Your finest journey tip simply got here from TikTok

Most watched TikTok video of all time shows a young man dressed as a Hogwarts student flying a magical broomstick in an industrial park. The 18-second snippet was viewed around 2.2 billion times.

But travel-themed TikToks haven’t evolved in the same way. Some reasons are obvious: pandemic bans have cut the wings of traveling content makers. There are other reasons as well: The public appetite for glossy influencers posting jet-setting content from around the world seems to be waning.

Still, some YouTubers have found new ways to explore places that appeal to the TikTok audience and highlight places off the beaten path. With people armed with vaccines now engaged in travel planning, the social media platform could ultimately change the way people approach travel.

This is especially true for American Millennials and Gen Z, who are more likely to use TikTok than other age groups. This cohort is now spending more, especially on travel and food, than it was before the pandemic. Their number offers an opportunity for the hugely popular platform, which launched in the US in 2018, reached two billion downloads worldwide last August, and was the most downloaded app in 2020.

Two young women dance in a busy square

Two people record a TikTok video in New York’s Times Square on March 29, 2021. Best known for viral dance videos, the creators of the social media platform are increasingly posting videos with advice on everything from books to travel.

Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld, Getty Images

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It also presents challenges: Can TikTok’s talent for showing unfiltered life impulses be used to educate travelers without saturating travel destinations with unwanted attention, potentially leading to overtourism – or worse, in the confusing quagmire of paid influencers and product placements sink in?

Samanta Rosas, a 28-year-old creator from Houston, believes there is a way to thread the needle: produce videos that authentically present travel destinations, tell exciting little stories, and exemplify responsible tourism.

On a trip to Mexico City, where she has relatives, Rosas posted a TikTok from Grutas Tolantongo, a resort with heated pools in a box canyon a few hours north of the capital. While most of their posts received thousands of views, this TikTok showcasing the natural beauty of the area hit a nerve and ultimately received more than 3.5 million views.

“A large part of my family was there,” she says. “People from Mexico go there, but it’s a hidden gem for tourists.”

(This is how you can travel sustainably.)

Appearance of unexpected places

On TikTok, users typically spend time on the “For You” page, an algorithm-driven selection of videos based on what the user has viewed in the past. Unlike YouTube or Instagram, which show specific accounts that users are already following, TikTok users interact more with new accounts and create opportunities for creators to be found by new audiences.

Because of this, unexpected content, like the videos of Davud Akhundzadas from his trip to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, can reach audiences worldwide. Akhundzada, 27, based in Prague, has been running a YouTube account for years and has several thousand followers. But after his TikTok video showing him on the parched Aral Sea went viral, he gained 100,000 new followers in a month.

Please respect the copyright. Unauthorized use is prohibited.

Please respect the copyright. Unauthorized use is prohibited.

Left: Davud Akhundzada describes himself as TikTokker, who promotes cultural and adventure tourism “in unpopular destinations”.

Law: Akhundzada says he posts videos on the social media platform because it’s fun, not because he wants to become a social media influencer.

“Americans are really interested in this geographic area,” says Akhundzada. “And they’re interested in a unique story.” While he’d love to be a full-time traveler, he doesn’t want to become an Instagram-style influencer and would do TikToks whether they make him money or not. “I have zero income with TikTok,” he says. “But I enjoy it.”

Like other social media platforms, TikTok includes users who have made full-time careers posting content, collaborating with brands, or doing advertising. Alex Ojeda, with more than six million followers, is one of them.

Ojeda, 19, lives in Austin and has always loved traveling, but started out on the platform with dances and fun skits. Eventually he realized that travel could be part of what he shared on his account. His TikTok of a hike on the Koko Head Trail in Oahu, Hawaii starts with the expected beauty shots at the top, but then shows how difficult the climb is to get there. He has since worked with destinations and says he is committed to helping places recover after more than a year of restricted business.

But there’s a difference in the feel of TikTok videos – they’re looser and less retouched and idealized. That appeals to travelers now, says Ellie Bamford of RGA, an innovation consultancy.

“All of our crisis habits have led to permanent changes in behavior. The perfectly groomed influencer look is suddenly no longer so appealing – it doesn’t fit what we have experienced, ”she says. “When it comes to travel, it’s about culture, what the kitchen is like, how you think about sustainable travel.”

Celebrate hometowns

On most social platforms, travel problems like overtourism can be glossed over; on TikTok they are called. One reason for this is that the platform’s audience is generally younger and more socially engaged than other platforms, according to Joon Park, senior cultural strategist at Sparks & Honey, a cultural consultancy firm.

“They are concerned about ethical consumer behavior and travel,” says Park. “TikTok will drive responsible tourism, especially in the face of a pandemic.”

Those concerns have seen content thrive from people showing off their hometowns, with authenticity “being a status symbol on TikTok,” says Park. “They are local celebrities because they know the cities they inhabit.”

New Orleans’ 24-year-old Lansa Fernandez had posted about fashion on TikTok but focused on his favorite restaurants just before the lockdown began. His first video about snacks he ate as a teenager was viewed hundreds of thousands of times thanks to his honest charm. Typical joke: “I know you will all judge me, but I don’t care!” Since then, he’s focused more on highlighting other restaurants in his city, including a quick tour of his favorite vegan spot (“although I don’t once I am a vegan ”).

“People don’t want to do tourist things,” he says. “You want the real New Orleans.” Now that the city is opening up, he wants to highlight clubs that play bounce music, an indigenous hip-hop style, and other authentic experiences that don’t appear at the top of a YouTube search.

(New Orleans’ historic architecture lends itself uniquely to living in a pandemic.)

One reason travel TikToks have grown is because they are successful in providing useful advice. After being fully vaccinated, N’Taezha Davis traveled to Houston with a friend last month and scoured TikTok for ideas. The bars and restaurants the 25-year-old discovered on TikTok – Hungry Like the Wolf, FAO and Present Company – were all hits. They even impressed the local friend who visited them. “She hadn’t heard of any of the places we found,” says Davis.

Davis is now planning a trip to San Francisco using TikTok tips. “TikTok will give you the holes in the walls and the mom and pop shops that are more experience,” she says. “TikTok has some of the best-kept secrets.”

The new travel agency

The easiest way to start planning your trip with TikTok is to follow a hashtag like #Mexico or #coaster. Not everything that comes up is about travel, but even locals performing a dance or flattering a movie star can give travelers a feel for the place they want to visit.

(Here’s why planning a trip can help your mental health.)

A whole genre of travel tips can be found under #travelhack, such as the hotel and plane hacks by flight attendant Kat Kamalani from Salt Lake City. She gives advice on how to safely check into a hotel or which drinks to avoid on the plane. (Though some viewers don’t always agree with their tips.)

Young people dance, in the background a large stadium

Even dance TikToks can reveal interesting aspects of a place, such as the Olimpico Universitario stadium in Mexico City.

Photo by Hector Vivas, Getty Images

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Travel brands, travel destinations and publishers are included. While this brings a lot of colorful coverage with it, users should be aware of video sources and potential commercial interests. [Disclosure: TikTok helped National Geographic launch an account this year.]

As TikTok’s algorithm learns more about your preferences, the platform reveals more secrets in the form of unexpected (and sometimes unvarnished) videos. This random approach reflects what makes discovering a new travel destination so rewarding.

“You have to be innovative at TikTok and you have to be yourself to be successful,” says Ojeda, “while on other platforms you can probably be successful just by posting something like ‘I’m on vacation’. You don’t necessarily want to see something like that at TikTok. “

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