Machu Picchu and Its Role in Changing Profile Pictures


This isn’t really a post about Machu Picchu because everyone and their mother has written that post already. (Maybe I’ll write one at some point anyway, just ’cause). This is a post about status symbols and what visiting Machu Picchu means to the self-proclaimed world traveler. Or, you know, what it doesn’t mean.

Every group has a its status symbols. Americans, for example, like big cars and bigger houses. Liberal Americans like composting, or, more specifically, sniffing at people who don’t compost. (For the record, I compost.) Cyclists treat carbon fiber like a holy grail. For mountain bikers specifically, correct usage of terms like “shred” and “scrub” help define who belongs and who is, to steal the Kiwi terminology, a “punter.”

So what about the loosely-defined cultural subset of “traveler?” What status symbols do travelers buy into?

Well, for people who supposedly shun material possessions, LOTS. For one, there’s the obsession with 20L backpacks and “packing light.” Oh and the pride that comes from eating street food without getting diarrhea. Yes, I know I fail on both those counts, but luckily I still managed to achieve the ultimate traveler status symbol: the Machu Picchu Profile Picture.

What is it about Machu Picchu that inspires every otherwise-logical traveler to pose in completely ridiculous manner? And then plaster the results all over the internet? Some people even get naked, which the Peruvian government has inexplicably decided is more offensive than jumping up and down like a goon… (I like to think the Incas would have found the nudity amusing.)

I would love to tell you that I was better than all this, but alas here is some evidence to the contrary:

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 8.48.34 AM


(And actually, I wouldn’t want to tell you I was “better” than anything, because in addition to that being totally false for almost every situation, it would be a douchey thing to say.)

So what are we saying when we post that Machu Picchu Profile Picture? Or that holding-up-the-leaning-tower-of-Piza picture? Just like purchasing an expensive car or investing in any other established status symbol, we are buying into a preset cultural narrative. (I went to an expensive liberals arts school, so I’m allowed to say shit like that.) We acquire status symbols (and everybody does, by the way) because they are an easy way to show who we are and what we care about. We don’t need to re-write or re-define what it means to be a traveler — we just change our profile picture or purchase that new backpack and boom, we broadcast our identity.

Basically, we’re saying something about ourselves, or at the very least we think we are. In this case it’s something like I’m adventurous, I’m fit, I’m in Peru for god’s sake and I climbed up approximately a gagillion stairs to get here so you better believe that I am AWESOME.


But, here’s the thing with status symbols — they’re just symbols. No matter how expensive or how cleverly captioned, the only meaning they have is what we give them. Many travelers (especially travel bloggers) like to laud themselves for giving up the traditional status symbols of western living, you know, the whole big suburban house with 2.5 kids and a golden retriever trope. But the truth is that we are just trading one set of cultural expectations for another. And that’s okay, because that’s how humans operate. We shouldn’t fight it–but we should we aware of it.

You should go to Machu Picchu, if you get the chance. It’s everything people say it is. It will blow you away and make you jump up and down and tell everyone (specifically, facebook) that you were there. And that’s okay. So take all the tacky selfies you want. (It’s actually an art form.) Make your profile picture whatever you want. And have fun cramming all your worldly possessions into a 20L backpack. (But know that I will be laughing at you as I roll my suitcase through the airport.) Just don’t get too weighed down by expectations, because in the end, that’s all they are — expectations. And, like a good liberal arts grad, I’m here to tell you that that shit is socially constructed.


Have you been to Machu Picchu? Did you change your profile picture? BE HONEST.

Syd Schulz

Pro mountain biker.

Average human.

I write about bikes and life and trying to get better at both.

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20 thoughts on “Machu Picchu and Its Role in Changing Profile Pictures

  1. Life is so much more fun when you don’t take yourself too seriously. I took ridiculous pictures of myself at the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio. Totally worth it.

    One day I hope to get to Machu Picchu!

  2. Haha! As another liberal arts grad, I can really appreciate this post.

    But yes. If ever I go to Machu Picchu, I will definitely be changing my profile picture. No shame.

  3. Nope didn’t change my profile pic, but I did post one, taken on Machu Picchu mountain like yours, and it was exceptionally well received. And it wasn’t a selfie, either. But I was wearing a tacky Peruvian MP hat.

    I have to admit though that I wasn’t >>that<< blown away by MP. It's a wonderful spot and all, but it didn't tackle me like it does many others. I walked from Aguas Calientes beginning at about 4:20 in the morning, so maybe I just climbed too many steps.

    • To be honest, while I was very impressed by the hike up to Machu PIcchu Mountain, I definitely don’t think of it as the coolest thing I did in Peru. I’m glad I went, partially because I would hate to take all the flack from people being like “omg WHY DIDN’T YOU GO TO MACHU PICHU, ETC. ETC.” But the next time I’m in Peru I’ll probably skip all the ruins and just ride my bike.

  4. I would LOVE to visit Machu Picchu! I have never been anywhere in South America and this along with Iguazu Falls are at the top of my bucket list for sure.

    You make a great point though when you compare travelers with normal folks that have day to day jobs. We are all just substituting one set of norms for another. We all have choices and not one of us is better than the other for making those decisions.

    You guys are a real credit to the travel blogging world and we really enjoy following your nomadic trails around the world.

  5. I’ve not been, but would love to go – and admittedly would change my profile picture. Thought this post was really interesting, love a bit of theoretical travel, wider questions type tosh :) (genuinely, I mean that in a lovely way!)

    Are there like hoards of tourists all standing at that same spot above trying to take photos?

    • Not hoards, but there are definitely a certain number of other people around. It’s not terrible though, considering the hype around Machu Picchu. However, April is not yet the high season, so who knows what it’s like at peak times.

  6. Maybe one day I will go to Machu Picchu, buuuut it’s not high up on my bucket list. I mean, I know and am sure it’s amazing, but there are other places I want to go to first… Maybe I just don’t know enough about it, yet ;)

  7. What a fun post!!! Haha, I remember we took a lot of pictures in the Machu Picchu, but I think we never put it as a profile picture, it’s too cliché:) But it’s also true that I changed my profile picture 2 or 3 times in a one and a half year long trip, and I still have the last one from a year ago although we came home last July, so I think I just simply don’t care about my profile picture:)

  8. Haha this is really funny! As a Washingtonian I will tell you that we highly look down on those who don’t compost and recycle. But besides that, Machu Picchu is definitely an iconic place in the world, you can’t not recognize it! Even though it has been written and photographed a billion times, it will never be any less spectacular. I know when I go I’ll be taking a bajillion cheesy tourist photos, including the jumping and pointing one for sure.

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