In recent years, a number of influential backpackers have found themselves in hot water over photos or videos posted to their social media channels.
Offences range from posing naked in front of famous landmarks, to climbing on sacred monuments and causing damage, all in the name of snapping a photograph that will net plenty of likes and shares. Some countries have been forced to fight back. In 2016, Cambodia imposed a strict code of conduct on visitors to Angkor Wat after several tourists stripped nude for photos there. Bali is considering similar action.
It is not only bad behaviour in the name of social media that is causing concern, but dangerous behaviour too. A steep rise in accidental deaths caused by travellers risking their safety to take a selfie has led some researchers to call for ‘no-selfie zones’ at tourist attractions.
Social media is not inherently harmful to travel culture. The problem stems from crowded platforms and a competitive culture always in search of unique content. Many top influencers want to be taken as seriously as traditional media channels – many already consider themselves superior – but have their reputations sullied by the behaviour of others.
If you want to show off your adventures across social media, and perhaps become the next big travel influencer, here are some tips on how to do it responsibly.
Keep your clothes on
This should go without saying: don’t pose naked at tourist attractions anywhere in the world. What might seem funny and harmless to you is disrespectful, and in many countries public nudity will be outright illegal, and possibly punished harshly.
Similarly, you should be aware of dressing properly when visiting and being photographed at certain sacred sites. For example, swim suits are unlikely to be appropriate attire for visiting a temple. Some sites may require visitors to cover their head, shoulders, and legs. Do your research ahead of visiting and plan accordingly.
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Don’t climb on ancient sites
A classic Instagram shot is a selfie taken up high, the subject leaning back over a spectacular viewpoint or famous landmark, a celebratory arm outstretched. It’s a great picture! Unfortunately, it’s sometimes achieved by climbing somewhere they shouldn’t.
Travellers are conditioned to ‘get off the beaten track’. We’re as guilty as anybody for pushing this idea. Yet it shouldn’t apply at visitor attractions, where the prescribed path isn’t in place to restrict your freedom, but usually for both the safety of the visitors and the site itself. Be creative enough, and you can easily get the perfect shot without venturing somewhere you shouldn’t.
Obey ‘No Photography’ signs
A ‘No Photography’ warning at a tourist attraction might seem like a challenge: how many pictures can you surreptitiously snap before the surly security guard rumbles you?
The thing is, those signs are usually there for a reason. Often it’s a matter of respecting a holy site, or because flash photography could do some damage. Resist the temptation to break the rules, and find somewhere else to take your photos.
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Check the rules for filming and drone use
Being a social media travel influencer isn’t all about photography, of course. Many have made their names by filming their adventures, with stunning aerial drone footage becoming increasingly common. Many tourist attractions have strict rules around recording video, and it’s important to be aware of these before you turn up with your camera and drone in tow.
Many areas, whether they’re landmarks, national parks, or even entire cities, do not allow drones to be flown. Others may require you to obtain a permit or other form of permission for any filming to be done on site. And please, whatever you do, don’t fly drones near an airport.
Treat wildlife with respect
We all know that animal photos – especially selfies taken with particularly cute wild critters – command big numbers on social media. The lengths some people will go to get these pictures can cause a lot of problems.
Most revolve around food. People use snacks to lure animals close enough for the perfect photo. Firstly, the choice of food might be harmful to the creature at hand. Secondly, it risks making them too used to humans, and seeing them as a ready source of tasty treats. This can lead to them turning aggressive.
Remember: these are wild animals, not props. Always photograph them from a safe distance.
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At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that the number of travellers suffering fatal accidents in the pursuit of the perfect travel photo is rising. It might seem easy to dismiss this as silly, but it happens frequently enough – 259 people died in this fashion between 2011 and 2017 – that you should keep it in mind.
No matter how good you believe a photo or video shot might look on your channels, it’s never worth endangering your safety. Stay within designated visitor areas, and always remain aware of your surroundings.
Enjoy the world responsibly
Yep, we know all of the above made us sound like finger-wagging parents. Nobody is saying you shouldn’t take photos or video when you travel and unabashedly show them off across all your social media channels. The world is there to be experienced and celebrated. By doing so with proper respect, you can ensure it will continue to be enjoyed by everybody for years to come.