It’s said these days among marketing gurus that every generation has its own social platform. Facebook is for, well, old people like me, according to Nicky Champa, the 25-year-old half of TikTok’s most adorable couple. He doesn’t say “old,” but we both know what he means (and he’s right). He and his boyfriend, Pierre Boo, who combined over 22 million followers on TikTok, another 780,000 on YouTube, and while they don’t always do travel, they tap into what makes that content on TikTok so appealing.
Sure, beautifully curated Instagram was a hit with Millennials, and Twitter, I assume, is for rageaholics of all ages. But over the past year, no social media app has been hotter than TikTok, with over 1 billion monthly active users (more than half of worldwide users are under the age of 30). TikTok is now second only to Facebook in terms of app popularity (passing Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat in downloads).
It’s not just the kids though. During a year of quarantine, TikTok got us out of our houses (at least in our minds) and visiting far flung places. It’s going to change how many of us travel moving forward.
A few years ago, I went on a trip to a Caribbean destination with an Instagram influencer. It was the antithesis of travel to me. There were clothing changes and staged photos and even a (admittedly cool) trick using a puddle and two iPhones to make it look like she was walking on water. The afternoons I spent with her were some of my least favorite, in part because I don’t want to stage my experiences — I genuinely want to explore and experience a destination.
In 2021, TikTok is set to revolutionize travel with the five-year-old app’s escapism-based entertainment-driven algorithm (it’s an endless scroll adjusted based on what you do or don’t engage with). Unlike Instagram, there’s very little feeling that the experience is curated for you, and I have yet to meet someone who has left TikTok feeling worse (unlike the k-hole of shame-scrolling through uncannily beautiful people and out-of-reach resorts that Instagram often leads to). The filtered aesthetic is missing here; TikTok offers travel reality.
TikTok travel is real, sometimes mundane, and yet, fascinating. There’s no façade. Couplets of sandhill cranes in an Idaho farmer’s field, a trans teen in a cartoon T-shirt at a Berlin subway stop, an Indigenous dancer lip-syncing in a desert landscape. The kids of TikTok, and increasingly the rest of us, miss this most in our daily lives: the realness and connection with the world outside our own homes and communities. The dream shots of unattainable places only the privileged few get to experience aren’t a draw for this audience. TikTok calls out overtourism (something that social influencers on other apps helped fuel), pushing for sustainable and ethical tourism. Locals showing off their city get more engagement than colonizing jetsetters trotting the globe.
It’s about bite-sized authenticity in an air brushed world. TikTokers frequently simply tell us about their worlds in 30 second bits. A creator on TikTok might get 12 views on a video about their boyfriend, 200 on a video of him riding with his head out of the car window, and 3.5 million with him showing off his favorite taqueria in the Arroyo Grande valley. It’s real and in the era of pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions, it’s our world as we long to see it again.
You can read Out Traveler’s feature story on Nicky Champa and Pierre Boo here. Look for the digital version of the 25th edition of Out Traveler next week.