Imagine you're just minding your own business when someone you've never met, across the world, starts ripping off your online persona. That's what happened to popular travel Instagrammer Lauren Bullen — she goes by @gypsea_lust and has 756,000 followers — who out of the blue started getting alerts on her phone from fans saying that they noticed someone was posting really similar photos to the ones that appeared on her Instagram.
When Lauren took a look, she saw they weren't just similar: They were nearly identical. A fan had followed her to Spain, Greece, Morocco, and other countries, striking the identical poses at the same angles in the same exact luxury hotels and spas. The fan even wore the exact same outfits down to the anklet. Even the captions were often the same (yes, even right down to the to emojis).
Lauren took to her blog to say she felt the imposter account was "copying and stealing someone’s art to a ridiculously creepy level." It quickly went viral with people attacking the copier and calling her names.
I am a travel blogger myself, and I know the work involved with crafting that perfect shot. I have been on many "influencer" trips where we all take a lot of time to get that perfect image for Instagram. It's work — it's literally our job. We're either being paid to do it, or we do it because we are building our personal brands as bloggers.
The point of travel blogging and being an "online influencer" is that you want people to see your photo and feel inspired to visit the place you are at, because of the unique and attractive way you present it. It's why entities — hotels, destinations — hire us to visit and pay us to promote what we discover there. (Of course, we aren't always on paid trips but even on personal ones we share those "perfect" images because it's part of our thoughtfully crafted brand.)
When I was in Morocco, I went to the same camp as Lauren (Scarabeo Camp) after being inspired by her Instagram to go here. In that sense, what she was doing worked. Yet, when you look at my Instagram you'll see my take on the camp. I wore what I wanted and took pictures that were nothing like hers. I shared what I saw as wonderful about the place.
I looked at the camp with my eyes, not hers. Unlike, say, this example from the copycat:
As someone who takes professional-looking Instagram photos as part of my living, I envy those who can go on trips and not worry about documenting a single thing. That is the style of adventure that I admire!
You don't want to forget that these big Instagrammers are working when they craft these photos worthy of such admiration. These photos may be more setups than actual lifestyle snapshots. You never know. But what you can know, is things are not always as they seem when it comes to travel and social media.
Then, you have to wonder why someone would want to follow in the exact footprints as another blogger. Buy the exact clothing. Have her boyfriend dress the same as Lauren's. This must have taken time and a lot of money. So why do it?
Are we so obsessed with social media that we want to show off to our friends that we too have perfect social media accounts, even if it means living a sham of a life in the real world? Do non-professional travelers feel a bizarre level of pressure to share photos that are utterly Insta-perfect because there are so many influencers posting these types of images online?
Look, I only set up "perfect" travel shots because it's my job. I have many horrible photos on my cell phone, too, but those aren't going to make it to Instagram. Neither are my nights in, the bumpy train rides, or the moments when I'm lost, scared, and lonely. (Those are stories for the blog!) Instagram has become a place to share only the best of the best. And I do get why that could feel tempting to try to imitate.
Before I was a blogger, I traveled with just a camera (not attached to a phone) and after a trip I might upload 100 typical tourist photos to an unedited Facebook alum. It used to be that it was enviable enough among friends and followers just to go abroad at all — and I do miss the days of coming back after a trip and posting an album to Facebook. There was no Twitter or Instagram. You could only post text statuses on Facebook. Life was lived in the moment. (And naturally, things were even more different before any type of social media.)
Now, I spend time to get a great shot because it's my job, a job that I love. But I know that when I'm doing this it does take away from my travel experiences and there are times I wish I didn't have to bother. It's a lot of work to document your travels, and it's tiring to constantly be traveling.
I know that perfect-looking feeds like Lauren's add tons of pressure to both other bloggers and ordinary travel folks alike. But if it helps? Here's one professional travel Instagrammer telling you that your travels are perfect as they are. If you're planning to visit anywhere, try and unplug and forget all the posing and retouching. Enjoy! And know that when you do, I'll be living vicariously though you.
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