Do Travel Bloggers Need To State When They’ve Self-Funded Their Trips?

For the past few days I’ve been licking my wounds. Thankfully this happens very, very rarely but the other week a reader upset me. I’d posted a link to one of my recent helpful (I thought) blog posts and someone commented on Facebook:

This sounds like an ad. Unfollowing.

This was hurtful for a number of reasons;

Firstly, because I try to be personable in all my posts and it made me feel a bit icky to think I’d sounded salesy.

Secondly, it smarted because I hadn’t made a penny! The post wasn’t sponsored (or else this would have been stated) and was, in fact, referencing a flight that cost $1500 of my savings.

And thirdly, it got me thinking, what was the problem if it had been? I don’t ask readers for anything. (Apart from your undying love, obviously!) I try to serve up advice and entertainment because it’s what I love doing but I cannot afford to do this indefinitely without monetising. Sometimes I team up with sponsors who host my travels so that I can write about places I might not be able to see on my own and once in a while, because this is my business, I run a sponsored post/advertorial, in order to keep the lights on. I always disclose when this is the case and up until this point I’ve never encountered a reader who unfollowed for this reason.

But this recent encounter made me think that perhaps things weren’t as clear cut to the reader as they are to me. I’d always assumed that readers were happy to read between the lines – that if a post doesn’t say it was sponsored or hosted then they can tell it was self-funded?

Maybe things have got a little confusing as more and more my trips tend to be a little bit of each. Often I’ll plan my own adventures (most recently around weddings, honeymoons and christenings than my bucket list!) and then research places and activities that I think would work well for this audience. Sometimes I get a media rate, other times I might be hosted, and I tend to disclose either in the post or at the bottom which bits I was helped with.

What Goes Into Getting A Sponsored Blog Trip

But what about the bits in-between? Do you guys want to know what I did pay for? Do I need to list this?

Should posts end with:

This is NOT a sponsored post.

This trip IS self-funded.

I paid for my flights, hotel, taxi, new outfit, insurance and cakes but had a little help with breakfast?!?

A big part of me wants to resist this. I want my content to be about the destination. I want to end my posts with invitations for people to ask travel questions or share their personal experiences, not a disclaimer about my financial status. (I’m British remember so being this direct about money matters is awkward!)

I’ve spoken to a few bloggers recently though who think this level of overtness is necessary. They are starting to add in disclaimers that they’ve paid for their trips to add a level of authenticity and I think it’s this interpretation of authenticity that really worries me.

Whilst I fully understand and support the need to be transparent, the idea of self-funded travel content being seen as more authentic than that written from hosted trips makes me nervous. As I’ve mentioned previously, integrity in travel blogging means everything to me. I strive to make all my content as authentic as possible and would hate to think that some posts were being viewed differently from others because I was offered a press rate in return for the coverage. (Maybe I’m just massively naïve?!)

Perhaps I’m just splitting hairs here. Traditional travel media have been doing this for years, after all. Just this weekend I read several articles in the Sunday paper and most of them stated the writer was hosted. I read one where it said the writer was self-funded and I didn’t perceive the content any differently. If anything, on the piece that stated it was self-funded I thought ‘how interesting, the writer must have worked on her holiday’.

So I guess my question is how molecular do we need to be? Just how much detail about what I did and didn’t pay for do you, the reader, want to see? And if you’re a blogger, how are you currently handling this? Is it time we laid it all out on the table or is disclosing what we did pay for not essential to the story?

Discuss!

NB: This is not a sponsored post. No money was made in the process of writing this article. I paid for my own bacon sarnie and consumed it while writing. I’m handing out this sarcasm for free!

Update: Thanks so much for everyone’s feedback. I have now created this Disclosure Page to explain the way I work and will also be clearer about what is self-funded going forward. I agree with you all that transparency is key but want to try to avoid massively long and overcomplicated disclosures on every post.

26 Comments

  • Tiana Templeman says:

    This is a really interesting and thought provoking post. I don’t do sponsored posts but use the word ‘Disclosure’ at the end of every blog post and include details of any hosting (or not). Sometimes this reads along the lines of ‘The writer was hosted by XXX’ or it could be lighthearted like ‘The writer paid for all this delicious food. So did her thighs.’ I feel that putting a Disclosure at the end of every post gives each one equal weight and authenticity, or at least that’s what I am trying to achieve. All of my posts tend to read the same way with regard to positivity or negativity, whether I am hosted or not. I started adding Disclosure to every post in the hope that having these details at the end would help readers see this.

    • Jayne Gorman says:

      That’s a really good way of looking at it. I like the idea that the reader can hopefully see consistency in content regardless of what the disclosure is at the end. It’s probably been unfair of me to assume that readers will/can read between the lines and maybe I need to include something a bit more clear cut (albeit with humour added) in every post going forward.

    • Kristin says:

      I love this idea. Starting off with “this is a sponsored post, etc.” makes me devalue it a lot. By adding a Disclosure to every post, you get people used to the idea of at least getting details of what went into the post – like a little behind the scenes look into what goes into creating a blog, whether it’s self-funded or brand-funded. And you read the post looking for the voice of the author. I don’t care if my favorite writers self-fund or accept sponsorship for their posts as long as it bloody well sounds like THEM writing.

      • Jayne Gorman says:

        Such a good point Kristin, I’m really coming around to the idea too as like you say it offers a bit more behind the scenes of what goes into each post. I’ll give it a go going forward.

  • Jean says:

    Oh also an issue. Some days I think no matter what you’re going to get someone with sour milk in their tea. No matter what we do we can’t keep them all happy.

    I have a small disclaimer on all my posts which says if I’ve had help (sponsored/hosted or not). It doesn’t change my opinion or my experience.

    You’ve always written honestly and openly about what you do. Don’t stop being fabulous over someone else’s sour milk

  • I agree with both Jean and Tiana – a consistent disclaimer is something I’m thinking about including moving forward. I also think the consistency of your editorial makes a huge difference. If you’re not shy of offering constructive criticism to help that hotel/restaurant/airline et al improve their customer experience, and balance this critique well in both sponsored posts as well as those which are self-funded, whether the content was sponsored or not will become irrelevant to your readership. They’ll appreciate the authenticity and take it in its stride

    The worst is when bloggers practically gush over every part of the sponsored experience and their editorial is full of superlatives, platitudes and perfection. No experience can ever be that perfect, and that’s when readers start to sniff out a stinker.

    Great post BTW!

    • Jayne Gorman says:

      Hahaha I totally agree! At the end of the day the content does a lot of the talking doesn’t it. I think in this particular case that the commenter hadn’t read the post – the comment was left on FB – and was thus making an assumption before reading the content. Perhaps this is something that cannot be avoided and I just need to get over it lol.

  • Nic Irwin says:

    I love reading your content and find it engaging. It’s one of the sites I regularly share from and direct friends to when travelling.

    I think the issue people have with sponsored content/trips is if the blogger is contractually obliged to say something nice? If not contractually would they do so in order to work with a company again?

    Readers might think a blogger would just leave out a bad experience to not harm the customer while similarly not misleading their audience.

    I’ve not looked in to if you’ve already written one but could you include a link to a piece about how a sponsored/funded trip works?

    Clarity doesn’t hurt at the end of a post, but I wouldn’t be upset by the comment of one misinformed (former) reader.

    • Jayne Gorman says:

      Thanks Nic! You’ve actually made me think that it would be a good idea to have a page which explains some of these things that I can link to at the end of a post instead of writing a long blurb each time. I touched a little in a previous post about how I retain integrity/independence on sponsored trips (ie there’s never a contract to write positive content and I always have full editorial control on what is published) so I guess it’s quite important that the reader knows this.

      I also wanted to say thanks for all your comments/support – it’s lovely to see a familiar name like yours pop up and give me feedback – it means a lot!

  • Ella says:

    Most of your readers appreciate your work. I think this is just an isolate incident. Perhaps that particular reader had a bad day or has read lots of sponsored posts recently. If the majority of your readers feel like you are sales-y, then, do something about it. Otherwise, I think just brush it off. You’ve been quite transparent and we appreciate the free content. Stay positive and keep on writing!

    • Jayne Gorman says:

      Thank you Ella. You’re right that hopefully this was just one isolated incident and that everyone else is happy with what they read here! It just surprised me enough to make me think that perhaps I wasn’t being as clear as possible. It’s good to have feedback from others who say differently 🙂

  • Angie Silver says:

    It’s something I’ve also been thinking about recently as like you say sometimes people don’t seem to read between the lines. For example I get people commenting that I’ve been paid to do restaurant reviews, and whilst I am hosted by a restaurant for a complimentary meal I’ve never actually been PAID to review a restaurant.

    I also got a comment the other day saying it seems like many of your posts are comped meals / stays, I felt compelled to defend myself and give many examples where I’d paid for something myself and blogged about it cos I loved it as opposed to any other reason. Much of my content is independent yet I don’t spell this out, I also thought maybe I should. Interesting to read that you’ve had the same thoughts.

    • Jayne Gorman says:

      How interesting to hear you’ve experienced the same misunderstanding. I don’t like the idea of being so mercenary on every post but it’s definitely frustrating to have your work misinterpreted. I’ve been toying with the idea of having a discloser/how this site works page which spells out what I mean by hosted/sponsored etc and that when it says neither it means it was self-funded. Maybe something like that would dispell a few illusions for both of our readers.

      • Cherie City says:

        I’ve had one of those comments before and it really stings when you’re not being shady but actually paid the bill and posted out of genuine enthusiasm (do paid restaurant reviews even exist?!)
        Not sure what the answer is, but if they are truly a regular reader, they’ll see that you disclose everything and should be trusted.

  • This is such an interesting debate! I personally don’t think that you should write when it’s not sponsored, how ridiculous. But of course, people will always make assumptions. That said, I do believe that sometimes self-funded travel is more authentic, but that may just depend on how you’re doing it. If you’re always authentic and it shows to your reader then they have no reason to think it’s suddenly unauthentic.

    I don’t know your blog very well yet, as I’ve just discovered it, but I know some big travel bloggers I used to follow who suddenly started to go to big hotels and all their posts started being sponsored and I stopped following. To me, perhaps it wasn’t even about ‘authenticity’ but about the fact that the experience they had had and were trying to share with me in their blog posts, wasn’t something I would look for or something I would have access to, so it lost all interest.

    In the end, I think that if someone unfollows you quickly like that, they didn’t appreciate your content to begin with and probably aren’t worth your time.

    • Jayne Gorman says:

      Thanks Camila, I needed this dose of honesty! I totally agree that it’s important not to alienate the reader with extravagant experiences they can’t recreate. (On a side note that’s why I never write about blogger events I’m invited too – even if they are awesome – as I feel it would be a tease to readers who couldn’t do the same!) I also strive to keep a balance of self-funded and press trips as I think it helps to keep a grip on what things cost. I guess we all just trying our best to do something we love and have to accept not everyone will like it!

  • Deborah says:

    I honestly dont pay too much attention whether a post is sponsored or not. Specially TRAVEL posts! I dont care, I just wanna see the place! At the end of the day nobody is forcing me to buy a product, I can make my own decisions based on my own research. It doesnt matter if it’s a trip or a skincare product, sponsored content isn’t gonna force me to do anything that’s why I dont care. People just have way too much time on their hands I guess and they love to complain of course. Keep doing you and ignore the noise!

    • Jayne Gorman says:

      Thanks Deborah, I feel exactly the same. As long as the content is objective and useful I often look at several sources before forming a decision and accept that some of them will be sponsored – it’s just the way the industry works now.

  • Abi says:

    I sometimes wonder about this – particularly when I write about places I’ve visited several times. Say Paris, for example. Most of the time I’ve paid for the trip but…there was this one time when I had free museum entry. So, now every time I mention Paris anywhere, I add a disclosure. But it seems over the top – implying that everything was hosted…Ah, what a strange business we work in!

    • Jayne Gorman says:

      Oh gosh this is a minefield too isn’t it! I do the same, often writing 4 posts from 1 trip where the hotel offered a media rate but everything else I paid for, and I wonder if people really want to know that in every post. I guess we each have to make up our own policies and then be consistent with them.

  • Sharon says:

    I think this person has their own problems – why get so annoyed that they feel the need declare they’re going to flounce off your facebook page?

    I think the disclosure discussion is an interesting one – I follow a number of travel blogs and I am convinced one in particular never discloses when they’ve been ‘paid’ in some way for the post or the trip they’ve taken.

    Its about trust, if you follow a blog for a while you become familiar with a blogger’s approach to their business (and you have nothing to worry about on that score).

    • Jayne Gorman says:

      Thank you Sharon. I completely agree with you that if you follow someone enough you get a better idea of how they work. I’ve created a Disclosure Page to try to dispel any misgivings new readers might have but I realise now that if people are judging too quickly they are probably not going to be a regular reader anyway.

  • Megan says:

    As a regular reader of yours I know you always specify if you didn’t pay for an experience, so I’ve never had to question any of your posts. But there are other bloggers that aren’t as up front. I’ve seen an Aussie blogger acknowledge in a Facebook post that a trip was comped, but not mention it at all in the blog post about the trip – if they had a standard disclosure maybe they would be more mindful of being open about any payments/comps.
    I also sometimes find it helpful to know explicitly what things a blogger has personally paid for, as it gives me an idea of whether they feel it was worth it. If you acknowledge at the bottom of your post that you did pay for it, then it’s reminder to me as a reader that you really do think it’s something worth spending money on. I’d never expect a blogger to pay for everything they write about, but knowing which experiences a well-travelled blogger believes is great enough to pay for is helpful for me.
    One thing I can say for certain though is not to let one comment in any way affect the wonderful work you do.

    • Jayne Gorman says:

      Oh thanks so much for this reassurance Megan! I do understand that readers can have doubts as there isn’t 1 set way of doing things and it just made me have a little wobble about how clear I need to be. I definitely agree it helps to disclose when a blogger has paid for spendy experiences in particular. I always disclose when I’ve paid for a hotel for example and indicate whether that felt good value. I haven’t done this for flights in the past but shall consider weaving that in too in the future. Thanks so much for the honest feedback though – massively appreciated 🙂

  • Meh, I wouldn’t give one cranky person too much weight, although I know it can be frustrating. If you always disclose when you’ve been hosted or sponsored, any rational person would assume if you haven’t disclosed it, then you weren’t hosted!

    And so what if you are sponsored? Kudos to you for doing the work to get the sponsorship going!

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