TikTok Is Changing the Way We Dream About Travel

Goodbye, Instagram aesthetic. Hello reality.

Design by Grace Han for Thrillist
Design by Grace Han for Thrillist
Design by Grace Han for Thrillist

The endless scroll of color-enhanced coastlines and professionally staged resort breakfasts is coming to a close. Online travel inspo is evolving. Photoshopped hot air balloons, death-defying poses, and eerily uninhabited infinity pools could soon be a thing of the past. In their place, something drastically different is on the rise: reality. 

As the unnaturally vibrant sun sets on the “Instagram aesthetic,” people are opening their eyes to a world of candid, imperfect windows into everyday life around the world: TikTok. And in the age of COVID, it’s shattering everything we thought we wanted out of travel influence.Not long ago, TikTok was an app rejected by anyone over the age of 24 due to its initial association with cringey, Gen Z dance numbers. But with the help of quarantine boredom and an extremely refined algorithm, older audiences caught on, too. Its all-encompassing nature allows you to navigate from general entertainment (cute animal videos, coffee-making demonstrations) to the highly niche. There’s a TikTok community for just about anything: Draco Malfoy, sink reviews, cottagecore, and even politically motivated K-pop fans.If the algorithm leads you to travel TikTok, you’ll still see remnants of the traditional ways-like an anticipatory opening of a window that reveals a picture-perfect landscape while “La Vie En Rose” plays in the background. But younger audiences are also gravitating toward an alternative style: fast-paced montages that are more about vibes than anything else. In direct contrast to Instagram’s intricate plotting, TikTok moves rapidly: any video longer than 30 seconds has to be incredibly stimulating to sustain user attention. And it relies heavily on music. Once a snippet of a song makes an impression, the sound can be appropriated and re-used a thousand times over. The most successful TikToks, then, combine the catchiest music and artsiest imagery to convey an entire narrative, as well as a sense of place, in a flash.The travel TikToks abiding by these criteria carry the aesthetics of an A24 film. Skater boys and fashion girls waltz around their cities, showcasing a highlight reel of images they encounter along the way-murals, public transport, storefronts, club scenes, street style-all set to indie music. You’ll see the stained-glass windows of the Saint-Chapelle in Paris, followed by a girl sticking her head out of a car window; black-clad clubgoers in Berlin having an outdoor dinner party; a couple strumming a guitar on a beach in Big Sur. These TikToks are seemingly effortless, a little bit grunge-y, and everything a conventional postcard is not. In this way, travel inspiration is becoming less aspirational, and more grounded in reality.One famous example is Leon Verdinsky’s Saint Petersburg TikTok, which has been viewed 7.4 million times since it was first posted. You’ll see comments like “Man this is the best advertisement to go to Russia I’ve ever seen.” And the song attached to the video, Molchat Doma’s “Sudno,” has become a TikTok anthem, re-used by teens who yearn for “Soviet vibes.” 

Verdinsky’s approach is a manifestation of the playfully narcissistic “main character” mindset, a trend on TikTok that’s all about feeling like the protagonist of your own story and romanticizing every aspect of it. The irony is, while this trend attempts to move toward a more authentic style, it’s probably as much of a performance as an ultra-manicured Instagram. 

But the beauty is in the effort to capture the mundane, the often-forgettable images that evoke nostalgia, or provide a taste of what life is like in other places-from overarching sights, like the brutalist apartment blocks of Moldova, to tiny details, like turkeys crossing the road in Cape Cod. This true-to-life eye candy satisfies a major appetite of the COVID era, bringing us both the foreign and the familiar. It’s one thing to come across a photo of the Eiffel Tower and be reminded that one day we’ll be able to travel again, but an entirely different experience to feel as if you are living vicariously through someone else, with so much as a simple glimpse at what they’re eating for breakfast. 

The platform serves as a portal around the world. In a way, these TikToks feel like trailers for unmade travel documentaries. And in an era where all travel is currently forward-looking, they allow us to put ourselves in the shoes of some faraway adventurer experiencing something extremely attainable. That’s a fantasy far more enticing than a color-corrected glamor shot of somebody’s feet dangling over a cliff in some distant land only the privileged will experience. Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, get Next Flight Out for more travel coverage, and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Jessica Sulima is an editorial assistant at Thrillist who’s trying her best to adopt the main character mindset. 


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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