Thirst Trap \ˈthərst træp\ n.: A social media post intended to elicit sexual attention, appreciation of one’s attractiveness, or other positive feedback.
My earliest attempt at a “thirst trap” (my “first trap,” if you will) took place in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon in 2014. I did not know it was called a thirst trap at the time, as the term had not yet entered my lexicon—though apparently it was first defined by Urban Dictionary in 2011. (Whoever was using it in 2011, show yourself.) What I did know, however, was that I had just paid 11,990 króna to sit in hot water and risk dropping my phone into the geothermal pool for that hallowed pic.
On paper, I had the thirst trap formula down pat: bathing suit + dramatic steam + wet hair. But in reality, it was a terribly unflattering one piece I had rented from the locker room and I look kind of damp and cold (I was). And so predictably, when I posted the photo, there was not a single drooling face emoji in the comments. To be fair, that emoji wouldn’t be designed for another two years, but still. The signature deluge of heart-eyes, flames, and declarations of lust never came. Furthermore, the first comment was from my boss at the time saying, “Your hair is going to smell like eggs for weeks now.” (You were not wrong, Andrew.)
But! It did receive a record amount of likes, a primary objective of the thirst trap, which got me thinking. In the world of social media validation, I may never be a bikini-clad trapper (shoutout to my grandparents for following me on Instagram), but the overheated pond revealed another form of entrapment that is more my style: The tourist trap.
Tourist Trap \ˈtʊə.rɪst træp\ n.: A place that attracts and exploits tourists.
We all know the first rule of being a savvy traveller is knowing when and where to spend your money. Drink where the locals drink, avoid people in the streets holding laminated menus, and never, ever buy your souvenirs at the first stall. But what if tourist traps could actually be used for good? Producing photographs so shamelessly posed and painfully cliché that they transcend tourist trap and become the next evolution of the thirst trap? After all, as millenials, we’re supposed to value experiences above all else.
Tourist Thirst Trap \ˈtʊə.rɪst ˈthərst træp\ n.: A social media post intended to elicit appreciation and positive feedback taken at a place that attracts and exploits tourists.
Last summer I went to Cappadocia, a region in Turkey famed for its stunning landscapes and hot air balloon tourism. Influencers and Turkish brides alike flock to this destination for photoshoots backed by a sky of glowing balloons. The hotel we stayed at was particularly popular on Instagram due to some marketing genius’s idea of charging guests a cool 180 lira for 20 minutes with a picturesque breakfast platter and a view of the balloons taking off at dawn.
My mother found out about this shakedown while checking in and booked me the next morning’s 5:15 a.m. slot. I refused to partake in such a humiliatingly inane act until my sister agreed to do it, then I begrudgingly set my alarm, not wanting to miss out. We got up before sunrise, stumbled onto the terrace along with dozens of other bleary-eyed, overdressed suckers waiting their turn, and posed with a tray of food—all of which quickly became too cold to eat. But that was never really the point.
Despite all my complaining, I accepted the tourist trap for what it was and turned the experience into another attention-seeking, ego-boosting Instagram post—and it worked! I got a damn good photo that hit the thirst trap markers of hundreds of likes and “You are a vision 😍😍😍” comments without having to pull out a single duck lip or Calvin Klein sports bra. Consider my thirst quenched.
Now I keep an eye out for Tourist Thirst Traps™ wherever I go. On a recent trip to Cusco, I gleefully discovered street corners dotted with baby alpacas available for photo opps. The old me would have rolled my eyes at the idea, but the new me would have traded my firstborn for the 30-second Kodak moment. With this newfound appreciation for tourist gimmicks, I got an excuse to practice my Spanish with a friendly local plus a kickass ‘gram with my new pal Panchita. According to the comments, one of my friends died from the image and another one “lost their shit.” Even my favorite juice shop dropped a few heart emojis on it. Talk about a thirst trap! Ha ha.
So next time you’re on a trip and feeling a bit parched, remember: Two traps are better than one.
Photos by Sabrina Santiago.