You probably use Instagram to dream about travel, but did you know you can use it to make those whimsical images your reality? One of the best travel planning tools you're not using is probably already on your phone.

Instagram users posting dreamy snaps can be so much more than just inspiration—they can also serve up expert destination advice. And Instagram has some lesser-known features that you can harness to help you prep for your next trip. Here's how to take Instagram to the next level as a travel tool.

Follow Locals

Getting the inside scoop on must-see spots in large cities is as simple as following an in-the-know local on Instagram. Plenty of cities are home to photographers or Instagram connoisseurs who make it their mission to share some of the best local spots. For example, a photographer and marketing pro uses @London to share helpful tips about events and local sights in the U.K. capital. Stateside, @insta_Chicago shares the best food, views, and to-dos in (you guessed it) Chicago. Following accounts like these before a visit will let you save helpful information for when you're on the ground.

RELATED: 12 Travel Apps You Need on Your Phone

Find the Tourism Board

Destinations that don't have many locals covering them likely have a tourism board account that offer great tips. Through these official accounts, you're likely to find not just dreamy snapshots, but also important information about upcoming events. For example, Portland, Oregon's tourism board reposts local photos that share insight about food, music, and art festivals via @TravelPortland.

RELATED: Surprising Things You Can Get for Free from Tourism Boards


The best part about using social media for travel planning is that it's a two-way street—ideas can come to you. Liking photos and following accounts you're interested in can prompt other related accounts to follow you or like your photos in an effort to get your attention. When I follow local accounts before a trip I often discover even more from related accounts that interact with me. Basically, the more you like and follow, the more likely you are to get noticed by similar pages.

Click on Geotags

Geotags show you where a photo was taken. Clicking the location allows you to see not only where you should head, but what's nearby and other perspectives of the area. You can even see the location in your mapping app of choice (tap the pin that appears and select "Open in Maps"). That way, you can save the location for later when you're exploring in real time.

RELATED: 12 Travel Apps You Need on Your Phone

Explore Hastags

Along with geotags, you should explore hashtags that are popular in your destination. Tourist attractions, festivals, food scenes, and outdoor events in particular often have a designated hashtag that becomes popular on social media, and will allow you to see all angles of the experience.

For example, you can use Instagram to check crowds on a popular beach in Australia. Let's say you want to know more about Bondi Beach—a quick search shows that #BondiBeach is a popular tag. Clicking it reveals a crowded beach, but near-empty ocean-fed pools over the past few days. If you'd prefer some elbow room, you now know where to go.

Follow Experts

Need an excuse to travel? For chances to win freebies, snag deals that will launch your next trip, or access a steady stream of great advice, travel experts have plenty to offer. Any travel or deal sites you already use probably has an Instagram account, and could post special offers or helpful tips exclusively for people who follow them. Get discount codes from companies like TripAdvisor-owned tour site Viator (@ViatorTravel), learn about luxury travel deals from @LuxuryTravelExpert, or enter SmarterTravel's vacation sweepstakes @SmarterTravel. You can also get tips about what to do or where to find deals from your favorite travel publications or TV shows—they're all sure to have accounts.

Editor's Note: Viator is owned by SmarterTravel's parent company, TripAdvisor.

RELATED: 10 Expert Skills Every Traveler Should Have

Read the Instagram Blog for Inspiration

Instagram's blog is an under-utilized travel tool that tells stories from around the world in photos, and they're sure to ignite wanderlust. There's something for every type of traveler among the unique photos and story blurbs. You might learn about a cuisine you didn't know you wanted to try, colorful local cultures in a region you've been meaning to visit, or artists whose visions inspire you to head somewhere completely unexpected. This vivid social media platform is full of inspiration, and the site's blog puts it into words.

More from SmarterTravel:

Read the original story: 7 Expert Ways to Use Instagram for Travel Planning by Shannon McMahon, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

All products and services mentioned on Airfarewatchdog are independently selected by our team of expert travelers. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

More Stories You'll Love