vacation people

jennifer mei
7 min readApr 7, 2020

Instagram has always existed as a form of wishful thinking but never so much as now, as we sit in our living rooms scrolling through places that we would rather be. My feed is full of wistfully-captioned snapshots of soft white beaches melting into wavy cerulean seas, hidden waterfalls in velvety green jungles tumbling into mist, sandy honey-colored deserts under pale blue skies on 35mm film, and fields dotted with colorful wildflower blooms; invitations to step into a dream world of the past, vibrant postcards from a former reality that feels almost imaginary. I’ve found myself revisiting my old travel blogs and photo albums and feeling consumed by an overwhelming wanderlust.

It mostly began a couple of weeks ago, when I saw this delightful gif of an elephant using a stick to clean in between its toes. I’m always amazed by the oddly humanlike quality of their movements, but I probably watched this gif five or six times on a loop before I realized why I felt such an affection for it: the sheet metal roof in the background, nestled in a lush layer of palm trees and greenery. Normally it would be unremarkable, but in that moment I instantly recognized it as Southeast Asia, a place I hadn’t visited since I returned from my short time living there, where those rooftops and colors are characteristic of the rural landscapes.

Ever since, I’ve tried to articulate exactly why the world feels so surreal; why it feels absurd to continue living life as normal, and what exactly it is that we’re craving when we post pictures of places we cannot go in person. The desire to be anywhere but home is natural now that we no longer have a choice, but I think it’s more than that. It’s a longing for the people we are on vacation. These vacation selves are inherently us, but they are the part we keep tucked away, hidden from real life like a precious pearl cradled delicately in an oyster, to be discovered only conditionally.

This version of us is what we allow ourselves to be when free from the conventions of everyday life, emerging in a rare, sterling set of conditions when the stars have aligned, or more accurately you have given yourself to the will of the universe-more adventurous, more uninhibited, more easygoing. It is what happens when you have the luxury of absolutely nothing demanded or expected of you, when you subsist on whims and what-if s.