Well hello there! If you’re new to my Instagram channel or blog first of all: Welcome! My name is Charlotte and I am a travel blogger from Belgium. What makes me different from any other travel blogger out there? I try to keep it as real as possible with you! I feel there is a certain responsibility we have as a travel blogger that is often overlooked by many, many people.
I am not here to point fingers, cause that has never made any difference before. What I want to do in this blog post is shed light on certain topics and show you how I try to be a responsible and ethical travel blogger. Don’t get me wrong, I also make mistakes. But I strongly believe in learning from them and turning to other people for advice. That’s why I will also include some of the people that I look up to when it comes to responsible and ethical travel and most importantly why!
Why do I feel the need to write this?
You may not always realise it (or you do :p), but we live in a copy-culture. A time where someone sees something online and wants to do the exact same thing. Over the past years this has led to dangerous situations were too often people get injured or worse, meet their death. We live in a time where traveling the world has been made easier than let’s say 15 years ago and where a lot of places suffer from over tourism. Social Media has made things exponentially worse in a lot of ways. Especially cause many people these days care more about the amount of likes they get than about the truth behind their perfect Instagram photo.
Now what if I told you that we could use this copy-culture to inspire to do good? People aren’t inherently bad, they just want to copy what they believe looks cool. They look up to big accounts and want to have the same experiences they do. If they pose with an elephant for example and then describe this “magical moment” in their caption it will lead to thousands of people wanting to do the same thing. This list goes on and on, so let’s dive into it shall we?!
Photoshop & Safety
It’s safe to say we all love epic photos right? I am no different when it comes to this subject. During my travels over the past years I have seen people do some crazy stuff simply to get their own epic shot. And I am not just talking photographers or professional Instagrammers and bloggers. These days it’s very common for everyone to climb over safety fences, disregard rules and simply do as they please to get their photo. And you know why? Cause they saw a certain photo from this location somewhere else and they want to either recreate it or share the same experience.
What people don’t realise however is that 90% of the times these photos are created by using Photoshop! Before I started using Photoshop myself I didn’t even realise it. I just thought they were idiots risking their life for a photo. But what is happening in reality is far more dangerous. They’re risking the life of others by not disclaiming their photo is manipulated with photoshop. They are standing somewhere safe and simply add themselves to an epic lookout point in editing.
What can you do to help?
Always disclaim you’re using Photoshop, especially if you’ve edited yourself in an otherwise dangerous or prohibited situation. What I like to do myself is educate on this topic by showcasing how I created a certain image. This will often lead to hilarious outtakes of me sitting somewhere else and people walking by with a very weird look on their face.
I will show you a few examples below!
Take this photo. It’s taken at the famous Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon in Iceland. Alongside the entire pathway there are clear ropes and signs that you can not go over them! Pure for safety reasons. As you can see, it’s a long way down if you would fall. A fall you wouldn’t survive.
What I did was take two separate photos. One from the epic view and another one of me randomly sitting on the pathway up. It was a ridiculous site for everyone that came across me but I honestly don’t care. I rather look stupid than actually BE stupid.
Another example is when I visited Lago di Carezza in Italy a few weeks ago. I had seen so many photos of people standing at the lake itself. A point of view that unfortunately would not be possible to recreate without jumping the fence. And while this may not happen during the day I can assure you it will happen in the early morning when there is no one else around to see. This fence is there to maintain the flora so that it actually stays a beautiful lake for many more years to come.
I applied the same trick as I did before and compiled two images together and more importantly. I disclosed all of this at the beginning of my caption! And I included the original photos as well.
Do I make mistakes?
Hell yes I do! During that same trip I waddled through ice cold water to catch the sunrise from a private boathouse in Lago di Braies. But to be fair: I was the first one (to my knowing at least) to fully disclaim in the caption how I did it. Not just describing the “magical moment”. Apparently you can ask for an early morning photoshoot (at a hefty price of course) but I had no idea about this because no one ever puts a disclaimer in their photo :p.
Sponsored trips & Safety
This one goes hand in hand with the dangers of our current copy-culture. While working with a tourism board can be a lot of fun and rewarding it can also lead to dangerous misunderstandings when not done right. You might know what I am referring to…
Last week some of the world’s most famous travel influencers got invited to Saudi Arabia. And what did we learn from it? Well basically nothing besides that there is a super cool location called “Edge of the World”. No explanation of what you should be aware of as a tourist, nothing on what you shouldn’t do…
Meanwhile the process of modernising Saudi Arabian laws is an ongoing process, not one that will be immediately implemented. You can’t just visit this country and go exploring. You have to take into account that the Sharia Law is the only one that matters. There are no written rules for this law, the judge at each individual trial must interpret the law at their own discretion.
Some things you have to take into account before chasing popular photos in Saudi Arabia.
- You have to be careful when taking photos – Taking photos of of government and military installations is illegal and you should also avoid taking pictures of local people without first asking permission.
- Avoid breaking the Lese Majeste laws – It’s completely illegal to publicly criticize in any way the government, King, royal family, or flag of Saudi Arabia, including on social media platforms. Punishment may be flogging, jail or deportation.
- LGBTQ relations or signs of affection are illegal – Punishment can be flogging, jail or even death.
In addition to a regular police force, Saudi Arabia is also policed by the muttawa, a group of volunteers and officers who enforce Sharia codes of morality and report to the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice overseen by the Saudi Royal family.
Especially if you plan on traveling to Saudi Arabia as a woman you need to look out for certain things!
- Wear appropriate clothing – This means covering up by either wearing an abaya or loose conservative clothing. You’re advised to always carry a headscarf. The muttawa can also find offence in wearing too much make up.
- Segregation in public places – Women are forbidden from swimming in public places.
- Avoid trying on clothes when shopping – Women are not permitted to disrobe in public, and this includes behind a dressing room door in a store. Other restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia include bans on entering cemeteries and reading uncensored fashion magazines.
I honestly wish at least one travel influencer would have posted a caption going deeper into this topic. And while Saudi Arabia certainly is a stunning country to visit the above mentioned points can not be taken lightly! You won’t be able to just “get away with it”. You’ll be thrown in jail, flogged or worse. I am very much looking forward to the day when a woman, not sponsored by the local government, travels to this country and gives her honest opinion on her experience!
You can read more about this particular topic here.
What can you do to help?
Don’t be afraid to share your real experiences! This is what ultimately will help others the most! For instance, after my trip to Egypt last year I have been very vocal about my own experience. As a blond woman I got harassed in the streets every 5 meters. So much so that it has put me off of ever visiting this otherwise beautiful country again.
Put the animal first
If you’ve been following me for a while you know that this is a very sensitive subject for me. These days it seems that many travel bloggers and travel influencers simply care more about their likes than the actual animal. They are by means the “perfect prop“.
When have we become so vain that we put our own popularity over the well being of an animal? Take for instance the so called elephant sanctuaries in Asia, 90% of them are actually tourist traps. Their marketing is so brilliant that most people don’t even realise that by visiting, washing and cuddling these elephants they support the same cruelty that is used so you can ride an elephant.
If you want to learn more about this topic I strongly advise you to read my blog post on “Why we should stop promoting unethical elephant sanctuaries.”
For your convenience I will share a list of things you shouldn’t do
- Don’t ride an elephant.
- Don’t bathe with an elephant – for an elephant to stay still in the water and not roll over as it would naturally do they have to break it’s spirit.
- Don’t visit places were they offer photoshoots with elephants – An ethical place will focus on the rehabilitation of the elephant and will keep tourists at at least 100 meters distance!
- Don’t do a jungle walk with an elephant.
- Don’t visit places that offer “Breakfast with elephants”.
You can find a list of actual ethical elephant sanctuaries here.
Elephants aren’t the only animals suffering from tourism unfortunately.
- Donkeys in Santorini carrying up hundreds of tourists in the blazing sun.
- Horses and camels in Egypt: after visiting the pyramids me and my friend literally saw a horse drop dead.
- Any staged animal encounter/photoshoot.
What can you do to help?
Help by spreading awareness! If you’ve taken a photo like this before, disclaim in your caption that this isn’t the ethical way. No one has all the answers and no one does everything right all the time. It’s not in our nature as humans. What we can do however is learn from our mistakes and educate those that look up to us!
The same goes here for Photoshop. If you’ve used it to manipulate yourself in close proximity to let’s say a rhino: please disclaim it in your caption.
Use your influence for good! Marie & Jake’s Instagram account isn’t my favourite because of their breathtaking photos but because of their message to the world and the awareness they are spreading. They recently launched a fundraiser and raised over $100.000 to help save the rhinos and support rural education for children in South Africa! Plus every week they launch a DoGood Monday where they select a cause to contribute to! If this isn’t something to aspire, copy or look up to then I don’t know what else is!
Respect the local culture
These days we can travel to almost any place we can come up with in our heads. And more often we are looking for a more unique experience. However if you want to travel more sustainable and responsibly it is of the utmost importance to respect the local culture.
Let me set you some examples.
- Uluru, Australia – Uluru is a sacred site to the Pitjantjatjara Anangu — the Aboriginal people from the area — and they ask that travellers respectfully refrain from climbing the rock. More recently it’s been announced that there will be a climbing ban so now tourists from all over the world are flocking here cause they feel they have the right to climb this sacred site.
- Angkor Wat, Cambodia – Angkor Wat is another sacred site that gets swarmed by hundreds of tourists every single day. Some of them behaving atrociously, not to mention I have seen some very debatable poses on Instagram… Since it’s a sacred site make sure to cover up your shoulders and knees.
What can you do to help?
- Always show respect and dress appropriately. Especially when it comes to a certain dress code I think it’s very important to respect the local culture.
- Try not to buy souvenirs in a big shop but look for locally made ones! I always love bringing home a souvenir from a trip to decorate my apartment.
- If you’re visiting a sacred site and you see a sign that says “Don’t climb”, then don’t climb it :p.
- If you want to take a photo of locals always ask for permission first.
- Book a tour with a local guide.
- Spend the night at a homestay. This way you get to learn about the local culture and taste real local food.
- Eat at a local restaurant and avoid big chains. If you’re in Asia don’t shy away from street food! I had it often during my 3 month trip and I never got sick!
Never ever feel like you’re entitled to something because you’re from a different culture!
Promote Sustainable Travel
As a travel blogger you’re bound to leave a pretty big foot print on our planet. But this doesn’t mean you can’t contribute and help in other ways!
Try to limit the amount of plastic that you buy or use along the way
- Travel with your own bamboo or stainless steel straws so you can refuse the single use plastic ones.
- As a woman try to switch to a menstrual cup instead of tampons or pads – I personally did this when traveling through Asia for 3 months and it gave me much more protection than regular tampons.
- Travel with a reusable water bottle.
All of these products are from Ever Wonder, a store co-founded by the amazing Gailė Juknytė. She is not only an amazing photographer and Photoshop wizard but she also joins the fight against plastic every single day.
Carbon offsetting is a way to reduce the emissions that you can’t. It both helps to combat global climate change as well as caring for local communities. It is however only a stepping stone towards becoming more eco-friendly. If you wish to offset your air travel you can do so with Atmosfair.
Avoid eating meat
When I am home I try to only eat meat once a week but when I am traveling I try to stay clear from it. It’s not always easy cause I am a sucker for a nice piece of chicken. While traveling you can use the free Happy Cow app to find the closest vegan and vegetarian restaurants around you. The website Travelfish is a really good one when you’re traveling through South East Asia.
Avoid fast fashion
I have to admit it, I am a sucker for ZARA. I am however trying to buy less. A tip of mine for not shopping too much fast fashion online? Once you’ve selected your items, leave them in the cart for a day. If the next day you can still remember everything you wanted to buy go ahead. For me it often leads to me not even remembering I was planning on buying anything.
No, this post isn’t just about helping the environment and telling the truth. It’s also about being respectful towards the people around you. If you’ve ever been to Iceland you know that there are a few ‘no drone zones‘. Still, every time I visit this country I see people flying their drone where it’s not allowed to. Same goes for Angkor Wat, Lago di Braies and the Taj Mahal.
Again, the need to be the best and to get the most likes for the most unique content drives people to be disrespectful of local laws.
Just because you’re using a more expensive camera doesn’t give you the right to claim a spot for yourself alone when other people are waiting. Take your photos, then let other people also take their photos. This also works the other way around. When I see someone else taking the same photo a hundred times I will politely ask if I can also take a few. The main goal here is to be respectful and polite.
If you’re taking photos in an area where people live make sure to be quick and quiet. Plus, when sharing this location urge your followers to do the same thing!
This topic often leads to a heated debate on Social Media. The opinion on this one is very divided and I get the need to keep some places out of harm of over tourism.
My two cents on this topic? If you post the photo you should share it. You can choose whichever way you want to do this. I often keep the exact locations for on my blog posts so that people will have to read them to find out. Or you can simply choose to share it in a private message.
However showcasing a spot and then saying “I won’t share the location” is the opposite of being a travel blogger. This is again the need to be unique and not wanting to share a spot with anyone else. I get that sometimes it’s not possible because it’s a place you’ve stumbled upon and at that time you yourself don’t even realise where exactly you are.
If your reasoning behind it is protection of the environment then simply don’t post the photo on Social Media. This way people don’t even know what to look for.
You know what else is good about sharing a location? You can tell people if it’s safe and what they should look out for!
If this blog post resonated with you let me know in the comments! If there is something you think I should add feel free to tell me. I am open to discussion as long as it is polite :).