The Emotional Labor of Female Travel Bloggers

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Earlier this year, I joined a group on Facebook called “Female Travel Bloggers.”

Truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan of blogging Facebook groups — they tend to feature a lot of noise and little tangible value. (The big exception being the excellent Travel Blog Success Facebook group.)

Female Travel Bloggers shouldn’t have been different from the other groups — numerically speaking, the travel blogging industry is dominated by women, after all — but I was shocked at how different the atmosphere was.

In between the tightly regimented daily conversation topics, women ask for travel recommendations; they ask for help with blogging issues; they ask for life and love advice. It’s far more personal than the coed groups. We tell stories, sharing mishaps and laughter.

But then you get the same kinds of questions over and over, blogging questions that you only see amongst groups of women. I’m going to paraphrase the questions and answers here.

Question: A reader asked me if he can bring hentai [anime porn] into another country. I don’t know what the laws are. What should I tell him?

Woman 1: You can look up the laws of bringing porn into [that country] on [this website]. I would look here and find out, then tell him.

Woman 2: I would say that you aren’t sure of the specific laws and to thank him for reading your blog but this is not something you can help him with.

Woman 3: I’m familiar with that country — tell him that he shouldn’t have any problem entering the country.

Me: Normal people don’t ask strangers on the internet how to smuggle their porn. Don’t even respond to him! This is just a way for him to start talking to you sexually.

Here’s another:

Question: How do you deal with getting personal messages from men that say “Hey, how are you?” and want to have a conversation?

Woman 1: I say, “Hello, thanks for reading the blog and I hope you have a wonderful day!” I don’t want to be rude.

Woman 2: I always make time for my readers. They’re the reason why I’m able to travel the world.

Woman 3: I’ll talk to them but if they start making me uncomfortable, I’ll leave the conversation.

Me: You don’t owe anyone a personal conversation. You don’t even have to engage. Oh, and if you shut down Facebook messaging, you’ll get SO MUCH LESS of this.

And a third:

Question: I get lots of emails from readers who ask me to plan their trips for them. I don’t want to be rude and say no, but it’s starting to take up a lot of my time and I don’t know how to let them down.

Woman 1: I always remember how lucky I am to have people read my blog so I always take the time to help my readers. It’s the least I can do.

Woman 2: You can charge for this service!

Woman 3: I don’t give them everything but I like to plan a general outline of a trip, how many days to spend in each place, that kind of thing.

Me: You don’t have time for this — so don’t do it. Send them a link to a post about a destination if you have one, but that’s it. You’re never going to rise if you spend all your time and bandwidth helping people one-on-one.

Do you notice any common threads in these messages?

“I don’t want to be rude.” “Thank you for reading.” “I’m lucky to have these readers, so I should do this for them, even if I don’t want to.”

Gender Inequality’s Impact on Emotional Labor in Travel Blogging

There may be no barrier to entry in travel blogging but that doesn’t mean that the industry is a meritocracy. There is significant gender inequality, inequality that is exacerbated for women of color in particular.

If you took a look at most travel blogging conferences and see who was speaking, you would assume that most travel bloggers were straight white men. But straight white men actually constitute a small minority of the blogging population. In fact, at most travel blogging conferences I’ve attended, I’d estimate that around 75% of the blogger attendees are female.

One of the toughest issues female bloggers face is that our success in blogging is tied to our likability, yet studies have shown that when women become more successful, they are less liked. How do you make yourself successful but not too successful? That’s a tightrope many of us walk carefully.

Add in companies low-balling us financially, female photographers being too often overlooked, and the fact that female bloggers are often seen as doing a hobby while similar male bloggers are seen as running a business, and we have an uphill battle.

But the emotional labor factor comes in because as women, we are expected to be nurturers. A lifetime of conditioning has led us to believe that our role is to help people, care for them, and put others’ needs before our own. We want them to like us, we don’t want to disappoint them, and we are worried at what the repercussions may be if we don’t fulfill their needs.

How does that affect travel blogging? We end up spending our limited free time making our readers happy. That means socializing with them, meeting up with them, helping them with their problems. Our inboxes are full of our readers’ life stories, paragraph after paragraph detailing hardships, ending with, “Do you have any advice for me?” that we are expected to answer.

But here’s the thing — you don’t have to do that.

Which brings me to Snapchat.

I’ve received several messages from readers asking why I haven’t been posting on Snapchat lately. They check in and make sure I’m okay. They tell me they miss me. And it breaks my heart because I have the kindest readers in the world and I don’t want to disappoint them (oops, there’s that conditioning again).

I’ve taken a break from Snapchat because the sexual harassment is out of control.

Every time I open Snapchat, I’m assaulted with photos of male genitalia. Multiple photos every day. And it’s gotten to the point where I get stressed out when I open my messages.

I can’t take it anymore.

Why don’t you just block them? I block tons of people every day. It doesn’t stop new messages from popping up.

Why don’t you turn off messaging? The point of Snapchat was getting to chat and laugh with my readers.

Why don’t you add nice people as friends? That would still require me to have public messaging in order to add them in the first place.

So I’m not sure what to do. For now, I’m sharing more on Instagram Stories – adventurouskate. All private messages from people I don’t know are kept in a separate folder. Occasionally I read and respond to them. But the best thing is that all photos strangers send you are hidden until you open them. I can’t get assaulted with penises on Instagram.

Am I done with Snapchat? Not completely. I’ve got such a big network on there that it would be foolish to jettison it completely. I might shut off messaging and do limited snaps — like one per day.

But for now it’s going to be on Instagram only. I still think Instagram is shitty for copying Snapchat’s platform, but at least Instagram is an app that doesn’t make me live in fear.

How Female Travel Bloggers Can Reduce Their Emotional Labor

You’re already doing everyone a favor by writing your blog. Remember that. If you’re blogging for the right reasons — if you’re blogging to genuinely help other people rather than fuel your own ego — your blog serves as a product that helps other people create more happiness in their own lives. That’s incredibly generous, even if you make money from it.

And for that reason, you’re not obligated to do anything more than just write your blog. But most women will go above and beyond until they’re bent over backwards.

You’ll never be able to please everyone, so don’t try.

You can’t be everything to everyone, and you can’t be everything to one person, either. Make peace with the fact. Only robots are able to be perfect every time and you’re a human being.

I once had a reader who was a faithful commenter on every post — until the day I mentioned I went to a Jesuit university because I loved Jesuit educational values. She went on a rant about “papists” and I haven’t seen her here since. How could I have predicted that?

There is nothing wrong with making money from blogging.

You are providing a valuable service. You have cultivated an audience. You deserve to benefit financially from that.

Blogging requires a lot of intense work, time, and education. It looks easy as hell but anyone who tries it quickly discovered just how much work is involved to make it look that effortless.

Women in particular often agonize over whether they’ll be seen as “selling out” or somewhat less genuine if they start making money, but that is not the case at all. If a man agonized in the same way, people would say, “Are you crazy? You’re letting money slip through your fingers!”

Spare yourself the anguish of turning yourself into an emotional knot and accept that there’s nothing wrong with you earning money for the work you do.

Understand that culture clash is real.

Most of the issues I face in term of blogger-reader relationships stem from one region: South Asia, specifically India and Pakistan. 90% of my requests from strangers who want conversations, friendship, and romance come from these two countries. A lesser amount comes from the Middle East.

It’s an interesting time in South Asia right now. In cultures where men and women don’t socialize together, the internet has opened up lines of communication that didn’t exist before. Many South Asian men see this as an opportunity to message Western women on Facebook.

Look at any of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook posts about his family or DACA or climate change and you’ll see comments from South Asian men saying, “Thank you Mark Zuckerberg, I have so many girl friends now because of Facebook!”

You don’t have to be part of it. But it’s good to understand the root cause.

Turn off Facebook messaging.

If you want to get fewer personal messages from people who want to have a conversation, turn off Facebook messaging on your page altogether. I did it years ago and my life has been so much better as a result. So much less crap to wade through.

If a reader really wants to get in touch with you, they can figure out how to email you through your blog.

You don’t owe anyone a real-life meetup.

The tough thing about blogging is that it creates a one-way relationship between a reader and a blogger, not unlike one between a fan and a celebrity. But the lower level of fame and ease of getting in touch makes it easier for a reader to reach out to a blogger and actually meet up in real life.

Most readers I’ve met up with have been very cool. They’ve shown me around their cities; they’ve taken me out for drinks and coffees; some have even become good friends.

But some readers see me as their best friend, or their prospective lover, or someone who will teach them how to make money online. I am none of those things, and being grilled about how I became successful at blogging makes me feel used.

So I only meet up with a very limited number of people in real life — people whom it feels like I can trust, who don’t set off my alarm bells, who aren’t looking for blogging advice. That means a lot of people end up disappointed, but that’s what I choose to do to keep myself safe and sane.

Another tip: don’t meet up one-on-one with older men. In my experience, too many times it’s turned into, “Soooo, my wife doesn’t like to travel anymore…maybe we could go somewhere!” And I’m a little sick of waiting till he’s gone to the bathroom and saying to the bartender, “Yo — I’m not a hooker, he just reads my blog.”

Write blog posts around your most popular questions.

It is so much easier to respond to emails when you can write, “Here’s a link to a post on that exact topic!” rather than writing out response after response by hand.

Here are a few of my most popular questions turned into blog posts:

Trust me…you’ll save so much time this way.

Include helpful, practical information in your post.

A few years ago, I started adding an Essential Info box to the bottom of my destination-based posts. It includes details on where I stayed, what attractions cost, prices in the local currency and USD, links to their current sites, and any other helpful information.

This is SO helpful to my readers, even more so than just linking to a hotel or museum’s website. It saves time. Information may change and prices may creep up over the years, but at least they’ll have all the resources there without emailing you to ask where you stayed.

PS — I call mine Essential Info but you can call yours anything you want.

It’s not your responsibility to plan someone’s trip.

You’re a blogger. Not a travel agent.

Most of the requests I get to plan whole itineraries and trips come from Indian readers. But I’ve found that a brief and firm, “I’m not a travel agent and I don’t plan people’s trips,” usually results in profuse apologies.

You are entitled to have a life outside your blog.

Not everything needs to be blogged. Just because you did it, it doesn’t mean you need to write a blog post about it. People might ask you for one, but if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to!

Probably my biggest sub-advice within this topic is to keep your love life off your blog. Not just because it can be awkward as hell when a relationship ends, but because it allows you to keep something special and intimate for yourself without inviting strangers to observe it.

I haven’t blogged about my current love life in three years and that’s not because it’s been inactive. (If anything, it’s been overactive.) But nobody is entitled to that information and I’ve been much happier and at peace as a result.

Female travel bloggers, do you go too far in accommodating your readers?

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61 thoughts on “The Emotional Labor of Female Travel Bloggers”

  1. YES!! I think we all (especially women) need these reminders sometimes because it’s so easy for many of us to fall into the people-pleasing trap. But things that take up too much of our time or make us uneasy are not worth doing. I’m so happy I shut off the messaging option on my FB pages. I don’t know why normal emails seem much more reasonable but FB messages almost always end up awkward or annoying. As much as I love planning trips, I’ve learned you will never be able to plan the perfect trip for someone else. Instead, I try to offer short, helpful tips and link to things I’ve written, and let them figure it out from there. I recently had someone email me about their itinerary, I told them they were going too fast, and instead they cut out the one thing they said was their must-see place. Um, sure.

    You can’t please everyone, and like you said, you don’t owe people anything. Keep some things private, take trips you don’t write about, don’t become so intertwined with your site that you feel obligated to every single person who asks for help or advice. I love helping people, but there are boundaries and limits to that.

    1. It’s funny that you get emails from people who are traveling too fast — I get SO many of those. We should probably write full posts about it at some point — “I know you’re limited in time and you want to go everywhere BUT YOU ARE GOING SO FAST YOU’RE GOING TO BE MISERABLE. You can’t do Laos in a day. It takes six hours to go anywhere in Laos.”

  2. This kind of makes me glad I’m a pretty bog standard blogger who has never made the big time! Honestly, all those dick pics you get has made me feel full on sick! I’m not super successful with my blog, but it’s amazing the guilt I feel if I think I’m not doing enough for my core of lovely, loyal readers. That said, having a baby taught me that I don’t need to dish out time for other people if I don’t want to (mind you, is that just because I no longer have any time?) ?
    Anyway – this is a great post, Kate. There’s a lot of stuff here that needed saying! Thanks for getting it out there. I think lots of us wouldn’t have even realised the problem if you hadnt called it out.

  3. As always, Kate, I love your directness on this post. This is something every female travel blogger deals with, I know. And sometimes or conditioning is the pits. Thanks for pointing out that we don’t need to be slaves to that anymore. As an older travel blogger who specifically targets other older women who travel, I get much less of this than you do. I’m not on snapchat because my audience isn’t there. But even at my advanced age, I do get loads of PMs from strange men on IG as well as on FB. I love that IG does not force me to scroll thru them to see the ones from people I know and want to interact with. And do I simply echo your sound advice and thank you for it.

  4. I’m with you on this and honestly kind of amazed that not every woman is? I never respond to Facebook messages, especially when it is SO clear that those people messaging “hey” do not read my blog and have no desire to discuss travel and also because I don’t want to! I’ve stopped feeling the need to respond to every pitch (even with a Thanks, but I’m not interested right now!) because I didn’t ask for the cold outreach and don’t need to feel obligated to politely respond. Although I do blog a bit about my personal life (travel vs lifestyle etc), I run the big ones by my husband/friends to make sure they’re cool with anything being said about them on the internet and I try to always keep some stuff for myself. And also–you wouldn’t be nearly as successful as you are today if you wasted all your time on the stuff outlined above! You’re killing it because of how smart and savvy you are 🙂

  5. I love this Kate. This is the first post I have read on this topic. It’s horrible to think that you recover so much shit to your inbox. Do what ever you need to to keep doing what you do best. I have really enjoyed your more USA focussed posts now that you have settled more in New York. You don’t have to be everything to everyone at all times. Brilliant post X

  6. It’s great to read your opinion on this. I’ve struggled with trying to keep a firm separation in between my personal life (and my blog life). I think becoming firmer about saying NO has been great for taking back my time. It’s great to help readers and to hear back from them after their trip about how helpful your blog was, but I also have moved away from meetups as I’ve experienced similar things myself. I’m also tempted to turn off messaging on my FB page too! Thanks for this fantastic post!

  7. So so good… thanks for writing this and sharing your views! Snapchat is fun but can be abused so easily. I hope Snapchat HQ is watching how many blocks a user has and has something in place to get people like that off the platform.

  8. Really well-done post, Kate. I think that a lot of people are takers in this world and think they’re entitled to a personal response from a blogger. Most of the time, I reply to my readers when they are respectful and polite, even if it’s just pointing them to Google. Over the years people have asked me for relationship advice, travel advice, housing advice, and even for translation help. It’s insane what people think we should do for them. Also, I’m so glad you wrote the part about money and how bloggers should be able to earn money from their hard work.
    Anyway, what irks me the most is when people email me and don’t even use my name or bother to put a thanks at the end of the email.

  9. Kate, this is such a solid post on an under-discussed topic. We also end up doing a lot of emotional labor while actually traveling — it’s tiring to constantly explain that I’m traveling alone and perfectly happy (and safe! It’s relatively easy to turn off Facebook messaging or switch apps, but I wish it was that easy to cut down on unwanted conversations in everyday life.

  10. This is such an amazing and helpful post Kate. Thank you 🙂
    I just started out blogging and am still trying to figure out how close I should let my readers… I have one male “fan” who’s almost a little pushy and wants to meet up. After reading your post, I know I don’t owe him anything. Now I just hsve to turn him down gently.
    I’ll keep your words in mind 🙂 Thanks again.
    Seraina

  11. I love this Kate. I’m an older female travel blogger at 51 but I also happen to be a travel planner (travel agent). So I do respond to some emails asking for a wee bit of advice. I just don’t go too far with that as I DO charge for these services. And I make this clear. But you hit the nail on the head about how women tend to not say NO when we need to. Yes, be kind but put up the boundaries. Admittedly, I’ve been very open with one part of my personal life — the loss of my mom 2 1/2 years ago. I did write blog posts about missing her and going through the grieving process. But mostly because I know others who had or were going through the same thing. And I guess I just felt this was a good platform to share. But when it comes to the personal stuff I think each woman out there needs to make her own decision with what she’s comfortable with. Thanks again for a great post and for all or your blog posts.

    1. I totally agree with you, Lynne — every woman should set boundaries that she’s comfortable with. And I’m very sorry about the loss of your mother. <3 I'm glad sharing has helped you with the grieving process.

  12. Hi Kate, Thanks for taking the time to write this post. I have been a part time blogger and had issues with messages sent to me via facebook messenger. Though i have replied, they haven’t insisted and i actually stopped sending messages on their own. However, after reading your post, I believe it might be best that i deactivate that feature. Like you said, if they really want to contact me, they can fill out the form on my blog 🙂 All the best to you ! Stay safe & awesome!

  13. Yes! You go girl! Everyone should be reading this post. Inside so many female blogger being apologetic, overly grateful or putting themselves down on social media which isn’t helping anyone. It’s not good for them, it’s not good for their readers and it’s not good for women as a whole. Thank you for saying the things that need to be said.

  14. Say it once more for the people at the back!! Such a great post Kate, it saddens me that you are required to explain this. I’ve only just started my blog so I have not come across these issues, but working in the corporate world, I can identify with so many of them. Casual requests from male colleagues to assist with printing documents or booking rooms for meetings. Feeling like I have to qualify every opinion in board meetings. Commencing every request with an apology. These are all things that none of my male counterparts are expected to do.

    Lord knows how you deal with so many people wanting things from you. You are a writer, not a service, and a damn good one at that!

  15. Having boundaries around time, money and respect is important for everyone, and certainly woman and female bloggers. We tend to establish these more as we get older, and willing to put up with less BS. I can understand the frustration of readers asking you to plan their trips for them or wanting to pick your brain about your ladder of success. And your natural response “I am not a travel agent” or “my time is more valuable than a cup of coffee.” True dat! It absolutely is. But it seems like you or other female bloggers (if you are so inclined) could choose to offer that, as yet another stream of income. You already make money through 6-8 channels, that could be one more. Not everyone who asks is interested in paying you for your time, so they will need to go bye-bye. But some people would be willing to pay for such a service and on an hourly rate, you would probably get paid more for consulting than blogging. So while there are lots of female bloggers complaining about all the people asking them to do such things- I am surprised some of you are not doing it, and getting fairly compensated for it.

    1. I get that, Sherri — but why should I have to do that? Even if I get paid, helping people with their travels is something that I don’t want to spend my time doing. Some people have chosen to do that, but from what I’ve observed, most people offering it struggle to get people to pay for it, and those who are most successful at it have a hyper-niche in an intimidating travel specialty (like India).

      It CAN be done, but that doesn’t mean I have to. I really, really do not want to do that for work. 😛

  16. Love this and it’s so well said. I think, as women, we always try so hard to be nice, but that’s just not possible all the time. We can’t please everyone, and we shouldn’t have to.

  17. Wow, you hit the nail on the head. I joined a few FB groups to help get myself off the ground and you’re absolutely right. They’re promoting this “Oh, a reader! Let me kiss your hand!” mentality. Anything to keep a reader when in the end, that devalues your blog and yourself. It’s worth reminding ourselves that we are people, not public slaves. You’ve touched on something I’ve never seen before and hadn’t even thought to consider. My blog talks a lot on feminism, low and behold, the very work I’m in is clouded with it! Very good points to remember! Thanks for not being afraid to say it! 🙂

  18. Great post! You just have so many points that absolutly make sense. I am sorry you get so much crap on Snapchat. That sucks. I am exhausted from getting e-mail from readers who want me to plan there trip. Also with so many start with just “Hello” no first name I wonder if they are really readers or just found me in Google. Many don’t even say “thank you”.

  19. I used to live in Japan and would get people emailing me with quite complex questions. If i answered them I rarely even got a thank you. My plan was to write an ebook and direct them to that. I have seen bloggers politely refer readers to their consulting fees which is also a good idea.

  20. At first, I thought this was going to be a female bashing female thing.

    But I was wrong.

    This post became an amazing, glorious piece of art. I’m not sure why I read it that way, but maybe your hook in this post positioned it that way and my mind just wanders in many different strange directions. But anyway, you go girl, Kate. There is so. much. truth. in. this. post. I have shared many of the same frustrations caused by gender inequality. I’m proud of you, Kate, for vocalizing and sharing your thoughts on this. It’s actually quite funny, the way you summarize the interactions in the Facebook groups. I’m kind of glad I don’t participate in those communities.

    And, seriously. Little boys need to stop sending those nasty pics. Why do they gotta ruin everything.

    I support you and all the female bloggers making a positive difference in the world. We’ve got to support each other and rise together.

    Stick it to the man. And I will brace for the #notallmen with their pitch forks to come at me. (Cue my *eyeroll* as I use the wall of women pushed against the glass ceiling as a human shield)

  21. Yay, Kate!

    I loved this post! As a female travel blogger in my fifties, I appreciate all of the different things you addressed here.. One of the reasons so many us us enjoy reading you is that you’re very matter of fact about addressing many topics.

    Thanks!

  22. This is such a great post and so important for all women to read, even if you’re not a blogger. I don’t blog full-time so my blog is more for fun and to provide information to readers but I certainly don’t push myself to do more for others if I can’t handle it/have the time or don’t feel it is genuine. I will just ignore emails or say no. I have gotten so much better at saying no in all aspects of my life.

  23. I like this – for many reasons. I especially felt a relieving “yes!” where you write about the informing, high quality content. Sometimes it’s so frustrating spending so much time in doing research and verify things in order to write a journalistic article – witty, but with correct info just the same. I sometimes have the impression that this sort of ‘service’ is not appreciated and cherished; but that’s what I am ready to give – and not the ‘hello, I’m a shallow ‘influencer” stuff.
    Thanx for this very complex and considerate post, anyway.
    Happy travels!

  24. Yes! All of this is so important to talk about.. I used to give messages from strange men the “benefit of the doubt”, but now I ignore or block straight away when there’s even the slightest feeling of not feeling comfortable. It’s my space, and I make the rules.

  25. One of the reasons I love following your blog is because you are fucking SPOT ON and aren’t afraid to be a feminist blogger. Your adventures and travel stories are wonderful, but combined with posts like these? Magic.

    Thank you!!!

  26. This post hits home – I do always try to respond to one-on-one messages, but this makes me realize it’s not necessary! Your statement about it taking up time and bandwidth is exactly what I needed to read.
    As a beauty blogger who travels a lot (marry a flight attendant like I did is my best advice), I always have to remind people that I am not a travel blogger. They send me random questions about destinations, and I’m like, what? Go read Adventurous Kate’s blog, haha!

  27. Oh, wow. Thanks for sharing. I am completely agree about Facebook blogger groups. So much nonsense and spam. It got to that point that I barely open my Facebook account…

  28. You are such an amazing person! Loved the honest and tough post!
    Just this week a reader commented on a FB post, asking me to scan a WHOLE entire book and send it to him. And he added “if you’re a good person, you’ll do it”.
    You know what I told him? “What about I clean your butt with rose water?” (Portuguese saying).

  29. Thank you so much for laying it all out here and eloquently stating some of the challenges specific to female bloggers. Spot on. Thank you for the advice in setting limits as well.

  30. Great post, as usual! All the aspects that you mentioned are very important. We talk about gender’s inequality at work, but then we forget that blogging can easily turn into work (well, it is work for some), so why would it be different? We need to remember that we are not obliged to anything, just because we have a blog. If you don’t want to do something, just don’t, that’s the beauty of being your own boss.
    Your story from Snapchat disturbs me though, how creepy! I hope you will find the best solution for that soon.
    Aga

  31. Great Post enjoyed reading it a lot, and definitely gave me some things to think about.
    I agree with you, when you say about setting limits to when readers ask you questions and how much you go out of your way to try & help with certain things.

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