Blogging is a great way to share information, connect with other travelers, and make some money. It can also be tricky. Different than writing about products, recipes, or fashion, blogging about travel (or living abroad) means writing about culture.
This means lots of opportunities to offend.
Cultural issues touch people on a personal level and the possibility of causing unintentional offense is very real.
Blogging is a Juggling Act
Travel bloggers share information that is helpful to potential travelers and expats. They want to help them understand the country and its culture. They are also trying not to be offensive to the locals. On top of this, bloggers are adapting to a new culture and probably a new language.
Keeping their writing entertaining and interesting can be challenging.
If that all sounds kind of tricky, that’s because it is. When you realize that one or two sentences or subheadings could throw off the feel of an entire post – causing offense or confusion, you begin to feel the weight of what you are trying to do: Create a helpful blog that you can be proud of.
Should You Even Care?
It’s easy to say that you don’t care, especially if you have no readers. But once your blog becomes influential – with tens of thousands of monthly readers – being careless could result in:
- lost readers and trust
- skewing travelers perception of a place before they even arrive
- offending the local population
- misrepresenting who you really are
We recently did some “house cleaning” on this site. We took a few posts off and changed some others.
Why? Some friends told us about a post that could be misinterpreted, and they were right. After we reread it from a different perspective we could see what they were saying.
This caused us to take a look at our posts with a different mindset. We were worried that some posts could be offensive. And we found a number of posts that needed to be revised.
We would never want anyone to be offended by the way we share information. Yet at the same time, we want to give a realistic picture of life in Ecuador. This can be a delicate balance.
Writing is different than having a face-to-face conversation. In conversation, personality and feelings are conveyed by body language, tone of voice, and immediate response to questions. As a writer, these luxuries don’t exist.
We’ve made our living online since first arriving in Ecuador in 2009.
Who Are You Really “Talking” To?
Writers often picture the person they are “talking” to. This helps their writing flow better and can make it more interesting. They often picture the person they feel most comfortable talking to, their closest friend. As a result, they may write things that they would never say to someone they know casually because their friend gets them, they know their history and true feelings.
A close friend weighs everything you say against who they know you are.
Jokes, exaggerated expressions, and comparisons can all be said without the need for lengthy explanations. Even then, when your conversation is over, it’s over. They don’t dwell on everything said. With writing it’s different. What’s down in black and white is done. It’s there forever to be read and reread, deliberated over and taken in as many ways as possible. And open to numerous interpretations.
Bryan and I edit each other’s posts. Jokes, exaggerations, and comparisons can easily slip by.
Bryan and I are each other’s closest friends, so something said between us would just be laughed off, but could cause offense once it was down in writing and being read by someone else. Many travel bloggers are in a similar situation. Their editors are the people they are traveling with – their closest friend. It could be their mate or best friend.
Regular readers grasp your intended meaning – because they’ve been with you from the beginning. So they understand when you make a joke and aren’t offended. But most of your readers only read some of your posts, and others find you from a Google search and know absolutely nothing about you. These readers could be easily offended.
Blogging is a Learning Process
Blogging is a learning process and your readers will make sure of that. This is a good thing!
We have learned to be more careful about how we express ourselves. And comparisons are tricky.
As bloggers, we want to pass on balanced information without offending anyone. It can be very difficult to convey true feelings through comparisons.
- your current home to your former one
- specifics like: transportation, banking systems, and government
There are a couple of factors to consider when making comparisons:
- the possibility of causing offense, and
- the possibility of making yourself look different than you actually are
So there is always a need to fully explain both sides. Passing on the information and how you felt about the situation, not just the differences.
As a travel blogger, you and your experience are the reason many of your readers keep coming back. So if you write in a way that is not true to who you are, people may be put off and stop reading.
As is true with us, most travel bloggers love the country and the culture they are blogging about. So it’s important not to cause unintentional offense to the local people. We don’t want them to think that we have a superiority complex, or that we are making fun of them.
I prefer to write granular posts – covering just a single topic at a time.
6 Ways to Write a Better Blog
- Comparisons: It can be very difficult to pass on unbiased information when using comparisons. It may be best to stay away from them.
- The Passing of Time: As time passes you get a better understanding of the culture. You also mature within it. This causes your perspective to change. Keeping this in mind when blogging, especially early on in your relocation/travels could help you avoid embarrassment down the road.
- Your Mood: It’s never a good idea to blog when you are in a bad mood. You will write in a totally different way than when you are feeling more positive. This could cause offense through unbalanced posts.
- Your Mindset: When blogging, it’s best not to picture your closest friend. It may be better to picture a mixed group made up of 1) people from the culture you are blogging about and 2) the cultures you are blogging for. This may sound funny, but it can make a big difference when you are sitting at a keyboard and staring at a blank computer screen.
- Revisions: Don’t be too proud to edit or trash your past posts. It’s more important to make sure your writing gives a clear picture of who you are and how you feel than it is to keep a popular post alive. It is a good idea to go back and reread your posts from time to time. As you improve as a writer and you adjust to the culture, your perspective will change. Weeding out past posts will give you a better feeling about what you’ve done and are trying to do. In the long run, this will create a better experience for your readers and you will have a blog you are proud of.
- Criticism: Bloggers need to have somewhat of a thick skin, but not too thick. There are a few people lurking around just looking to pick a fight, but there are many more sincere readers. A blogger needs to be able to tell the difference. Concerns from sincere readers need to be taken seriously. When a sincere reader takes the time to tell you how something you have written makes them feel, you need to pay attention. You may need to apologize and fix your post accordingly. We all make mistakes, and people respect people that admit them. So pay attention because your sincere readers are the legs your blog stands on.
Being a better blogger is not an impossible undertaking. It just means that you have to keep the right mindset, care about your readers and stay true to yourself.
Here’s how to edit a blog post that you didn’t write.
We’ve found blogging to be therapeutic – helping us work through changes and challenges.
Have you ever unintentionally offended your readers? How did you fix it?
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
Dena Haines is a photographer and coffee. Since moving to South America in 2009, Bryan and Dena have made their living as content marketers.
Dena is a partner at Storyteller Media, a Canadian-based digital publishing company.
She blogs at Storyteller Travel and Storyteller Tech.
Chasing the Donkey
Monday 8th of July 2013
I'm not sure if I have ever offended, but I do know I don't write a lot blog ideas I have for this very fear. Especially as the town I am on only has 2.2k people - word would spread fast!
Saturday 16th of March 2013
Hi Dena, Interesting points. I’m wondering what you think of the notion that “any reaction” is a good reaction? I’ve read some other bloggers’ opinions on this topic and some of them say that the most important thing is to speak your truth. And that if it gets you a reaction, weather positive or negative, that is good. And that the worst thing is really disinterest. How do you feel about that? Joanna-
Monday 18th of March 2013
That is a good question. I've heard this opinion before as well and while I feel it's always important to be honest and speak the truth, I don't think that requires being rude or offensive.
I guess in terms of how a person feels about getting a reaction depends a lot on the type of person they are. I'm not the type of person that wants to cause offence unnecessarily, that is not the reaction I'm going for.
It's different to write about movies or shoes than it is to write about cultural issues. Cultural issues are very personal and if the blogger has not grown up with a full understanding of the culture they are writing about they could easily cause offence and pass on wrong information by sharing their "opinion," especially if it is an unbalanced negative one. An opinion is just that, but often readers see travel bloggers as experts so their opinions carry a lot of weight and are often viewed as facts. Because of that as travel bloggers I think we carry a certain responsibility to share information in a way that helps people see things the way they really are and not misconstrue information based on what may be shallow or misinformed "opinions."
I think most people read travel blogs because they are interested in learning about the way of life in an area they may visit or relocate to. I don't think disinterest is a risk when bloggers cover topics thoroughly and honestly while keeping an eye out for the feelings and reputation of local people.
Thank you for such a thoughtful comment.
Saturday 9th of March 2013
Very interesting Dena. Whenever I comment (actually all the time except sometimes not with my children) I try to put myself in the other person's shoes to see their side. This summer our plans ARE to visit Cuenca and surrounding towns. Hopefully our families can meet, and we can talk about blogging and get mine kick started :-). Best wishes, Stewart
Tuesday 12th of March 2013
Hi Stewart, That is a good way to get perspective and avoid offending others. All the best with your plans to visit Cuenca. Thanks for commenting.