Instagram Story Highlights Are Secretly the Best Way to Plan a Trip

Consider it the anti-travel influencer method.

When it comes to planning a trip, there’s certainly value in soliciting recommendations from our closest friends. They know us best, after all, and it’s likely their lists will be thoughtfully curated and attuned to our personal interests. But there’s another approach that’s a bit more off-the-wall—clandestine, even—and that’s perusing the geolocated Instagram story highlights of someone you admire from afar.

We all have social media contacts we like to check up on every now and again. They’re neither friends nor celebrities, but more along the lines of distant acquaintances that you would probably never call, text, or even DM. But for one reason or another, you’re inspired by them—perhaps they own your favorite natural wine shop, run a small-but-mighty OOTD account, or simply happen to be a former classmate’s ex-boyfriend’s cool older sister. You trust their taste, and you’re damn sure they know how to travel in style.

Does documenting every minute of every city you’ve ever visited on an app warrant an eye roll? That’s up for debate. But those images do serve a purpose. For the user, it’s a personal scrapbook. But for the silent follower in search of an itinerary, it can be a map.

Instagram stories tend to adopt the carefree style of the photo dump, a gritty, more intimate lens that stands in contrast to the neatly manicured grid photo. They also offer up a lot more content. Tapping into a person’s saved story highlights might transport you to a close-up of a street vendor deep-frying churros in Mexico City, the record selection at a vinyl bar in Tokyo, or a snippet of some gilded ceiling in Paris—all geotagged for your convenience.

Not to mention, there’s something a little thrilling about following along on someone else’s journey without them explicitly telling you where to go. It’s the anti-influencer stance, a new way of acquiring a good sense of travel. And the best part? The person in question will never know you’ve treated their Instagram like your very own vision board, as saved highlights don’t reveal views. And unless the poster takes it down, it’s there for you to scope out at your leisure.

There’s no right or wrong way to send and receive travel recommendations, but some are better than others. If you really think about it, when you insist on sending your friend recommendations, how much of it is a selfless act of service and how much is it a humble brag that you really know a city? Sharing a list on Google Maps might be one of the best ways to guide someone around a new neighborhood, but it falls flat, lacking the visual draw, the creative discovery. The Instagram story highlight, however, is like being privy to a stranger’s vacation photo album or old-school slideshow, where all the beauty shows up in the b-roll—and it doesn’t get more inspirational than that.

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Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Travel team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram