As the founder of a large travel site (We Are Travel Girls) that features women travelling around the world, I am often inspired by the places that these women visit. In fact, the reason I created the Instagram and website in the first place was because I had been saving so many beautiful travel photos from Instagram to reference for my future travels. I was and I am influenced by the images that I see on Instagram, blogs and other social media channels. A few years ago this was great as I discovered places I had not heard of, even in countries I had visited previously, and it spurred me on to visit them again.
But in the last few months and years, the face of social media has changed. We continue to inspire through the beautiful images that are shared on social media, but we are seeing a clear trend that the platform has moved very far from the original ‘Insta’ goal of people posting images that were instant. Now we spend time planning a photo shoot, selecting clothing, hours setting up a photo, potentially with someone doing our hair and make-up and then hours in post production – before we finally post our perfect image onto our social media account.
What’s wrong with that? Nothing, in many circumstances. When I was young I loved to flick through Vogue magazine and admire the beautiful models and the fairy tale photo shoot sets that were created and I still love to see these artistic images – but now we don’t just see them once a month in a magazine, we see them every day, every minute and from multiple channels and it influences us more and more. This can be in both a positive way or a negative way. One of my favourite quotes I read on the Instagram account Overheard In LA was “I hate Instagram. I was never supposed to know what some Australian model was doing with her day!”
It’s safe to say whether you like the term influencer or not (personally I dislike it even though in some ways perhaps I am considered one!), influencers exist and what they share impacts and affects their followers. Oftentimes, their audience seeking to re-create their photos or comparing themselves to what they see. So in this article I wanted to address several issues that concern me and appeal to bloggers / Instagrammers to try and consider these things when they post their photos.
1) Don’t Pile Up Your Plate To Make The Perfect Breakfast Flatlay
We are all guilty of this and I have definitely done it before. But have you ever really truly thought about the waste your perfect flatlay is creating? Are you planning to eat all that food? If the answer is no then don’t do it! Consider how many people around the world go hungry every day, probably within 10 yards of the luxury hotel you are taking this photo in and instead just pick the items you actually plan to consume.
If you want to go one step further ask the hotel what happens with food waste from their kitchen. Do they have a donation program and if not, could you speak with a manager or reach out to the hotel after to suggest this to them.
2) Partner With Brands You Really Love
Many girls (and guys) want to become an influencer to get free stuff. Let’s face it, that’s the truth. But greed is a terrible thing and having a lot of stuff won’t make you happier. I am personally somewhat OCD and actually find it quite stressful to have clutter or too many things in my closet, so naturally I always clear my wardrobe every few months and either sell items on eBay or donate them.
In my current position as a travel blogger I am often offered items for free in exchange for promotions, even just a mention on an Instagram story and 9 times out of 10 I say no. Unless the brand and product is actually something I like, have used before and will definitely use in future, I choose not to accept the products. I have also been sent clothing where several items were sent that I would honestly never wear so I returned them. We live in a throw away society so I encourage you to only partner with brands selectively and when you do make sure the products or clothing are things you will actually use – otherwise explain to the brand and return the items you don’t think you will use.
3) Donate Clothing
If you do accept a lot of gifted clothing or you purchase a lot as fashion blogger or travel blogger because you need different outfits for your trips and photo shoots make sure that you donate these once you are done. Its tempting to take the easy route and throw these items into the trash, but you shouldn’t! There are a number of stats about how many tonnes of so called ‘fast fashion’ ends up in landfills – but believe me it’s a lot and clothing made from polyester, which is plastic, takes over 200 years to break down in a landfill.
Some stores such as H&M have began their own take-back recycling programmes where you can return old unwanted clothing. Whilst there are question marks around how much is actually recycled, at the very least this is a big retailer addressing the issue and looking to make changes in the industry.
If you are not sure where your donated clothing will end up, the easiest option is to give it to friends and family. I typically save up my items and let my best friend choose what she would like first, and then she takes the rest to give to her younger cousins and friends daughters who are delighted with my throwaway items! Or you could use sites like Depop or Vestiaire Collective to resell items.
4) Think About The Photos You Share – And Who May Try To Re-Create Them
I recently travelled to Israel and met a guy called Jackson Groves on the trip. If you check out his Instagram you will see him jumping off cliffs and generally doing some scary looking stuff. But what I found interesting was that before he jumped from a cliff he would go down to the water and test the depth and check there were no rocks. What looks like a crazy activity, was actually something he was carefully planning before hand.
On the completely other end of the spectrum, I recently saw a popular Instagrammer take a stunning photo laid out on a tree branch above a waterfall. The image was perfect and of course inspired her followers and other Instagrammers to do the same thing. I went to this same spot and when I saw the branch, I could not believe anyone would even consider lying on it! First the route to the branch meant heading under a massive spider web with a gigantic scary looking tropical spider in it and then laying yourself on a very, very precarious branch over a 30ft drop. Worth it? ABSOLUTELY NOT. The recreated images I have seen show people looking quite frankly terrified and clinging onto the branch. Consider what you are putting out into the world and even if the photo is beautiful and you did it safely, is it worth encouraging others to do the same potentially dangerous thing?
5) Work With Eco Brands
One of the biggest problems with your unwanted clothing ending up in a landfill or being recycled is that the fabrics either cannot break down or are difficult to recycle. So choose to work and partner with eco brands who make their products with sustainable fabrics that began life as recycled and can be recycled again! You can use your influence to introduce your followers to eco brands and also feel positive about you own impact on the earth.
6) Offset Your Carbon Footprint
If I am totally honest this is an area that I need to learn A LOT more about, so please do share tips and information about this topic in the comments below. I found this article really useful from The Points Guy on The Basics of Offsetting the Carbon Emissions From Your Flights, which explains how to track your flights, calculate your carbon footprint and then choose a company like Gold Standard to offset with. As a travel blogger and someone who wants to see the world, of course I will continue to get on airplanes, and whilst offsetting your carbon footprint is not the same as not getting on the flight, at least it is a step in the right direction and better than doing nothing!
7) Use Eco Friendly Products
Eco friendly is becoming fashionable which is great because it means more eco friendly products are flooding the market making it easy to switch to them! You probably have your favourites so I am not saying switch everything, but perhaps start with picking a face wash or body wash that doesn’t contain microbeads. These microbeads end up back in the oceans and can be swallowed by marine life, causing issues with the environment and eventually making their way back to humans who consume the fish. These have effectively been banned in the UK and the US, but I still see them in a lot of products overseas. So, as an influencer or blogger make sure you are not sharing products with your followers that include micro beads.
8) Research The Destinations You Are Visiting & Don’t Promote Unethical Places
I can’t stress this enough – research the destinations and activities you are visiting BEFORE you go. This relates mostly to visiting animals in the wild or in so called ‘orphanages’. Hundreds of bloggers post photos swimming with whale sharks in Oslob (which is NOT ETHICAL – please read my articles about swimming with whale sharks Donsol, Philippines: The Responsible Way To Swim With Whale Sharks and Why You Should Swim With Whale Sharks In Isla Holbox, Mexico) and also from unethical places like Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.
Posting these images encourages others to go and do the same. Make sure you research before you go and if you go somewhere and find the practices to be unethical please do not post a pretty photo anyway. I am shocked at how many women I see on Instagram post images from Pinnawala, where the elephants are ridden, bred for captivity and often chained to the rocks in the river to make the perfect photo backdrop.
And don’t be afraid to say something. I used to keep quiet on these issues and not want to be controversial or call anyone out. But now I will say something if I see places like Pinnawala being promoted by a blogger.
9) Partner With Eco Friendly Hotels & Resorts or Ones That Give Back
More and more hotels are bringing a sustainable element to their business. Obviously this is difficult and not all hotels are able to be completely eco friendly or sustainable, especially the large ones. I found it really interesting when I visited The Andaman Langkawi, a hotel that is doing a huge amount of work to conserve and rehabilitate the coral reef in the bay in front of their hotel that was close to destroyed by the tsunami in 2004. I was impressed by the efforts, but then disappointed to find they have bathroom products that use the plastic beads (mentioned earlier) which do not decompose and get washed into the ocean. I spoke with the marketing manager about this and he said he was aware of it and they are trying to get this changed, but its a slow process in a big hotel.
Choosing smaller eco-hotels that can make these changes faster will help and if you are choosing larger hotels research what they are doing to make steps to become more sustainable or give back to the local community.
10) Get Behind Causes You Believe In & Share These
You can use your influence to share information about causes, organisations or charities that you believe in or are personally connected with. On We Are Travel Girls we started an interview series Ladies We Love to introduce women who inspire us, and recently we launched a new series Charities We Love to introduce charities and organisations to our community. As we continue to grow, we want to use our position to bring positive influence to our community and awareness of the great work some of these organisations are doing.
11) Be Honest With Your Followers
One of the most important things I think you can do is be honest with your followers. Becoming a blogger or an influencer seems like an ideal life, we see girls jetting around the world, wearing beautiful clothes, staying in luxurious resorts and working with top brands. When we launched our Bali Blogger Retreat I was shocked at how many young women told me in their applications that they were finishing university and wanted to become an influencer so they, quote “didn’t have to work and could travel for free”.
As someone who has worked in the corporate world for over 10 years before I started my own business, I feel a responsibility to share with my readers and followers what life is really like behind the scenes of a pretty photo. I work 7 days a week most often for over 10 hours a day, far more than I ever did in corporate. When we teach our blogging course we are very honest about the behind the scenes so that anyone wanting to get into this industry truly understands the level of hard work, commitment and time it takes to be successful and earn a living from it. Becoming a blogger or influencer is not something that happens overnight and those teaching about this industry should not make people think they can become an overnight success.
I recently saw an influencer post a beautiful photo of herself on the beach with a palm tree swaying over her. She also posted stories showing a make up artist, a girl holding a loose palm leaf in the exact position so the reflection ran up her spine and a professional photographer. The result was an effortless looking photo and many people would aspire to create something like this not realising the careful planning that went into this photo. I love that the girl shared the reality behind the scenes and encourage others to do the same.
Finally, What Am I Doing Personally?
I am not saying all of these things to preach to other bloggers, nor am I saying I am in any way perfect or am managing to do everything in the blogging world correctly or responsibly! I am just learning and finding my way, and discovering ways that I want to use my influence to help educate others. If I am totally honest I didn’t do all of the things I recommend in this article from the beginning and I have just begun to learn more about this whole area of responsible travel and I am eager to learn more.
In this article I shared some ideas on how we can all be better and more responsible bloggers. For me that means:
- Choosing ethical ways to travel and see animals in the wild. You can read more about this here
- Bringing awareness around places such as Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage or whales sharks in Oslob which receive a lot of Instagram publicity that ignores what is really happening here
- Reducing my use of plastic and learning more about how I can make small steps to help create a greater change in our consumption of plastic
- Bringing an element of eco awareness to our retreats. We will no longer be handing out big gift bags and instead will focus on a gifting a few eco friendly products including re-usable water bottles and straws
- Working selectively with brands and creating long term partnerships with fewer brands for products I truly love
- Focusing on eco-friendly hotels and destinations and ones that give back to the local community
- Hosting a safari and charity trip to Malawi to work with women in this region and learn more about Malawi
- Learning more and trying to discover more ways to bring positive influence to my community of followers
- Launching Travel Girls Giving to give back to communities we visit, spotlight charities and help share the stories of organisations doing good around the world
I hope that this article has helped you consider how you can become a more responsible blogger. If you have any questions, comments or other tips for our readers please share in the comments below. I would love to hear how you are making steps to being a more responsible blogger and traveller to help me to do the same!
Read More About Blogging & Responsible Travel
- A Guide To Travel Blogger Networking Events
- Donsol, Philippines: The Responsible Way To Swim With Whale Sharks
- Why You Should Swim With Whale Sharks In Isla Holbox, Mexico
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