Before we embark on any adventure, stage 1 is always the planning stage. Like most people, the first thing we do is scope out the locations we want to visit. It helps us build our itinerary and make the most out of our time, so we do our best to put in the hours.
It’s also the worst feeling in the world to visit somewhere and suddenly realize that you’ve missed something major when you get home. We’re always conscious that we might never be back to the same place again, so making the most of every day is always front of mind for us.
Using Instagram to find geolocations:
One of the major planning tools we use to flesh out our trips is Instagram. It allows you to do a deep dive into virtually any location imaginable and track down some of the world’s most incredible hidden gems.
We’re always being asked how we find all our hidden photography spots, but the reality is that there’s no real secret to it, it’s just good ol’ fashioned hard work and super-sleuthing. Let’s break it down:
1. Searching Instagram Geolocations and photos for clues:
- Use general geolocation tags to get a general feel for the country you’re visiting. Start with a broad search of the entire country; e.g. Morocco, France etc. You’ll be narrowing it down once you’ve identified a few potential places.
- While you’re trawling the location tag, make a note of any beautiful places you see and the photographers that took the photos. Save any images you find particularly appealing.
- Look at these saved photos in greater detail and look for any clues about the location; i.e. geotagged at the top, specific location hashtags or mentions in the comments. Also look for mentions in the comments for keywords like sunrise or sunset (this helps you figure out when the best time to visit will be).
- If there aren’t any clues to where the location is, send a polite and respectful private message to the photographer and ask if they’re willing to give up the location (more on this later).
- Still no luck? Check and see if there are friends that are tagged in the photos that might have also shared photos. Repeat steps 3 and 4.
Countries often have millions of photos associated with an Instagram geolocation, so there are usually plenty of gems in there. If you’re a photographer, look for the diamonds in the rough; the bad photos that would look great if you were to take them 😉
Once you’ve figured out a few general locations within a country, start to search those locations as well. Usually this is where you’ll find other attractions in an area that you didn’t find on your first pass.
This is usually where I’ll step out of Instagram and head to google, blogs or Pinterest. Say I’ve found a photo of one of the arches in Arches National Park, I’ll head to google and search things to do near arches national park, or I’ll search Arches national park and trawl through google images for more clues.
Keep jumping in and out of Instagram and you should quickly be able to narrow down the location or name of the attraction.
2. Using Hashtags
Once you’ve exhausted the geolocation tags for ideas, it’s time to head into the hashtags. Again, start broad and search general locations #morocco, #patagonia etc.
Scroll through all the photos and look for photos that jump out at you (Beware of incorrectly tagged locations!)
Once you’ve found a photo you like, check the photo’s other tags for more clues about the location. Also don’t be afraid to copy and paste foreign hashtags or texts into google translate for more potential clues.
Also make sure you check locations in Instagram stories for ideas!
3. Search photographers’ feeds
Once you’ve exhausted hashtags, look for photographers that have taken great photos in the country you’re looking at. Scroll through their feeds and look for other shots that could potentially be from the same area. Then start your search on other platforms for clues. Once you’ve exhausted all other options, reach out to the photographer for some clues.
4. Check repost accounts and tourism boards:
Tourism boards are a fantastic source of inspiration. They tend to know an area better than anyone else, and will have plenty of hidden gems that you might never find elsewhere. If it’s a tourism board they should generally also respond to your requests about the location. After all, they’re trying to promote it!
Repost accounts are also a great way of finding inspiration, however these are best if you’re just generally looking for a new place to visit. They’re usually not too helpful if you’ve already picked a destination.
5 Reach out to other Instagrammers
As I mentioned earlier, some of the best information comes from locals with local knowledge. Many of our best adventures have come from meeting up with locals and letting them take us somewhere! Reach out, make friends and get the local’s tour. With that being said, there’s the right way to reach out and the wrong way:
4 Golden rules for asking people for locations
There are 4 golden rules for asking people for help tracking down Instagram geolocations:
Ask through a direct message – The photographer might be local and have a personal connection to the place. They may be unwilling to share the location publicly because they fear the location will be ruined by tourists discovering it. Be respectful of that and respect their decision if they decline to help. If you ask in the comments, your request may be ignored for fear that too many people will find out the location.
Also, don’t assume that because they haven’t responded to the comments directly that they aren’t willing to help privately.
Be respectful – if the photographer hasn’t stumbled upon the location by chance and you can’t find the location immediately, there’s a good chance that the photographer has put an enormous amount of effort into finding it. Demanding to know the location without providing evidence of having searched already or without being cognizant of their efforts is likely to get their back up.
Also remember that they’ve probably found the information using hard work and publicly available information, so only resort to this if you really can’t figure it out by yourself.
Be polite – I’ve lost count of the number of people that message me saying, “Where’s this?”.. No hello, no introductions and no pleases or thank yous. I’m instantly turned off and never reply to messages like this. Remember that this person doesn’t have to give you something just because you’re demanding it. Manners go a long way!
Don’t overshare – If someone has been kind enough to share their secret location with you, don’t then go and share it publicly if you end up sharing photos from there. Wait for people to follow these rules before you pass it on.
Personally speaking, I always give up a location if you follow these 4 rules. I don’t believe that we have a right to prevent others from enjoying the beautiful world around us, but if you don’t ask me nicely I sure as hell won’t help you!
All of the above might seem a little obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many people break every single one of these rules.
Finally, I just want to emphasize how easy it really is to find these places if you’re prepared to do a little digging. All of the ‘secret’ locations that we find are usually out in the public domain if you’re just prepared to do a little hunting around.
Here’s an example of how I found some new hot springs recently:
- Saw a cryptic post from someone I was following about some new hot springs. No location tag, no extra information. In fact, they literally posted about how they wouldn’t say anything on social media, so stop asking! (This is where you think outside the box)
- I noticed that they’d tagged a friend in the photo. Looked at the friend’s Instagram story from the hike and noticed the general area was tagged in the photo.
- Googled “Hot springs in X area”. Searched google images and blogs.
- Found the hike & the hot spring.
All you need is a few clues and it’s usually enough to find the information on another platform! From start to finish, it took me less than 2 minutes to track them down.
Hopefully now you have the tools to track down geolocations on Instagram! Check back soon for more tips on how to plan your vacation using other sources like Pinterest, Google Earth and blogs. We’re also planning a post on how to plan your itinerary (photographer edition)!