messy bun, with flyaway’s galore, and the clothes I’m wearing, even IF they look clean, are definitely not.

My travel clothes are always what is comfortable and necessary. In warm weather I wear loose tank tops and unflattering shorts, while in cold weather I wear leggings and endless layers of fleece and wool. Any picture of me where I appear to be at rest, I’m probably not wearing a bra. Because after a 10 hour hiking day, bras are literally Satan incarnate. And if the photo is only me from the waist up, I may not be wearing pants. Like in this picture…

First Time West Coast Trail experience

When travelling, my feet will be in either hiking boots, Crocs, Birkenstocks, or flip flops. Nothing else could be a possibility. Ironically, I will probably have painted toe nails, but only because the paint hides the dirt and gives the illusion that I give a shit. When I clearly don’t.

So many days of travel involve actually travelling. Packing up your bag, carrying it around, getting in and out of whatever means of transport you’re taking that day, and going through endless temperature and climate changes. I just don’t know how anybody has the energy to try to keep up a decent appearance in such conditions.

Tell me how to look good after 8 hours on a long boat puttering down the Mekong River, eating only sticky rice, in 40 degree weather, and probably downing 18 shots of whiskey the night before and I’ll tell you where you can put that under eye cream.

Speaking of under eye cream, can we talk about cellulite for a minute?

Now, I’ll be real. I have a rad body. It’s strong, it’s powerful, and it has taken me on many extreme adventures without complaining. That’s not true, it’s complained a lot, but it’s never fully gone on strike. I have pushed it to the limit, thrown it out of a plane, launched it off a cliff, made it run for hours on end, climbed every mountain and forged every stream. This body has been around.

Euw, not in that way, don’t be gross.

Since I’m so incredibly lucky to have a body that can take me on so many grand adventures, I’m not one to deprive it. As I said, I’m a wine and cheese gal, I like waffles and deep fried spring rolls and brownies galore. And I have the cellulite and wobbly bits to prove it, but damn it if I’m going to keep those bits out of my travel photos just because they’re not “Instagram worthy”. Screw that!

Reykjadalur Hot River Valley off the beaten path golden circle

I’ve posted more pictures of me in bathing suits in the last year than I thought I ever would, because why not? A natural hot river in Iceland must be enjoyed while in a bathing suit, and I’m definitely not going to cut myself out of my own travel memories. Mud baths in St Lucia, again, can only be enjoyed in a bathing suit, and the less you’re wearing the larger surface area you have to rub the volcanic mud all over your skin. There are pictures, you can find them HERE.

In fact, there have been adventure photos of me wearing no clothing at all, *cough* naked bungee jumping on Valentine’s Day 2003 AND 2004 *cough*. There was also a video, but that seems to have disappeared, probably into Lindsay’s red file.

Literally the easiest way to avoid being either a fashionable traveller or a non-fashionable traveller is to just be a naked traveller!

Though in my defence, I may look wretched, but I’m normally relatively clean when I travel, or as clean as I can be given that days activity. I’m not a barbarian!

I brush my teeth twice a day, I wash my face and body regularly, and I wear deodorant. I don’t shave that often, I’ll give you that but don’t get me started on stinky backpackers who think they’re ‘so in tune with nature’ when they don’t shower for weeks on end.

Like, no, just stop. You grew up in Chicago. Your name is Steve. Here’s some soap.

So do I look like a model when I travel? No, I’m not blind nor am I naïve, I can see myself in a mirror! But what I do see when I look at pictures of myself over my years of travelling is what an incredible moment I was living when that photo was captured. I was and continue to be lucky to experience the world as fully and as freely as I’ve been able to.

When I look like garbage when I travel, it’s not that I’ve given up or that I’m not thinking about how I come off to other people, it’s that I have other things on my mind about what’s important for me that day. I want to walk on that glacier in Iceland or experience my first glimpse at Machu Picchu. I want to laugh with my new friends over beers in the hostel and dance in the streets with rum swilling Mexican ladies. I want to swig the tea, the kava, the gin, the whiskey, and the wine, eat the guinea pig, the cheese, and the chicken feet. And I want to capture images of myself while experiencing all of these beautiful moments, no matter how beautiful I may or may not look. I just can’t bring myself to care enough about the look when I’m present in the moment.

What I hope I get across, in this meandering post of many embarrassing shades, is basically, YOU DO YOU! Travel the way that you need to and want to. If getting gussied up and looking cute gives you energy or is something you enjoy, than go for it. But for those of us who don’t own make-up brushes, don’t think that because you don’t look a certain way in those travel pics you can’t share those pictures with the world. No filters needed!

Trust me, looking like garbage is freeing. You’ll still make friends and have great times no matter how wretched you look (but I do implore you to shower regularly, por favor! ). Who cares if you’re wearing a sports bra in a dance club, all the better to rock out atop that bar. Who cares if your tummy is sticking out in that picture in a bikini, you’re being your bodacious self and killing this little thing we call life!

I’m not here to say that any travel way is right, and I’m not here to judge anyone or the way they travel. I’m just saying that for me, and I suspect a lot of folks out there like me, I just can’t be that image of travel perfection, even though I’m a travel blogger. All power to you if you can be, if that’s your jam, that’s your jam.

Just don’t be offended by me and my hairy legs. Because we are not apologizing nor are we using a filter.

Did you like this post? Share or Pin it!

Screw Instagram! Why It's Ok To Look Like Garbage when you Travel | solo female travel | travel fashion | Travel tips for women | backpacking travel tips | budget travel tips | adventure travel for solo women |

17 thoughts on “Screw Instagram! Why It’s OK to Look Like Garbage When You Travel

  1. Lorenzo dragonieri

    - Edit


    NEVER would you look like garbage ,even if you are using an expression.I suspect you come from beautiful strong stock.Thanks for the many useful articles.Have you been to Italy?Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo

  2. I was a couple of days into this 5 week trip when I realized I forgot “all my makeup ” (mascara & eye shadow & eye liner). My niece gave me a mascara sampler. I’ve used it once. Hardly even thought about it. I figure wearing my happy grin is my best look & if I can capture the joy inside, that’s the memory photo I want. 😎👍

  3. I love this post SO much. Seriously, yes. Thank you for this and for being so honest as to what travel should be more about, which is our experiences. From your fellow garbage traveler!

    1. And this is why we’re friends! It’s all about the journey and the road, the experience and the folks you meet along the way, not the optics of the moment. Love to the ladies who don’t give a fuck!

  4. Hi Emily,


    I never tried to do so and it happened naturally – just like you – but I ain’t looking pretty during my travels. I have fun. I get comfortable. I snap. Easy peasy. Real and authentic. Genuine. More power to the IG chicks and the surfer dudes over there but for me, I have been a physique model in the past. Been there, done it. I care not if you can grate cheese on my abs or if my hair looks perfect. That stage of my life has passed, and even though it was fun, I realize the energy behind what I did was quite unhealthy, judging much of my worth on how I looked. That is just me, though.

    Rock on Emily!


    1. Comfort is the best right Ryan? Like really, let’s the present, let’s take it all in, and let’s not care about how we fit into this world when you are just trying to experience this world beyond ourselves

  5. Haha! I shave my legs maybe 4 times a year, but I don’t keep track, so maybe just 3 times. 🙂 And guess what! I don’t shampoo my hair, either. Usually it gets a good going over in fresh, rain water with an ocassional baking soda scrub. Thanks for writing…I loved this post!

  6. It’s very hard to pack light for an adventurous trip & look glamorous along the way. I’m with you – practicality over perfection! Thx for the honest post 😊

  7. I wouldn’t say I look like garbage, but for sure, we simplify a lot when travelling. We always take at most a carry-on, whatever we leave for two weeks or two months. If possible, we even limit our luggage to a small backpack. So I’m not ashamed to say that we don’t have fancy shoes when we exceptionally choose to go to the restaurant in the evening, and sometimes, we wear the same clothes two days in a row when laundry was not possible! You are right; it’s so freeing not because I enjoy putting on some clothes that are not freshly laundered in the morning, but because we realize then that after 10 seconds we don’t care anymore. So maybe it doesn’t really matter! And then we understand how many of our daily obligations are not so important, and that, when travelling, we live much more!

    1. Well said Gaelle,
      Travelling simply means we are doing something very different than in our normal lives, and getting back to the basics. It’s always fun to see how little you actually need. After most of my trips I come home and immediately purge my closet!
      Cheers to you,

  8. Thanks for sharing your experience & hope you really enjoy because your happiness is reflecting in the photographs but I don’t think it’s not pretty.

Add Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.