A Rant About Travel, Awareness and Social Media

A Rant About Travel, Awareness and Social Media

By |2019-12-10T21:05:51-05:00July 4th, 2018|Perspectives|140 Comments

Oh, no. No, no, no.

That’s my reaction, all too often these days, when I go on social media.

I’m sure we all have seen it.

The photo of a travel blogger or ‘travel influencer’ in their cutest or most striking pose, wearing a short summer dress or going shirtless with beer in hand…while standing on the streets of an impoverished, war-torn village in Africa or in front of a run down shack on a dirt road in India.

The photo is oh so perfect, oh so worthy of being shared across all social media platforms, and naturally, worth many, many ‘likes’.

But wait a minute…what about the very real people living with very real struggles behind the crumbling walls and bent tin doors?

When such photos are posted, is the traveler even aware that these people exist?

Once upon a time, the focus was on the beauty, the eye-opening moments and the education of travel. Now, that focus has simply been replaced by the heavily filtered ‘beauty’ of our ourselves. Everyone wants the attention to be on them, not the actual destination.

And there really isn’t much value in such infatuation with ourselves while traveling. Instead, it’s remarkably tone deaf and disrespectful to those places we visit.

All it does is show a lack of awareness about our surroundings, which doesn’t match the supposedly positive and life-changing aspects of travel – the sharing, interacting, learning – that we travel bloggers and influencers claim to promote.

Those ‘things’ are now only good enough to be used as a pretty backdrop for photos and stories about ourselves.

Where is the learning?

Look on any travel-related blog or social media profile. We all say that learning or education is one of the main, if not the main, reasons we travel in the first place. We all say it’s to interact with local cultures and people and to hopefully challenge and better ourselves and the world by doing so.

But in many cases, that learning and genuine interaction is nowhere to be found.

In my experience, learning is not rooted in selfish pursuits. Learning is not using or ignoring the difficulties and struggles of others for our personal gain (doesn’t that rusted shack with a family of 6 barely surviving inside look great behind my kapotasana yoga pose?).

Genuine interaction isn’t a photo of a pre-planned handshake in pre-planned, picture-perfect clothes, with a pre-planned smile or forced expression of interest.

And a casual mention of the surrounding reality – perhaps the devastation, the intense history or the general struggles of those that live there – in a two or three line caption next to our IG or FB photo…that’s not education.

This village was bombed. The people now live among the rubble. So sad 🙁 But look at my gown!

Umm…yes, again, what about those people around you? The people right there in the houses in the background of your photo?

The world is not a movie set or a playground for us to stomp all over for our selfish desires just because we’re privileged enough to afford plane tickets.

Such activity really has no lasting impact on humanity. It certainly doesn’t encourage others to travel around the world learning, affecting change and being a positive force. It encourages others to travel around the world completely ignoring their surroundings, because the most important thing is getting the best photo of yourself.

I get it. It’s business for some. It’s a way to get attention and that attention turns into money or free travel and so on. But again, where’s the real value?

And if it is business, it shouldn’t be hidden behind a disguise of learning, as so many do.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking photos of ourselves. I take them all the time. But I also try, like most bloggers, to provide some value and to not make everything I do all about myself. That doesn’t represent how I think travel, or social media, should be.

And I don’t think I’m alone.

My friend Jodi Ettenberg, from the popular blog LegalNomads, summed it up quite well by saying…

We are all imperfect, but that’s what makes us human. And that’s what social media should reflect: our collective imperfection. As travel writers, we should be setting an example by sharing what lies outside the glossy sheen of filters. It’s less photogenic, but it’s where the magic happens. And overall that makes it more aspirational, more raw, and more real. We owe it to our readers not to share some false, idealized version of ourselves. The good and the bad, the stories that get you thinking — that’s where you add value to the world in this space.

This is travel

I know what you might be thinking. This is a bit too much. The times have changed, it’s the way things work now. It’s better to shrug it off or laugh it off and then carry on doing what we each feel is right.

At the same time, this is why travel blogging and travel influencing is a little messy these days. It’s why more and more people tell me, “I stopped reading travel blogs.” I keep hearing the same reasons. There’s too much fluff and useless content, too little authenticity. It’s about showing off and trying to earn money, not about the actual benefits of travel. It’s no longer about helping others travel. Travel bloggers seem quite entitled and cocky. And so on.

Perhaps I’m struggling with this because I’ve seen the change happen over the years and I remember when travel took on a very different meaning. There indeed was a time when it wasn’t about ‘look at me’ and was all about ‘look at this place, here’s what’s going on’ instead.

After all, travel is without a doubt an awesome and life-changing endeavor. I’m talking about the moments shared with people that you otherwise would never have come into contact with. I’m talking about the genuine exchanges, the handshakes and hugs, the laughter and meals eaten together, the stories about a place directly from the mouths of those who call it home. It’s all about the authentic cultural activities that might not make for a pretty photo but sure as hell make for an education like no other. It’s all of the above, and the influence this has on our own lives.

Just typing that paragraph gets my heart pumping and my skin tingling.

That’s what needs to be shared. That’s travel.

Focusing on ourselves first and foremost while ignoring the destinations, people and potential education around us – in other words, a lack of awareness – is not.

As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful.” – Anthony Bourdain

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  1. Tinkan June 15, 2020 at 6:39 am - Reply

    Thank you very much for letting this out of your chest!

    I’ve started traveling before the days of social media and smartphones not too long ago and I’m quite disheartened to see traveling devolving into a superficial “hobby” of sexy shoots and selfie sticks. The desensitization is real and I fear that tourism destinations will, and have, come out worst from this Insta-bingeing.

  2. Stephanie January 23, 2020 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    “Everyone wants the attention to be on them, not the actual destination.” BINGO. As an aspiring travel writer and blogger, it feels discouraging to me that the attention and reward goes to people with the aforementioned mentality, I’ll be following you from now on, it’s SUCH a refreshing change of pace!

  3. Gabriella January 11, 2020 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    Hi Derek,

    I really enjoy your blog, because when I look at you I see a real person not some blonde skinny model posing in a designer dress. I read a few quotes on some travel blogs, which quite honestly made my blood chill. They were along the likes of “I have been living a life of no responsibility for the past x amount of years” in a place ridden with poverty or “life doesn’t have to be hard and full or responsibilities” said the good-looking European couple traveling the world. Quite honestly I am astounded by such statements. As we say in Italy this is a “slap to poverty.” Are you seriously living in a third world country boasting about the fact that you have no responsibilities and life is so easy and amazing for you, as you are surrounded by less fortunate people who do not even have a tenth of what you can afford? Life in my opinion is not about proving people that you are better, more attractive, or more successful than them. I get irritated when I read these blogs. I get so unnerved that I stop reading pretty soon, because I can sense their arrogance, their sense of superiority, their immaturity, and their total detachment from reality and I certainly don’t need advice from them on how to be a better traveler. Continue to keep it real Derek, you are doing a great job!

  4. Nicholas Di Bona January 3, 2019 at 8:20 am - Reply

    Thanks Earl, i read all the comments posted.
    Suffice it to say for now, that its so refreshing to hear from others from my tribe. Nick

  5. DONNA ARNOLD January 1, 2019 at 6:52 pm - Reply

    Well said! My sentiments exactly. I for one don’t follow those who put themselves (large as life) in the photos in IG. I want to see the world; Where they have been. Feel their exhilaration of being there in places where others will only ever dream of. Not them.

    I look forward to your emails.

    Thank you

  6. Mike January 1, 2019 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    Awesome post bro. Just what I need to read on January 1st…as we think about the direction of HoneyTrek in the new year. Thanks for being a positive voice for change amongst our peers!

  7. Iris Trask October 20, 2018 at 10:28 am - Reply

    Derek, you need to check out my daughter Jessica and her family at WorldTowning.com as well as on U Tube. They are the exact opposite kind of travelers. They chuckle when people assume that being a world traveler is like being on one big vacation. They lived in different countries on different continents before loading their family of 4 into a used 24 foot RV to travel more. They are not trust fund people, they work hard to support this lifestyle. They love mingling with locals, eating local food, sleeping in their homes and working on their farms whenever possible. They live a life of kindness and giving back. They home school and world school their children. They give their followers the ups and downs of living this life and do it with humor and sometimes tears. They show the beauty or ugliness of a place. They love videoing and talking to the people who share their stories. They share some hard truths and visit some sad places as well wonderful, beautiful places. They live a true life, of a real travel family.
    I read your post because they shared it on Facebook. They shared it because they agree that many bloggers/vloggers out there are exactly what you said. Check them out I think you will find them refreshing.

    • Derek October 20, 2018 at 12:14 pm - Reply

      Thank you for sharing Iris! That’s excellent to hear how they are out there traveling and that they provide a realistic picture of how the lifestyle works! I’ll check them out.

  8. Dalibro October 19, 2018 at 7:46 am - Reply

    I couldn’t find better words. The blatant ignorance I encounter during my travels is what really shocks me. People walking around like zombies looking on their mobiles rather than the actual place, disrespectfully ignoring any signs/fences/other visitors and leaving garbage and cigarette butts (filters are made of plastic fibre…just saying) everywhere. Checking place off a bucket list has become more important than actually being there (both physically and mentally). All for the perfect “Instagram banger” photo.

    But it’s not only Instagram, who’s guilty (though with the power to really change something). It’s also us, travel bloggers when we don’t pause, look around and spend time raising awareness. It’s also companies who invest in influencers, based on number of followers rather than the messages they send out to the world.

    Travelling used to be a way of learning about other places and cultures. The ultimate effect was to make us wiser and the consequent knowledge makes us feel smaller and humbled in the whole big world. But something went terribly wrong – today travelling seems to be all about bragging, so it actually make us feel bigger and more ‘dope’. Sorry for so many words, got carried away a bit! 😀

  9. Ryan October 8, 2018 at 7:34 pm - Reply

    Love this. The travel enthusiast you describe who is doing stuff like giving high-fives to African kids for Facebook kudos is something I really dislike among the blogging and social media community.

    Thanks for giving a voice to some of those concerns.

  10. Chris Blachut September 20, 2018 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    Not to throw a wrench in this comment love-fest, but there’s too much complaining and “I hope” and almost zero “doing.” Who do we think is going to make these changes happen? The only person in all these comments who suggested a solution was Drew Meyers. The rest is sour grapes.

    It IS possible to write a write a high traffic top 10 post AND educate or inspire in the same post—you and other truly professional bloggers know how. And it IS possible to tell stories with your Instagram account and get photos—just look at Humans of NY, which Matt Karsten mentioned. It just takes a level of skill, creativity, and perseverance that most people aren’t willing to invest in developing. They rather sit on their high horse, complain, and hope the problems get solved for them.

    Also, let’s not confuse holidays with travel. There’s nothing wrong with breakfast in bed at a nice hotel. Some people choose to relax and spoil themselves on vacation, and some people hard at work like to look at those photos to dream about it. We don’t all need to be adventure travelers all the time.

    It’s also funny to see commenters complain about the vanity of these Instagram posts, then go on with an “I… I… I…” rant all about themselves and their experiences.

    So, Derek, while I obviously don’t agree with many of your commentors, I do agree with your rant. Now how do you suggest we go about turning the tide? And how can you inspire and educate readers and commenters like me to stop complaining and hoping, and start doing? Whatever we’re doing now isn’t enough.

  11. Ted September 12, 2018 at 7:26 pm - Reply

    Ah yes, the Ego Travellers…. I try to not be one and avoid them at all costs, though on occasion I might end up with a foto of myself (usually taken by someone else). Sure things happen as we move about, some good, some bad and often non events. But…. the one aspect I have enjoyed is the people I meet and the stuff which goes on and never gets posted about. For some friends, my blog is news about what’s going on in my life because I hate social media and refuse to get involved and snail mail is too slow. Other posts are about something which I felt might be worth sharing, even to warn them not to even think about going to the crappy place. There are the fun times just for the sake of it and then those others……

    I don’t know about you, but 80% of my browser blog links have been deleted for the very reasons you state.

    Good post — and who cares whether they like it or not.

  12. Sinead Camplin September 11, 2018 at 7:24 am - Reply

    Thank you for writing this. As a new blogger trying to find my voice I feel dismayed sometimes at the blogs/posts I see of people wearing pretty dresses with perfect make up or ‘far away’ gazes etc. I travel with my three children and barely have time to wash my hair yet alone use an iron (who brings an iron?) for something to wear – and I definitely don’t do dresses. I was starting to worry that was what people wanted to read and see. We were at a stunnng waterfall recently where a couple stripped to thier swimwear, took lots of well posed and I’m sure beautifully shot photos and then dressed and walked on. One of my kids said ‘but they didn’t even look at the waterfall.’ Rant over! Thanks for a great article.

  13. Zoe August 30, 2018 at 9:31 am - Reply

    Yes, yes and yes! Could not have said it better myself. I’ve had to step away from Instagram from time to time as I find myself caught in the comparison trap. One day in the Galapagos Islands I saw a girl turn up for a four-hour hike up a caldera in tiny denim shorts and sandals. She fell over and had blood pouring out her knees literally in the first 5 minutes. At first, I rolled my eyes at how ill-prepared she was, assuming she’d chosen to be fashionable over practical. Then I had a second thought, “oh that poor thing has been getting packing advice from Instagram”.

    As for the blogging side, I had a huge aha moment in Cuba a few years ago with regards to glamorising crumbling buildings etc (which I wrote about). It really left an indelible impression about how different our view of a place can be as passing travellers rather than permanent residents if we don’t look deeper and ask more questions. Though I have always considered myself a fairly sensitive traveller, I realised at that moment I still had a way to go.

  14. Michelle August 26, 2018 at 6:03 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for your article, it’s so very true. I am personally not on social media, but when I started a small handmade business I started using Instagram – the creative community is very supportive as it is about what you made. Since I’m moving and travelling I’ve started a blog about that. Since I’ve changed my insta handle, I am a little shocked at the travel community and the how narcissistic much of it is. And how alienating.
    I don’t even travel with a flowing dress or beauty products as it’s not how I want to see the world.
    It is also pretty far from the reality of what day to day travel looks like. For the most part, I am especially shocked by the disregard for local customs, ceremonies, and wildlife. As the focus is on getting the perfect shot – never mind if you hold up a large religious ceremony dressed inappropriately… or disrespecting/ scaring animals in their habitat to the detriment of their comfort and health.
    I often hang my head in shame, and wonder if it a side effect of the kardasian culture… where role models of society are narcissistic too. So glad it’s not my era or culture.
    Anyway, thanks for your article and calling it out. I read this just after watching a comedy sketch of JP sears on increasing followers, cracked me up, and it’s a good reminder that we shouldn’t take life, ourselves or social media too seriously: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35mQ29Cj-og

  15. Lynna August 15, 2018 at 9:57 pm - Reply

    I so agree with your view of the floaty dress / bikini style instagramers. My reaction to this style is definitely not positive.

    If I am followed by someone I check out their profile. Are their pictures only with selfies? No follow back! Are their photos of just gorgeous places and look too filtered or artificial? Forget it. Then I check out what they wrote about the picture. Is it of interest? Does their personality show through? Do they have “I’m an influencer / can help you make money etc”? Definitely an evaluation.

    I wonder if anyone does this to me? Lol

    Last summer I traveled from The west coast of British Columbia to Ontario and back. I tried to stay off the Trans Canada highway and I wanted to highlight some of the great places we have in Canada. I guess educate people on how interesting this country is. It definitely wasn’t about me. I think that I posted two selfies all summer.

    I believe there is a backlash to the annoying parts of social media at a local level as well. I live in a beautiful part of Canada and live close to a world famous park, Butchart Gardens, which is close to Victoria, BC. Happily just before the fireworks started people were told (a couple of times) that the use of selfie sticks was prohibited and so was leaving your camera on all the time as this bothered other viewers! So happy.

    As a final note, yes, I go to ‘list’ blogs but only for quick information and this doesn’t mean that I will ever go to their site again. You are correct that I (and others I am sure) go back to people who we connect with. People who are engaging. People who make you feel like you had a glimpse of that destination. People who are authentic. These are the people who I am loyal to.

    Thanks for a great post.

  16. Clelia August 3, 2018 at 2:04 am - Reply

    I’m glad there are still bloggers like you and a few others out there that focus more on the experience of travel rather than on themselves or (even worst) write some sterile recaps on destinations. I’m glad because due to the language barrier and a massive lack of communication skills, I am rarely able to write posts about what travel truly meant to me, or about the meaningful experiences that I might pass on to other people, and it’s truly frustrating. Regarding Instagram, I couldn’t agree more.

    I think it’s been 4 months now that I don’t post a single picture or even check it out for inspiration. I’m done with Instagram, I actually never found much inspiration in that platform. Sometimes I admit that I can be a bit “addicted” to the internet in general and for this reason, I feel overjoyed when I either forget or leave my phone at home on purpose or when there is no internet connection for days.

    At the beginning I might panic, only to remember that I was born in an era where the mobile phones didn’t even exist. Where you had to actually made the effort to communicate, with your loved ones or total strangers. These were the moments where the real magic happened. When you met incredibly interesting people, striking a genuine conversation, listening to their stories and LEARN something valuable.

    What I would like to add is that professional bloggers have to make a living somehow, which means that a little compromise might be necessary, but not to the point of completely losing your authenticity. Screw the money, I’d rather write something I truly feel and usually, those are the articles that for some reason, give me the most meaningful interactions with my readers. This is the only reason why I still am a travel blogger.

    It’s not even about posing on Instagram or always showing our wise side (if we have one), it’s about being and showing without fear of judgment who we truly are. This is what provides value to the people that follow us. I might not be one of the wisest out there, whatever that means, but I know that I love making people laugh. Unless I’m writing about something very serious, I can’t help myself and the article always shows my clumsy personality.

    So back to square one? I’m focusing on who I am once again? Just like those Instagrammers always showing in the picture? I don’t think so, being authentic means that you can convey your message in a more effective manner, just like you did in this article for instance. Too bad that many bloggers forget their personalities and strong opinions at home when heading out to a coffee shop to find some inspiration.

    Needless to say, keep writing this kind of articles. We need more of these and less of “The top 5 most instagrammable (or whatever they call it) spots in “X” destination”.
    Happy meaningful travels!

    • Derek August 6, 2018 at 10:45 pm - Reply

      Hey Clelia – Thank you for that comment and sharing your own experience. I think we could all benefit from having the internet go out for a few days at a time every now and then or forgetting our phones much more often! And yes, I agree, that authenticity and desire to be real does lead to the most valuable interactions and ultimately, the greatest rewards. Sure, it might not always get us a free trip to a 5-star resort in the Maldives, but it certainly feels much better knowing that we’re trying to provide real value.

  17. Derek July 24, 2018 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    Here’s an interesting article that appeared on my news feed today: https://money.cnn.com/2018/07/24/technology/fat-jewish-swish-beverage-canned-wine/index.html

    It’s about a well known IG influencer predicting the end of IG influencing as we know it. Here’s a paragraph:

    “The future lies in making real things for real people….Everybody just wants to be an influencer now. Nobody wants to get a job,” he told CNNMoney in a recent interview. “Everybody’s just like, ‘Wait. I could go out and like hold those like hair enhancement gummies’ or ‘I can go out and like hold a product, and I can make money. I just think people need to learn how to actually build things from the ground up. … That will take you farther than the internet.”

    Of course, it’s not going to end any time soon but I do agree with him that change will have to come at some point as the current model is not sustainable or valuable.

  18. Matthew Karsten July 24, 2018 at 12:45 am - Reply

    I think you have some solid points, stuff I’ve been mulling over myself. For example, watching as travel destinations get destroyed by selfie-taking hordes, only there to grab a photo and move to the next spot on their checklist. There’s always been these types of people — similar to country-counters who just pop in for a day to check it off their list (only now, the checklist is a colorful and well-rounded Instagram feed, there’s millions of marketing dollars up for grabs, and travel is becoming more accessible and trendy worldwide).

    However I believe there are some distinctions to make also. Travel blogging and Instagram are not the same thing. Instagram is about photography, full stop. All types of photography — architecture, fashion, landscape, food. Photography is visual. Photography is about showing off. Posting badly composed, badly lit, or badly edited snapshots of our realistic life on the road just isn’t going to do well on a photography-specific platform like Instagram. They won’t do well on 500px or Flickr either. Instagram is basically just a portfolio of your best photography work (for the photographer, or model). With a few exceptions (Humans of New York?), if you’re using it for something else, like sharing meaningful stories, that’s fine, but don’t be surprised when you don’t get any engagement or followers there.

    Most people aren’t on Instagram to read travel stories, they are there for quick, pretty pictures to pass the time while they wait in line at the supermarket. So pretty pictures, like epic landscapes, or attractive people in exotic locations, are going to rise to the top. There are plenty of people posting travel diary type stuff on Instagram — but no one sees it because the algorithm squashes it. It’s not a platform that rewards travel diary type content.

    I wish the History Channel had more shows about history, like they used to. But now it’s full of reality TV. Because those shows are popular, they’re easier to make, and it works financially for them. If they didn’t make that change, I bet they’d be out of business.

    Looking at traffic stats for your own site, I see some of your highest performing articles are about making money while traveling, how you afford to travel, and getting high in Yemen. Hehe. 🙂

    That nice story you shared about hanging out with Bhudiman in Nepal is nowhere near as popular as the others. You simply can’t control what other people are interested in reading or seeing on social media. You could ignore the masses, but not if you want to attempt to make a living from it, which many people are trying to do.

    Do I wish it was different? Do I think it’s slightly disturbing? Sure. I think this conversation is a good wakeup call for all of us to remember why we started traveling in the first place, and find ways to incorporate more story and honest reflection into our content, even if 75% of the people watching scroll past without reading.

    • Derek July 24, 2018 at 10:16 am - Reply

      Hey Matt – I agree with some of what you’re saying and I’m glad we agree that there needs to be more value out there. I think the point of the post has been lost though. Just because that’s how IG works doesn’t really mean it’s something we should all do, right? Especially if it’s turning travel into an unrealistic glamour shoot that totally, and unfairly, ignores the destinations and people. That’s what I was trying to convey.

      There are plenty of things we don’t do every day because it doesn’t really seem right. None of us go around starting fights with random people and putting the videos on our blog and social media, even though that would probably get a ton of traffic. I think we’d agree that’s not right.

      And we can actually ignore the masses and make a living. It’s just much easier not to and then we can blame it on IG or society. I guess I feel that we need to take a little more responsibility than that as travelers considering that we spend our time constantly visiting other people’s countries, towns and homes.

      So this post is about whether or not it is right to use travel strictly for our personal gains. To do so (which is what’s happening with platforms such as IG as you point out as well) in my opinion, makes us seem pretty entitled when we bounce around the world caring more about our images than about experiences and the people we might come across. Again, to me, that doesn’t seem right.

      I understand that others want to use that to create a business instead. Hence the discussion here 🙂

      As you said, the post with Bhudiman in Nepal is nowhere near as popular as the others. However, the traffic that I did get on that post was by far more genuine and valuable and I’m still going to continue posting real experiences even if I get less traffic and less money as a result. You can make a very good living offering real value. It just takes a little more effort.

      Also, the chewing qat post…that post is about Yemen very specifically. It’s not about me. It’s about the destination and writing that post involved complete interaction with locals, which is what I was trying to promote.

      Here’s the last paragraph from that post:

      “Sure, simply because that’s the thing to do in Yemen and in the end, it is a social activity. Had I not chewed qat I probably would not have had the same interactions and conversations with locals that I ended up having. Qat honestly helped bridge the tourist gap, allowing me to take a few more steps closer to the culture I wanted to learn about.”

      I just don’t see the connection between that and the kind of IG channels we’re talking about as I’m not using the country or experience strictly for my gain without trying to offer value.

      But in the end, we all make our own decisions and obviously, that’s completely fine. We can all build what we want to build. We can all question the methods as well. Hopefully, such discussion as this one can benefit all sides! I certainly do appreciate your comments and thoughts and can see where you’re coming from.

  19. Lorri Saintcross July 23, 2018 at 9:21 am - Reply

    There are a lot of comments on here, so this may get lost in the shuffle, but I wanted to let you all know that you’ve hit the nail on the head! Education, charity, and immersion are the keys to a responsible traveler.

    May I also add a little something? I am an older adult, early fifties, with a small personal travel blog. I enjoy writing about travels that we take with our adult children (Very experienced travelers in their own right), I make NO money from my blog because I don’t market, so I pay for my travel myself and my time is precious.

    What I’d like to say is this, I think they’re all adorable, I really do, but please, take your photo and MOVE THE HELL ON. I too, would like to get that perfect picture for my blog to share with my friends, but I can’t because (And I am dating myself here), someone is “Voguing” in front of that iconic view while the rest of us tourists stand around kicking dirt waiting for you to finish your “Photo shoot.” This is a rather new phenomenon and I often comment on how frustrating it has become to truly enjoy the experience of a place.

    Thankfully I am older, wiser, and less likely to care what you think of me, I will shame you from your perch and pose so that others may also see that iconic view, and while you are grumbling and glaring at me I will snap a few shots, smile at you as you no doubt curse me, and continue on, exercising the courtesy to my fellow traveler that you should have. Mom rant over, please carry on.

  20. Markus July 19, 2018 at 6:40 am - Reply

    Loved the way you penned down your thoughts. Amazing!

  21. Simon July 18, 2018 at 5:53 am - Reply

    Wow! amazingly expressed. Thanks a ton for sharing.

  22. Nicolai B.C. July 17, 2018 at 7:31 am - Reply

    THANKS for writing about this Earl! This has boggled my mind for a while now. Especially since I saw the title of a video by the travel vloggers Vagabrothers called “Best Instagram destinations” – I was seriously shocked, and the title/message was ringing in my ears for days. That’s SO shallow – to choose a travel destination, all because of what kind of photos you could take there, and especially to encourage people to travel like that. NOT good. And you are absolutely right, social media has taken a toll on many people, and the way they live their lives. Very sad. I’m very on to this, and try to steer away from it as much as possible…

    This is why I’ve followed your endeavors for the past 6-7 years online, because you are so down to earth and posses a lot of self-awareness – and you never compromise or follow trends. Thank you!

    Best regards Nicolai, from Denmark.

  23. Andrei July 16, 2018 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    Well said, well said indeed.

  24. Danial July 12, 2018 at 9:04 pm - Reply

    Thank you very much for letting this out of your chest!

    I’ve started traveling before the days of social media and smartphones not too long ago and I’m quite disheartened to see traveling devolving into a superficial “hobby” of sexy shoots and selfie sticks. The desensitization is real and I fear that tourism destinations will, and have, come out worst from this Insta-bingeing.

    • Derek July 17, 2018 at 8:02 am - Reply

      Hey Danial – It definitely doesn’t help the destinations either when they are simply treated as backdrops to such images of our ourselves. The good news, or optimistic view, is that this hasn’t been going on for too long so hopefully it will change again before it’s too late.

  25. Jim Smith July 11, 2018 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    Our addiction to technology, as we Snapchat and Instagram the moments instead of being in them and Whatsapp with our friends back home instead of meeting new people, keeps us from observing the place we’re at or being present in the moment.

  26. Lilliane Wanderlass July 10, 2018 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    I get where you’re coming from, because it is all over your face. But I honestly don’t think it changed drastically like you said. People have always been focused on themselves. I looked at my family photo album (actual pictures) of my family and there we all are in front of every single landmark and monument. All 100 pages of photos just picture of us w/ background of the city, landscape, etc. It is like instagram only it was on print and only seen by my family.

    • Derek July 11, 2018 at 5:04 am - Reply

      Hey Lilliane – I get that, too. But I think it’s more than that now. Back then we didn’t have people claiming to share the education of travel with their online audiences, building businesses from that claim, and then only showing staged photos of themselves. So I do think the fact that it is online and in everyone’s face now makes a difference. This post is less about the photos of ourselves than it is about people claiming to offer real value through their travels and then doing the total opposite because it’s more convenient or easy.

  27. Carrie Veatch July 10, 2018 at 2:37 am - Reply

    Hi Derek!
    I cannot thank you enough for this and your thoughtful consideration of everything you wrote. One of the most influential books I ever read was in grad school called “I and Thou” It is old and somehow comes up for me when I read your post because it is all about the space between you and I. Basically any time we are creating something about “me” or about “you” we are missing out. We certainly can’t live in the connection space, the space between I and thou all the time, but the goal is to live there more often. To find the place that is “us” or “we” versus objectifying people.

    I blog and post on social media and find myself going down the rabbit hole far too often. I think there are so many amazing benefits to technology but our selfie posting society feels like it is potentially swinging way too far toward narcism.

    Travel has taught me more than anything in the short amount of time I have been doing it full time now. Solo travel allows me to be so much more curious and engage with people in the culture I am in. To learn. To embrace the differences. To let go of judgement. To see the world through a new lens. I struggle with writing and posting online both for my website and even on things like FB for friends back home because it doesn’t feel relevant that often. It feels so self centered quite frankly when I’m honest. It really feels like we are doing so much in this day in age to say look at me, instead of looking to the other.

    I know I want to live a life figuring out how I can serve others and create authentic community and have meaningful conversations. Not scroll through posts of “look at me” type surface level life. Perhaps it is my love/hate relationship with social media and my therapy background that screams out to the seriousness of this and having honest conversations about what it is doing to all of us. So my long post here to say THANK YOU for this important conversation. You have the audience to have it and I’m so grateful to read this and find what you offer to the conversation.


    • Derek July 11, 2018 at 5:07 am - Reply

      Hey Carrie – Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I’ll have to check out that book. Obviously, social media has made it all about ‘me’ for everyone and it’s easy to see how that’s not a positive development. It’s why I struggle to post on social media as well. Travel is not about me and it just doesn’t feel right to make it about me.

  28. Heather Anne July 9, 2018 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    After watching so many travel YouTube videos where the “main attraction” is the vlogger themselves, showing themselves, talking about themselves, and so on, rather than focusing on the destination, I was determined to create a travel channel where I do not appear in ANY of the videos – I just focus on the destination – with the rare exception of a photo I appear in if it is necessary to demonstrate an activity I engaged in. A lot of the travel videos I see skip a lot of important content – the stuff most people who clicked on a “suggested” video tune in for, because the video creator is busy self-aggrandizing. And the social media “glamour shots” mentioned in this post strike me as self-serving. Sure, subscribers and followers may be watching for you, but others are responding for the destination highlighted in your title or promotion of your page as travel-related. Admittedly, my blog posts are more personal, but I try to limit the number of photos of myself, and include as many photos as possible of the place I visited, unencumbered by my profile in them.

    As for bloggers trying to make money…. that is completely understandable. You have to pay the bills somehow, and when you must travel frequently in order to post blogs and videos, your travel expenses are astronomical on top of that. I make pennies on my ads and still pay out of pocket 99.9%+ for the travel I need to do in order to post this content, and shutter at the suggestion that I should be paying 100% of expenses and working for free! If that were how it is, nobody but independently wealthy people would be posting anything – and the majority of blog readers and YouTube watchers cannot relate to the uber-wealthy and what they do when they travel. I know I can’t! So it would be a very bad thing in my opinion if bloggers could not make a little income for their hard work. Only the wrong kind of people would be posting – if they even bothered to post at all.

    • Jodi July 9, 2018 at 10:56 pm - Reply

      It isn’t that a travel / other blogger shouldn’t earn money, it’s that saying the main driver of sharing ought to be to educate others, to show a window on the world that they might otherwise not explore. If making money interferes with that mission, then there are always other ways to make money that won’t interfere. Earl has got ebooks / posts etc about earning as you travel, and yet he has successfully managed to make the posts about the destination and showing some version of it that may help reframe perspective.

  29. Ellie Cleary July 9, 2018 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    Excellently put. I wonder about one comment you’ve made “Such activity really has no lasting impact on humanity” – in my view, it does. The more self-centred-insta-selfie-ism prevails, the more people take it up. The exponential growth in travellers over the next years is coming not from “developed” countries, but rather from developing ones. Where appearances matter, a lot, and travel is often used as a social status symbol. The more we influencers / bloggers spread self-centred content, the more it gets adopted by newer travellers, and the bigger the problem gets. Do we really care about where we are going? Or only the results for our instagram feeds. I’ve even seen articles written entitled “why a trip to x is the best thing for your instagram feed”. Really?! Perhaps the only answer is to take ourselves out of the frame.

    • Derek July 11, 2018 at 5:11 am - Reply

      Hey Ellie – In that way, you’re right. I should have said ‘positive lasting impact’. Good point. And it seems that not so many care about where we are going with this. If one method pays the bills, that’s the most important thing for most.

  30. Phillip Birt July 9, 2018 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    Wow, your rant is so pertinent. I travel for 5 months in any twelve – mainly in SE Asia. I scour travel blogs every day searching for relevant information. I am sick and tired of tuning into travel blogs presented by people who have done no research on a location but after spending as little as one night or day there they spout forth their views which are misleading and in most cases downright incorrect.
    Not sure what the answer is to this impasse but it is downright annoying! I agree whole heartedly with your sentiments.

    • Drew Meyers July 9, 2018 at 7:50 pm - Reply

      I still think micro tipping is still badly needed part of the long term ecosystem, but not sure what’s going to convince consumers to pay pennies. Or more paid communities that have an incentive to continue to invest in great travel content for members. The free content model is beyond broken.

    • Derek July 11, 2018 at 5:13 am - Reply

      Hey Phillip – Thanks for commenting and yes, I know what you’re talking about where suddenly, everyone is an expert about a place after one quick trip and they start offering information that others ‘must’ follow. The whole blogging thing is a mess unfortunately and I don’t know the answer either at the moment.

  31. Roobens July 9, 2018 at 8:05 am - Reply

    Amen. My thoughts exactly. I really hope this whole social media thing is just a fad, because it’s getting worse over time. You’re supposed to inspire your readership, entertain them but also educate them about the places you’re visiting. It definitely cannot be just about you : “I did this, I did that, I went there, I saw that…”, and then claim you’re open-minded and love to discover new cultures.

    On a side note, more and more often, I see people spending half an hour posing in front of their camera, just to get that perfect IG picture…

  32. Julie July 9, 2018 at 5:54 am - Reply

    Obsession with self and chasing vanity stats is what is ruining many a social media platform, Instagram in particular. The real beauty of the world we live in is about experiencing it warts and all. Great post Earl.

    • Derek July 11, 2018 at 5:15 am - Reply

      Thanks for reading Julie!

  33. Jenny July 8, 2018 at 8:29 pm - Reply

    So very true Earl. What’s so disappointing is that there is a real market for this kind of “influencer”. We were in Italy last year and a women we had met took us to this gorgeous little family owned restaurant in a tiny medieval town and while we were chatting and eating two young women at the table next to us took 17 selfies. Each because the last one wasn’t perfect enough. My husband was getting so disturbed with it but I was just sad. While they are doing this are they not appreciating that this moment is nothing you can recreate. The sounds, smell, people and conversation will never be embedded in your travel soul if you don’t take the time and “be” in the moment. Lets hope we can claw it back before real travel is a thing of the past.

    • Derek July 11, 2018 at 5:17 am - Reply

      Hey Jenny – There is a market for it indeed. However, I think that’s because it is still relatively new. It’s easy to post perfect photos, it’s easy to get likes from them and it’s easy to sell that popularity to companies. But I think that with time, people will get tired of it since there is no value coming from this sort of social media. Seems like people are getting tired of it already!

  34. Nora July 8, 2018 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    Hey Derek,
    You rock! You’ve managed to voice some concerns I’ve had about the state of affairs in the travel blogging and social media world for a while.

    In fact, while I haven’t closed my IG account, I’m currently boycotting the platform. To me, it epitomizes the “glamour shot” – that oh-so-manufactured shot of a woman in a boho sundress or bikini with a floppy hat in front of an impossibly beautiful landscape (or in front of a family of 12 living in a shack. Take your pick). Over and over again.
    This in turn has triggered a wave of readers who ask how they can travel the world for free with their IG account. ACK! Then there’s the follow/unfollow game. None of it feels genuine to me, and IG in particular has not only given me self esteem issues(!), but it makes me feel dirty. Ha! (a rant of my own)

    • Derek July 11, 2018 at 5:21 am - Reply

      Hey Nora – Well said. And that’s the core problem – claiming to promote travel as a valuable endeavor and then leaving people just wanting to travel around as Instagrammers instead. The glamour shots are not real travel but that’s what people see and the Instagrammers are making that seem like the way to travel. Without focusing on the real value of travel, it all becomes a scam. It’s really sad in the end.

      Thanks for ranting too!

  35. SJ Begonja July 8, 2018 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    OH. MY. GOD. YES! I live in a tourist city, and all over the hashtags on IG are pics of half-naked girls and lame photos of backs of heads and people holding hands… vomit. When I see the photos in front of a 2000-year-old Roman Forum, all I can think is ‘who cares about that sundress you are showing off?’

    • Derek July 11, 2018 at 5:22 am - Reply

      Hey SJ – It is a shame what is happening. Hopefully it does change soon!

  36. Kelly Keegan July 8, 2018 at 5:00 am - Reply

    I can’t articulate how grateful I am to find an established voice in travel blogging, with a significant following, that is opening a dialogue about this. It’s so important.

    I’ve been blogging for less than a year, pretty much have zero readership, unless it’s from the reciprocal pod posts, and have been crushed at my lack of awareness of how saturated this niche is with people who do not seem to want to embrace culture at all. Nevermind, have a positive impact or become a better global citizen! Friends and colleagues from my MA in Travel and Nature Writing alike, simply will not read travel blogs or trust it as a forum. They have seen too many dubious, ignorant and downright dangerous images as hooks to read vacuous content.

    There IS enough space online for everyone, but it doesn’t appear that way when incredible bloggers, trying to write about challenging their own privilege or considerate tips for exploring, can simply not be seen because of algorithms that benefit the beautiful, white and wealthy.

    I hope you can keep this dialogue alive and use your platform to challenge your peers about some of their thoughtlessness, it matters.

    Thank you.

    • Derek July 11, 2018 at 5:24 am - Reply

      Hey Kelly – Exactly. The good content is getting pushed away, discouraging those bloggers and influencers from continuing. And the superficial content rises to the top, making it seem like that is how the world and travel actually works. It’s completely backwards.

  37. Clazz July 8, 2018 at 2:01 am - Reply

    I TOTALLY agree with this!! The entire reason I started reading blogs was because not everything was picture-perfect or everything going smoothly. They’re real experiences by real people. There seems to be this obsession with perfection more than ever now, and it’s something I don’t really get. People go to these destinations and don’t even experience them – they just take 300 selfies and then leave and say they’ve been there. When did that become what travel’s about?

    • Derek July 11, 2018 at 5:25 am - Reply

      Hey Clazz – The good news is that this shift in focus is quite recent relatively speaking so I hope that it will shift again as more and more people realize what’s going on.

  38. Kirsten July 7, 2018 at 7:05 pm - Reply

    I have always tried, and I still will try, to be different from this. Because you said it well. It doesn’t help anyone and it doesn’t meaningfully push any conversations forward.

    On the flip side, not in defense of the people doing these things you describe but as a way of being devils advocate to how I think this trend began — I do see how hard it is to make any kind of money from, or be in business in, travel without occasionally posting pictures of ourselves. Often times the only things I can get sponsored will have to include me in the content [or have far less depth than I’d like]. I work hard every day to suggest other forms of sponsored content and often I am successful but not often enough for my taste. My point is that I think it began innocently enough and it’s become a monster that’s difficult to put back in a cage.

    • Derek July 11, 2018 at 5:29 am - Reply

      Hey Kirsten – It’s definitely okay to post photos of ourselves and even in relation to helping bloggers/influencers grow their businesses. It’s just when there is a huge gap between what we claim to be doing with our blog/social media (offering education and value) and what we end up doing in reality (making it all about us and us only). It’s when we promote travel as something so rewarding but then make it seem like the only way to travel is to run around the world taking perfect selfies to earn money and keep on traveling. That’s just not reality.

  39. Anna July 7, 2018 at 3:59 pm - Reply

    While I agree here’s a thing: you cannot win on social media. I had the same exact thoughts as you and this is why I decided to post photos of people and not just me and share thoughts on a war torned place I visited recently. It seemed more appropriate to me than to make it all about me… And guess what? I got a ton of backlash from locals for that. I was told I shouldn’t be showing this place in such a way, I should have made it look beautiful and fashionable as I do with my European photos and say how amazing it is.

    • Derek July 7, 2018 at 5:30 pm - Reply

      Hmmm…I’m pretty sure it’s how you present your travels and what you experience. I’ve been traveling for 18 years and have never had any backlash from locals when I’ve talked about the stories of those I’ve met or the places I’ve visited. I’m not saying that you should show the poverty and only talk about that. I’m saying that being fashionable in a war torn place doesn’t really add much value, right? It might get likes but that doesn’t mean there is value to it. My point is that ‘fashionable’ has nothing to do with the education of travel, which is what most bloggers and influencers claim to be the most important aspect. Surely, there are other things you can talk about after visiting a war torn country that would provide real value to readers and also to those that live there. There are thousands of bloggers out there that have no problem figuring out how to do this 🙂

  40. Sara July 7, 2018 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    THANK YOU. THANK YOU. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I have unfollowed almost every travel account on Social Media that I used to follow. I am so incredibly sick of the useless content. I only read and follow select people now because almost everything out there right now is just so utterly useless and all #sponsored and posed and fake. The other day I saw a photo come up on Instagram, a beautiful photo in NZ of a mountain with a road leading to it (like a road that cars drive on) and this beautiful couple was sitting in the middle of the road… like, straight up chillin’ in the middle of the road on the yellow line, relaxing and taking in the view. Who sits in the middle of the road to relax and look at a mountain?!?!? For some reason, it really bothered me LOL why not walking on the side of the road instead? Haha. Honestly, I came to a boiling point after watching people posing with elaborate fruit plates they will never eat, pretending to eat ridiculous breakfasts on those floating trays in a pool (do people actually eat breakfast in a pool??????) wearing skimpy clothes in conservative countries, using people as props, and as you said, staying in hotels they will never be able to afford. I’m done with all of it. Half of the ‘influencers’ out there unoriginal and just copying the same content they’ve seen but with different inspirational quotes.

    End rant, haha!

    • Derek July 7, 2018 at 5:31 pm - Reply

      Hey Sara – I enjoyed the rant! And yes, it is a mess these days and so disappointing that value and reality are no longer the focus.

      • sunny rebecca morris July 9, 2018 at 9:19 am - Reply

        I think you have it right. We don’t need to boycott Instagram but instead start to slim down who we follow. If we don’t like these beach selfie IG’s, stop following them. I personally love who I have chosen to follow on IG. It gives me great travel tips and inspiration. In turn I try and post what I like to see and hopefully that is thought provoking and respectful of the place I am traveling.

        • Derek July 11, 2018 at 5:14 am - Reply

          Hey Sunny – For sure. If people focus only on the content that they really enjoy and benefit from, that certainly helps.

  41. Ted July 7, 2018 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Ah yes, the Ego Travelers. Social Media, no thanks.

  42. Naman Kumar July 7, 2018 at 5:56 am - Reply

    OMG, you said it. I just started traveling few months back and everywhere I see things which you mentioned. I think most people have started to travel to have fun, sex, party and drink and they call themselves travelers. Also, social media is playing a big role. Everyone wants to show they are having a blast on Instagram.
    Travel is supposed to be the best learning and a spiritual experience. You get to know how people live in different parts of the world, their culture and lifestyle. It makes you open-minded and changes your perspective on life. I feel the true motive/ reason of traveling is going down the gutter and its place is being taken by a very superficial form of traveling. Thanks for the post Derek! 🙂

    • Derek July 7, 2018 at 5:32 pm - Reply

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Naman!!

  43. Eric July 6, 2018 at 6:49 am - Reply

    And you don’t mention one of the things that really bothers me – the lavish breakfast spreads in bed, or by a pool, where there’s far too much food for that Instagrammer and her boyfriend, and where in the couple hours it took to stage the shot, the food likely spoiled anyway. Meanwhile right outside the resort’s doors are people living on a couple hundred dollars a month, and likely people going hungry too. That’s not travel. Travel is ignoring the breakfast buffet and asking the staff where their favorite local hole-in-the-wall is, and then walking over there instead. Not that we’re perfect. We do both. But an unrealistic food-wasting shot to get thousands of likes is never justified.

    • Derek July 7, 2018 at 3:23 am - Reply

      Hey Eric – That’s what happens, it’s all a set these days, and not real. And that’s what’s frustrating, it doesn’t portray the reality of travel and it certainly doesn’t create any meaningful connection with the places and people around us. Thanks for sharing your comment!

  44. Brian July 6, 2018 at 5:47 am - Reply

    Couldn’t agree more Derek – very well put! Travel, nowadays, is seen by many as a right, regardless of where people are in the world or what or who surrounds them. Too many people continue to act as if they were in their hometown/country with little or no respect for the locals, their culture, their troubles or way of life.

    Travel is a privilege and it should be treated that way – the world is not ours to exploit but ours to share and engage with in a responsible way. Finding a ‘for-the’Gram’ moment, shouldn’t be the priority! There’s enough BS in the world nowadays, we need more authentic, real moments and less contrived rubbish.

    • Derek July 6, 2018 at 5:51 am - Reply

      Hey Brian – Exactly. That is what’s happening…it’s about the belief that we have the right to run all over the world for our personal amusement. And that even the idea of travel is all about us. The destinations and the people are being pushed farther into the background, especially if they don’t make for an ideal backdrop.

  45. Neill Kramer July 6, 2018 at 4:15 am - Reply

    I started traveling in the seventies and social media was called cafes. In Africa there was the famous Thorn Tree where people posted paper notes on the tree to try and catch a ride going through a game park.

    I’ve been following your blog and I appreciate your noble sentiments. Yes you’ve pointed out a very sad development but I’d try to emotionally try and categorize it as tourist activity and not traveling. They’re not doing what you do.

  46. Carola July 6, 2018 at 3:41 am - Reply

    Dear Earl,
    “[…]while standing on the streets of an impoverished, war-torn village in Africa”
    While I agree with the sentiment of this post, to me you have undercut your whole argument about ‘travel as a learning experience’ with this imagery. It’s lazy to pull up Africa as a war-torn country whenever we want to show poverty. Wouldn’t you agree that pretty much none of the photos you see and that so enrage you was taken in a ‘war-torn African village’? Why am I so certain of that? Because the ‘influencers’ you are talking about don’t go to countries with raging wars, they hardly ever go to Africa outside ‘safari-country’ anyways. And how many countries in Africa had wars end (!) in the last 5 or 10 years? None. So no, those photos aren’t taken in “impoverished, war-torn villages in Africa” – and you know it, you just couldn’t be bothered to look for better imagery to set the scene for your post.

    Happy continued travels from one travel blogger seeking to truly learn about the world to the other!

    Kind regards,

    • Derek July 6, 2018 at 4:14 am - Reply

      Hey Carola – Actually, it wasn’t laziness at all. I wrote this post after seeing one of these very photos in a war-torn, impoverished African village and the influencer only mentioned the history/devastation in a short IG caption. So my words come from the direct result of exactly what I saw, and it’s not the first time. The more ‘exotic’ sounding the location, the better, especially when trying to give the idea that you’re traveling for ‘education’ purposes.

      Also, Sudan, Libya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo have all had major conflicts or wars end in the past 10 years. So it’s a few more than ‘none’ 🙂

  47. Kavita Favelle July 6, 2018 at 3:23 am - Reply

    I’ve despaired too over the rise of travel photography for social media being relegated to a model shoot, where “influencers” not only pose in front of whatever scene is incidentally their location for the day, but they bring along a change of outfits and make-up and helpers to make sure they look perfect. I’ve heard of those who select the colour of their clothes ahead of the trip to match them to the locations they’ll be. Whilst of course, everyone is free to do things how they like, that doesn’t stop me being sad about it.
    I also think many blogs now seem to think that they should simply reproduce the travel guides, top ten sites to see at X, travel essentials for Y kind of stuff. But, honestly, I can get that kind of stuff from every bloody tourist information website for a destination, or from said old-fashioned travel guide books (not that I’ve used one of those for years). What I want from a blog is to see the personality and travel-style of that writer shining out, enough that I can identify that they travel in the same way I do, and value the same kinds of experiences as I do, so that I know when I take any of their recommendations, that they will be great for me. My blog is in it’s 10th year. Traffic isn’t high, but it’s well-established nonetheless, and what I love is that readers say it feels like they are there with me, and that they get my personal perspective on it. I’m not trying to write for a magazine, I’m sharing a deliberately personal account along with personal reactions, personal opinions and personal recommendations. And no photos of me in floaty dresses in sight!

    • Derek July 6, 2018 at 4:03 am - Reply

      Hey Kavita – I’m okay with people taking photo shoots, just not when they claim to really be traveling and learning and interacting and sharing with the people and places around them but showing none of that on their blog or social media. And yes, I think a big part of why people are no longer reading travel blogs is indeed because the content is regurgitated information or really not useful at all.

  48. Jamie Paddock July 6, 2018 at 1:59 am - Reply

    Derek, I couldn’t have said it better myself!! I don’t know what’s happened with the world but it needs to stop! All of the thoughts going through my head have been crafted beautifully into this article! Cheers

    • Derek July 6, 2018 at 4:01 am - Reply

      Thanks for reading Jamie and let’s hope the social media path we’re on turns around soon!

  49. Rachel Heller July 6, 2018 at 1:12 am - Reply

    My thoughts exactly! I’ve spoken to some of these Instagrammers who put themselves front and center in Every. Single. Picture. and asked them why. Invariably I get the same response: “That’s what my followers want to see. The photos of me get lots more likes!” (Who’s liking these photos, do you suppose?)
    So then I asked, “What will you do when you get older and ugly (because you will; we all do)?” And they look very puzzled and answer something like “I’ll diversify,” or “I’ll find other income streams.” Ugh.

    • Derek July 6, 2018 at 4:00 am - Reply

      Hey Rachel – That’s the thing. It’s not really what the audience wants, especially since, in many cases, the likes and even IG comments are automatic bots and not coming from real people. The real reason seems to be that they don’t have anything else to share.

  50. Jessica July 5, 2018 at 10:54 pm - Reply

    Thanks so much for writing this, Derek. This absolutely needed to be said and I’m so glad that someone as highly respected as you in the travel blogging community is calling it out. I do hope that it will cause others to stop and reflect on this “trend.”

    I wrote a somewhat similar rant earlier this year about the behaviour of foreign tourists and influencers in Japan, where I’m based. I coined what’s going on here as “amusement park syndrome” because many people treat Japan as one big amusement park or anime set for their own enjoyment. Many people have stopped connecting their actions with the real lives of the people who live here. It’s not quite the same as photographing yourself in a flowy dress in a slum, but it takes on the same tone-deaf approach in which there is complete lack of awareness or care for what’s going on around you.

    With all the talk about Instagram and influencers recently, I do hope that this is the start of a new era in travel blogging, in which we get back to the basics and the rawness of what inspired us to start doing all of this in the first place. A sweaty shot on a packed bus will always get me more excited about travel than a picture-perfect photo shoot with a random caption that gives me little to no real travel advice.

    I really thank and admire you for being one of the few who hasn’t strayed from what is important to them and I thoroughly look forward to continuing to follow your adventures.

    • Derek July 6, 2018 at 3:58 am - Reply

      Hey Jessica – Thank you for sharing that and yes, I think that the overall issue is the same – the loss of that connection between us and those around us, as you said. Once we don’t care about or choose to ignore reality, travel loses its meaning very quickly. And I also hope that the focus changes soon enough. Part of me feels that it will have to change or else we’ll be getting no value whatsoever from the online travel world.

  51. grasya July 5, 2018 at 10:16 pm - Reply

    i try not to put so much selfies on my blogs coz i’m not that self centered.. i also paint a more realisting point of view so readers will see the non glamorous side of travel.. i hope i didn’t discourage them that much though

  52. Mariellen Ward July 5, 2018 at 10:10 pm - Reply

    Thanks so much for writing this Derek, it really needs to be said and you’ve made so many good points. But I especially liked this one: “The world is not a movie set or a playground for us to stomp all over for our selfish desires just because we’re privileged enough to afford plane tickets.” This social media trend, of taking the perfect shot, and using the destination simply as a location, a backdrop, is so opposite of all the things I love about travel too — about having authentic experiences, about letting travel change you, about discovering and respecting a new culture. As a female travel blogger who’s been in it for 12 years, I’ve also seen the rise of this trend and the way it has seemed to overtake the field, creating the “travel influencer.” It’s been very hard to be side-lined by it as I am not 20-something, and don’t have any desire to spend the majority of my travel time staging fake photos. I don’t know the answer, except to keep doing what I love. And hopefully more and more people will suffer “fake fatigue” and start to discover the bloggers who travel for the love of it.

    • Derek July 6, 2018 at 4:23 am - Reply

      Hey Mariellen – That seems to be the right approach, keep doing what you love and believe in and let’s hope that soon enough the focus of social media goes through a big shift!

  53. Regine Beliard July 5, 2018 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    So well said!!! Thank you for sharing!!!

  54. Betty July 5, 2018 at 10:34 am - Reply

    well said, so many travel blogs are just about what the writer is getting paid to wear/model in the location and so little is shown of the people who actually live in the remote destinations they whizz through and tick off their list of ‘done it’. I enjoy your blog because you do keep it real. thanks. Could I also add that the recent introduction of drones could ruin many a golden moment. In a lovely remote location in Sapa, Vietnam, recently my afternoon at the eco lodge getting in tune with nature was totally ruined by some ignorant tourists taking selfies from the drone they had following them everywhere to take selfies en masse was astoundingly inconsiderate (noise being the least of it), the invasion of privacy, disrespect for people who live and work in the location and downright vanity was astounding, I hope they will soon be banned!

    • Derek July 5, 2018 at 12:49 pm - Reply

      Hey Betty – Thanks for that! And the drone one is an interesting topic too. That’s added an entirely new dimension to the selfie as it allows people to get even more photos of themselves from different vantage points. Of course, not everyone uses them for that purpose but I have seen exactly what you’re talking about. I think they will start to be banned more and more in the relatively near future.

    • Rafael July 6, 2018 at 12:20 am - Reply

      Betty i fully agree with you. stupid selfies only shows ignorans. Yes this should be banned. What do this tourist do when they arrive home with 10,000 photos?

  55. Rosalee and Steve July 5, 2018 at 10:01 am - Reply

    arggg, we’ve been travelling nearly a year now and it honestly makes my blood boil to see these vacuous vain ignorant fools. What wasted opportunity, in the years to come they will say, yes I went xxx but won’t be able to recall a thing about it. We call them AAMs – all about me. (BTW, we’re now in Romania).. just about to start a road trip around Transilvania, where I won’t be draping myself over monuments and looking wistfully into the middle distance.

    • Derek July 5, 2018 at 12:47 pm - Reply

      Hey Rosalee and Steve – I know what you mean. The problem is that it’s just easier to focus on themselves, especially if there isn’t any other kind of value they can add. As for Romania, let me know if you have any questions. I know that country very, very well!

  56. Eric Cohen July 5, 2018 at 9:11 am - Reply

    Bravo good sir. The superficiality of social media and Instagram rears its ugly head time and time again. Instead of the vacation and experience, it’s about creating this perfect vision of envy that is never achievable. Kudos to you for highlighting this ridiculous trend and making travel about what it should really be about. Keep up the great work!

    • Derek July 5, 2018 at 12:46 pm - Reply

      Hey Eric – That’s the issue, right there. What’s being promoted is not reality, of either the destination, the travel lifestyle or what can be achieved. Let’s hope it changes soon!

  57. Cherryl Lim July 4, 2018 at 10:57 pm - Reply

    You are one of the first travel blogger that I have followed and you’ve kept everything simple and meaningful until today. Continue to be true wherever you can!

    • Derek July 5, 2018 at 3:10 am - Reply

      Thank you for that Cherryl and that’s definitely the plan!

  58. JB July 4, 2018 at 10:14 pm - Reply

    This pretty much sums up why Instagram is my least favorite social media platform. I love this article Derek. It’s honest and on point, and it’s something that needed to be said. I wish I could express myself half as well as you do.

    • Derek July 5, 2018 at 3:10 am - Reply

      Hey JB – Thanks for reading it. I thought it was something that should be talked about and am glad to see others agree.

  59. Kate Dennison July 4, 2018 at 9:41 pm - Reply

    Genuinely love this and wholeheartedly agree with you. Full heart, the whole thing, 100%. I work and travel remotely and have spent far too long trying to get my insta perfect, hide my imperfections, filter away the truth because people don’t seem to want it. No more. You have genuinely just inspired me to go back to full honesty where I belong. And where all of us belong.

    Thanks Earl

    Kate x

    • Derek July 5, 2018 at 3:11 am - Reply

      Hey Kate – That’s awesome and how it should be! Honesty will always win out in the end. That’s where the value is and no matter what the trend might be on social media, it will come down to value when all is said and done.

  60. Traci Tunbridge July 4, 2018 at 7:34 pm - Reply

    Completely agree with you Derek – I never have instaworthy photos as I’m usually a hot sweaty mess from hiking and experiencing my surroundings rather than taking beauty shots, thats what travel is about for me – interacting with the locals and living different experiences not swanning around in pretty dresses getting the perfect shot but each to their own I guess. Love your blogs and hope to join one of your tours one day.

    • Derek July 5, 2018 at 3:13 am - Reply

      Hey Traci – Looking forward to having you join one of the trips when you can! And if that’s what travel is to you, that’s what should be shared. Hot sweaty mess is as real as it gets!

  61. Paul July 4, 2018 at 7:26 pm - Reply

    So true Earl. This struck me when Anthony Bourdain recently passed. So many travel bloggers/Instagrammers cite him as a reference yet have no real interest in the sort of travel he epitomized. It’s been sad seeing things evolve over the years and seeing things become so fake. We all (myself included) need to make a real effort to be better travel bloggers, and to get the balance of what we share with others right.

    Sadly it doesn’t seem to be what people want which is quite disheartening. The most popular content on my website are the top 10 lists of best places to eat, drink etc in various cities (which are great lists BTW), but the pieces I’m most proud of, that take me several days to write and tell a real story, often languish with very little traffic.

    If we’re not sharing real stories though, what’s the point?

    • Derek July 5, 2018 at 3:16 am - Reply

      Hey Paul – I was thinking the same about his passing and travel style. If it’s cool to say you believe in his style, then people will say it, regardless of whether or not it’s true. And it’s hard to be a better blogger, to find the energy to put in the effort required each day to provide real value and get that value out there. I understand why others choose another path. It’s easier than offering real value, simple as that.

      But I’m sure it will change. Such posts that are catchy or don’t provide as much value and authenticity will eventually be pushed away in favor of the good stuff. If it doesn’t, our brains will dull to the point that things will really get scary.

  62. Jim July 4, 2018 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    Well said.

  63. Belinda July 4, 2018 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from someone handling your rant for you! So thanks for that.

    In order to not get too negative or cynical on the subject, I have to believe deep down that a social media reckoning is on the way. We’ve seen it starting, but brands have been slow to catch on, probably because they too are caught in the same sink hole. I have competitors who routinely surge ahead of my own business in social media standing – appearing to be massively successful, trendy stores where all the hipsters hang. And then 2 years later, the public seems stunned when they go bankrupt. There was never a business, there was only ever an image.

    These “influencers” are following the same path. The truth is, if you’re going to play the fame game, there is always someone prettier, richer, fitter, etc coming up behind you. If your only currency is off the shoulder flowy dresses in tropical locales, I guarantee there is some 16 year old biting at your heals, ready to take you down with a new dress and a better palm tree.

    Without content, without educating the readership, without reality, there is simply no reason to exist. So after awhile, they don’t. (But for the 2 years you have to put up with their nonsense waiting for them to fizzle, the pain is real.) Thanks for fighting the good fight! 😉

    • Derek July 5, 2018 at 3:18 am - Reply

      Hey Belinda – You said it all very well. I also feel that a social media reckoning is just around the corner. And when someone doesn’t have something of value to offer, the next best thing is to pretend!

  64. Dorene July 4, 2018 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your words, I wholeheartedly agree. I struggle alot with travel blogging to keep it as a passion to share and learn about the world and the transformation on my life – while also making a living to keep on doing it. The sad part is the most thoughtful story telling, learning focused posts are usually the least read and the top 10 lists are what makes the numbers, and hot “look at me photos” get the most attention (and its deflating for sure) – definitely missing the learning, the transformation, the cultural experiences. I’ve tried to stop caring and putting out the words and photos I want to see in the world!

    • Derek July 5, 2018 at 3:21 am - Reply

      Hey Dorene – Sure, the top 10 lists do make the numbers but those numbers are short term. It’s the real value that creates the engagement and loyalty and real connections with those that come upon our blogs. And in the end, that’s far more important than the quick spike in traffic from top 10 posts.

  65. Ryan Biddulph July 4, 2018 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    I like this Derek because I see it from 2 perspectives.

    #1 – Make it about the location sometimes, not you.

    #2 – Tell the rest of the story, meaning, feel free to delve into some challenging aspects locals face but more than anything, beware assuming these folks are struggling. This is a common Western error; assuming someone who has little money or possessions is unhappy because you would reject/fight that existence, while the local actually accepts the life and is quite happy.

    Example; when house sitting in Bali, we paid staff. One staff member got paid about $150 per month. She owned a tiny little home, 3 cows, 20 chickens, and a few pieces of clothing. To me and you, she appeared to be facing many challenges, and even struggles, being in poverty by our eyes. Yet she was the happiest person I met because she loved her life the way it was.

    Thanks for the great share dude.

    • Derek July 5, 2018 at 3:24 am - Reply

      Hey Ryan – I think as long as we keep it real, and try to show the rawness of travel instead of only the perfect, heavily filtered idea of travel, that’s how we offer value. If we’re not traveling to connect with the places we visit, then we shouldn’t be promoting the benefits of those connections.

      With your example, if we talk about those encounters, what we learn, the people involved and so on, that’s how we really share the beauty of travel.

  66. Ezekiel Stear July 4, 2018 at 2:13 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Earl for this awesome blog. The traveling world needs these reminders. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. “Life’s most pressing question is, what are you doing for others?” That is the name of the game. Travel should build empathy in all of its participants. Our technology, our bling, and our ease of movement can make us blind and “tone deaf” as you say to the real needs of others.

    • Derek July 5, 2018 at 3:27 am - Reply

      Hey Ezekiel – That’s a solid quote and definitely applies here. Sadly, I’d imagine that’s a hard question to answer for many following the filtered social media route with their travels. If we’re not paying attention while we travel, if we’re not trying to learn about the world, we’re not only missing out on a huge opportunity but we’re giving the wrong impression to others about what travel really means.

  67. Mark July 4, 2018 at 1:18 pm - Reply

    Way to go Earl, you always have the ability to cut to the chase, so elequieny. I have always admired your relaxed easygoing honesty!!
    It would be really nice if every travel blogger would adopt a fraction of what you do and stand for. I to have stopped reading many travel blogs as waaaay to many of them appear to be about advertising and profits and I hate the way they regurgitate or link other info. (Thanks to you, I’ll be back in India in the New Year)

    • Derek July 5, 2018 at 3:28 am - Reply

      Hey Mark – It’s a shame that so many people are no longer reading travel blogs but I understand why. If you don’t find value, what’s the point? And glad to hear you’ll be back in India. Sounds like you’re addicted to that country by now!

  68. Claus Andersen July 4, 2018 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    I totally agree. I get so annoyed when I see travelers treating a country like a place that just has to serve as an exotic backdrop for their holiday photos. Just like when people travel half the way around the world, only to hang out with friends from home and the people who inhabit the country they visit are just someone serving them drinks, but not someone they actually talk to, other than when they ask for another drink.

    • Derek July 5, 2018 at 3:29 am - Reply

      Hey Claus – That lack of connection can be frustrating for sure. It’s that entitled, playground mentality that unfortunately seems to be taking over. Keep doing what you’re doing Claus and looking forward to meeting up again somewhere!

    • Rafael July 6, 2018 at 12:45 am - Reply

      Great article. It is dificult to agree in every topic but this time I did it. Thanks

  69. Mia Gullett July 4, 2018 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    Hey Earl! Thank you for your constant reality. It’s refreshing to hear about the truth to travel. I just started a blog and you are for sure one of the people that I read for inspiration and just out of interest. Can’t wait to read more from you!

    • Derek July 4, 2018 at 12:41 pm - Reply

      Thanks for that Mia and just keep being real with your blog. That’s the most important thing because, while the nice photos and likes might look good now, it’s far better to offer some value in my opinion. You’ll be rewarded in the end!

  70. Bob Bales July 4, 2018 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    I agree wholeheartedly, I have been complaining about this for awhile. Unfortunately the trend has been to buy a lot of instagram followers, advertise yourself as an “influencer” and post garbage. But I think a lot of brands have to take responsibility for this since a lot of them want this type of exposre. Show the “young beautiful people” in an idyllic setting and the tourists will come.

    • Derek July 4, 2018 at 12:42 pm - Reply

      Hey Bob – You’re right about that. It’s interesting how many people have huge followings on social media, but when they post, it’s clear that they are mostly bots and not real followers. But companies don’t see it and they end up paying up for exposure when there really isn’t much authentic exposure to be hand. Crazy stuff!

  71. Wendy Ashworth July 4, 2018 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    Wow, Derek…your message has me a fair bit emotional today. You remain one of my greatest inspirations for going down the path of travel writing. Authentic human connection, shared moments, delightful surprises, helping how you can, shedding light on the unfamiliar – these are the themes I equate with your work. I found myself toiling over what I want my message to be as a travel writer/blogger just before reading your post – as I am only at the beginning. I’m not in my twenties, I do not look “hot” in a swimsuit, and I fit in better with Bedouins than fashionistas. However, I do have a message to share regarding travel, and I’m going to do it my way – as authentically as possible. Filters serve a purpose no doubt, but the question you inspire within me today (and it’s a big one), is what do I want mine to show the world?
    In Gratitude,

    • Derek July 4, 2018 at 12:44 pm - Reply

      Hey Wendy – Do it your way, that’s exactly how it should be done. Seems like your message will be well received if it’s based on authenticity!

  72. Linda July 4, 2018 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    I was trying to think of how to describe you to someone. Why I wait to travel India with you. This email blog sums it up. Thus why – I wait to travel India through your eyes.
    You have put in words my thoughts- again! Thank you for opening our eyes to value people, all people.

    • Derek July 4, 2018 at 12:43 pm - Reply

      Hey Linda – It will happen, I promise you! And I look forward to it equally as much, believe me!

  73. Nicholas. B. Robson July 4, 2018 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Hi Earl,

    How about a tours specific to beneficial works being done in Less Developed Countries (LDC’s) or Small Island Devloping States (SIDS).
    Those could be focused on the effects of climate change on SIDS in the Pacific, of the devastation wrought by hurricanes in the Caribbean in 2017.
    There could also be one on the benefits of Renewable Energy for LDC’s, which could focus on India.

    If necessary I could connect you with some useful colleagues in some of these countries.

    With Kind Regards,

    Nick Robson

    • Derek July 4, 2018 at 11:55 am - Reply

      Hey Nick – Sound interesting. Feel free to send me an email with some connects as I’m always open to exploring new ideas.

  74. [email protected] July 4, 2018 at 11:39 am - Reply

    It’s true. But it doesn’t come from a selfish place. The sad truth is that travel bloggers need to get more engagement in order to find their travel – and it’s not lucrative for most anyway. And the pictures of bloggers themselves in envy-inducing situations are what get more likes, always. Instagram does not like negativity. When I’ve posted about the struggles of a place or country, it’s ignored. Or worse, someone gets offended that I even mentioned corruption, or environmental degradation, even if I sandwiched it between praise for for the people I met. I try to educate my readers, but vapidity and simpleminded inspirational influencers win the game. I think it’s because the kind of people who give you a lot of enthusiastic engagement are young, impressionable girls.

    • Derek July 4, 2018 at 11:43 am - Reply

      I agree with you, there is definitely a part of it that is just how blogging works. In my mind, it’s so disappointing that this is what it’s turned into. Those that have no desire to offer real value, get the likes and attention while, like you said, those trying to offer value, have a more difficult path to follow. It’s quite warped.

  75. Chris Wynter July 4, 2018 at 11:37 am - Reply

    Ooohhh, that’s a great pose, Earl! ;D

    • Derek July 4, 2018 at 11:38 am - Reply

      I nailed that one for sure! 🙂

  76. Michele Wallace July 4, 2018 at 11:32 am - Reply

    My initial reaction to the photo preview was… “what on earth is he doing…? that’s so not like him”

    And I was right 🙂 Thank you for putting this out there! <3

    • Derek July 4, 2018 at 11:39 am - Reply

      Haha…definitely not my style. I remember having my girlfriend take that photo of me in the Seychelles last year, thinking that one day I might write this post 🙂

  77. Maxine helfman July 4, 2018 at 11:26 am - Reply

    Thank you!!!!! And that’s what makes your trips extraordinary.

    • Derek July 4, 2018 at 11:37 am - Reply

      Thanks for reading Max!!

  78. Cristel G. July 4, 2018 at 11:26 am - Reply

    Great insights. I have to admit though that when I was in my early 20s traveling thru Europe, I was not aware of anything but my own enjoyment of whatever I was seeing. I think this other-than-self awareness comes with age and experience. Some lucky young people learn it early by participating in mission trips or being the child of an expat, but most folks are just caught up in themselves.
    How has your perception of travel changed over the years? Was there a trip you took as a younger person that you wish you could re-do to experience it with older, more open eyes?

    • Derek July 4, 2018 at 11:35 am - Reply

      Hey Cristel – It’s an interesting point you make. I guess my issue is when the person, regardless of age, clearly states that they are traveling to learn and educate and that their goal is to promote the benefits of travel online and to encourage others to enjoy those benefits. But then they don’t do any of that and instead just focus on themselves because that’s what gets them the likes and the money. Sure, plenty of people learn over time, with age, I agree with that. But with the travel influencers that are creating business around their travels, they know exactly what they’re doing.

      As for me, the only reason I’m traveling after 19 years is because, back in 1999, during my first solo trip, I could not believe how much I had learned about the world in such a short period of time. I couldn’t believe how many new people I was meeting and how valuable those interactions were. If it was about myself or just seeing the sights, I would have finished by first trip (it was supposed to be for 3 months in SE Asia), gone home and started my career. But instead, I kept on traveling for 19 years because I was addicted to the education.

      When I was 18 I went to Spain with a school group and we were only interested in drinking and being ‘cool’ (which we definitely were not!) but once I got out there into the world after university, it was the education that always attracted me to travel.

      I definitely understand what you’re saying though and it makes perfect sense. I just have an issue when the person does know what they’re doing or claims to be doing something that they’re clearly not, such as promoting the education of travel without actually trying to learn themselves.

      I appreciate you sharing your comment!

  79. Lori July 4, 2018 at 11:20 am - Reply

    Thank you! This is wonderful and needs to be heard, especially in the world today.

    • Derek July 4, 2018 at 11:37 am - Reply

      I appreciate you reading Lori!

  80. Riccardo July 4, 2018 at 11:06 am - Reply

    Very well said. This post reflects so much my own idea, which I’ve been trying to express for a while without finding the right words. Thank you Derek!

    • Derek July 4, 2018 at 11:37 am - Reply

      Thanks for commenting Riccardo!

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