Who to Follow on Instagram If You’re Not Following Any Travel Accounts

Disclaimer: This post is not your average list of Instagram influencers to follow; it also delves deeper into influencer culture, Instagram growth and bad influencer behaviour.

Also disclaimer: I might actually know less than Jon Snow so it’s okay if you disagree with some points that I make in this post.

About two years ago I changed my Instagram handle into my blog name and created a personal, private account for following friends, family and tattoo artists. At that point I was only following a handful of other travel accounts through my re-branded blog Insta and I had no clue how to find more, other than searching by #travel or #travelblog. (Pro tip: this doesn’t work.) All I knew was that I needed to network and learn how to get to 10k followers as fast as I could.

I wanted to write this post to not only highlight some awesome people who are doing great work on social media but also to draw attention to bad practices that affect the world around us, not just this limited social media sphere. If you’re first starting your account, it can be very confusing to figure out how the platform works – not the nitty-gritty but the elaborate schemes, hustles and algorithms that go on behind the scenes.

This post can be especially useful to you if:

1. You have just started a travel Instagram account or a travel blog with a related Instagram account and you don’t know where to start.

2. You like to travel or like the idea of travel, and you frequently look for travel inspiration on Instagram.

Here is (nearly) everything I have learned about Instagram so far.

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Elina (@wayfarover) jakama julkaisu

All the things influencers do to grow a following

Gaining followers on Instagram can seem like a frustrating task if you’re new to it – and it might be useful to understand how it works even if you’re NOT trying to cultivate a 100k+ following.

Crudely put, there are two options for growth on Instagram – organic or un-organic growth.

Un-organic growth means employing more-or-less shady techniques to “trick” people into following you.

On the lower end of the scale, there are comment pods and loop giveaways. Pods are small communities of Instagrammers or bloggers supporting each others’ work; it’s like an agreement to like a certain amount of pictures and leave a certain amount of comments to inflate each others’ engagement. While all this activity might help boost your posts enough to push them up on the Explore page or otherwise trick the algorithm to show them to more people, it doesn’t necessarily translate into authentic engagement. For example, if a future influencer would like to work with a brand and their following solely consists of other bloggers, there is little value in paying them to promote a product that is not going to reach a broader audience.

I know people who have made real friends through pods, and it can definitely be valuable to be able to share your work with other like-minded people – but this is often not the target group that up-and-coming influencers want to pursue.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Elina (@wayfarover) jakama julkaisu

 

Let’s get to giveaways. You’ve probably seen Instagrammers posting dreamy photos of some exotic destination that you could win a holiday to. All you have to do is follow them and like and comment on the picture! Oh, and also go follow these random 40 accounts that the giveaway sponsor is following. Does the prize actually exist? No one knows, but suddenly an up-and-coming influencer has 4,000 new followers who have no clue who that person is.

Often you have to pay to participate in these so-called loop giveaways; you can even pay more to be a “secret” participant so that you don’t have to advertise the competition on your own socials but you’re still listed as one of the accounts to follow to enter.

Speaking of pay-to-play, I’m sure you are already aware that followers can be bought. One thing that’s indicative of buying followers are big follower and like counts but small or insignificant engagement. You can type in your favourite influencer’s name here to see their public stats; if their follower activity shows drastic changes day-by-day – for example, +1,000 one day and -340 the next – they might be buying followers.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Elina (@wayfarover) jakama julkaisu

 

And the other method of growth, growing organically? Of course that’s the dream; you put out so much good content that people are scrambling over themselves to come visit your Instagram page. But with the vast amount of creators out there, it is easy to get lost in the chaos, and organic growth – at least quick organic growth – is virtually impossible.

When I started looking into Instagram growth, I didn’t know about any of this. I was just frustrated that my follower count seemed to be stuck in the same old digits. After I learned what the realities of Instagram growth were, I re-evaluated my relationship with the platform and decided to actively stop worrying about numbers and focus on things that I valued more: making like-minded friends and educating myself.

I recently wrote about this change of mentality on an Instagram post, saying:

‘There was a time when I’d feel bad that I wasn’t out there growing but I recently realised that I actually enjoyed sitting on the sidelines.

You see, when your growth on social media becomes slow, your personal growth becomes way more important. I have come to realise that I’m not as great as I thought I was. I’m not doing enough for the environment, I’m exploring my destinations in very basic ways, and I still harbour some possibly hurtful mentalities. —

I am grateful for having a small account; because it has given me the time and space to learn more, educate myself, make friends and above all listen – you can tell some big influencers out there got too famous too fast, and they’re doing a hell of a lot of speaking and not enough listening.’

Many of the people I have gotten to know since I started focusing on building relationships rather than building numbers agreed; the conversation that was created around that post once more showed how much more meaningful it is to participate in good communities than simply lead a following.

Read more: Let’s Talk about Instagram

Instagram can be a great tool for travellers, and I do want to raise my hat to those who have (authentically) cultivated themselves a career on the platform since it is not easy; but Instagram is a third-party platform that you as an individual have very little control over. It could be gone next week or next year – and if it disappears, you have to make sure you’re not left hanging on empty.

This section might’ve seemed like a tangent. I promise it’s not. It’s an important part of understanding why some famous influencers have got so famous.

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Elina (@wayfarover) jakama julkaisu

 

Let’s get down to business.

So, who should I start to follow?

Follow people who make your feed better. If you’re the smartest person on Instagram, you’re on the wrong Instagram. Follow people who make you say, ‘Wow, I did not know that!’

Follow a diverse bunch of people. I know, it’s 2019 and affirmative action and diversity hires are just not cool anymore. But if you only follow people who look like you, who come from the same surroundings as you, and who do the same thing as you, how much are you really learning about the world outside your bubble? Diversifying your feed can and should work as a privilege check, especially if you’re white, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied and middle-class or above. (I know I am; and I am aware that not everything I post might seem accessible to everyone because of our different backgrounds.)

Things I have learned from the people I follow in Instagram: one-use plastic straws are often the only type of straws that some disabled people can safely use; that my Kosovan friend can’t travel to most of the countries I have been to because they don’t recognise her passport; that my hitchhiking adventures might not be safe for POC (people of colour) since there’s always the added danger of race-based violence; and many, many more things.

Follow people who are out there building a community. Follow people who often shout out others in their stories; this is a great way to find more amazing people to follow and an act of kindness from their part.

Or you know, just follow someone who posts pretty pictures. It doesn’t have to be deeper than that. But obviously this isn’t the point of this blog post so why am I mentioning it.

Here are a few of my favourite accounts. Disclaimer: some of these people are my friends or acquaintances so I might be biased but honestly, they deserve to be on this list, nepotism or not.

Ethical and responsible travel

The world is dying. No, let me rephrase that: the Earth is struggling, and it needs our help. While it might seem counterintuitive to preach sustainability while jetsetting around the world – tell me once again how much carbon emissions I am causing by flying to South America – there are ways of not only offsetting the waste we as travellers create but also contributing to a greener, kinder world by actions we take on our travels.

As travellers, I feel like we should be more aware of the ecological impact of our hobby/lifestyle than the average person because we owe it to the planet. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves and our friends on these issues; if we only choose to enjoy this planet without giving anything back, we’re exploiting it.

These accounts constantly educate me about things I didn’t even know were issues, and they do it through encouragement and kindness, not through judgement and exclusion.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Wale&Me – Conscious living (@waleandme) jakama julkaisu

@waleandme

This Spanish-Dutch power couple is not only ethical travel goals but also some of the kindest, sweetest people you will ever meet. They are able to travel slowly and locally by house-sitting and couchsurfing, and their stories and captions are full of important ponderings about environmentalism, interacting with locals and sustainability. Read their blog post on how to reduce your environmental impact while travelling.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Imogen | Ethical Travel Hub ? (@hazaarthebazaar) jakama julkaisu

@hazaarthebazaar

“The kind travel hub” lives up to its name. Australian Imogen travels slowly and locally, immersing herself in the culture and experiencing less known destinations and less loved suburbs of more famous cities. She talks about responsible and ethical travel (she’s a vegan!), politics and respect towards locals while travelling – and if that’s not enough, she’s an absolutely precious human being who delivers her message with authentic kindness.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Evelina Utterdahl (@earthwanderess) jakama julkaisu

@earthwanderess

The most remarkable thing about Evelina is that she has chosen to travel without flying and is now exploring how to make that lifestyle work. Even if her non-flight commitment is a little much for you, her account is still a great resource for eco-conscious and responsible travel.

You should also check out these quick tips on sustainability and responsible travel by Female Travel Bloggers.

Education through social media

Have you ever arrived somewhere without any prior knowledge of the country’s history, politics or socio-economics? I know I have. Instagram can be a great way to find out about the best attractions to visit and the best foods to eat but if you’re following the right people, it can also be a tool to learn about deeper-rooted issues in the (local) society.

These are some accounts that will blow your mind to bits and educate you so hard you don’t even know what hit you.

 

@hownottotravellikeabasicbitch

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön How?ToTravelLikeABasicBitch (@hownottotravellikeabasicbitch) jakama julkaisu

Kiona’s is probably the most educational account you can find on Instagram. She is insanely well connected, meaning that both her Instagram page and blog are full of articles written by the most fascinating mixture of people. She aims to uplift voices that might often be overlooked by the mainstream travel media. And Kiona’s got a PhD and two Master’s Degrees so you know each article is thoroughly researched and edited to perfection. Her travelling while native series on her blog is an especially important read if you’re planning a trip to the American national parks.

Unfortunately she gets a lot of unwarranted hate as well as other messages. She is a public educator, not a private mentor, and she apparently receives 100+ private messages per day – and she replies to all of them – so be nice to her. If you want to follow her on Instagram, check out her “New PPL” highlight first.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Emily & Aaron • Ethical Travel (@twodustytravelers) jakama julkaisu

@twodustytravelers

Emily and Aaron are an American nurse couple who are one of the best resources to consult if you’re thinking about voluntourism, aka volunteering abroad for a short period of time. Their account can help you choose an ethical organisation to partner with and find red flags that tell you straight away which ones should be avoided. Check their highlights for tips!

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön NO WHITE SAVIORS (@nowhitesaviors) jakama julkaisu

@nowhitesaviors

Their bio reads ‘If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not listening.’ No White Saviors breaks down the “African stereotype” still prevalent in Western media that paints the continent and its people as impoverished and needing external help from “white saviours”, aka white Westerners coming to Africa on medical missions despite having zero medical experience. It’s a rough read but very important if you are thinking about volunteering in Africa or you just don’t know a lot about what’s going on down there.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Abbie (@abbie.goes.places) jakama julkaisu

@abbie goes places

Okay, I’ll give you a lighter one – Abbie takes travel writing back to its roots and talks super informatively about the places she has travelled to. Plus, every Wednesday she hosts an Instagram International quiz where her friends and followers share items from around the world and tell stories about them. Fun and educational!

Influencers behaving badly

While it seems that many content consumers are getting sick of influencers and that their jobs are seen more and more as something frivolous and ridiculous – not necessarily truthfully – influencers still hold a lot of power in the travel industry. They tell us where to travel, what to wear and where to find the most “grammable” hotspots.

But with great power comes great responsibility – and too often mega-influencers can be seen abusing the privilege of their influence. This shows as unethical, irresponsible travel, such as sharing photos taken in forbidden locations, photos that encourage animal abuse (such as elephant rides) and photos that disrespect local communities (such as unauthorised photos with children).

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that some influencers are bratty and entitled – that is the very stereotype surrounding them. But sometimes you just don’t get the full scope of their bad behaviour until you start digging deeper.

The Tea Tree – see more below – recently shared a private conversation between him and an influencer with 300+k following. He contacted her about a story that showed her followers how to sneak into a roped-off area. Her response? ‘Listen. We walk roofs. (Referring to the popular but forbidden practice of climbing rooftops in Santorini.) We take pics where we want. And do the fucking things we want. Get used to it or don’t bother.’

Charming, right?

You are a consumer; you should be aware of what kind of people are producing the content that you consume.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön The Tea Tree ?? (@the_teatree) jakama julkaisu

@theteatree

Fidel from @hartsunknown shows examples of travel influencers behaving badly and tells us exactly why what they’re doing is wrong. It would be easy to accidentally turn this into a hate account; but Fidel is very self-aware and is constantly figuring out how to combine empathy with calling out bad behaviour. He also encourages respectful conversation and emphasises condemning the actions of these influencers, not them as persons. This is not a slander account, but tea will definitely be served from tiny, steaming hot tea cups.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Katie Boué (@katieboue) jakama julkaisu

@katieboue

An account that I only started following recently but which a lot of the people I respect seem to love. Katie talks sustainability, ecological travel and advocates for respectful interaction with nature. The reason I listed her here is because she also talks about activism on her account. Her account is a valuable source of info especially if you’re planning a trip to the American national parks.

You can also check out @whereisangiee‘s story highlights titled Bad Influence (still up at the time of writing) and this post by @herwanderdiary for more stories on the theme!

And if you’re down for more conversations about influencer behaviour and culture, you should absolutely listen to the Shameless podcast. While they talk mostly about pop culture and celebrities, influencer culture is often a part of their discussions; and they may focus on fashion and beauty influencers, but everything they say applies to the travel industry as well. Good recent discussions include Won’t somebody think of the influencers?, A pop culture piñata and The Influencer Olympics.

Exceptional communities and uplifting travel stories

The little community I’ve found on Instagram has been the best part of the app for me. Many of my “real-life” friends don’t travel, at least not as excessively as me, so finding like-minded people on the internet has been lovely.

These are some accounts that you should check out especially if you fall into the category of “looks for travel inspiration on Instagram” – and even more so if you’re dreaming of travelling but haven’t quite yet dared to take the leap.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Kaptain Kenny??‍✈️Phoebe E-K (@kaptain.kenny) jakama julkaisu

@kaptain.kenny

Phoebe is the brains behind Kaptain Kenny, a travel page that focuses on creating meaningful connections between people and looks critically at our consumption of social media. She recently deleted all the people she follows for a fresh start – if you find yourself absent-mindedly opening Instagram 56 times a day just because you’re bored, there’s probably a few things you could learn from her. She is also a great community leader – scroll down to “Feature accounts” for more info on #Team Kaptain Kenny.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Ciara (@hey_ciara) jakama julkaisu

@hey_ciara

Ciara is your absolute best resource if you’ve always wanted to go travelling but really don’t know where to start. She breaks down budget travel, flight deals, reference codes for discounted travel deals – all the nitty-gritty that you need to know when you’re planning a trip. Not even mentioning the fact that she is inspirational as heck.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Kristin Addis (@bemytravelmuse) jakama julkaisu

@bemytravelmuse

Kristin is one of my favourite travel bloggers because she is both a talented writer and an exceptional photographer – just take a look at her Youtube videos that she taught herself how to film and edit! The reason she is on this list is not only because of her great Instagram content but because she has a travel group on Facebook – BMTM. The group is a very inclusive space for female-identifying travellers of all ages and nationalities and is the best place to look for encouragement, recommendations and travel buddies if you’re on your first solo trip – or 10th – and feel nervous, anxious or unsure about travelling alone as a woman.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön EVA ? (@evadinaricaproject) jakama julkaisu

And a few more quick shout-outs to other dope accounts:

@callmeadventurous – body positivity and real talk about travel&life

@florabaker – exceptional writing and mental health

@tireless_traveler – if you like to see destinations unedited, also occasional commentary on Instagram/influencer culture

@byjyotsnadj_ – Just an all around sweet person, great photographer and an active member of Team Kaptain Kenny!

@evadinaricaproject – for all things outdoorsy, this woman is a badass and knows more about hiking the Balkans than anyone else I know

@joelleriding – “an excited human being” and a flurry of positivity

 

A word about feature accounts…

Feature accounts are compilation pages that re-post photos that other Instagram users have shared using specific hashtags. They can be a great source of inspiration since they often include the most beautiful photography in the most stunning locations – but following them might be more problematic than you think.

Many feature accounts end up reposting photos from the same users; the reason these photos seem to blend together so beautifully on the feed is that these people often follow the same aesthetic, from editing tricks to photo locations, poses, outfits and colour palettes. Nothing wrong with that but doesn’t that get a little… boring?

By featuring the same people – who often already have 100k followers – over and over again, the idea of feature accounts as a way to “discover new people” doesn’t quite work. In addition, most feature accounts I have come across promote the same white, blonde, skinny woman that looks so similar in all the photos she might as well just be one person – seriously lacking in any kind of diversity.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Elina (@wayfarover) jakama julkaisu

Since most feature accounts are obsessed with beauty, they focus on sharing shots depicting the most incredible moments. Unfortunately this doesn’t always mean they have done their research behind the photo and can, either intentionally or unintentionally, end up promoting harmful behaviours like trespassing in closed-off areas (see: Panna Meena Stepwells Jaipur, Stairway to Heaven in Montserrat), disrespecting locals (see: walking on roofs in Santorini, Haiku stairs hike in Hawaii) and animal abuse. I recently had to unfollow an account that shared a photo of a girl in an “elephant sanctuary” that still allowed rides – spoiler alert, this is 100% a sign that the place is not a sanctuary. When called out, they refused to take the photo down and promised to “do more research next time”. But as long as the photo is still up, people are going to see it, get inspired by it, and want to replicate it.

Oh, and if you want to talk about more influencers behaving badly – there are some big influencers out there who started their Instagram pages as feature pages, then slowly started only posting their own photos after they had already garnered a thousand-fold following. While this might not seem like a big deal, it is just another way of building insincere following and creating fake engagement which can lead these influencers to big-money brand deals and sponsorships as well as grant them an undeserved status as a social media genius and an Instagram expert. Do you really want to follow someone who is so desperate for numbers that they are willing to do whatever it takes?

If you’re still looking for great feature accounts, these are some cool ones to follow:

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Team Kaptain Kenny (@teamkaptainkenny) jakama julkaisu

@teamkaptainkenny

A page curated by Phoebe from Kaptain Kenny features members of Team Kaptain Kenny, a patchwork community or (ir)regular travellers, micro-influencers and everything in between. There is also a Facebook group where people share travel tips and ask for recommendations. The greatest thing about this community is that it feels like a real group of travellers, not a circle-jerk of up-an-coming travel bloggers all cross-promoting their own content. Phoebe works hard to keep the community kind, accessible and inclusive, and I have met most of my Instagram friends through her community.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Mondo (@mondolehti) jakama julkaisu

@mondolehti

A Finnish travel magazine re-posts gorgeous photos from all around the world which, unlike many feature accounts, focuses on the destination instead of the person in the picture.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Girlpower around the world ?? (@girlpowertravel) jakama julkaisu

@girlpowertravel

Because I know ya’ll are gonna want to follow one of these hazy, dreamy girl-in-flowy-dress accounts anyway, because who doesn’t like a nice dose of pure inspiration? I haven’t been following them for a long time but they got in my good books recently by deleting a photo that promoted a place that allowed elephant rides and apologised for posting it in their stories. Gotta love people who choose to be accountable for their actions and learn when they are educated!

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön RealTravelSeekers (@realtravelseekers) jakama julkaisu

@realtravelseekers

A pretty small and still a new travel community curated by an Instagram friend @wanderingredheadcher. She recently reached out to me and asked if she could feature one of my photos, and asked me how I’d like to introduce myself in the caption! I love that she is not only sharing these awesome accounts but also making real connections with the people she features. Her personal travel account is also very informative and in favour of calling out badly behaved influencers.

To conclude with…

Does it REALLY matter who I follow?

Maybe you’re following them because you like their style, or their photography, or you simply want to get inspired by beautiful pictures and not think twice about it. As you should; I feel like a lot of non-bloggers use Instagram in a very different way to bloggers and Instagrammers, as more like a casual onlooker than an active participant. But consider this: the likes, comments and follows that influencers behaving badly have are a direct sign of their popularity and it is what brands and sponsors look at when they choose ambassadors for their products.

Leaving a like on a pretty picture or sharing a funny comic might not seem like such a big deal because you are not personally giving money to them – but your actions are causing somebody else to do that. Influencers are directly benefitting from the numbers we give them. And as influencers, they should be held to a higher standard than your high-school classmate that posted that tacky-ass photo on the train tracks in Auschwitz to his 18 followers; these people have real influence, real power, and you can decide whether you want to give it to them or not.

You are allowed to think for yourself, though. Just because someone you like on IG tells you to go unfollow someone, doesn’t mean you blindly should; they might just be looking at a problem from a different standpoint. The most important thing for you as a consumer of this curated content is to be informed and understand what goes on behind the scenes.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Henkilön Elina (@wayfarover) jakama julkaisu

Interested in Instagram ethics and influencer culture? Then continue by reading these:

The Tea: Begpacking To Travel by Fidel Hart (@hartsunknown on Instagram)

Travel Influencers Behaving Badly by Lola Méndez (@missfilatelista on Instagram)

Nat Geo explorer delivers critique against travel influencers on Campus Times

The Instagram Aesthetic Is Over on The Atlantic

Why People Don’t Believe Anything Influencers Do Anymore on Buzzfeed

 

Phew. That was a lot. (At the time of writing this, I’ve been editing this for like three hours and I feel like I’ve taken myself on a journey.) I hope you found this article helpful or even slightly interesting, or that you even found some new friends to follow.  Are you looking for one more? Come say hi to me @wayfarover and share your thoughts in the comments!

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