Let’s Get Real About Affluencer Travel Culture

Hanging out with locals in Belize
BackpackMr and I hang out with locals on Caye Caulker, Belize. When you embrace authentic travel, you connect with people on a meaningful level.

It’s time for us to get real about affluencer travel culture.

Yeah, I said it.

Influencer travel culture is about affluence.

And it’s not the kind of travel experience we endorse. Although it’s fine on occasion to have a luxury vacation, we’re believers in deep, authentic travel.

Affluencer travel culture is different. Travel influencers are often wealthy themselves, wearing expensive gear and couture, being paid to travel and paid to market luxury products and companies. And influencers are often sponsored by affluent brands. At any given moment their travel experience, what they’re wearing, what they’re writing about or promoting is likely given to them for free.

And why isn’t that authentic? Think about it: family-run hotels and restaurants, street food vendors , little shop owners and even developing nations–can’t afford to buy the affections of influencers.

More, what are the chances that you’re getting an honest review from someone who is being paid by that entity to write about them, or is getting their gear, travel, accommodations and meals for free? You have to wonder.

So I’m calling it what it is: affluencer travel culture.

Affluencer travel culture is fundamentally harmful to our collective perception of what it means to travel. It tells us that travel is almost solely for the privileged, the beautiful, the well-heeled, and the caucasian. It sells us products and services and luxuries we don’t need to have an authentic travel experience. It tells us that it’s okay to flaunt wealth when you travel the world, no matter which country you’re in. It tells us it’s okay to be wasteful of our precious planet’s resources.

Affluencer travel culture is damaging in so many ways.

Last night I scrolled through the #travelinfluencer posts on Instagram. And it made me very, very sad. Why? Affluencer travel culture is built on lies. Perfect lighting. Airbrushed faces. Color-saturated photographs. Bikini selfies and duck lips. Luxury, all the way. Great food with zero calories and guilt. Lithe bodies, and women—in particular—who can bend their arms in the strangest of ways behind their backs to lead their man/photographer to the next checklist site. And it makes me sad, because this is the message we’re consuming: that travel, to be rewarding, has to be luxurious, perfect and envy-inducing. And you must be gorgeous and white to do it. And it simply has to garner likes and shares. And if it doesn’t, it’s not valid.

It’s time to ditch affluencer travel culture; to treat it like the cartoon it is. It’s little more than advertising that used to be found in the pages of glossy women’s magazines.

It’s time to embrace authentic travel culture, instead.

Authentic travel is not about affluence. Real travel is not about how beautiful you are or how skinny you are or how great your dress is or how perfect that cocktail looks. I’m living proof that you can be pudgy, relatively poor and pitted and still travel the globe. You can be a hot mess in several different ways and still fill your passport.

authentic travel: Crying at Machu Picchu
This is what authentic travel looks like. It may not be pretty, but it can move you deeply if you do it right. Here my friend and I are, bawling in the instant we saw Machu Picchu after four days of hiking. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

And the truth is, if you eschew the standards of affluencer travel culture, you’re going to have a more authentic experience. An experience that will likely change you, for the better.

But in a world where influencer travel is so highly regarded, amplified and rewarded, it’s helpful to know the signs of affluencer travel versus authentic travel. So I’m breaking it down for us.

Here are 10 lies affluencer travel culture perpetuates, and the authentic travel truths.


Affluencer Travel Lie #1: Travel is solely for the beautiful and rich.

If you don’t photograph well, forget it. You will never be an influencer. You will never be worthy of seeing the world. You might as well stay home.

Authentic Travel Truth: Travel is for all of us.

Budget smart, bold, brave, deep travel is for everyone.

Maybe you simplify at home so you can afford that plane ticket. (I live simply to afford to travel. One example: I haven’t had a car in 10 years, but I’ve traveled farther than a car could ever take me.) Maybe you find ways to work as you go. Maybe you stay with locals through a home exchange program, or you camp, or you stay in hostels to make it affordable. I’m not afraid to stay in a $3 per night hotel with a hard mattress.

Maybe you take the slowest, cheapest mode of transportation. Maybe you never eat out. Maybe you volunteer in exchange for free food and lodging.

Traveling on the cheap isn’t always perfect. Sometimes authentic travel is hard, sometimes it breaks you, and that’s a good thing, because the person you are on the other side is so much more authentic.


Affluencer Travel Lie #2: Luxury travel is the best travel.

You stay only in luxury 4 and 5 star hotels, eat at expensive restaurants, and take luxury tours.

It’s important to note that affluencer travel is frequently sponsored by a luxury brand, or given free by PR folks or tourism agencies who want to leverage an influencer’s followers.

If you are a travel affluencer wannabe, you’ve tried to pressure brands into giving you freebies, in exchange for exposure.

Authentic Travel Truth: We pay out of pocket and it’s more authentic.

We pay our own way, even and especially if that means staying at budget accommodations, flying coach, or taking challenging overland transport. We don’t want a high-end Americanized experience, and we don’t want to eat at big brand chain restaurants or shop at luxury stores abroad. If we wanted that crap, we could have stayed at home.

We seek and value an authentic cultural experience.

Sometimes that means we stay in family-run hotels, hostels and rentals. We eat street food, or shop in grocery stores and markets like the locals. We travel hard, sometimes going off the beaten track, or off-season when the pricing is cheaper.


Affluencer Travel Lie #3: The world is here to serve you.

You expect locals to wait on you hand and foot. And if they don’t, you go online to complain. You expect an Americanized experience in the world, and if they can’t or don’t deliver, you look down your nose.

Authentic Travel Truth: We are here to serve the world.

We travel to better understand the world, her people, and ourselves, and thereby to make this planet a better place.

We view locals as equals, and we treat them like real people, with 3D lives.

We meet them with an open mind and open heart. We strive to understand the challenges they face in their country, and we exercise our empathy muscles.

Of course we have the occasional treat or splurge. But that is the exception, not the rule, and we receive it with humble gratitude.


Affluencer Travel Lie #4: Wear high-end labels, red-bottomed heels, and couture.

You would never photograph yourself in anything but. So what if it’s a poor country? So what if you have to hike to the perfect overlook? So what if you’re baring your shoulders in a temple where it is cultural disrespectful?

Authentic Travel Truth: Dress sensibly.

Wear practical, comfortable clothing that’s climate-appropriate, culturally respectful, lightweight and washes up well (in the sink, if necessary).

When traveling in developing nations, purposely avoid flaunting wealth, whether it’s jewelry or clothing or cash. Be sensitive to the economic challenges people face in the places you travel.

authentic travel culture calls us to think about the issues surrounding a culture and our travel experience
Authentic travel culture calls us to think about the deeper meaning behind our travel experiences. It calls us to question. Photo by Charish Badzinki.

Affluencer Travel Lie #5: Brag-ability is all that matters.

You never consider the deeper meaning or the bigger issues behind your travel experiences. It was vacation, why should you have to think critically about it?

Authentic Travel Truth: It’s important to explore the deeper questions.

You think about overtourism, exploitation, social structures, justice, sustainability, economics, peace, public policy and human rights. You travel to better understand and make informed decisions.


Affluencer Travel Lie #6: Pack big. Max out your luggage allotment on the flight.

You fear leaving home without something you need. So you pack…A LOT. You probably have someone else carry it for you. After all, you need something fabulous to wear for all those social snaps.

Authentic Travel: Pack light for practicality and agility.

You wash your clothes as you travel. You have a couple of nice items in case you go somewhere special, but for the most part, your clothes are functional versus fashionable. It facilitates traveling swiftly and running through train stations when you’re late.

Charish Badzinski petting a baby elephant
I didn’t realize how harmful riding elephants is. But once I learned, I changed my ways. It’s simply not okay to exploit others, including animals, for your travel experience. I love animals. So I’ve pledged to do better. Photo by BackpackMr.

Affluencer Travel Lie #7: It’s fine to exploit for personal gain.

Whatever it takes to get the perfect image, you’ll do, even if it means walking on ancient ruins, taking advantage of locals and disrespecting tradition, exploiting animals or people, or destroying property. If you want to party, you do so with no regard for what’s respectful or culturally appropriate.

Authentic Travel Truth: It’s best to travel with great respect for rules, traditions and regulations.

Leave no trace. Tread lightly in all ways. Be principled. Make choices that reflect your values. And when you make cultural or ethical missteps, learn from them and do better next time.


Affluencer Travel Lie #8: Everyone should speak your language.

If they don’t seem to understand, you simply speak louder.

Authentic Travel Truth: It’s important to try to learn at least a few words of a local language, to be polite.

Have the tools you need to communicate the best you can: translation apps, books, or even local friends.

the problem with travel influencers
Ugh. I HATE this photo. It was about 98 degrees in July in Europe and I was carrying everything on my back, passing time until my next train. It may not be pretty, but THIS IS AUTHENTIC TRAVEL. Would a travel influencer ever show you this? Selfie.

Affluencer Travel Lie #9: It’s okay to risk your health and safety or the health and safety of others for the perfect shot.

You also trample foreign lands freely, without regard to their protection and preservation for the future.

Authentic Travel Truth: Turn the camera outward for the best shots.

After all, you know travel isn’t about you. It isn’t about how great you look in a photo with a famous place in the background. It’s about being present to the place you are, to the people who surround you, and to the experience itself.

So be safe. Don’t risk your life for an instagram post.


Affluencer Travel Lie #10: We tell the truth about travel. (Wink. Wink)

You pay, we play. Sponsored posts, sponsored product reviews, social ads and affiliate links–it’s all good!

Authentic Travel Truth: Never sponsored, always honest.

When I was a radio and TV journalist, managers had strict rules against accepting anything more than a cup of coffee. I’m proud to say I never even took a coffee for free. Though during late-night county board meetings, it was sure tempting.

These days, I believe to restore integrity to travel journalism, and to uphold an authentic travel culture, we writers and videographers and vloggers and bloggers and ‘grammers need to pay our own way.

Then, there’s no question about our loyalty: it’s to you, our readers.


How do you do authentic travel?

Charish BadzinskiCharish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.

Posts on the Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World travel blog are never sponsored and have no affiliate links, so you know you will get an honest review, every time.

Find Charish on Twitter: @rollrbaggoddess and on Instagram at @rollerbaggoddess. You can also read more about Charish Badzinski’s professional experience in marketing, public relations and writing.

Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

6 thoughts on “Let’s Get Real About Affluencer Travel Culture

  1. Great post! I feel the same way about visiting small hotels, chatting with people, learning words in a new language and making travel about meeting people rather than conquering places. Brava! Rebecca

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! It makes such a difference connecting with people on a meaningful level. My life is so much richer because of it. Thank you for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

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