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Your shiny, happy vacation on Facebook is a lie, and that's OK

May 21, 2013 at 2:00 PM ET

Thailand beach
Courtesy Megan Winfield
After her trip to Thailand, Megan Winfield's Facebook wall was full of pictures like this one of the idyllic beach they visited. There were no photos or mention of her fever, or how much her family wanted to get off the island and back into air conditioned surroundings.

Not only do people edit their vacation photos they post on Facebook -- selecting the ones of the best experiences, a little cropping here, a little faux vintage filter there -- some are actually starting to edit what they do on their vacations in order to get a more impressive status update.

In a way, living your travels in real time for an online audience is like producing your own reality show. And in this version, everything is glorious all the time.

Megan Winfield, mother of two, took a family trip to an island in Thailand last fall. She posted pictures of the beach, but not any of her fever in tropical temperatures amid no air conditioning and no ice.

"We're cranky, we're over it, we're like, 'When can we get off this island?'" Winfield told NBC News. You never want to admit "when the wheels came off the bus."

John Y. Brown III's Facebook photos of his family's Mediterranean cruise last winter likewise tell an abridged tale. "There's a lot of stuff I'm leaving out, like meltdowns and sulking and sitting alone in my room nauseous and bored to death,” he said. “There's the pictures we take and post, and there's the pictures we don't dare take and post.”

For instance, while in Athens, Greece, Brown spent a lot of time thinking about how dirty the city was and how his iPhone battery wouldn't stay charged. He vowed never to return. None of that made it onto his Facebook feed. "I waited until we were at the Parthenon,” said Brown.

'OK, everybody look depressed!'
Not only do travelers select the photos that put their trip in the best light, some say their decisions while traveling are influenced by what would get more "likes."

“I find myself in restaurants and think, 'Do I want a plain waffle, or do I want a monstrosity that has five different toppings and looks insane and it's gonna make a better picture?'” Catherine Pryor of Oklahoma City said. She often finds herself going for the second choice.

"Trip editing" isn't a surprise to Eleazar Eusebio, assistant professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. “We have a social pressure to portray what we're doing as positive,” he told NBC News. “You don't want to be 'that person' because you'll call yourself out as an outlier. We don't want (friends) to say 'they are a downer because they can't have a good time'.”

Before you start posting confessional updates on all your old vacation photos about how it really went down, fear not. “Posting positive pictures and presenting a 'better face' is a normal thing because it allows you to reframe the vacation in a way that makes the memories more rewarding and pleasant,” Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, told NBC News.

After all, “When you take a pictures nobody says 'OK, everybody look depressed!'” said Eusebio.

Except for Winfield and her family. “Every trip you end up with pictures where you're in front of something amazing like the Colosseum and someone is weeping," she said.

"It started as a joke to get the kids to stop crying but turned into a tradition to get the camera out and say 'here's our sad picture'."

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