10 Rules for Travel Bloggers
Blogging is such a funny field. I mean, it’s evolved into its own industry since I opened up my blogspot account in high school. Travel is a relatively newer niche in the industry, and with it comes a lot of growing pains. When anyone can start a blog, you’re going to get a really mixed bag.
Not everyone is aware of what’s out there when they start blogging, and not everyone takes the time to do their research. Heck, I’m not even 100% on top of that game. No one is. However, as this industry evolves, and I constantly meet new people, I’ve learned a thing or two. If you plan on having any sort of influence or care a fiddle about the world in which you want to explore, then you should 100% abide by these rules for travel bloggers.
- How to Start a Blog
- For a great blogging course, check out Blog Boost and see when it runs next* (aff link).
- My PSA on Instagram
10 Rules for Travel Bloggers
10. Do not promote unethical attractions.
I get it. We’ve all mistakenly participated in these attractions, and it sucks when we find out they’re unethical. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to post photos from that event.
I went to Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, thinking it was a sanctuary. It wasn’t. However, you will never see me post a single tiger picture of my time there or recommend it to future travelers. At best you look ignorant, and if you’re positioning yourself as a travel blogger, that discredits you. At worse, you look like an asshole. *cough* Every Instagrammer with dreamy photos of Pinnawala in Sri Lanka *cough*
9. Be mindful of the words you put out on the interwebs.
You have a duty to be purposeful with your words. I’m not saying you need to be polite 24/7 – I’ve said things, and I’ll stand by them even if they offend someone. Why? I believe in what I said. Obviously, if I learn a new viewpoint and maybe don’t believe what I said anymore, I’ll also talk about that. However, making offhand, offensive jokes… NO. Just no. And yes, I’m referring to that #whenasiansattack incident. Don’t be dumb.
8. Don’t deceive your readers.
If you had a crazy time, don’t just show your readers the few pretty shots you got and pretend it was a dreamy escape. That’s insanely misleading and could harm your reputation later if your readers try to repeat your experiences and realize how bad it was.
Same with reviews. If things were not hunky-dory, say so! You don’t have to be rude about it, but you have to be honest. And if you are criticizing, make sure you back it up with concrete reasons and explanations.
** That Backpacker has a really good article about her Mekong Delta experience as an example.
7. Seriously don’t post that picture of you riding an elephant.
Going back to #10, I need to reiterate this because it makes my blood boil when I see this from travel bloggers. Of all the unethical attractions, this is the most notorious, and you frankly look willfully stupid if you’re still posing pictures of you on top of one. I came across a site hoping to contact and work with them, but when I went to the About page, I noticed they had a photo of them riding an elephant.
Yup, nope. Bye. RIDING ELEPHANTS IS NOT OKAY. IT’S INSANELY HARMFUL, AND THERE’S A TON OF EVIDENCE TO BACK THIS UP. OF ALL THE UNETHICAL ANIMAL ATTRACTIONS, THIS IS ARGUABLY THE MOST INFAMOUS.
**Expert Vagabond has an excellent article detailing what he learned, and I highly recommend you read it if you want to know more.
6. Be wary of promoting voluntourism.
I’m not saying all volunteer work abroad is bad, absolutely not. But, yeah, those two weeks you spent with some cute kids of a different ethnicity… That did nothing but make you feel good about yourself. You can talk to teachers or people who’ve been in these places long term about how silly it is, and how, at worst, it gives kids attachment issues.
I mean, picture this. Some foreign person drops into your life, gives you all the stuff you love, and a cute bracelet. They’re smiley, and they treat you like you’re the cutest thing on the planet. Then they and leave, you never hear from them again. And this happens again and again and again. That’s pretty traumatizing for even the most resilient personality!
5. Disclose. Disclose. Disclose.
This is so freaking important, and I’m appalled at how easily so many bloggers get away with it. Big name, millions of followers, and they get away with not disclosing properly. If you stay at a hotel for free in exchange for some social media posts, those suckers better note it. It’s illegal not to.
4. Don’t sell out.
If you start out using Nikon and switch to Canon because they offered you a deal… That’s selling out. I haven’t seen anyone do this exactly, but it’s an easy example. (Heck if you’re really savvy, leverage it into a deal with Nikon!) If you’re a budget travel blogger, don’t start staying in $200/night hotels. That’s selling out. There’s one fashion blogger I can think of who used to be very picky with her clothes, chatting about what she looks for in quality and fit… Now she’s shilling for cheap China brands like Shein… Yeah, okay.
When I say sell out, I don’t mean it’s not okay to monetize, work with new brands, or change up your business strategy. If you started out as a budget blogger, but now you’re at a place where you can splurge on better hotel rooms or your readers are more interested in luxury travel, then go for the rebrand. But don’t post about how careful you are with money one day and then next talk about what a great deal a $1,000/night room is because you got it for free.
3. Don’t use other travel bloggers.
Using people is not cool. Just because x, y, z has 50,000 followers and is able to get sweet hotel deals, it’s not okay to latch on and expect her or him to bring you along for the ride just because you’re acquaintances. And it’s even less cool to expect her or him to contribute to your media kit for a hotel and get mad when s/he doesn’t want to. And, it’s even less cool to then passively aggressively ignore them. Not cool. Not cool at all.
I find you reap what you sow in this industry, and people talk. Word gets around who’s not a nice person pretty quickly.
2. Don’t run yourself into debt trying to do this.
Yeah, travel blogging can feel like keeping up with the Jones’s sometimes. It’s important to not run up your credit card debt or take out loans or freeload off of people so you can do so. Travel is amazing, but if you need to work or the money just isn’t there, don’t go to extremes to try and make it happen. Patience.
1. Above all, be authentic.
Be you, because if you’re putting a character on for your blog it only gets more exhausting keeping that facade up as your blog and readership grows. Here are some ways to be authentic:
- Don’t photoshop yourself. If you’re size 10, don’t shave your sides away until you look like a size 2.
- Write in your voice.
- Be yourself in real life.
What are some of your rules for travel bloggers? It’s always a bummer when I see my favorites (travel or otherwise) making these major faux pas.
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Wonderful post Samantha! It’s so important for bloggers to use their platform in an ethical way. Authentic bloggers are always the most fun to follow :)
Thanks so much, Ellen :) And they really are!
I love this post haha. I learned a few things as a new travel blogger, as well. I guess ignorance is bliss, because I was never aware of the unethical animal attractions. I was definitely planning on visiting a tiger sanctuary and taking many pictures on my future trip to Thailand, but after the research I just did, nooo can do. I really like your honesty and sass in your posts! I’m looking forward to your future posts. Great site!
Haha thank you :D Right? I only learned after about the tiger “sanctuaries” and felt absolutely AWFUL, which is why I find it so important to spread the word about them!
I really love this post Sam (and you used the CGScreative photo so beautifully!).
I think it’s so important to make people aware of some of the darker sides of traveling, because it’s not all sunshine and rainbows and everyone is out to make money from tourists unfortunately.
Thanks Roxy! (Haha I saw the picture and thought it’d be perfect!). And yes, definitely. I think just being more aware will help create sustainable travel over all!
Great post, Sam! I agree with everything esp. #5 — a few of the “famous” social influencers I followed on IG did this. Just uploading pretty photos but not disclosing their stay was sponsored for. Not fair for the sponsors, right?
Right?! Not fair to the sponsors, and quite deceiving to the readers! Especially if your demographics are teens-to younger adults. We’ve grown up with this get rich young influence (TV, Youtube, etc) that we may not even realize, “No that blogger isn’t paying $500 a night for this hotel, they’re getting it for free!”
This is serious stuff… travel blogging and earning/getting deals out of it:-)… I’m not into this. My blog earns in a different way and not that much so I’m cool about what I read. This blog post will make me more conscious of the blogs I read rather than the photos I see. Thanks.
Of course! Yeah it wasn’t until I started getting into the business of blogging that I realized everything (so of course, any of my friends who may read a post in passing will definitely not notice)! Blogging itself is still so new and it blurs the line between business and personal, so it’s all new territory really for everyone!
I can see you’re really passionate about animal rights and we’ve all been prey to animal tourism before. I like how you have your own opinion, but it came off very strong to me. Good post.
Yup! I definitely am, and I definitely have been! It was the worst when I found out Tiger Kingdom wasn’t a sanctuary at all :( I had even looked on tripadvisor multiple times to read about how people were skeptical but the tigers seemed fine. Then when I did more research in writing up a post about everything, I found out they really are drugged :/. I think that’s why as bloggers it’s important for us to spread the word about bad animal tourism!
Very useful tips, maybe some of them may flutter some feathers, but you have your own opinion and voice. I like your graphic about animal attractions to avoid – some of them I had no idea were that bad. Thank you for the honesty and great info!
Thanks so much for the read! Yeah, I think that’s always important to remember with blog reading, it really is all the blogger’s opinion at the end of the day! I can back it up with examples and outside information, but at the end of the day it’s still my interpretation of what I see :) And thank you on the graphic! I didn’t know about some of them at all when I first started traveling and even made the sad mistake of participating in some :/ That’s why I think it’s SO important to spread awareness (and as bloggers we do have that platform, even if it’s just our mom and dads reading our blogs at first!) so that others don’t make the same mistakes.
These are great tips Sam, particularly about the voluntourism and unethical attractions! My first big trip away was volunteering in Kenya. At the time I didn’t think there could be anything bad about it but, in hindsight, I probably did much more harm than good. I absolutely hate elephant pics too! Touching elephants, riding elephants, elephant baths. Just no! A picture of an elephant on safari, ok! But definitely not riding elephants!
Thanks Nicole! To be fair I think touching and the baths are okay (at least that’s what it seems from Elephant Nature Park, which has a good reputation for caring for elephants in Thailand, but if it’s not let me know!), but it’s the riding that’s insanely detrimental. And it’s so obvious now!
Great tips, Noted! As for me, I don’t exactly have rules rules when I write about my travels in Korea. I agree with what you said here but I guess for me, just being authentic is enough. To write with my own voice, telling people what exactly are my experience in the place, sharing my thoughts about the culture, and citing the positive and also the negative sides are the things I put into consideration when I write about my trips. Thanks for sharing the rules, it will come in handy in the future.
Hi! Thanks for reading :) Being authentic is definitely enough. However, that’s quite broad, no? I’d argue most of these rules fall under that.
I agree with most of these points. As far as selling out goes, I’m not too sure what constitutes as such. I think it’s fine if people get sponsorships as long as they’re always disclosing. Plus, if you’re a Nikon user but Canon gives you a freebie or discount, chances are you’re an awesome photographer so why not use both?!
I’m all about being a responsible travel blogger and have found myself getting upset with others who are trying to set an example to others and posting ridiculous activities such as tiger “sanctuaries” or elephant riding. Unfortunately, there’s gotta be blogs who cater to those interested in completely basic and horrific tourist traps though.
Thanks a lot for sharing your voice! I loved this post a lot and will be sharing it!
Thanks so much for reading, Laura :) Haha I clarified a bit more on Megan’s comment, but it’s more like, let’s say you’ve built your whole photography section or tips around Nikon, maybe even going so far as to comparing Nikon to other brands. Then one day you magically write a whole post about Canon without so much as a transition, and then from then on you’re pretty much only talking about Canon. To me that’s totally selling out (and I’ve seen a blogger do this, not necessarily with those brands :p) and also more than a little dishonest with your readers who may have gone and chosen Nikon because of all your tips!
Now, if a blogger found a way of transitioning (heck even a cheeky sentence like “So Canon offered to sponsor me, and when I reached out to Nikon they didn’t. Guess who needs to eat?”), than I could get on board, especially with expensive camera equipment!
And yes! Especially bloggers because we’re supposed to be more conscious about this than your average traveler given we’re trying to build an audience and position ourselves in a certain way. I’ve gone to a tiger “sanctuary” thinking that’s what it was, but the minute I realized it wasn’t, I wiped it off of any social media.
I agree with Megan that the Nikon – Canon example might not be the best. However, by the way you explain it in the comments I understand what you are trying to say. Maybe you could elaborate a bit more in the post to clarify. Point 8 is very important and also the most easy to break. Especially when your blog revolves around photography, because you’re always trying to get the best out of any situation.
Wow such a great and powerful post! Really refreshing! I never really went on actual presstrips yet but I didn’t know about the Instagram disclosure. I do know about disclosure on the blog itself, but this also goes for Social media? Is this international or different per country? Or maybe anyone has some tips on where to read up about these things? Thanks in advance. I really hope more and more people Will choose fair starts and travels and won’t supposed any kind of tourism that Harms the people, culture, environment or animale!
I believe it’s by country basis! America goes by the FTC, and I know sometimes it’s stricter than other countries. But yeah, it’s called “native advertising,” and it can be incredibly deceiving. There was an article about fashion bloggers and (https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/intelligence/the-art-of-disclosure-fashions-influence-economy-and-the-ftc), and recently a bit of a scandal with Lord + Taylor and its influencers not disclosing properly. I believe the rule of thumb is that every sponsored post needs to have #ad or #sponsored attached, and it can’t be hidden. Saying things like “We’re partnering with…” alone or using a brand’s hashtag isn’t enough. Same across Twitter, FB, etc. If you look up the FTC, it has all the details (though, yeah, it’s not a fun read haha).
And yes :) I think that’s the great thing about travel bloggers! We can spread the word and have a voice in helping make travel more ethical and helpful to everyone and everything :)
I love this post and agree with everything you’ve said! The only point I could kind of be devil’s advocate on is the “selling out.” We all gotta make a living, and as long as you’re disclosing your sponsorships, I see no problem with people using those opportunities. I think there are tasteful ways of going about it, like disclosing to your readers why you are doing these types of posts now- for example camera gear isn’t cheap, if you want to continue creating free content there are perks to taking these sorts of deals. But like you said, I think it all comes down to being real and authentic, as long as you’re not lying to your readers, I feel like no one is really selling out. But again, that’s just my opinion. :) Thanks for sharing, this really is an awesome piece!
Oh yeah! I totally agree! There are authentic ways to grow and let your readers know. Bloggers need to get paid, so taking opportunities is a must :) I mean more along the lines of… Let’s say Scott’s offered like a bunch of money to write an article about why Hyper Lapses suddenly suck and are a thing of the past. He’s spent so much time talking about hyper lapse photography, so for him to take it just for the money would be so disingenuous no matter what the amount.