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Can Travel Blogging Be A Form Of Propaganda?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Travel Blogger, Travel Influencer, Travel Guru, Travel Expert.

If you spend a lot of time looking at travel posts and videos on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, then there’s a good chance you’ve come across someone with thousands of followers who identifies themselves under one of these umbrellas. It’s a very alluring lifestyle, especially when you see how it’s portrayed on the internet. Perfect lighting, scenic backdrops, fandid (i.e. fake candid) laughs and smiles, dope outfits. It looks glamorous af, like something out of a magazine. Kudos to people who dive into this lifestyle full-time because I know it’s not as easy as it looks.

But I have a bone to pick.

In the era of #FakeNews and alternative facts, we typically think this term when talking about common political stances where members of the left and right throw their never ending jabs at each other in order to gain support for their side by sharing incomplete stories that fit their narratives. But what about travel blogging? Can it be a form of propaganda like mainstream media? What makes them credible?

***Disclaimer: #NotAll travel bloggers fit this shoe***

What Makes Someone A Travel Expert?

What are the requirements to be granted (or give yourself) this title?

Is it based on the number of countries visited?

If so, how many countries? What is counts as a country? There are some disagreements on what is classified as a country like the unofficial countries (i.e. not recognized by the United Nations) and country-like territories and regions. Some examples include places like Taiwan, Palestine, Kosovo, Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, Kurdistan, Catalonia, and more. What about the United Kingdom? Is that one country or do you count England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (which is technically a province) separately?

Is It the amount time spent in a country?

Some travelers claim you need to spend at least a few weeks (or months) in a country and visit multiple cities in order to really know a country. I laugh every single time I see that claim being made in travel groups on Facebook and other forums. Being a frequent and/or “slow” traveler means that you may have an upper hand on how to plan your itinerary effectively and avoid the flow of tourist traffic. It may also mean that you know of some “off the beaten path” spots (I’m starting to really hate that phrase). But to say those are the requirements to truly know a country? Nah. The real translation: By this way of traveling, I know more about the country than the generic stereotypes I was fed prior to visiting.

I’ve lived in the United States for 24 out of my 25 years of existence and I’m STILL learning new things about my home country. The East Coast is the only region I’ve frequently traveled, and I haven’t been to any US territories. Don’t ask me what to do in Idaho. Other than eating fresh potatoes and watching a Boise State football game, I know nothing about the state; it’s pretty much a foreign country to me. You could argue this with the go-to “it’s because Americans are dumb and brainwashed about their country,” response, but this applies to my Jamaican born and bred relatives as well; they don’t know everything about their home country. Are they dumb and brainwashed too? Personally, I think everyone is fed a specific view of their home country, but that’s a story for another day.

Is It Having A Large Following?

I think many people would agree that followings doesn’t equate to making one an expert. It just means that you’re good at marketing yourself (or buying followers and likes). A lot of people recognize and understand this, but somewhat conform to the “typical” travel blogger style of photos because it’s the current trend and demand in the industry.

I’m really unsure of the criteria. Since it’s a relatively new thing, there seems to be a lot of gray area. Let’s continue with other ways people can be misinformed.

Safety While Traveling

No one wants to get robbed or injured on their trip. Safety is something a lot of people oversimplify. I’ve read posts where people write off entire countries as safe. When you look into the cities they visited, they’ve only been one or two cities, traveled with a tour company and/or primarily stayed in the tourist sector. Also, can we factor in the demographic of the blogger saying these things? Safety is 100% relative. One’s reception from the locals can vary based on a person’s nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. This is why “Traveling While *insert marginalized group*” has become a thing. And even then, there are conflicting sources. Our experiences and concerns aren’t always the same and it’s okay to admit that.

I get it, bad things can happen anytime and anywhere and sometimes in places where you least expect it. I just find this kind of generic advice irresponsible, especially if you call yourself an expert and/or are making promises of one’s experiences.

“Discovering” Places

One would assume that writers pay attention to how they word things in their articles and Instagram captions. After all, putting certain words together in an eloquently manner is what makes attract people to one’s work. I can’t help but laugh when I see people talking about how they “discovered” a “new” spot when visiting a country, or when they visit a country that “no one” is visiting. That’s about as true as Christopher Columbus discovering America. The translation should be “None of the travelers that I know of have been to this place so I’m going to conclude that no one has been here.” Is it really that hard for one to say that x place or country sees very few tourists compared to others popular spots?

It’s Not Always The Travel Blogger’s Fault

It sounds like I’m dragging travel bloggers under a bus, but they shouldn’t get all of the blame. Many people got into travel blogging because they simply wanted to share their experiences and interesting stories while visiting different countries to their family and friends. Overtime, some people have been able to develop a large following because of it. Some people’s platforms are simply about sharing their experiences and their follwers take it as gospel without researching themselves and get mad when their experience is different. I’ve seen people say “Thailand isn’t magical or life changing, and therefore everyone who said it was, was lying!” When in reality, every place isn’t going to be loved by everybody and the person complaining failed to realize that.

While I respect the hustle of travel blogging that goes on behind the scenes of curated photos and videos, no matter how you slice it and dice it, a lot of what you see are opinions that are often presented and/or interpreted as facts. Even though avid travelers may know more than the general population, they should be mindful of their audience and the picture they are trying to paint when guarantees are being made. In general, a person with a large following on social media is often mistaken as being a resourceful tool that could be cited in a research paper. It’s the same as people who share memes and infographics on Facebook without bothering to see if credible sources are saying the same thing. People can be gullible and have trouble differentiating opinion and fact.

This rant is really a subset of a larger problem: social media has become a platform of easily accessible misinformation that turns a lot of people into “Yes Wo/Men” who don’t bother to question or fact check what’s being presented because it supports their idealistic beliefs.

Make factual research cool again.