How To Use Instagram To Plan Your Next Trip

By Champ Ensminger Plan an Adventure2 Comments

Any traveling photographer these days is sharing their adventures on Instagram, much to the envy of their non-traveling friends, sitting back home and swiping through gorgeous feeds of faraway places. But what if I told you, Instagram can not only share your adventures, but help you plan them as well?

Follow this “App Mapp” to find out how you can unlock the features of Instagram in the app and its active social community to enrich your travel experience:

App Mapp: Instagram

Get Started on Instagram

Our first 3 steps on the App Mapp are pretty straightforward — download the app and begin sharing photos you’ve taken on your travels. Instagram offers a great introduction to the app here. When you’ve familiarized yourself with the interface, you’re ready for the next leg of the journey!

Use Hashtags to Connect With Your Travel Interests

Are you in Hong Kong for a short time? Want to find out which pop-up shops are selling the best fashion deals? Where the best dim sum is in the Central district? Look into Instagram’s hashtags!

Hashtags are an integral part of many social networking applications for discovering a niche, or gaining the attention of others within that niche. With Instagram, the hashtag can not only draw you into like-minded communities, but help you find your niches within a geographic area.

For example, when I traveled to Hong Kong, there were a string of hashtags that I searched to get the lay of the land before I stepped off the plane.

Tags like #dimsum and #tsimshatsui directed me to some good street food in the Tsim Sha Tsui district. #hkstyle showed me some great fashion trends and streetwear in Hong Kong, often directing me to brand names and places I could shop.

Think of the world of hashtags as a library classification system, sortable by categories and with added sub-categories. When you travel, think of recurring hashtags like:



#bestof_____, or


to get a glimpse of a new locale by filling in the hashtag with places and things unique to that area.

TIP: This is a great opportunity to learn some of the local language. Search hashtags using keywords reflecting your interests translated into that language. You’ll find that local Instagrammers will of course tend to input descriptions and tags in their native tongue, so this will take some extra work.

The payoff is that your explorations into the place and culture will be that much more interesting!

Find Great Photo Spots Using Instagram’s Geotags

Once you have an idea of what you’d like to see and experience, you can get insider tips of WHERE these hidden gems are. You’re able to find out EXACT locations by checking out other Instagrammer’s geotags.

Innovation Tower
Zaha Hadid-designed Innovation Tower at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, taken thanks to a helpful suggestion by @isasquatch

Finding out how your favorite Instagram feeds of your destination got to look as great as they do requires a little bit of stalking, but spreading the love of great shots is why Instagrammers geotag!

The geotag of a photo can be found just above the post, below the user’s name and to the right of their profile picture. This geotag will come in blue or grey, blue indicating a location directly linked on a map, and grey if the mapped location is unspecified. Find out exactly where a photo was taken by viewing its geotag.

TIP: Be careful, not all geotagged photos are tagged where they were taken, but rather where the photo was posted to the feed. It helps to double-check using a separate database like Google Maps or Foursquare.

Use These Tags to Record Your Trip

These tags serve as a great virtual time capsule for your trip. If you end up using your photos elsewhere, like a blog entry or a photo book, you’ll have a footprint of places and topics you can trace back. They’ll also act as a roadmap for the next intrepid Instagrammer!

Follow Travelers or Locals Who Share Your Interests

This is where the social aspect of Instagram makes the app awesome. The natural progression of an active Instagrammer is this: you find interesting users to follow through a combination of liking posts, browsing feeds, and searching tags. This activity over time becomes like an art gallery you’ve curated for yourself.

Photo with @isasquatch and @margence_lifesthai in Central, Hong Kong, taken by @mzkaew

You begin to populate your feed with a community of like-minded travelers and photographers who share your interests and aesthetics. By extending a hand to those users by getting involved and planning meetups, you connect with new people and places!

While in Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of staying with old colleagues from university who were very involved with the Instagram community through #instameetHK. When I mentioned my trip to them, they were happy to show me around and organize meetups with other Instagrammers who shared a local pride!

Get Travel Tips By Leaving Comments

If you are curious of how or where a posted photo was taken, don’t be afraid to ask for advice and suggestions in the comments.

Most of the time, an active Instagrammer is more than happy to give advice about where they took a shot, or what secret passage they took to get there. This is especially handy while travelling, when you want to get the most out of your trip by getting the lay of the land from a local perspective.

TIP: The goal here is not to be at the exact same place taking the exact same photo. No one wants to take a picture of a view they could easily buy as a postcard, do they?

Join a Local InstaMeet

Processed with VSCOcam with c2 preset
InstaMeet with Shanghai & Hangzhou Instagrammers at Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, courtesy of @johnny_to

InstaMeets are local events aimed at bringing Instagrammers together for a social function, like a photo walk or a themed photo challenge. Not only are these great events to participate in at home, but while you’re travelling as well.

As mentioned before, I became acquainted with some Hong Kong locals who were active in the #instameetHK community. This made a huge difference in my brief tour of Hong Kong. I was surprised to discover how easygoing and humble they were, yet incredibly talented in their photography!

Meeting them also inspired me to start organizing InstaMeets in my current town of Chiang Mai, Thailand, where there are tons of Thai and foreign Instagrammers who I’ve met, but who haven’t necessarily met each other.

Feel free to follow my Instagram feed, @french.fried.rice!

Have an Instagram to real-life travel story? Share in the comments!

Images from Instagram via @mzkaew and @johnny_to.

About the Author

Champ Ensminger


Champ Ensminger is a filmmaker and travel enthusiast. He has spent the past year traveling around Asia while based in his birthplace of Chiang Mai, where he works freelance and teaches occasional workshops on filmmaking at Documentary Arts Asia. He is an alumni of, where he made occasional appearances in Vimeo Video School. His favorite flavor of Japanese ice cream so far is black sesame, pending another trip to Japan where his heart still resides in the mountain village of Koyasan.


  1. Avatar

    What? Why are you advising travellers to use Instagram?
    If I wanted all my travel photos to be square and low quality then I would have got my dad’s old box brownie from the 1940s.

    I am glad that all my travel photos are taken from my Nikon D40 or my HTC M9 and if I want to make my friends jealous, and I do at every opportunity, I post them via fb in all their wide screen HD glory.

    1. Dave Dean

      Why does it have to be one or the other? Is there some reason you can’t use Facebook AND Instagram (and any other social media or photo sharing service you like)?

      Take a photo on your D40. Keep the high-res version of the shot on your M9. Share it in all its (horribly compressed) wide-screen HD glory on Facebook… and then put it on Instagram as well, if you’re so inclined.

Leave a Comment

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