The Emotional Labor of Female Travel Bloggers


Earlier this year, I joined a group on Facebook called “Female Travel Bloggers.”

Truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan of blogging Facebook groups — they tend to feature a lot of noise and little tangible value. (The big exception being the excellent Travel Blog Success Facebook group.)

Female Travel Bloggers shouldn’t have been different from the other groups — numerically speaking, the travel blogging industry is dominated by women, after all — but I was shocked at how different the atmosphere was.

In between the tightly regimented daily conversation topics, women ask for travel recommendations; they ask for help with blogging issues; they ask for life and love advice. It’s far more personal than the coed groups. We tell stories, sharing mishaps and laughter.

But then you get the same kinds of questions over and over, blogging questions that you only see amongst groups of women. I’m going to paraphrase the questions and answers here.

Question: A reader asked me if he can bring hentai [anime porn] into another country. I don’t know what the laws are. What should I tell him?

Woman 1: You can look up the laws of bringing porn into [that country] on [this website]. I would look here and find out, then tell him.

Woman 2: I would say that you aren’t sure of the specific laws and to thank him for reading your blog but this is not something you can help him with.

Woman 3: I’m familiar with that country — tell him that he shouldn’t have any problem entering the country.

Me: Normal people don’t ask strangers on the internet how to smuggle their porn. Don’t even respond to him! This is just a way for him to start talking to you sexually.

Here’s another:

Question: How do you deal with getting personal messages from men that say “Hey, how are you?” and want to have a conversation?

Woman 1: I say, “Hello, thanks for reading the blog and I hope you have a wonderful day!” I don’t want to be rude.

Woman 2: I always make time for my readers. They’re the reason why I’m able to travel the world.

Woman 3: I’ll talk to them but if they start making me uncomfortable, I’ll leave the conversation.

Me: You don’t owe anyone a personal conversation. You don’t even have to engage. Oh, and if you shut down Facebook messaging, you’ll get SO MUCH LESS of this.

And a third:

Question: I get lots of emails from readers who ask me to plan their trips for them. I don’t want to be rude and say no, but it’s starting to take up a lot of my time and I don’t know how to let them down.

Woman 1: I always remember how lucky I am to have people read my blog so I always take the time to help my readers. It’s the least I can do.

Woman 2: You can charge for this service!

Woman 3: I don’t give them everything but I like to plan a general outline of a trip, how many days to spend in each place, that kind of thing.

Me: You don’t have time for this — so don’t do it. Send them a link to a post about a destination if you have one, but that’s it. You’re never going to rise if you spend all your time and bandwidth helping people one-on-one.

Do you notice any common threads in these messages?

“I don’t want to be rude.” “Thank you for reading.” “I’m lucky to have these readers, so I should do this for them, even if I don’t want to.”

Gender Inequality’s Impact on Emotional Labor in Travel Blogging

There may be no barrier to entry in travel blogging but that doesn’t mean that the industry is a meritocracy. There is significant gender inequality, inequality that is exacerbated for women of color in particular.

If you took a look at most travel blogging conferences and see who was speaking, you would assume that most travel bloggers were straight white men. But straight white men actually constitute a small minority of the blogging population. In fact, at most travel blogging conferences I’ve attended, I’d estimate that around 75% of the blogger attendees are female.

One of the toughest issues female bloggers face is that our success in blogging is tied to our likability, yet studies have shown that when women become more successful, they are less liked. How do you make yourself successful but not too successful? That’s a tightrope many of us walk carefully.

Add in companies low-balling us financially, female photographers being too often overlooked, and the fact that female bloggers are often seen as doing a hobby while similar male bloggers are seen as running a business, and we have an uphill battle.

But the emotional labor factor comes in because as women, we are expected to be nurturers. A lifetime of conditioning has led us to believe that our role is to help people, care for them, and put others’ needs before our own. We want them to like us, we don’t want to disappoint them, and we are worried at what the repercussions may be if we don’t fulfill their needs.

How does that affect travel blogging? We end up spending our limited free time making our readers happy. That means socializing with them, meeting up with them, helping them with their problems. Our inboxes are full of our readers’ life stories, paragraph after paragraph detailing hardships, ending with, “Do you have any advice for me?” that we are expected to answer.

But here’s the thing — you don’t have to do that.

Which brings me to Snapchat.

I’ve received several messages from readers asking why I haven’t been posting on Snapchat lately. They check in and make sure I’m okay. They tell me they miss me. And it breaks my heart because I have the kindest readers in the world and I don’t want to disappoint them (oops, there’s that conditioning again).

I’ve taken a break from Snapchat because the sexual harassment is out of control.

Every time I open Snapchat, I’m assaulted with photos of male genitalia. Multiple photos every day. And it’s gotten to the point where I get stressed out when I open my messages.

I can’t take it anymore.

Why don’t you just block them? I block tons of people every day. It doesn’t stop new messages from popping up.

Why don’t you turn off messaging? The point of Snapchat was getting to chat and laugh with my readers.

Why don’t you add nice people as friends? That would still require me to have public messaging in order to add them in the first place.

So I’m not sure what to do. For now, I’m sharing more on Instagram Stories – adventurouskate. All private messages from people I don’t know are kept in a separate folder. Occasionally I read and respond to them. But the best thing is that all photos strangers send you are hidden until you open them. I can’t get assaulted with penises on Instagram.

Am I done with Snapchat? Not completely. I’ve got such a big network on there that it would be foolish to jettison it completely. I might shut off messaging and do limited snaps — like one per day.

But for now it’s going to be on Instagram only. I still think Instagram is shitty for copying Snapchat’s platform, but at least Instagram is an app that doesn’t make me live in fear.

How Female Travel Bloggers Can Reduce Their Emotional Labor

You’re already doing everyone a favor by writing your blog. Remember that. If you’re blogging for the right reasons — if you’re blogging to genuinely help other people rather than fuel your own ego — your blog serves as a product that helps other people create more happiness in their own lives. That’s incredibly generous, even if you make money from it.

And for that reason, you’re not obligated to do anything more than just write your blog. But most women will go above and beyond until they’re bent over backwards.

You’ll never be able to please everyone, so don’t try.

You can’t be everything to everyone, and you can’t be everything to one person, either. Make peace with the fact. Only robots are able to be perfect every time and you’re a human being.

I once had a reader who was a faithful commenter on every post — until the day I mentioned I went to a Jesuit university because I loved Jesuit educational values. She went on a rant about “papists” and I haven’t seen her here since. How could I have predicted that?

There is nothing wrong with making money from blogging.

You are providing a valuable service. You have cultivated an audience. You deserve to benefit financially from that.

Blogging requires a lot of intense work, time, and education. It looks easy as hell but anyone who tries it quickly discovered just how much work is involved to make it look that effortless.

Women in particular often agonize over whether they’ll be seen as “selling out” or somewhat less genuine if they start making money, but that is not the case at all. If a man agonized in the same way, people would say, “Are you crazy? You’re letting money slip through your fingers!”

Spare yourself the anguish of turning yourself into an emotional knot and accept that there’s nothing wrong with you earning money for the work you do.

Understand that culture clash is real.

Most of the issues I face in term of blogger-reader relationships stem from one region: South Asia, specifically India and Pakistan. 90% of my requests from strangers who want conversations, friendship, and romance come from these two countries. A lesser amount comes from the Middle East.

It’s an interesting time in South Asia right now. In cultures where men and women don’t socialize together, the internet has opened up lines of communication that didn’t exist before. Many South Asian men see this as an opportunity to message Western women on Facebook.

Look at any of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook posts about his family or DACA or climate change and you’ll see comments from South Asian men saying, “Thank you Mark Zuckerberg, I have so many girl friends now because of Facebook!”

You don’t have to be part of it. But it’s good to understand the root cause.

Turn off Facebook messaging.

If you want to get fewer personal messages from people who want to have a conversation, turn off Facebook messaging on your page altogether. I did it years ago and my life has been so much better as a result. So much less crap to wade through.

If a reader really wants to get in touch with you, they can figure out how to email you through your blog.

You don’t owe anyone a real-life meetup.

The tough thing about blogging is that it creates a one-way relationship between a reader and a blogger, not unlike one between a fan and a celebrity. But the lower level of fame and ease of getting in touch makes it easier for a reader to reach out to a blogger and actually meet up in real life.

Most readers I’ve met up with have been very cool. They’ve shown me around their cities; they’ve taken me out for drinks and coffees; some have even become good friends.

But some readers see me as their best friend, or their prospective lover, or someone who will teach them how to make money online. I am none of those things, and being grilled about how I became successful at blogging makes me feel used.

So I only meet up with a very limited number of people in real life — people whom it feels like I can trust, who don’t set off my alarm bells, who aren’t looking for blogging advice. That means a lot of people end up disappointed, but that’s what I choose to do to keep myself safe and sane.

Another tip: don’t meet up one-on-one with older men. In my experience, too many times it’s turned into, “Soooo, my wife doesn’t like to travel anymore…maybe we could go somewhere!” And I’m a little sick of waiting till he’s gone to the bathroom and saying to the bartender, “Yo — I’m not a hooker, he just reads my blog.”

Write blog posts around your most popular questions.

It is so much easier to respond to emails when you can write, “Here’s a link to a post on that exact topic!” rather than writing out response after response by hand.

Here are a few of my most popular questions turned into blog posts:

Trust me…you’ll save so much time this way.

Include helpful, practical information in your post.

A few years ago, I started adding an Essential Info box to the bottom of my destination-based posts. It includes details on where I stayed, what attractions cost, prices in the local currency and USD, links to their current sites, and any other helpful information.

This is SO helpful to my readers, even more so than just linking to a hotel or museum’s website. It saves time. Information may change and prices may creep up over the years, but at least they’ll have all the resources there without emailing you to ask where you stayed.

PS — I call mine Essential Info but you can call yours anything you want.

It’s not your responsibility to plan someone’s trip.

You’re a blogger. Not a travel agent.

Most of the requests I get to plan whole itineraries and trips come from Indian readers. But I’ve found that a brief and firm, “I’m not a travel agent and I don’t plan people’s trips,” usually results in profuse apologies.

You are entitled to have a life outside your blog.

Not everything needs to be blogged. Just because you did it, it doesn’t mean you need to write a blog post about it. People might ask you for one, but if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to!

Probably my biggest sub-advice within this topic is to keep your love life off your blog. Not just because it can be awkward as hell when a relationship ends, but because it allows you to keep something special and intimate for yourself without inviting strangers to observe it.

I haven’t blogged about my current love life in three years and that’s not because it’s been inactive. (If anything, it’s been overactive.) But nobody is entitled to that information and I’ve been much happier and at peace as a result.

Female travel bloggers, do you go too far in accommodating your readers?