A few years ago, I drove 1,500 miles from Seattle, Washington to Arizona to spend two days camping with a large group of people and their dogs for the ultimate doggy meetup. I had never met most of these people or dogs in person, yet we had been friends for over a year, thanks to Instagram.
Our companions for the road trip were our friend Jessica and her Dachshund, Gretel, whom I had also met on Instagram.
When we visited Colombia, an ultrarunner and dog walker took us deep into the woods just outside Medellín with several of his friends and seven dogs after he learned we were staying in his city for a month. Together, we trekked through a river, climbed cliffs, and played in waterfalls—an excursion we never would have known existed if we’d not met on Instagram. A month earlier, we arranged our first in-person meeting with Tala and her human, Jura ,who showed us the magnificent Parque Metropolitano in Quito, Ecuador.
I am writing this post from the mountains of Catalonia, Spain where we have driven two full days to meet one of my very first Instagram friends, Claudia from Sardinia, Italy.
During our two-year cycle-tour across Europe and South America, planning doggy meetups on the road was often our sole source of social interaction. Befriending people on Instagram allowed us to stay connected with travelers from the US, and also introduced us to locals who wanted nothing more than to show us their city.
Instagram gets a lot of flack for destinations becoming overrun with tourists, but I rarely hear about the positive side … about the friendships created because of cultivation of community. Where other social media platforms seem to take us away from social interactions, for me, Instagram has cultivated numerous relationships with other users all over the world, and these relationships almost always revolve around our dogs.
As an introvert, it’s not always easy for me to make friends, especially since we live nomadically a lot of the time. Networking events give me anxiety, as does joining a friend at a party where I don’t know anyone. I’d much rather stay at home and watch a movie with my husband and dogs. Instagram, however, allowed me to make new friends without the awkwardness that comes from social events because I already knew about an instant connection: our dogs.
Popular hashtags or accounts that curate content generate these communities of like-minded individuals. Specific hashtags can join lovers of a specific breed, people who live near one another, or allow you to connect with locals who live in an area you’re planning to visiting.
The way to build these connections, is simple: like their photos, leave genuine comments, and do so regularly! If they begin reciprocating, then boom—friendship formed!
The near daily interactions mean that you’re constantly staying in touch. You know when they have a good day or are struggling, what they’re celebrating, and where they’re headed on their next adventure. I am often better at keeping in touch with my Instagram friends—both those I’ve met in person and those whom I know only virtually—better than friends I’ve known for years who are not active on the social networks.
Since we travel with our dogs everywhere we go, we tend to avoid the major tourist attractions, for a couple of reasons: 1) they often don’t allow dogs, and 2) we prefer to stay away from the crowds. So we seek out alternative adventures.
The benefit of planning Instagram doggy meetups on the road means that you can recruit a local dog lover for insider knowledge of local trails, the secret swimming spots, the best places to eat, where the best campgrounds are, or which café has the best coffee and WiFi. You can eliminate much of the mental exhaustion that comes with planning each day simply by making a new friend. Plus, your pup will get some doggy interaction!
After taking a break from traveling by bicycle, we stayed in my parents’ basement apartment in Seattle for several months. Though I grew up in Seattle, I hadn’t lived there in 15 years and many of my friends were no longer in town or we had grown apart since high school.
So I turned to Instagram.
My homesickness on the road led me to follow several hiking and outdoor dog accounts from the Pacific Northwest, and when we returned we set up hikes and camping trips to meet in person.
Jessica, with whom we traveled to Arizona, became a close friend of ours and she took me to places around western Washington that I had never seen before. We explored some of the most beautiful dog-friendly trails in the state, took an overnight backpacking adventure, and organized a camping trip that drew yet another Instagram friend and her pups from California.
On the flip side, Instagram has also given me the opportunity to act as a tour guide for visitors to my own city. I’ve taken visiting Instagram friends to my favorite Portland breweries, informed them of the best beaches on the Oregon Coast, and joined them for waterfall hikes in the Columbia River Gorge.
One of the benefits we didn’t anticipate is that our dog, Sora, who tends to be a bit reactive around new dogs and people, has increased confidence in these situations. Regularly meeting new dogs, especially on the trail, she’s learned to like being introduced to new friends, human and dog alike.
Regular Instagram doggy meetups allow us to practice working with Sora in situations where she feels uncomfortable. and now we have met Instagram friends all over the world – from our own hometown, to Salzburg, Austria, to fellow vegan cyclists in Istanbul, Turkey. Without Instagram, we never would have explored the Southwest of the US to meet our friends in Arizona, gotten to known the state in which I grew up, or explored some of the hidden dog-friendly gems this world has to offer. It’s been such a benefit for us all!