52 responses

  1. RunawayBrit
    November 2, 2015

    I have given up reading most of the blogs that initially inspired me to try blogging – many of them started as fun and original blogs, but the sponsored posts become tedious very quickly. As soon as I see that a post is sponsored, I start to doubt the authenticity of what is written. I’m sure that many of them actually have a good time and can honestly write positively, but I wonder how genuine their experiences can be. Of course restaurants, tour guides, and hotel concierges will make an extra effort when they know that 20 well-known bloggers are going to be snapping their every move, but is this the experience that I would have if I paid up the money for the same?

    Another thing that bugs me is how boring Snapchat/Instagram become when half of the people you follow are all in the same city doing the same thing at the same time.

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      November 2, 2015

      Those large trips are so annoying. I use filters on Facebook and Twitter every time there are a bunch of them so that I don’t have to get a billion of them a day. I wish it was as easy on Instagram. I don’t know why some of these people don’t get that having 12 travel bloggers on the same trip is just going to generate the same photos and articles.

      Reply

  2. GISELLEANDCODY
    October 31, 2015

    Great post and I think it’s very important to post the reality of travel blogging. Not every country is going to be incredible and not every experience is going to be amazing. Just like in real life nothing is perfect. It is hard to really trust travel blogs now because everyone wants the free stays and the perfect write-ups. Thanks for posting this.

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      November 1, 2015

      Absolutely agree with you, and I think it’s a real shame.

      Reply

  3. Michelle
    October 31, 2015

    I LOVE this list! I write a lot about hiking and camping with my young kids and I always struggle with finding the balance of positive things that will show families it’s totally doable and the reality so that when they get out there they don’t think their kids aren’t cut out for it if they get tired or start complaining.

    Also, the lure of comp trips to places I’d never be able to afford is a real thing to deal with. Kudos to you and other bloggers who find a way to keep their focus and make every post applicable to their particular readers!

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      November 1, 2015

      It can be VERY tempting to accept a luxury trip when it doesn’t apply to your niche, but if you’re always asking yourself “How will this benefit my readers?” it’s easier to stay on task.

      Having said that, if I’m ever able to swing a sponsored trip to Antarctica I’m so doing it! 😀

      Reply

  4. Karyn Jane
    October 30, 2015

    For some reason this issue is coming up for me again, and I am seeing people talk about it everywhere! Or perhaps it’s just one of those discussions that inevitably keep coming back around in the travel blogging community. 🙂

    About a year ago I started thinking I didn’t even want to be a travel blogger anymore, because I saw such a lack of integrity everywhere. I thought selling out and glossing over stuff was part and parcel of this job. Fortunately I’ve now been exposed to quite a few people who haven’t lost their integrity and so it’s made me realise this life is still something I want. But yeah, there’s far too much of this sort of thing going on and it’s really disappointing. A lot of people are taking advantage of the dreams of their readers that will never be fulfilled (for eg. people on a backpacker budget thinking they can get to go on a 5-figure cruise just because their favourite budget travel blogger got to go, etc).

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      November 1, 2015

      You’re right that it does seem to be a recycled topic. I know there are many more quiet bloggers with lots of integrity out there, but the ones who don’t fit that mold sure do it loudly.

      Reply

  5. Sue Slaght
    October 30, 2015

    Excellent post Talon and great advice. It can be a challenge to find the balance between giving the hotel/tour some value and being honest to retain credibility. Still if your readers can’t trust your advice what is the point of it all?

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      November 1, 2015

      Precisely! You hit the proverbial nail on the head.

      Reply

  6. Katja of Skimbaco
    October 30, 2015

    Absolutely agreed with everything you said.

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      November 1, 2015

      Thanks! Glad you could relate.

      Reply

  7. Clelia
    October 30, 2015

    PS: I wrote without paying too much attention and, of course, the comment is full of mistakes 🙂 I wish there were a tool to edit the comments after they are published.

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 30, 2015

      No worries, and yes that would be nice.

      Reply

  8. Clelia
    October 30, 2015

    Loved this post Talon! I wrote something similar myself a few months ago, but I didn’t even mention the sponsored trips as in all honesty after 3 years of blogging I only went to a few ones and I have my own set of rules.

    For the hotels I have this method: I book the place in advance and usually I don’t have to pay until I’m there. IF the place is remarkable and I like it, after one paid night I ask to speak with the manager, explaining that I’m a travel blogger, I paid for the stay and since I loved the place I could write a review on my website, or mention the place on my social media accounts in exchange for a few compted days.

    So I only recommended hotels or hostels that not only I loved by for which I also paid for at least one night (I’m not a budget website so I cover either budget or even luxury places because that’s the way I travel).

    Trips: I have the perfect example for my upcoming trip to Africa. It was my dream trip and we all know that safaris and overland trips can be expensive, but I was willing to pay to have the experience of a lifetime, so what I did was contacting the companies I would have booked my trip with, asking if they were interested in a partnership and I was prepared to pay if they had said no.

    Luckily for me they agreed and I was over the moon. This doesn’t mean that if I have issues with the trip I wouldn’t mention it. And I make this very clear with the sponsor when we are negotiating the terms and condition of the agreement. I always send them a document with the terms of the agreement and this is one very important point I make.

    I rejected several sponsorships, products and trips, one of them was worth more than 4K $, ad I said no because it simply wasn’t my style and I couldn’t recommend something I’m not very excited about.

    I also have other streams of income from my blog so I prefer to travel on my own terms and every single sponsored trip I took was one that I would have done without the sponsor.

    I don’t have much time to read other blogs as I used to, but I see the trend you are talking about. The bigger the blog, the more you see sponsored things everywhere.

    The sponsored trips are not bad for themselves, at the condition that you stay true to what your travel style is. For example, I am comfortable doing 1 month camping (that’s what I’m going to do in Africa) and then splurge for a weekend in a SPA or paying 500$ for a not included activity because it’s my dream, no matter what.

    I even write things that are counterproductive for me (money wise). I promote my region (Sardinia) a lot and I make money out of it, but the most expensive part of it is not exactly my cup of tea, so I don’t push it. I have people asking me about this luxury part all the time and I reply by saying things as they are: If you want luxury in its purest form go for it, keeping in mind that THAT is NOT Sardinia at all.

    There is a fine line when it comes to blogging and I always try to think about what my readers might enjoy doing as well. It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely possible.

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 30, 2015

      Keeping the reader in mind is really the ultimate thing we should all be doing. If you always ask if something will bring value to your readers, I think that helps superbly with decision making.

      Reply

      • Clelia
        October 30, 2015

        This is the whole point and also the reason why I write one (usually long) post per month or so. I’d rather write something well thought, honest and useful, than write one post per day with little or no value for my readers.

        I also tell the sponsors about it. They might wait months to see a published article because I want to bring some value, it’s not about making the sponsor happy. That’s not the point of having a blog in my opinion, and I make sure the sponsor knows that as well. Transparency is the key.

        Reply

      • Talon Windwalker
        November 1, 2015

        SO agree with your last sentence. That really is the key.

        Reply

  9. Jo
    October 30, 2015

    Great post Talon. My personal pet peeves are bloggers writing about places they’ve never been to and bloggers doing things outside their niche just because they’re free. I prefer to write from my own experience and to only go to places I genuinely want to go to. I find it difficult to reconcile the authority of a budget blogger who has photos of themselves staying in 5star hotels or a blogger writing a rehash of something I could find on Wikipedia and using creative commons photos. Maybe I’m missing out on a lot of blog traffic and business opportunities with my blog but at least I know that what I write is genuine and authentic.

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 30, 2015

      Completely agree! I see so many posts that are just regurgitating information easily found elsewhere without adding anything of true value. And please don’t do a guide to a place you’ve never been! Amazing how many of those are out there. Just insane!

      Reply

  10. Claudia
    October 29, 2015

    Integrity. That is a word I love. I won’t lose my integrity and recommend Mount Bromo in Indonesia. To me it was HELL. I don’t care if I was sponsored to go. I don’t want any of my (very few) readers to go through what I had to!

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 30, 2015

      Doesn’t sound like a rough situation! Would love to read more about your experience.

      Reply

  11. Kirsten
    October 29, 2015

    I’m a foodie rather than a travel blogger, and I approach restaurant blogging in much the same way as I would a Tripadvisor review – everything I enjoyed vs. everything I wasn’t so hot for, an anecdote or two finished with a balanced summary. That usually equals a review that I feel sums up my experience of a place; whether it’s a restaurant, a hotel or a city. I’ve unfollowed so many foodie traveller blogs precisely for the very reasons you’ve put oh so very well! Keep on keeping on mister 🙂

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 30, 2015

      Cheers! I very much like that approach, and I do something similar. There has been only a rare occasion where I saw nothing that could be improved. But since my readers know I’ll be honest when I do gush over a place like crazy they know it was a real experience.

      Reply

  12. Dirk
    October 28, 2015

    “Over the years, my list of the blogs I read has dwindled considerably. The list of ones whose advice I truly trust has gone down even more.”
    It’s the same for me and
    “This attitude is exactly why I’ll never be a ‘big’ blogger.” that’s exactly why your blog is one of the few I’m still reading. Thanks for that!
    Keep it up!

    Best,
    Dirk

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 29, 2015

      Thank you for the compliment! I’m glad you stick around.

      Reply

  13. kami
    October 28, 2015

    These! All of these! I agree with every single word you’ve written here Talon as I’ve been having a very similar thoughts recently! Just yesterday I wrote about the darkest and worst moment of my travels so far and while the majority of comments were positive I got 2 private messages (from fellow bloggers of course) how could I write about such things. Well, because they did happen and because maybe someone will learn from my lesson? And oh my, so many times I’ve had the conversation about writing only positive things on the blogs, it actually makes me annoyed when I hear the topic again… I really don’t understand why people keep writing only positive things about the place, even if they hated it. It will just hurt them in a long term!

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 29, 2015

      It’s really a huge disservice to their readers. One reason I think it’s good to right about both sides is not only to paint a fair picture, but it also helps other people realize that (a) stuff happens, (b) how to move past it, (c) missteps to avoid, etc.

      I’ve seen many discussions on Reddit about this as well. Many people have become completely disillusioned with a blog (and some with all blogs) because of these experiences. It’s really sad.

      Reply

  14. Karsten Aichholz
    October 28, 2015

    I think part of the issue is the fragmentation of the market: If you have a REALLY big brand, then you probably value it sufficiently to not compromise it with undisclosed, paid-for reviews and other shenanigans. If there’s a lot of small blogs struggling to get by (e.g. because it’s people living on a budget), the temptations are a lot bigger.

    The disparity between influence and income is probably another issue: People who write travel blogs influence a lot of purchasing decisions for big ticket items (flights, hotels…) without actually themselves earning a lot. In other industries (e.g. web design) where that is the case, the writers can often profit indirectly (by using the reputation for profitable side-gigs). This is much harder in the travel industry.

    In the end though, it’s not that bad. Try to find an honest review for anything that pays a substantial affiliate commission (e.g. web hosting) on an individual persons’ blog. The market is so full of affiliate reviews that it’s near impossible to track down the unbiased ones. Compared to that, travel blogging is not only ethical but of unbiased quality.

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 29, 2015

      If you’re shilling so that you make money from it, I would hardly call that unbiased.

      Reply

  15. Amber
    October 28, 2015

    I struggle with a lot of these issues, on my own blog and on others. Even when doing a sponsored trip, I try to bring some sort of downside into the review, because it is rare that everything is 100% awesome, and I think that lends some credibility. Normally, it is a way that brands can improve on things. I’ve also had some bad trips: a miserable hotel stay and an entire press trip. In the end, I told them I would not write about the experience despite the fact that they gave it to me for “free” because I could not write anything positive. And, I don’t want my blog to be a hotbed of negativity and complaining. That said, I will talk about the bad side of traveling, and have often talked about how our lives of travel are not all rainbows and unicorns. Those posts do tend to be pretty popular, but are also often laced with comments from haters complaining that I am privileged and ungrateful. In the end, you can’t please everyone, and I try to do my best to write everything in balance, while trying to keep my own voice.

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 29, 2015

      I agree about balance being key. And you definitely can’t please everyone. I wouldn’t even bother trying. If you’re being truthful with yourself and your readers, I think that’s the best thing.

      I have had some poor experiences I didn’t write about either. I can see that side of “People don’t read my blog to learn where they shouldn’t go, etc.” If I ate at a horrible restaurant that wasn’t particularly popular, it really isn’t worth mentioning, esp if I can recommend a much better place.

      Reply

  16. Suzanne (PhilaTravelGirl)
    October 28, 2015

    Rant away! I continue to be surprised everyday by folks – I’ve met a blogger who had a terrible hotel stay, he said I’ll only say nice things or tell the PR person I won’t write a post both surprised me. Another blogger I used to read was on a press trip saying how great this, that and the other was and I know for a fact that she couldn’t afford that trip on her own and it was outside of her normal posts. THe one that drove me crazy was the writer who doesn’t travel at all and does only internet research to put together travel guides and hotel reviews for places she has never visited!

    For me, I pay my own way and for the handful of “free tours” I’ve been on, they are in line with what I would normally do/pay for as I travel. The highlight of my day (or week) is when I get a tweet or email from a reader saying “thanks for the review, we did the tour, stayed at the hotel, etc and had a great time”. My blog is small, I’m not a popular kid but that’s ok, that one email makes it worth it to me.

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 29, 2015

      I prefer to do as much on my own as well, for various reasons.

      I don’t get how someone can write a guide to a place they haven’t been. Ridiculous!

      Reply

  17. Rhonda Albom
    October 28, 2015

    For myself, the more I blog, the less I know. Yet, I am pretty sure I am not guilty of any of these things. Since I have never been comped a hotel, I am safe there. What bugs me also, is people who blog about places they have never been. I read one who compared a few cruise lines, and when I left a comment share my experience on one of them (much different than she described) she replied that she hadn’t been on that one, in fact, she was only on one of the five she compared. How can you write what you don’t know?

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 29, 2015

      As long as they disclose that, it makes it easier. I have been in places where I missed a lot of things, and I have written about those as places I want to visit next time. But it’s clear I haven’t been there.

      Reply

  18. Cora
    October 27, 2015

    Yes, thank you for saying it. I have stoped reading a lot of blogs because I felt there was no point to it anymore, they were traveling in a way I never could !
    I actually saw somewhere a reader asking “How do I do to enter this place you’re talking about ?” and the blogger responding “You can’t, they just opened it to me as a private visit.” What’s the point seriously ?

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 29, 2015

      Especially if the way they traveled is for the 1% and their blog is supposedly about backpacking. I just don’t get that. I’ve turned press trips because they didn’t fit my niche and I couldn’t see the value for my readers.

      I can see writing about something that even the average tourist couldn’t visit. I think that’s informative and educational. But I would definitely make sure to mention the fact that this isn’t something the typical visitor can do so people aren’t surprised later.

      Reply

  19. Gabi
    October 27, 2015

    I think going back to reading newbies like me and writing just for the fun of it, wouldn’t hurt a bit 😉 I am not sponsored at all. All I ever got in my blogging life was half a refund (one of my children was not tall enough for a train ticket)

    Gabi

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 29, 2015

      I think it’s obvious when a blogger is writing mostly for fun and mostly for business. They tend to be fairly transparent quickly.

      Reply

  20. Silvia
    October 27, 2015

    Ugh, it’s gotten to the point where I sometimes even secretly hope my favorite travel bloggers don’t get too big, because every time I’ve seen that happen they’ve lost their personality. Is that the worst thing ever? I will say that I include myself in that, which is why I always want to have a job on the side of blogging, and probably why most of my favorite bloggers still have other sources of income.

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 29, 2015

      I hadn’t thought of that, but yeah makes total sense. And I can’t blame you!

      Reply

  21. Scott – Quirky Travel Guy
    October 27, 2015

    Talon, thanks for providing specific examples of this. Over the years, I’ve always heard bloggers complain about this kind of thing, but I’ve never actually seen it myself (I also read very few other sites these days), so the tangible examples are useful. It’s hard to believe a backpacker would start blogging about luxury hotels, but I guess it does happen.

    Your last two paragraphs are key. There is nothing wrong with sponsored trips per se, and in fact they can greatly grow your brand and readership. The key is, as you make clear, to be honest about your experiences.

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 29, 2015

      Some of the African safari ones were the biggest shocker for me. These are people who tell others they can travel if they just would give up going to Starbucks every day, yet here they in a 5-star resort in a private suite and enjoying glamping experiences that would cost around $10,000. When it’s a “once in a lifetime” thing, I can see it. But some of these “budget” travelers are frequently getting comps in places that cost a lot more than backpacking accommodations and doing activities that aren’t for the average person. Fine if they want to do that, but then rebrand or something. In any event, the lack of integrity is what bothers me the most.

      Reply

  22. Shobha
    October 27, 2015

    It’s a hard line to walk – unlike journalism, blogging doesn’t have industry guidelines or best practices etc. I always take any sponsored post with a pinch of salt precisely because of the issues you mention.

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 29, 2015

      Even when an industry doesn’t have established standards, I feel a sense of personal ethics and integrity should be enough. I’m like you about the sponsored stuff as well. Unless it’s from one of the people I know has integrity, I don’t trust their glowing review.

      Reply

  23. Amanda
    October 27, 2015

    AMEN! I straddle the line when it comes to blogging. On the one hand, blogging isn’t my main source of income, so taking every single sponsored thing that comes my way isn’t a necessity to me. But, on the other hand, I DO work with companies/brands that I enjoy and go on sponsored trips from time to time. I think the biggest thing that newer bloggers aren’t taught is that you HAVE to keep your audience in mind. Sure, a luxury trip to the Maldives might be awesome, but if you’re mostly writing about backpacking and staying in $3 hostels, it’s not in-line with your brand AT ALL and will always come off as fake.

    I also have a personal rule that I never accept anything for free that I wouldn’t pay for myself. Recently, I got invited to ride the Rocky Mountaineer, a private, luxury train through Canada. Now, I’m not a luxury blogger. But I’m not a budget blogger, either. And, after doing my research, I decided that this trip was totally something that I, personally, would save money up for. And so I did it. At the same time, I turned down a luxury, foodie trip to Las Vegas, but that was something I would NOT save up for myself.

    It’s definitely a balancing act!

    Keep on keepin’ it real!

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 29, 2015

      I wholeheartedly agree about the standard of asking yourself would you really want to do that activity and would you pay to go do it otherwise. I have turned down some things because it didn’t really interest me and/or wouldn’t add value to my readers. And any time I accept a comp, I always ask “How would I fee if I had paid for this.” I remember having one experience that was really good, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I wasn’t sure I would not have felt that I got my money’s worth out of it if I had paid for it out of pocket. So I didn’t recommend it in the end.

      Reply

  24. Gina – Our Global Adventure
    October 27, 2015

    Oh rant away Talon! Bravo! I could have written this post myself. Just this week I have been cleaning out our inbox/news feed and unfollowing travel blogs that we just don’t read any more for all the reasons that you mention and a few more. I can particularly remember one occasion recently when a blogger was singing the praises of a really expensive hotel that they were staying in on their blog and various social networks, but then dropped a comment about how they needed to move on to another one asap. When probed why they’d moved on if the first one was so great in the same city the truth came out that it had been a sponsored stay. OK cool, great gig if you can get it. But when the blogger was asked if they’d also promote the cheaper budget hotel that they moved on to the response was no, there’s really nothing good to say about it! As budget travellers ourselves this left a bad impression in my opinion. I’d rather read about an OK experience that someone had in a budget hotel, than an over the top rave for an expensive one that the blogger themselves admitted they wouldn’t pay to stay in, thus the need to move on to another. Even if you didn’t pay for the stay, don’t blog about it if you wouldn’t pay for it yourself I say.

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 29, 2015

      Or at least have the gumption to put that feeling in the post! I wrestled with blogging about a hotel I stayed at during a press trip because it wasn’t my typical travel style at all, but it was so darn impressive and I could tell it wasn’t that we were just getting VIP service. I checked their website to see what their rack rates were, and I felt that it actually was an affordable luxury. I felt like if I was returning to that city I would definitely budget myself to stay there for 2-3 nights, so I felt okay about recommending it.

      Reply

  25. Edna
    October 27, 2015

    Thanks for writing this, Talon. I’ve always shied away from taking anything sponsored, and I can count on one hand the number of times I have in 5 years of blogging — and each time it’s made me feel dirty afterwards. It’s gotten to the point where I am pretty much refusing all sponsored offers now, even when it would save me a lot of money, because at least then I feel like I’m being honest to my readers — and really, if I can’t or wouldn’t pay for it myself, my readers probably wouldn’t either.

    Also: as a journalist, it drives me NUTS when people clearly have not fact checked their posts! Come on people, Google is not that hard.

    Reply

    • Talon Windwalker
      October 29, 2015

      Love the Google comment. So true!

      I rarely take anything sponsored as well. Partly because I want to experience it like everyone else. If I’m getting VIP treatment that my readers wouldn’t get, how does that help them?

      Reply

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