There has to be more to travel blogging than competing for the most drool-worthy Instragram shots in exotic destinations, am I right?
I’d like to think so. But as the industry becomes more saturated (and competitive), it’s easy to loose sight of how our work ties into a narrative much larger than us.
You see, us travel bloggers have the opportunity to be role models in a $7 trillion industry. We have the ability to help foster cross-cultural communication, breaking down barriers in the process.
It’s undeniable that we not only have a responsibility to our followers; we also have a responsibility to every community and culture we pass through.
Here’s how us travel bloggers can use our influence for good:
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Become informed about a destination before writing about it
Let’s say you return from a trip to Taiwan, and you are asked to give a speech to, say, 10,000 people about your trip. I think most of us would want to adequately prepare for this, right? You’d want to ensure you describe the destination properly, while incorporating authentic recommendations.
This is no different than writing a blog post to your 10,000 monthly visitors. Yet sometimes when we’re crammed for time, it’s so easy to hit publish pre-maturely without doing basic research.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked on an eye-popping Pinterest graphic, only to find the information inaccurate or incomplete. For example, I recently read a blog post that said Dubrovnik was the capital of Croatia. An easy Google search tells you it’s Zagreb.
In contrast, there’s nothing more useful than stumbling upon a blog post with genuine recommendations and details about a destination you wouldn’t find elsewhere.
If your main priority is not about informing your audience, you’re blogging for all the wrong reasons. Seasoned travel blogger Adventurous Kate touches on this while describing how bloggers need to use their influence wisely:
“Picture this. A luxury hotel invites a [fashion] blogger to Cartagena, Colombia. She gets picked up at the airport by a chauffeur, does several photo shoots in and around the hotel, and has a great time exploring the old city but doesn’t set foot outside it.
Predictably, her followers start asking her, “Is it safe to go to Colombia?”
And she replies, “Sure, it’s totally fine!”…
That person should not be a travel influencer. But with lots of Instagram followers and partnerships with several gorgeous resorts across the globe, this person could be considered a top travel influencer.”
I know as a whole, the travel blogging community has much more potential than this. Let’s push ourselves to truly understand a destination before giving recommendations to our followers.
Do not editorialize culture
There’s a fine line between describing your experiences and providing nothing more than a biased opinion. Whether you like it or not, the way travel bloggers frame their experiences contribute to a cultural narrative as a whole.
Let’s be clear: opinions are for statements like “ I think it’s too hot in the summer in Croatia, so I prefer the fall.” Not for statements like “Cubans are lazy.” Yes, that is an actual statement I read on a blog post about Cuba, given the author had no way of supporting this (racist and classist) claim.
Please for the love of God, be extremely cautious with how you describe other cultures while blogging. Avoid overgeneralizing statements. Be conscious of your internal biases, especially from a euro-centric perspective or when visiting “developing” nations. Think before you write.
And always remember that you are a guest in the culture you’re visiting.
For most of us travel bloggers, the hunger to explore and experience new cultures is why we started in the first place. So why would we not use our platform as an opportunity to set an example for how to interact with communities?
Get to know locals
When I travel, I make it a goal to make at least one new friend in every destination I travel to. Although I’ve definitely had to push myself out of my comfort zone many times, it always makes me experiences of a destination far more rewarding. Not to mention, I learn so much more by listening to a local perspective.
One influential travel blogger who does a fantastic job of this is Gloria from The Blog Abroad. Every one of her Instagram captions captures a snippet of a little adventure of wherever she is. You can tell that she takes the time to get to know the people in each place, and she sets a good example for all of us.
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Yebooo from Country #50 – Zimbabwe! I couldn't have picked a better destination to ring in this milestone! This country's best asset, are its people. Just look at those cheery faces! I'm always weary of taking photos with locals, as I don't need to exotify my photo or use them as props. I set up my tripod and let them know that I wanted to take a photo with their gorgeous chitenga cloths and patterns. "You don't have to be in the photo," I suggest to the leading lady, Nozwelo, hoping she doesn't feel exploited. I set up the scene with my tripod, back turned, only to look up and find all the nearby women place themselves in the photo anyway. I loved it! Zimbabweans are proud people. And it's not because of their situation, but in spite of it, that I urge you to visit. Thanks to Victor who connected me to his sister and the rest of his family who took me under their wings and showed me around. Seriously getting the ultimate VIP treatment and I'm loving everyone I'm meeting along the way. Between the elephant traffic jam we drove into and the snacking monkeys (see IG stories for more), I'm pretty sure life is complete. As I prepared to eat sadza my first night (also known as fufu or pap in other parts of Africa), two members of the family kneeled to me, one with a kettle and the other with a bowl. I wasn't sure what was going on, until they motioned that I put my hands in the bowl, and then one began pouring some lukewarm water over it, to rinse my hands off before we had our meal. Such a simple gesture, but I watched as they went around in a circle and did the same to each person one by one. Now tell me how that isn't the definition of civilized? I see so many stereotypes being debunked on my day-to-day travels, and know that you guys are only seeing a fraction of what I'm experiencing. But if there's one thing to take away from this, understand that Zimbabwe doesn't need to be saved. It needs to be experienced and understood. From YOUR firsthand perspective. Stop listening to the media and create your own. That's how we begin to change the narrative. That's how we grow. That's how we learn. This is Zimbabwe 🇿🇼❤
Embrace cultural customs
If you’re not willing to embrace cultural customs other than your own, then you should probably just check yourself into an all-inclusive resort instead.
Not only should we educate ourselves (and our audience) about cultural differences, we should immerse ourselves in them without judgment. Emphasis on the judgment when traveling outside of the western hemisphere’s cultural bubble.
Ellie Cleary from Soul Travel Blog is an excellent example of a traveler who truly immerses herself. She recently took a trip to Iran, where she shared the underrated beauty of both the culture and country:
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Salām Iran! You've been one of the most challenging trips to organise (hello red tape) – but you're well worth it! This is the stunning city of Yazd, where my eyes nearly watered from the stunning green and blue beauty of the Jameh Masjid (friday mosque). So excited to be sharing more photos with you as I explore Iran with @gadventures Have you been to Iran? #soultravelblog
Work with local organizations
The most frequent topics in the traveling blogging community are securing sponorships and comped stay. We idolize travel bloggers that land press trip after press trip, but for what? Some (not all) of these bloggers are so distant from the local culture, it may do more harm than good.
Working with local organizations is a way to directly invest in the local economy, as opposed of a foreign tourism agency reaping the profits.
An easy way to partner with local organizations is through visit.org, a platform that partners with do-good organizations all over the world. As a travel ambassador, I stand by its message of increasing genuine, global engagements. And all tours invest profits back into the local economy!
Lola Mendez of Miss Filatelista is a great example of this. She has traveled to over 50+ countries, and makes it a point to visit do-good organizations in every one of them.
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during the workshop we spoke about the importance of girls’ education, gender equality, and ending gender violence. we discussed sexual assault and harassment, access to health care, the gender wage gap and unfair employment opportunities. they believe that women are capable of anything men can do. they want to see women in leadership roles, as engineers, politicians, judges, doctors and lawyers.
I’m sorry to break it to you, but travel in itself is not sustainable. Planes, trains and automobiles have a significant carbon footprint. Tourists are leaving cities and beaches covered in trash and plastic. Destinations around the world are stretching beyond their carrying capacity.
But that doesn’t mean you have to feel guilty about traveling, per se. Rather, us travel bloggers should think critically at how we can travel more ethically and responsible ourselves.
Practice slow travel
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The slow travel mindset emphasizes getting to know one area at a time, in depth, and relaxing more along the way. 🌊🌍🐚 •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• With the constant chaos of fast traveling and taking several short trips, you're really just scratching the surface of several locations while counting every country you've ever been like Girl Scout badges. •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• It shouldn't be about saying "I've seen that." It's about saying "I've experienced that." What do you think of slow travel? •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• Learn more about slow travel on the blog! 🌍link in bio🌍 #slowtravel #responsibletourism #conscioustraveler
As someone who hates crowds and being in a rush, I’m a huge advocate for slow travel. Over the years, I’ve moved away from cram packing my trips on a tight itinerary, to now traveling with the mentality “do more with less”.
Slow travel comes with being more mindful and usually more sustainable as well. As travel bloggers, this gives us the opportunity to truly capture the culture as it is, aside from the tourist experience provided.
Research alternative transportation
Most of us travel bloggers have shared some type of post along the lines of “The best way to get to X destination”. Yet so many of us are not encouraging ourselves, or our followers, to take alternative forms of transportation.
For example, why not walk or bike instead of taking a cab or the bus? Why not take the train instead of flying? And if flying is unavoidable, have you researched airline’s sustainability policies? If not, I’ve got you covered.
Plan more local trips
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Lads, I think I found heaven on earth: Mizen head in West Cork, Ireland 🍀🌊🍀🌊🍀 • I've been taking a lot of weekend trips around Ireland, and by far, I think west Cork was my favorite. • It's vastly underrated and full of seaside views and gorgeous sedimentary rock! • Have you visited Ireland? If so, where?!🍀🙏🏽🍀
Last but not least, I truly think being a travel blogger does not always mean we need to travel half way across the world. Sometimes we do so without exploring our own community.
Amanda from Amanda’s Wanderlust blog sets a great example of someone who takes advantage of local adventure, as she is often exploring around England.
I have been living in Europe for the past year, first in Croatia, and now Ireland. Instead of flying to every country all around Europe, I’ve spent majority of my time taking trips around Croatia and Ireland. I’ve gained so much more inside knowledge for my blog by doing so, not to mention haven’t broke my wallet in the process.
This all perhaps may be a bit to take in, especially in responsible and sustainable travel is new to you. All I’m asking is that as a community, us travel bloggers think a bit more critically about how we can use our platforms to make a positive impact. Even if it means shifting our focus a bit, it is possible.
Take for example Sabina Trojanova from the popular Girl vs. Globe, we recently transitioned into taking about sustainable fashion, travel and food.
I want to challenge myself to write responsibly while traveling mindfully and sustainable. And I want my followers to be inspired to do so as well. Will you join me?