How to use Instagram for travel research

When it comes to preparing for a trip and researching your next destination, you should try using Instagram to guide you through places to eat, drink and see! Use Instagram for travel research as it is the most visual social media platform that conveniently has location tags attached to many keen Instagrammer’s images.

how to use Instagram for travel research

I recently went to London for part of the long Easter weekend and as we were staying in Bethnal Green (situated on the east side of central London) I knew there was going to be a plethora of cool places to check out around there. I started on Time Out, looking up ‘London’s best places to brunch’ or ‘cool cocktail bars in east London’ but I quickly got bored of scrolling through a batch of recommendations.

I’m quite a visual person so I struggle to get a feel for a place without seeing plenty of photos, especially of the food! I wanted to be able to look through some snaps and then double-check anything of interest on TripAdvisor. So I headed to my favourite photograph social media platform and began doing hardcore research on the MegaBus. Yes, I had left it to the very last minute.

How to use Instagram for travel research

Don’t even bother looking up #London in the hope to stumble on a great venue for your breakfast eggs. You’ll go deep into a rabbit hole of useless selfies and images of mysteriously dark, fun-filled places that leave no clue as to where they actually are.

What you need to do is take advantage of the location tags that users kindly attach to their shots. As I was in Bethnal Green, I looked the location up on the ‘places’ section of the search tool and could quickly scroll through numerous shots that had been snapped nearby.

travel research using instagram

I could see there was the cool craft beer bar, Mother Kelly’s, under the railway arches five minutes down the road, I could see there was a cool greasy spoon cafe, Cafe 338, up the road that did an epic fry-up and I could see that my London Airbnb place happened to be in an awesome location where all the fun Bethnal Green Instagram shots were taken in direct vicinity! Yep, I had lucked out with my location, but you could also use this search function to check the location of your accommodation before booking your Airbnb. It would have sucked to have been on the Megabus and see that I had booked our Airbnb in London’s no mans land.

To use Instagram for travel research, click on the map that appears at the top of your search results (under ‘places’) and Instagram will ask you whether you wish to open the map via Google Maps. By doing this, you’ll have the exact location of your newly stalked cafe and you can quick nab the address for your notes or find your route there instantly.

using location tags to do travel research

Curate a list of the venues you’ve found, then begin looking up these individual places on instagram. Either look their names up to see if they have a handle and an account, or have a stalk through the hashtags. If a place doesn’t have an Instagram account (God forbid!) then the chances that visitors have snapped a photo and just chucked in a hashtag of the name of the place are pretty high.

look up cafes using instagram

Have a quick look at their website to get a feel on prices, see if online bookings are possible for popular places and check-out their opening times. Especially for bank holidays as some places shut down which can be oh so frustrating. Also, check the reviews on TripAdvisor to make sure that the photos on Instagram aren’t deceiving you into thinking it has a great vibe, tolerable service and tasty food.

After checking out places in the direct vicinity of where you’re staying, cast the net wider by looking up nearby areas. As we were in Bethnal Green, I then began looking into Shoreditch and Brick Lane for inspiration and places to nibble at. Without doing this, I wouldn’t have seen that Beigal Bake was really close and I could buy one of the instafamous rainbow bagels, or that there was a great, affordable Thai place on Brick Lane which had food to die for! 

A photo posted by Lea Hirsch (@lea.hirsch) on

It helps that you can use Instagram and Google maps to get your bearings in a new location and piece together how the different areas join up – this was helpful in London as it’s a freaking huge city and it is easy to feel overwhelmed and lost if you don’t do a little research into what’s going on and where.

If you have a bit more time with your insta-research, see if there are any local handles that provide guides for your destination. In Melbourne, I took advantage of @broadsheet_melb as it always has the latest foodie joint or events documented, and in Bristol @livebristol has some great snaps of delish places to eat and cool places to wander about in. In London, have a gander at @London, @PrettyCityLondon and @LondonTheInside for inspiration for your trip! @BreakfastLondon will get you pretty hungry too.

When visiting a large place, such as London, it does help to have a rough plan. Wandering around in the hope of stumbling upon a fabulous bar or tasty cafe is a risky and time-consuming thing to do when you’re short on time. Not to mention it’s dangerous when things get hangry and you become so hungry you would settle for the next place that happens to sell food (corner shop, kebab shop, McDonald’s – desperate times). Make sure you know your area and some rough places to check out, and then whatever you happen to stumble upon when you’re exploring in between is a bonus!

A photo posted by Saint Sisters (@saintsonaplane) on

Things to remember when you want to use Instagram for travel research:

  • Look up the location tags in the search function, and help out a future travelling sister by using location tags in your Instagram photos – this will help make your Instagram shot searchable and relevant after your trip.
  • Stalk any local handles or hashtags that can act as a bit of a location guide.
  • Bring an external battery pack – so much iPhone use will totally drain your battery which is a nightmare when you’re on the move! Keep your phone juiced up and useful.
  • Cross research – always check out places on TripAdvisor after your discovery as sometimes photos can be misleading.
  • Take advantage of booking online – if you’ve found a great place to visit, but reviews say book ahead, don’t miss out and book a table! Lots of the London places I had my eye on actually had online bookings available which we took advantage of.

Have you discovered any cool places thanks to Instagram? Do share any of your travel research tips below!

5 Comments on How to use Instagram for travel research

  1. Cayce
    March 28, 2016 at 4:26 pm (2 years ago)

    Great tips!! And those rainbow bagels look so cool! Must have some, next time in London.

    • Sophie
      April 19, 2016 at 8:55 am (2 years ago)

      Thanks Cayce! Yeah, I couldn’t believe how colourful those bagels were!

  2. Meg @ Meg Runs The World
    April 8, 2016 at 3:18 pm (2 years ago)

    I do this all the time! When I was planning my trip to Ecuador, Instagram helped me discover places I knew I had to visit, many of which were off the beaten path and not in guidebooks. It ended up being such a great trip.

    • Sophie
      April 19, 2016 at 8:59 am (2 years ago)

      Ah brilliant! yep, it’s such a good way to get your bearings when you reach a new destination. Your trip must have been ace!

  3. Hanna
    May 6, 2016 at 12:13 pm (2 years ago)

    Same! I always look for Instagramers I like from the city I travel to and then I hope that they geo tag theeir pictures 🙂


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