On Influence, and Using It Wisely

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This week, Forbes named me one of their Top 10 Travel Influencers of 2017. You can also read CNN Travel’s piece about it here.

I’m deeply honored. After working so hard for so long, it’s gratifying to receive this kind of recognition, and all the sweeter to receive it alongside several of my friends.

And it got me thinking about the strange and wonderful industry in which I’ve been ensconced for the past seven years: professional travel blogging.

For those of us who are long-timers, dating back to 2010 or previously, we didn’t get into travel blogging for the money. There was very little money back then; if you made any money in 2010, it was probably from text link sales or a teeny bit of Google AdSense. Hell, when I started, I thought the only way you could make money as a travel blogger was through a book or TV deal.

We got into travel blogging because we wanted to tell our stories. Some of us started writing for our friends and family; some of us dreamed of writing for a wide audience from the beginning. We wanted to share the world with people, and for North Americans, we wanted to introduce our fellow citizens to the almost-unheard-of concept of long-term travel.

Me? I wanted to help women travel the world safely.

Of course I wanted to entertain strangers with my writing (I started blogging as a college freshman in 2002!) and share all my favorite travel stories. And once the money started rolling in, I wanted to keep my travels going as long as possible.

But helping women travel the world safely? Showing them that yes, it’s okay if you want to travel the world, you can do it alone if you want, and you’re not selfish or a horrible person for wanting that in your life? That has always been what drives me. That’s the audience I’m writing to with every word, including this sentence.

We all wanted to help — all us long-timers. We wanted to show people how to travel on a budget. How to hack points and miles. How to travel as a family. How to visit countries that were perceived as being too dangerous. Basically, we all wanted to change commonly held misconceptions about travel.

As the years passed — 2010, 2011, 2012 — more and more money entered our fledging industry. Freelance writing opportunities cropped up. Groundbreaking blogger campaigns took place in Costa Brava, Spain, and Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Sponsored content became a thing. Affiliates were no longer just for people with sky-high traffic. Bloggers proudly announced they were giving up text links. And then the holy grail arrived — the paid press trip.

It’s around then that the industry changed. In the early years, there had been plenty of bloggers who hoped to subsidize their travels and get some cool stays at swanky resorts; by 2014 or so, people were starting travel blogs specifically for the money.

When money is your biggest motivator, it affects everything — your travels, your content, and the industry as a whole.

I worry about the impact of other influencers entering the travel space.

As far as the travel blogging niche goes, it’s not as big or flush with cash as fashion, beauty, or home blogging. There are lots of reasons for that, but one is that travel is not an impulse buy. You see a pretty dress, a cool lipstick, or a cute set of placemats and it’s easy to rationalize buying it.

But planning a trip, especially an international, expensive, or complicated trip, can take years. You don’t just hit a button and randomly book a safari in South Africa for next week.

Case in point? I learned about the Sydney Bridgeclimb on season 2 of The Amazing Race when I was 17 and yearned to do it someday. I finally did it when I was 29. Travel ROI takes time.

There is money in the travel blogging industry, but it’s nowhere near the level of money for fashion bloggers. Travel blogging’s perks, however, are unbeatable. And that’s why lots of lifestyle bloggers, primarily fashion bloggers, have started to rebrand and add travel as a specialty. This mostly takes the form of posing in luxury hotels and in front of natural wonders in various outfits.

Some are quite good. Gary Pepper in one of the pink lakes of Western Australia is one pictorial that has always stunned me.

But to consider these bloggers and Instagrammers as travel influencers could potentially be dangerous. Why? Picture this. A luxury hotel invites a fashion blogger to Cartagena, Colombia. She gets picked up at the airport by a chauffeur, does several photo shoots in and around the hotel, and has a great time exploring the old city but doesn’t set foot outside it.

Predictably, her followers start asking her, “Is it safe to go to Colombia?”

And she replies, “Sure, it’s totally fine!”

Well.

For starters, Cartagena is by far the most touristy part of Colombia and isn’t anything like the rest of the country; walking around the old city of Cartagena at night is very different from other neighborhoods like Getsemaní, where non-luxury travelers are more likely to stay; the language barrier in Colombia is significant and you’ll struggle without knowing Spanish; much of Colombia is at a high altitude, which can lead to illness in some people; certain parts of the country are unsafe for overland travel; and Colombia at its core is a destination better for experienced international travelers, not newbies.

Colombia can be traveled safely — but it’s a challenging destination, even for experienced travelers. And a fashion blogger who waltzes in for a few days and doesn’t leave the old city of Cartagena doesn’t have the knowledge to advise her followers how to travel in Colombia safely.

That person should not be a travel influencer. But with lots of Instagram followers and partnerships with several gorgeous resorts across the globe, this person could be considered a top travel influencer. Even though she posed in the street with a designer handbag that didn’t zip up and are you kidding, this is Latin America, your wallet is going to be gone in ten seconds if you use that purse.

I worry that this is where the industry is going.

It’s time to stop ignoring politics.

One phrase you see frequently amongst popular influencers is, “I’m not a political person.”

Frankly, that’s bullshit. Are you breathing air in your lungs? Do you earn money and exchange it for goods and services? Do you cross borders and enter other nations? If so, your very existence is political.

I urge you to strike I’m not a political person from your vocabulary and replace it with one of the following options:

  1. I don’t care about people who aren’t as privileged as me.
  2. I do care about other people, but I’m afraid I’ll lose followers if I write about politics.

Boom. Honesty.

I’ve started writing more political content in the last year and a half or so. The ethics of attending a travel blogging conference funded by Robert Mugabe’s government. How to travel the world as an American without being embarrassed about Trump. Being the only white person to call out a racist travel blogger. Ways to travel more sustainablyThe overbearing whiteness of the wine tourism industry in Stellenbosch, South Africa. And in the aftermath of the 2016 election, why remote workers leaving the US can do more harm than good.

I started writing content like this because I wanted to go deeper. So much of the travel blogging industry had become increasingly shallow, the rise of Instagram no doubt being a factor, and I needed to plunge back in and bring something more meaningful to the table.

Did I lose followers? I sure did! Mostly people who called me unrepeatable names and told me I’d regret it when Trump’s army rose up. Which…yeah, I’ll let that speak for itself. But it wasn’t enough to derail my business. I also gained a lot of new followers at the same time.

Do you have to do the same thing? You don’t have to. But at the very least, you should take a look at your content with a critical eye and think about the greater political context in your travels.

One example is North Korea. I personally think there’s no way to travel to North Korea ethically at this point in time. And yet several top travel influencers have visited North Korea, often as a sponsored guest of a tour company.

Of the influencers who chose to visit, some of them did a ton of research beforehand, analyzed their options, and determined that visiting North Korea would do more good than harm (in the form of exposing North Koreans to outsiders, however briefly). While I disagree with their conclusions, I appreciate that they thought critically about this issue and did what they thought was ethical and right.

Others chose not to think critically at all. They ignore North Korea’s human rights violations and get hypnotized by the chance to visit North! Korea! And for free, too! and return with content about how awesome the trip was, and how North Koreans seemed happy, without examining any of the deeper issues.

But you know what’s worst of all? When people in the latter group come back and say they’re not going to discuss politics because they’re not a political person! Come on. You don’t get to have it both ways. All the videos of waving North Korean schoolchildren can’t make up for that.

People will always disagree on what is and isn’t ethical and on where people should and shouldn’t travel. Some will refuse to visit the U.A.E., Russia, or even the United States for ethical reasons. All I ask is that you do careful research, own your decision, and don’t let the allure of a comped trip or bragging rights cloud your judgement.

We can all do better as influencers — so let’s try to do better.

Nobody is going to be perfect. But all of us could stand to do a little bit better. Here are some ways:

Consider your purpose. Why are you blogging? What sets you on fire? Be honest with yourself.

If your reason is So I can continue my travels for as long as possible, I urge you to rethink your purpose. Even if it’s To inspire others to travel, I urge you to think a little deeper and see if you can come up with something that benefits others more than yourself.

Think beyond your personal experience. Did you manage a whole trip without getting robbed? Is that because you visited somewhere super safe like Japan or Iceland, or because you’ve had years of practicing travel safety to the point that you don’t even think about it anymore?

Not everyone is going to be as experienced a traveler as you, so share your knowledge. Put yourselves in the shoes of a less experienced traveler going through this for the first time. Your ultimate goal should be to do no harm.

Acknowledge that travel is not only for the most privileged. If you’re a straight, cis, white, able-bodied, English-speaking traveler with a first-world passport, you’ve won the global lottery. Travel is going to be much easier for you than literally anyone else in the world. Acknowledge that.

Talk to travelers of color, queer travelers, disabled travelers, Muslim travelers who wear hijabs. Read their blogs and share their narratives. The Philippines and India both have tons of excellent travel bloggers, along with eye-opening stories of jumping through legal and financial hoops in order to visit destinations you take for granted, like the EU.

Use your voice to amplify their voices as well.

Consider the impact that you have on the destinations you visit. Are you putting money into the local community or making a chain CEO richer? Are you causing harm to the environment or animals? Are you actually interacting with the people of your destination in a meaningful way or just using them for Instagram props?

Just doing a bit of research can make all the difference. Aim for sustainability — economically, environmentally, socially. When you’re an influencer, your actions are magnified by the travelers who follow in your footsteps.

Read as much as humanly possible. It always amazes me how many travel bloggers say they don’t read other travel blogs. How else are you supposed to stay up on the industry? But don’t limit your reading to just travel blogs. Read literature — fiction, nonfiction, travel-related and non-travel-related. Read the news from a wide variety of sources and stay up on issues of the world.

At the very least, reading will make you more knowledgeable and compassionate and turn you into a better writer.

Aim, always, to help people. And that is how you use influence wisely.

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113 thoughts on “On Influence, and Using It Wisely”

  1. I think that a problem I have with your point of view is how much people actually care. Do you think that someone who travels to Thailand to visit the grotesque Tiger Kingdom has ever even thought about what is really going on there? Or worse, that he even cares? From my own experience there’s many people who won’t think twice about what they will post or what they may be inspiring in other people, only the numbers matter. And it’s sad, but I don’t think it is going to change any time soon. I’m slightly more pessimistic than you I think!

    1. I like that you mentioned this, as it is true, some of us do travel to places like that and visit “attractions” without doing research about the places we are visiting, however, to me the travel experience is about learning. During my very first trip, I visited an elephant camp and schedule a visit to the tiger camps as well without even knowing what repercussions my visit could cause, however after visiting the elephant camp and talking to other traveler, I found out about what was going on with the tigers and ended up not going there. Now, I do advice my readers to do their own research and do whatever speaks to them, as we can cause as much harm by going as by not going. As longs as we learn from our mistakes, even if it’s slowly, we are making a difference!

      1. I agree with you Alan that traveling is a world of self-discovery, what I mean is that for some people, many more than I had ever thought, they wouldn’t even consider care that what they are doing wouldn’t be right or ethical, they just wouldn’t care. For example, six months ago I was just walking through the little town of Khao Sok and a girl approached me because she wanted to go on an elephant ride but she needed a second person. We were talking for a bit, me explaining her why I didnt want to do it and try to tell her what was really going on behind that ride. Her answer: well I don’t care, I just want the picture. I am not sure there’s anything else to do with this kind of people…!

        1. Sometimes people need time. We don’t all learn or grow at the same rate. When I was a college kid traveling for the first time, all I cared about was finding the best bars and places to shop. Later, as an adult I went to India, thinking that I was so much more “enlightened” and mature. But while it’s true that I was more aware and sensitive and I was eager to learn about the people and politics and culture of the places I was visiting, I was still so ignorant. I had switched my love for partying to an obsession with food. It took more than a few conversations with a homeless, drug addicted man I initially felt an intense revulsion for before I slowly began to realize that I, too had an addiction, just like this stranger, only my drug was food. It took months of living in a country before I was able to see who I really was; a selfish, self-centered, privileged, obese tourist. I hope that in spite of the pain and shame I will continue to always see how my presence affects those around me and that I’m constantly learning how to give rather than take (or harm) a place where I am a guest. But my path has been zig zaggy. I’m a slow learner. So I read uncomfortable articles like this and see if (or how) I’m guilty of being insensitive or ignorant and try to change, even if it’s just a little bit at a time. I’ve found that I learn best when others educate me rather than to judge or reprimand or shame me. I’m on my path.

          1. I enjoyed reading your point of view simply because its honest and raw. I liked the line “I too have an addiction”. I think we all do, some good and some bad. I’m happy for your enlightenment and continued enlightenment. It’s just beautiful for the simple fact that you are aware of it. All the best 🙂

      2. I still think that if any activity involves animals in some way, you have a responsibility to research it beforehand. Plenty of organizations featuring animals are sustainable, but a great many are not.

    2. I genuinely believe that many people just don’t know. They assume that if it’s an official tourism attraction, it has to be okay. They believe what the company says about it not being hurtful to animals. And above all, they want those tiger cuddling photos.

  2. Damn, Kate. This is why you’re my favorite travel blogger, and why I talk about you and link your guides to my friends. Thanks for this.

  3. Although I’ve opted for a slightly different path than the full-time travel blogging, it does feel surreal to have watched the industry go through so many changes over the past seven years–some good and some bad. Whenever people reach out and ask me about blogging, I always say that you have to find something that you love to write about even if you weren’t getting paid for it. I hope that my blog is both helpful and inspirational, but I also keep it as a personal record for myself–having my own little slice of the internet where I can store my experiences is so rewarding to me. All of perks are nice, and I’ve certainly taken advantage of some opportunities, but I say no far more than I say yes. I want to be true to myself, and a big part of my blog is balancing travel with full-time work–and part of that balance for bloggers and non-bloggers alike is constantly deciding priorities. Moral of the story: great post, and lots of good food for thought here for influencers and the people who follow them.

    1. Christine, nobody who reads your blog doubts that you are true to yourself and everything you love. I think you’re a great example of taking advantage of travel comps when they fit into the life you already have. Nothing is out of left field. Thanks!

  4. Well written Kate! Seems like these days everything on social media, including travel related stuff, is one big populairity contest.
    People should travel because the love to explore…not because they want to gain likes and earn money. 🙂

  5. SO well said, Kate! I just want to say that I’ve been reading travel blogs for years and years, and at the beginning, it was kind of difficult to differentiate between them. But as more have popped up, and as the early bloggers have begun to share different messages and respond differently to world events, your blog has really stuck out to me because of your focus on ethics, politics, feminism, and honesty.

    Even though I’m a newish blogger myself, I also get disheartened when I see the “travel models” (as I like to call them) becoming more influential than travel bloggers who, in my opinion, are more authentic or trustworthy. Especially because when I started my own blog, I set out with the intention of providing helpful, meaningful, honest words and stories – and sometimes it feels like that’s becoming less and less important than taking a pretty editorial-style picture.

    Anyways, I really enjoyed reading this and am 100% onboard with your message!

    1. I echo everything Kelly said here and don’t want to repeat. I just wanted to say thank you for writing this. I have been very frustrated by the trend you describe. I am a new travel blogger but have been a world traveler for over 20 years. I love your honesty and sense of responsibility. I made a similar decision recently to take my blog in a more socially conscious direction and I probably post things that aren’t the most popular topic, but I have to try to make a difference. I have to admit I wasn’t following you before but I certainly will be now, knowing that you are a kindred spirit out there who shares my goals (and political views it seems). Consider your honest political approach to have gained you one new fan here 🙂

  6. First of all, congrats! I also have to say I agree with you on so many fronts. It’s so hard to ignore politics and travel these days. I’ve lived in SK and never really wanted to visit North Korea. Of course, I’m now rethinking revisits to the Philippines and other places I’ve traveled. We have to think about ethics before the freebies, as writers, influencers, and human beings. I think that those who unfollow you just because they disagree don’t get the point of what you’re doing, Kate. Keep doing it and readers like me will keep coming back. Thanks for writing this.

    1. Thank you so much, Duke! I agree that what’s happening in the Philippines right now is deeply troubling, but I’m also not sure whether it’s better not to visit. You can still do a lot of good by spending your money close to the ground in the Philippines.

  7. I love this so much! Thanks for staying true to your ideals, and congrats on this recognition!

    Also, since you mentioned Colombia so much, I’m heading there in two weeks. Would love your advice for that country!

    1. Jen, you will have a great time! My big recommendation is to get around by Viva Colombia flights. They are SUPER cheap, as well as faster and safer than overland travel. I wish I had taken more of them.

  8. Thank you SO much for this post. I am 21-year-old college student who has gone on several longish-term trips by myself all thanks to you. As a woman traveling by herself, you inspire me so much. I am so tired of male travel bloggers out there who only talk about super off the beaten path/cheap methods of traveling that, frankly, aren’t available to women. Once a male traveler criticized me for not hitchhiking or couch surfing more because that’s the only way to get an “authentic” experience. Meanwhile, he had just returned from a trip hitchhiking through Sudan, which simply wouldn’t be a safe option for me. Having your voice out there has been a huge source of solace for me as I search for ways to travel responsibly, authentically and sustainability while still keeping personally safety in mind. Thank you for everything you do and thank you for caring about politics and privilege.

    1. Thank you so much, Lily, and I am SO happy to hear you say that! You are so right — many men don’t realize that a lot of their methods of travel are not safe for women to do solo. And then they will find ONE woman who is hitchhiking solo somewhere crazy, and they’ll be like, “See?” God. An example of one does not mean that it is mainstream safe.

  9. That Colombia example is BANG on. It’s something that irks me frequently when I ‘read’ (by that I mean: look at the pretty pictures, because there’s usually only limited writing) luxury / fashion / lifestyle blogs. Their experience of a destination is often not an authentic one, so they aren’t in any place to give advice about what it’s like to travel there.

    You’ve made some really valid points here Kate and I hope it gets influencers thinking about their responsibility to their readers, and makes readers question what they’re being influenced by.

  10. Loved your honesty. Researching where you go before heading there and knowing your impact on both the countries and your readers as a travel blogger is insanely important. If we are influencing other people’s decisions we should be giving them the right ones and being HONEST about it. That’s why I’ve always loved your blog, you dish it the way it needs to be.

    As travel bloggers ourselves both my boyfriend and I think it’s super important to read other travel blogs and see what’s happening in the world. How can blogger influence people if they are oblivious to what’s happening in their industry and around the globe. You can’t.

    As always loved this!

  11. I’m wanting to visit SRI Lanka but hesitate due to their recent turn around on elephant welfare. I aks myself how NOT supporting the country helps the people. India also and Nepal which is getting better. That quandary of exposing something but not wanting to hurt tourism but highlight the governments failure in one or
    Several areas be it human rights or animal welfare. Thank you for this post. I started following some bloggers because of location but eventually I saw it was all about selfies and nicely doctored photos. No substance.

    1. The thing is, every country does SOMETHING terrible. You need to decide for yourself if the greater benefit comes from visiting the country and spending your money close to the ground or avoiding it altogether. In most countries, I think there’s a greater benefit from visiting. Not active war zones or North Korea, where no money can be spent close to the ground.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Lily. I hadn’t heard of this. Crazy! I bet that’s going to affect Club Getaway, where I went to Adult Summer Camp last year. There were lots of seasonal workers from Jamaica (and they were AWESOME).

  12. This is great. As a blogger who started back in 2008 for purely personal/family purposes but has since tried to monetize, I often get frustrated and also lose sight of my goals and potential impact. I think we need to all remember that we all (even smaller blogs like mine) do influence people and that we should be responsible with everything we write. The same goes for in-person conversations we have with fellow travelers! And thank you also for reminding me why we do what we do.

  13. Thank you so much for writing this and being such an honest voice in an industry where reality is becoming increasingly obfuscated by glamour and the need for followers. I will definitely be reflecting more on why I blog and photograph after reading this.
    Also, as a fellow voracious reader, I love your book suggestions.

  14. It’s so good you started this topic. I thought It’s only me thinking this way. This year I was really shocked when some top travel bloggers wanted to go to Yemen (Ohh, because it is so-not-mainstream!!), of course they justified this as ‘helping local people’… c’mon these ‘local people’ are devastated by war and I don’t see how a bunch of travel bloggers could help them. Let’s face the true – No ordinary person would be ever able to go there so it has nothing to do with region promotion, but rather self promotion… which is really disgusting. How can you take selfies and put pics on IG when a few kilometers from your fancy hotel people are dying from bombs? I’m waiting who will cross the line and go to Syria ‘to help local people and leave some money and show It’s Ok to travel there’. If these people really want to start helping people in these countries, they should go volunteer in refugees camp (as many of my amazing friends did, but not posting it in Insta Stories). Sorry for ranting a bit, but it really made me sad. Everything for money and fame… even promoting yourself on war!!!!

    1. I would NOT be surprised if a boneheaded travel blogger ends up in Syria soon. UGH. It’s going to happen.

      For what it’s worth…Yemen may be in a very difficult state right now, but Socotra Island is very different. Even so, I completely understand your point. There’s no reason to go somewhere for the sake of being edgy.

  15. Great post, Kate. I’m not a long-term travel blogger like you (I only started last year) but even I’m astounded by how many people I see asking for tips on how to approach brands for comped trips/accommodation/sponsored posts etc as soon as they start. Like you said though, when free stuff or money’s the main motivator, I don’t think you’re ever going to be ethical about the influence you have – however much that is. Maybe it’s more than just the blogger’s responsibility though – brands could be more selective about who they approached too beyond just their numbers (but having worked on the other side, I know sometimes it’s all that matters), so I think there’s also responsibility on the rest of us to be more critical/selective of the bloggers we choose to follow and support, since they wouldn’t be in that position otherwise. Either way, I agree with your points, and hopefully the good ones will still rise to the top in time.

    1. Thank you, Victoria — I couldn’t agree more. There are some brands that are doing really smart things in choosing their influencers, and I hope more people follow their example.

  16. Kate, this is a super inspiring and well thought out post. Thank you for sharing it. I am one of those who won the global lottery, like you I’m from Canada. I am actually guilty of a few things you have mentioned although I try to always be conscious of what I’m publishing before I hit publish. Thank you for inspiring me to do better and be a better blogger you make a lot of really good points.

  17. Thank you so much for this, Kate. It’s beautifully written and full of hope, encouragements and reminders of what matters, or should matter. I’ve seen a lot of people not wanting to be “political” or other people calling people out for being so. It got me confused on what should or should not be said on my blog, and you made me think more clearly. My husband and I (we’re both blogging) are very political people, it’s something that is very dear to us, but we weren’t sure what to make of it on our blog. Now you gave me the push I needed to make the right choices and strive to be even more conscious and ethical in what I write. I hope you’ll keep reminding us of what is important in the business of writing for others. So again, thank you and congratulations!

    1. I am so glad to hear that, Alice! Looking forward to seeing what you and your husband come up with. It takes a bit of time to find your footing when writing about politics, but you’ll get there!

  18. Congratulations for being part of the Top 10 Travel Influencers of the year! You deeply deserve it as your blog is like almost no other blog in the travel industry. Your articles, this one included, are all so well written and full of interesting thoughts. I just love reading them, not just because I love the way you write, but also because I learn so much and it makes me think a lot.

  19. Hi Kate,
    I don’t know how embedded ads work or what your level of control (if any) is, but thought I’d give you a heads up that this post is displaying 4 ads for Trump Hotels…doesn’t exactly fit with the topic of the post/you in general!
    J

    1. Thank you so much for the head’s up. Basically, there are four ad providers that bring ads to this site (and the ads are based on your personal web habits). However, Google is the biggest provider, serving 50-60% of my ads, and I got them to remove Trump Hotels completely. For the other three networks, though, you can’t remove specific advertisers, only categories, and hotels would be the category. I’m not sure I’m ready to do that just yet.

      I appreciate you letting me know.

  20. SO well written, Kate. I’ve been reading you for long time, and I’ll be always coming back, because of those values, that you stand behind.
    We all make an impact on the places we visit and people we meet on our travels, regardless if we are influencers or not. But if a person decides to run a blog and inspire even small amount of people – I believe, that they should put even more effort in to research and standing behind ethical values and important issues. Luckily, I know many that do! And this is what makes me appreciate them more and pick them out of all of the rest 🙂

  21. I think this post is important and necessary. Writing “Ultimate Guides” after a few days in a city or country prevails too often. For example, Russia now appears more on travelers’ radars, however many visit the nation, scratch the surface of the incredibly complex culture, and deem themselves an expert. I met a couple visiting with their elderly grandfather. They had no idea how complicated visiting Russia would be with a disabled grandfather. The couple physically carried their father up several flights of stairs in palaces, museums, metro stations, and more throughout their trip. They do not regret visiting with their elderly father, but wish they had correct information beforehand to better prepare or rethink some decisions. Falsely assuming an authoritative position on any destinations screws over the exact readers we worked so hard to get.

    1. Oh man, I feel so bad for them. I remember a few years ago when a reader who uses a wheelchair asked me how Bangkok would be for him and I said, “Honestly, I think it would be REALLY difficult.” So many places are not outfitted for people with disabilities. He decided to visit Bangkok anyway, but he was frustrated after a few days and headed south instead.

      I also agree that “ultimate guides” after a few days in a country are a poor idea.

  22. Your words are so inspiring! I’ve been thinking about a lot of this recently too – particularly the short from lifestyle to travel blogging, as well as the reasons why people start blogging in the first place. I didn’t start as early as you, but my intention was always to share my stories and encourage more women to travel. On my own blog, I write mostly about micro adventures in Scotland to prove that you don’t have to be an outdoor specialist to go on an adventure.

    I’m always keen to find new bloggers who represent marginalised groups and their travel experience. Do you have recommendations for your favourite bloggers from India or the Philippines? Thanks!!

    1. Well said Kate. I’ve been blogging a long time, since 2005, and I too have been disheartened by the trends towards superficiality and commercialization. I have always tried to inspire women to travel as well, as you know, and to equip them with what I call “safe travel strategies.” More recently, I have had a new awakening, that has inspired me to redesign my blog and make it more about responsible travel and sustainable tourism. The older I get and the longer I do this, the more I care about how I am contributing in a positive way.

      To answer Kathi’s question, I live in India half the year and blog about my travels there on Breathdreamgo.com. I know a lot of the top Indian travel bloggers and there are some that are very good. Some of my favourites are The Shooting Star, Sid The Wanderer, Travel With Neelima, Desi Traveler, Travel Tales From India, IndiTales and Lakshmi Sharath. Cheers, Mariellen

    2. I love your niche! That has such a clear purpose.

      Mariellen has a great list of bloggers from India, and I would also recommend Our Awesome Planet and The Poor Traveler from the Philippines.

  23. Great so usa has a president who cares about the people and creating jobs, the left in society are more dangerous and actually make the poor poorer by providing less jobs and chances to escape their poverty

    Another reader u have lost

  24. Wow what a post! I love this! When I first started blogging I was afraid to be completely honest with any mistakes I made during travels but now I have started to share them and realize how silly I was for thinking people would judge me. More people have opened up about their experiences and share with me their stories of their travels and I love it =o)

    Thank you for this post, especially the part about fashion bloggers traveling to luxury destinations.

  25. I wish travel influencers and bloggers would encourage body diversity and fat acceptance more.

    As an active, plus-size traveler and blogger, I so often feel alone and/or ignore and/or neglected by the industry and the blogosphere.

    We, the bigger people, now represent 67% of the US population. Though we are, literally, bigger, and our number grow, we have never been so invisible…

    It’s time the industry wakes up and stops ignoring us.
    And it’s time for the blogosphere to open up to atypical travelers.

    Edith Bernier aka The Plus-Size Backpacker

  26. I started reading your content in probably late 2013 to early 2014. What’s interesting is that I loved your stuff, then I went through a period of disagreeing or at least finding that some of your content and/or style did not sit well with me… but recently I’ve come full circle and come to love and agree with your content again.
    I might not have enjoyed your style in the middle there, but I truly did respect you for following your beliefs and sharing them honestly. I respect that. Continue doing the amazing work you do.

    1. To be honest, Talia, looking at that timeline, the point when you became dissuaded may have been the time when I was going through the worst time of my life and dealing with an abusive relationship that debilitated me in every way possible. It was hard to crawl out of that, but I came back, and my content has never been better in the days since.

      Either way — I’m very glad that you stuck around and are here today.

  27. Caitlin Ferrell

    I completely agree with you about politics and visitors to North Korea. Weeks ago, I saw a girl post photos and video from her trip on a FB travel group, with a caption along the lines of ‘I choose to look on the right side of the country! I say, go for yourself and decide!’ Turns out, the girl is from China! One of NK’s few allies. It is so important to think about our impact — even/especially is solo travelers without any public influence. We are drops in the drops, but drops make buckets.

    Also, I would add that new bloggers should examine their privilege. Not everyone can quit their job to travel, nor does everyone want to. Living an alternative lifestyle is not morally superior. It’s an attitude I’ve seen on other blogs.

    1. Ugh, I HATE that phrase — “Go for yourself and decide!” OR, you know, you could be a responsible human being and actually DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH before deciding whether or not to financially contribute to causes with which you vehemently disagree! Not to mention protecting yourself…

      And I so agree with you on the latter point, too. I concede that I used to say things like that when I first started, too, but I learned and grew a lot over the years and never say things like that anymore.

  28. So this is the very first post of yours I’ve read; despite your awesome accolade I’ve only managed to just find you now somehow, haha. But oh my word am I thrilled I found your blog, and I love your thoughts here! I actually Googled “female travel blog” today for new material to read because the previous couple I followed had started going down some of the paths you described, and it left a sour taste in my mouth. Your stance feels like a breath of fresh air- so thank you for being political, and I’m off to read more 🙂

  29. I’m very new o travel blogging but this hs really made me think about the ethics of it and of travelling I am obviously not anywhere near being sponsored for trips but i goes the earlier you start with thinking about the ethics the better!

  30. Hi Kate,

    I’ve read your blog for a while but haven’t commented. Thank you so much for this awesome post. As you’ve spoken more about your political views and perspective on the world, I’ve gained even more respect for you.

    I’m a solo female traveler as well and am painfully aware that being white and straight is a huge privilege that helps my experience be safer. I do not blog about my travel. Even though I have a lot of writing experience, my travel is currently a personal thing that gives me an opportunity for reflection to define my next steps in life. One of the ideas I’ve thought about is turning my travel experience into a blog that’s both unique and poignant, and has a greater perspective and purpose that isn’t financially driven.

    I want you to know that if I choose to write about my travel in the future, I’m definitely keeping this post in mind. Thanks again.

  31. Oh, Kate.

    This is so hard to admit, but the immature high-school child in me wants to badly to be jealous of you. Your gorgeous and blond and thin (you worked your ass off to have that bikini bod, but the lazy f* in me is still envious) AND you’re smart as hell. And you’re successful in a field where so few make it to the top. A tiny little part of me is envious.

    But it would be impossible for anyone to hate you, (unless you’re a white male, redneck Trump fan).

    You’re opinionated and outspoken and feminist and you don’t give a damn what people think.

    You stand up for what’s right and just and fair, and you use your power for good not evil. You’re compassionate and giving and kind, yet you’re one strong mofo.

    You’re f*ing amazing.

    So whenever I feel a teensy little bit envious, I simply read one of your blog posts, any one, and I’m not only reminded why you’re considered one of the Top 10, I’m inspired to do better and be better. Not to compare myself to you or anyone else, but to compare myself to ME, and to see how I can strive to be the best blogger, and person, I can be.

    CONGRATULATIONS!!!

    You inspire me, Kate McCulley!

    As always, thank you for this blog post (and for being an unofficial mentor to me and thousands of other women around the globe).

    1. April, that is so kind of you to say! (Though I feel like I have to point out that the blond part is soooooo not natural…) I’m so glad that I inspire you to do better. That means a lot to me.

  32. Thank you so much for this post. I started blogging as a hobby in 2008, and back then there was so much less, how can I say, useless shit, on the internet. I believed what people wrote, and felt they had everyone’s best interests at heart. Now with sponsorship, etc. it’s really hard to tell who to trust. I wonder if the review was positive only because they got the stay for free. I’m so happy you’re talking about this, keep it up!

  33. Excuse my french but what else to say if not BRAVO, I do agree with your vision of what blogging is all about.

    I’m not considering myself as professional, but in the end if I’m not really an “influencer”, I’m not either influenced in a way to just make more money. I’m very picky when it comes to get asked something to do for money on my blog. I has to be passion first.

  34. Hi Kate – I so rarely comment anymore but just wanted to say thanks! I think you’re one of the most mindful travelers – aware of political and social issues that wouldn’t just affect you. I really appreciate you speaking out about this and think all your success is so well-deserved. Thanks <3

      1. <3 I shared your post in our LGBT travel group as well because it's not very often that travel bloggers share news or topics related to LGBT travel. Appreciate your mindfulness, advocacy and support!

  35. I appreciated this article very much. A lot are travel bloggers but not travel influencers and I see this a lot. I want to be able to learn and see beyond the norm. Thanks

  36. Great Post , both thought provoking and inciteful. I’m still trying to find my ‘travel voice’. My blog is still in an embryonic phase, but your words of advice will certainly help me find it.. thank you

  37. Great post Kate and it’s good that you use your influence to discuss about these kinds of things that are happening in the travel industry. There are more and more new influencers and bloggers who mainly start because they think it’s an easy and fun way to make a living.. Also another weird thing a lot of other bloggers say: “I don’t want to be personal on my blog”. Why would you not? Is that not the number 1 reason why people should read YOUR stories in the first place? If I don’t get to know the person who’s writing it, I can’t really say if that info is helping me or not. Thanks for this insightful article!

  38. You make some really great points here. I am a newer travel blogger, so I can’t really relate with the 2010/2012 era of travel blogging. All I know is the industry now. I know the kinds of people you are speaking of, and I have to admit I’ve questioned my travel knowledge at times. And that IS the power of influence. Even though I KNOW Columbia isn’t a safe country by my standards, I will see a so called fashion blogger having the time of her life with her designer handbag, and it almost makes it seem like all is safe. Like maybe my thoughts of Columbia are distorted? It’s kind of a weird feeling, like I am second guessing myself. Influences are just so powerful, it’s crazy.

    I don’t have a large following on social media, and it’s harder than ever to achieve that status. I never wanted to make money from this. Honestly. I never once thought there was money in travel blogging, even when I started in 2016. All I wanted to do was travel to amazing places and write about them, hoping those trips would get sponsored by tourism companies. That’ still my goal to this day. To be able to travel for free. I love to write and share my experiences. 🙂

    -Emily

    1. You know, Emily, abusive relationships function in the same way to the influencers you describe. They make you feel good, develop a level of trust with you, and then cause you to question reality and make you wonder if you’re losing your mind. It’s crazy, isn’t it?

  39. Excellent and thank you for making some hard but important points. I’m always in the process of refining my site and helping others is a big part of it. I just need to get better at making that point. Stay strong and I hope to see you on the road!

  40. A thought-provoking post Kate. Responsible travel is something that we travellers never used to think about. Now I agree, we should be researching and considering all the repercussions of the destinations we are planning to visit.

    Oh, and congratulations on your Forbes and CNN recognitions! Wow! Your years of hard work have paid off.

  41. Thank you, Kate, for this most excellent article! This Forbes list came out while I was smack dab in the midst of a total business crisis myself; I’ve been in the travel blog industry for 10+ years, and like you, I started my blog because I wanted to tell stories and inspire. Monetization wasn’t even “a thing” back then (in the pioneer days).

    However unlike you, my blog has fallen into relative obscurity in comparison to what’s out there these days. A few years ago I was hitting the top 10 lists. Now….not so much.

    So when you say “When money is your biggest motivator, it affects everything — your travels, your content, and the industry as a whole,” I take heed. Because although I’m now attacking my blog with a fierce aim to get back in the game, I have to remind myself that my blog is a means to an end….not the end itself.

    1. Nora, I admire you for not abandoning things and instead jumping back in with gusto and trying to fix the things you wish you had done earlier.

      For what it’s worth, I’ve consistently read your blog for years now! I’m not much of a commenter, but I do read it.

  42. Thanks for writing this, Kate. I get really frustrated seeing how irresponsible some travel bloggers can be with their choices of where to travel or which click bait titles they choose to use on their posts. Last year I read a TON of North Korea memoirs, and they were all so devastating. I couldn’t ever do one of those tours knowing that there’s no way to go without money into the government’s pockets. I am one of the least fashionable people out there, so I don’t follow fashion bloggers at all, but I can totally see how a fashion blogger could lead readers in the wrong direction, like in your Colombia example. I have a good friend who is a blogger and long term traveler who has been on the road for 4 or 5 years now, definitely well traveled, and she had a horrible time in Colombia. She read from so many bloggers, male and female, who raved about it, but her experience was totally different. She spent 2 months there (1 in Guatape and 1 in Medellin) and she felt unsafe almost constantly, was harassed and groped at all the time. It made her wonder how much other bloggers isolated themselves or sugar coated things because she absolutely does not recommend it for solo female travel. Also, I love that you wrote about the Zimbabwe issue recently. Visiting on your own and spending money at local shops is completely different than going as part of a conference that’s sponsored by a corrupt government. Like you said, there are responsible ways of visiting many places in the world, but you have to do your research.

    Totally unrelated, but I saw someone above mention you had some Trump hotel ads. Can Mediavine block specific URLs? I have AdThrive and they’re great about blocking specific URLs for me, and when I saw a Trump hotel on my own site, they went through and blocked as many Trump-related URLs as they could. Worth asking Mediavine if they can do the same instead of having to block an entire category.

    1. Thank you so much, Ali. While my experience in Colombia wasn’t as negative as your friend’s (and I did go to both Guatapé and Medellín), Colombia is a kind of destination where you need to be on your toes about safety all the time. South Africa is the same way. I love both countries, South Africa especially, but I could never live in either one because I would lose my mind never being able to fully relax.

      MediaVine can block specific advertisers and URLs from Google Adsense only, which serves about 50% of my ads. I did that. Otherwise, I would have to block hotels as a whole to guarantee there would be no Trump ads.

  43. New to your blog — what a great first post for me to read. I so appreciate the fact that you’re taking on more of a political perspective. For me, every thing we do is political on some level, and I think recognizing one’s privilege when traveling is so important, especially when one is putting a message out to the world through social media.

    Funny, but I didn’t even know about travel models until a few months ago. I remember thinking what an odd thing that is, and I agree that it can present a completely unrealistic image of what travel really is (well, what it really is for those of us who aren’t models!) I hadn’t thought about how that unrealistic image might be dangerous for others, though.

  44. Thanks for helping women travel safely Kate, you’re an inspiration. Love that you did the bridge climb in my home country and the story behind it. Travel ROI does take time.

    xo

    Rene

  45. Kate, I love reading your blog because you speak your mind. Sadly, the world of travel blogging is changing and a lot of travel brands and tourism boards prefer “aesthetic factor” with model like women bloggers and don’t care much about the content because they’re looking for a short term gain. Not everyone with a massive following is an influencer, and not every influencer knows how to use their influence responsibly and wisely. Suddenly, every second blogger has 100k followers on IG but that doesn’t mean they are real influencers and their audience is listening to them. I joined the blogging bandwagon because I love to travel, whenever I think $$ is making me unreal, I try to take a step back and think. I often read your blog in those times. Cheers!

    1. Hey Sonal, thanks for your comment, and I don’t think it’s as bad as you say. There are a number of brands who only want aesthetics, but there are a LOT of smart brands who know that they need a blogger with an engaged following in order to get real results. And it’s definitely not every second blogger than has 100k followers! That’s really hard to do!

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