Travel and social media

A Rant About Travel, Awareness and Social Media

Derek Perspectives 113 Comments

Travel and social media

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 Now, that focus has simply been replaced by the heavily filtered ‘beauty’ of our ourselves.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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Comments 113

  1. 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. 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.

  3. 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.

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      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.

  4. 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.

    Best,
    Carrie

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      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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

  6. 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.

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      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.

  7. 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.

    1. 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.

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      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.

  8. 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…

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  9. 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.

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  10. 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.

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      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!

  11. 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)

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      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!

  12. 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?’

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  13. 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.

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      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.

  14. 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?

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      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.

  15. 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.

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      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.

  16. 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.

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      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 🙂

  17. 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!

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      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.

      1. 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.

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  18. 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! 🙂

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  19. 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.

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      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!

  20. 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.

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      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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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,
    Carola

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      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’ 🙂

  23. 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!

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      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.

  24. 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

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  25. 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.

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      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.

  26. 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.

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      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.

  27. 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

  28. 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.

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      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!

  29. 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!

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      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.

    2. 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?

  30. 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.

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      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!

  31. 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!

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      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!

  32. 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!

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  33. 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.

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  34. 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

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      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.

  35. 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.

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      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!

  36. 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?

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      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.

  37. 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! 😉

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      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!

  38. 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!

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      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.

  39. 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.

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      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.

  40. 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.

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      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.

  41. 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)

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      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!

  42. 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.

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      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!

  43. 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!

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      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!

  44. 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.

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      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!

  45. 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,
    Wendy

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      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!

  46. 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.

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  47. 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

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  48. 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.

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      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.

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  49. 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

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      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 🙂

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  50. 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?

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      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!

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  51. 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!

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