Ethical Travel Blogging: Being Honest with Readers

ethical travel blogging

When I first started blogging a few years ago, all I could find on other travel sites and Instagram pages were declarations of lifestyle porn—or beautiful photos and posts about how everything on vacation was perfect and went swimmingly. While this type of content is still popular, it’s definitely receiving some backlash recently, and many travel bloggers are choosing to be a bit more honest with what they share.

Part of the problem with the way the industry is set up is that the media is rewarded with press trips—and press trips are usually granted to people who can show off the tour company or the city’s tourism in the most favorable light. I love press trips as much as the next person, and many of my favorite journeys have been facilitated by companies who have made sure that I see the very best of the country or area they are trying to promote. However, I’ve made sure to warn them beforehand that I will be honest with readers.

So what can we do as bloggers and travelers to convey a sense of reality to our travels? For me, it’s important to share both the good and the bad, but it’s a fine line between receiving benefits for what you do and to do it in an ethical way.

Accept reviews for products that are in line with your brand

 I focus on adventure travel for Generation-Y, which is a very specific niche. I’ve been sent products that definitely not in line with my readership and what they would be interested in. One example of this was the original Try the World box. While I loved the concept, it was a bit too expensive for my readers, which I pointed out in my review. A few months later, they sent me their much cheaper snack box, which I was happy to recommend to my readers.

Getting free stuff is nice, but unless you actually believe in the product, it’s not a good idea to recommend it to people who trust you and your expertise.

Show the good—and the bad too

I’ll admit it—it’s hard to share the gritty side of travel sometimes. I wrote a post recently about my time in Lisbon, Portugal. While I mentioned I was tired after a long flight, I didn’t fully explain what I didn’t like about the city. Readers were confused how I spent an entire post writing about the things I liked rather than the parts that weren’t my favorite. It didn’t ring true and I felt like I wasn’t being honest. I wanted to love Lisbon but I just didn’t, which is the message I really should have shared with the people reading my blog.

Let the readers get to know you

 One of my favorite bloggers is Alice Nettleingham from Teacake Travels. She’s candid and has a voice that is recognizable. Along with working with companies, she also shares valuable information with readers—some of it incredibly personal.

Lifestyle porn bothers me because it prescribes to a certain kind of voice that influencers think will do well and help them gain free trips and products. This might be for a while, but styles change. Your readers might get tired of hearing about which lotion you use while abroad, but they aren’t going to get tired of well-written stories and your voice. Make your passion the reason why readers keep coming back instead of the seemingly-perfect life you live (because that’s not authentic).

Ethical blogging isn’t always easy. It can be hard to share difficult events and to give an honest review about a trip that was paid for. But it is important. As more and more travel writing is available online, let’s remind readers that it’s not all fun and games—and that’s part of the adventure too.

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander


  1. Tamsin

    Really interesting post, I’ve seen quite a few big travel & lifestyle YouTubers calling out the “false positivity” on social media. I’m a brand new travel blogger, I’m going to be travelling long-term for about 2 years and I want to document the positives, negatives and everything in between!

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  2. reinhardkristin

    Thank you for an insightful look into the other side. It’s something I have been thinking about a lot on my journey and keeping my authenticity.

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      Alex Schnee

      It’s true. I feel as though if someone has taken the time to read what you have to say, you want to make sure you really believe in the product. Thanks for stopping by and your comment!

  3. Evangelina

    I couldn’t agree more. There is never a trip where everything goes super smooth but guess what, this is what “makes” the trip an adventure.
    I honestly think people are too focussed on getting “likes” these days and forget why they travel in the first place.

    I also think I am the last person on planet earth who is not on Instagram., twitter or snapchat.
    I take my photos for myself and don’t look glamorous and I am okay with it.
    It’s important to find your own voice and tell things the way they are. My idea of an honest travel blog anyways.

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      Alex Schnee

      Thanks for doing this. It really makes a huge difference as a reader to see that there are bloggers out there who care about the love of travel more than the perks.

  4. Isobel

    As someone who isn’t a travel blogger, I really value those sites that are honest in their reviews and opinions. Apart from anything else, it’s so much more interesting to read! 🙂

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  5. laurareflected

    I really appreciate the travel bloggers that are honest in their posts. It never rings quite true to me when everything was coming up roses. Nowhere is perfect! Thanks for sharing!

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      Alex Schnee

      Thanks for stopping by! And yes, it takes a little more work, but there’s also the peace of mind of knowing you are helping others instead of hindering them.

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      Alex Schnee

      I agree. It only seems fair that if someone takes the time to read what you have to say then you provide them with information they can rely on. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. inthevintagekitchen

    Well said my dear! It is great to read about pretty places and amazing experiences but it’s also equally great to read about things to avoid when traveling to a certain city or area. If you are on a limited time schedule or a limited budget these go-ahead-and-miss moments are super helpful. I always think of travel writers as tour guides – the best ones can tell you where to go and where not to go because they’ve personally experienced both situations. Plus those terrible times usually turn out to make some pretty fabulous stories during cocktail hour:) Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  7. Bianca Malata (@ItsAllBee)

    I guess this is a side of blogging that I have never really found difficult. My blog when I started it was to showcase my travels, whether straight forward travels or ones fraught with hiccups. It has never really been a big deal or difficult to share those because thats how I started but what I do find odd are blogs that never seem to showcase the difficult sides of travels or our personal mistakes like forgetting to apply for visas, missing flights, scams etc. A little honesty makes blogs and the people behind them a little more personable

  8. Jean

    Ahmen!! It’s so true that people are blogging about the life they want to live, rather then the one they are living. Some great tips here.

  9. The Common Wanderer

    This is such an on point post! I think we have a real responsibility as bloggers to share the good AND bad, and travel, collaborate and share in a way that reflects our personal values. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  10. pswdarlene

    I definitely agree. It’s always better to write about not just the good side of traveling but also the not so good ones. Especially since we all have different stories to tell.

  11. noshoestodayblog

    Such a great post. As a new blogger this is something that I’m really trying to add to my posts from the beginning. I don’t like the idea that I might put someone off of doing something but at the same time, honesty goes a long way!

  12. Lilla

    So true, but luckily there are more bloggers now who honestly blog about their feelings about places and don’t just go for the free stuff. Yes, they are often smaller bloggers, but I prefer to follow these people instead of those who just show how pretty life can be, and hopefully with time more people realize their advice would be more beneficial before a trip

  13. Travel Textbook

    Urgh this is the post I have been waiting for! As a travel blogger it is so hard to find a balance between earning money/free stuff and remaining ethical. It is definitely difficult to make it in this industry without faking it :/

    I always try my hardest to be honest about places and experiences. This has probably held me back financially with the blog but it feels like the best thing to do.

  14. Liz (The Pink Lookbook)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love this article and I do agree on your points that a lot of bloggers only show off their lifestyle. However, I do think that in the long-run readers look for genuine advice and that they will get bored of these posts like “oh I just tried lotion xyz on the trip and it was amazing”. While some might not realize it’s a sponsored view, I think that the readers we are all aiming at do realize and appreciate bloggers with an honest approach.

  15. MeanderWithMeg

    Totally agree with this! My favourite types of posts are not just simply lists of things to do in a place, but an article that tells me how the writer felt whilst visiting X, Y, Z place. I’m more interested to read about how it feels when travelling and happy to accept the rough with the smooth.

  16. Lana Pajdas

    Great post. I clicked on your link to the article about Lisbon because I became curious since Lisbon is one of my cities. I usually write about every single part of my experience – I don’t skip to mention things that people might not like at certain destinations, whether it is about prices, crowds, or simply timings that are not the best. Usually, we all like most places we did not expect to be that wonderful, as I loved Philadelphia, Munich, Rotterdam… On the other hand, I experienced coming to Paris, New York, and my first time in Lisbon (I was a kid, but anyway), with the weather that was not perfect, with certain traffic conditions and everything that made me feeling just “meh” because I expected it to be extraordinary. I would be able to show the best of Lisbon and you would love it 🙂

  17. Sara

    This was so refreshing to read. I think it is so important to be real and honest, and I have always tried to do that the best I can. I think when working with companies it is important to be aware of what is in line with your brand and who you truly are.

  18. Ariana del Rio

    You’re always going to have people who sell you something, even if they don’t believe in it. That’s part of life. “Ethical bloggers” who make a living from selling stuff that most people don’t need to and an “ideal” that most people won’t reach is the norm, and so they aren’t really ethical bloggers. People like me that don’t want to buy into it don’t. For those that do, they’ll learn eventually that it’s not REAL or FULFILLING, including the bloggers themselves.

  19. unsettleddown

    Lifestyle porn…now I finally have a word for it! Thanks for this post. I’m just starting a new lifestyle blog focused on honesty, and I’m happy I’m not the only one out there. Found you on a search for other honest bloggers!

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  21. vincentbullard

    Good post! The funniest thing is my articles with the ‘negative slants’ have easily attracted the most readers. I recently made a post about an extremely negative couch-surfing experience I had, which got a lot of hits (by my standards). Props for keepin’ it real!

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  24. Katherine

    Great read. I agree about showing the bad too… I notice that blogs from my home country (the Philippines) tend to skip writing about the bad to the point that posts become misleading… Beautiful beach? Nah, big garbage problem. Interesting cave? Full of graffiti etc. I guess in this case it has a deep cultural context. I appreciate that foreign blogs tend to be more direct, more outspoken.

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