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  • Writer's pictureapriladventuring

Day 3: Geotag or Gatekeep?

Updated: Feb 20

Instead of my usual ramblings today, I thought I'd share my stance on the influencer topic of whether to geotag locations.


Contents:


What is Geotagging?

Posting content to social media often comes with the option to include a location. On Instagram, this appears as small text above the photo or reel.


This gives the poster the opportunity to share with viewers the spot's exact name and location or something less specific, such as the city, state, or country. You can go even more vague with something like "The Great Outdoors" or "Planet Earth" if you'd like the location to remain a secret.


What's the Problem With Geotagging?

Since the rise of social media, previously unknown or infrequently visited locations have become inundated with tourists and folks hoping to snap an iconic photo.


This can be a stroke of luck for places that rely on tourist dollars to fuel the economy and support local businesses. However, there often reaches a tipping point at which the town or natural site becomes oversaturated and can no longer healthily support the number of visitors.


Nature

This is especially a problem in delicate ecosystems that become trampled by visitors that aren't aware of (or don't care about) the rules of Leave No Trace. An example is desert ecosystems that rely on a healthy biocrust, which can take hundreds of years to recover! (Source)


While visiting Puerto Vallarta, I also heard stories from guides on a boat tour that secret coves and beaches had to be closed to the public after they blew up on social media and were effectively destroyed by tourists. These fragile marine environments suffered greatly. Corals and fish populations massively declined and now locals are slowly attempting to bring them back to their former abundance.


Local People

The effect on local populations also can't be ignored. Tourists in appropriate numbers can be a great help to an area. That "appropriate" number depends highly on the infrastructure, size, amenities, and economy of that area.


Too many tourists can effectively gentrify lower income areas. When wealthy people visit an area over and over, it will naturally respond by increasing prices on everything from foods to hotels to transportation. This makes it incredibly difficult for locals to keep up with rising costs.


What Can We Do to Fix These Issues?

Combatting these main issues requires a little foresight and planning, but isn't difficult to do!


Here are some tips to keep in mind when traveling:

  • Know the Leave No Trace philosphy and practice it wholeheartedly.

  • Shop local and avoid tourist traps.

  • Search for small businesses and family-owned restaurants when traveling.

  • Support local environmental efforts, such as those restoring populations of native plants.


What Does This Have to Do With Geotagging?

While traveling is an awesome privilege and people deserve to go out and see the world, we should all take efforts to do so responsibly. The unfortunate truth is that social media has made it far too easy to find "aesthetic" locations without doing any research.


The low barrier to entry of finding bucket list worthy destinations invites a group of tourists that only care about "getting the shot," then jetsetting off to their next spot. These are the types of folks primarily causing the issues mentioned above, whether they are aware of it or not.


Particularly when it comes to natural locations, geotagging brings a much higher amount of traffic to places that were previously relatively unknown. Finding these spots would have meant doing tons of research online, speaking to locals, scouring Google Maps, or through word of mouth. Generally speaking, folks willing to put in the work to find these locations have more respect for where they're going and will leave it in as good of shape as when they found it.


Geotagging has simply put a large spotlight onto locations that cannot support the number of eyes and visitors they're now receiving. Leaving a little pre-work and research also makes finding one of these gems even more fulfilling to visit in person!


What's My Stance on Geotagging?

I've honestly gone back and forth on this over the years. There have been times that I want to share locations so my followers can have the same experiences. I also hoped that because people found my posts helpful, my content would have higher reach.


Nowadays, I'm less inclined to share specific locations. I'm happy to share a state as a starting point for someone's independent research. Also, if someone DMs me asking for a location name, I'm usually willing to share it with them -- especially if they engage me in genuine conversation first.


For super well-known locations such as Mount Rainier or the Santa Monica Pier, I'm totally fine geotagging. I'll also generally share names of sites and trails within National Parks for a few reasons:

  • These are highly public information.

  • These trails are managed and well-maintained -- I worry less than I would about sending someone into unprotected land or out into the backcountry where they could more easily get lost.

  • Folks that end up traveling to see these destinations will also be supporting the National Parks System, which overall is a good conservation effort.


I'm also more inclined to share locations for spots that require advanced reservations and have a limited number of visitors per day, such as Havasupai. Yes, it does suck sometimes to see how difficult it is to get permits to many popular locations now. This increased barrier to entry, however, does tend to appeal to people that are more responsible and aren't going to trash the place they're visiting.


For lesser known spots and places that are difficult to reach, I'm more likely to just post a general location. Again, I'm happy to share with folks that reach out privately expressing interest in travel and striking up conversation.


Some specific places I'd avoid geotagging:

  • Hot springs

  • Potentially dangerous trails

  • Spots that have been overrun or damaged by tourists (as stated by locals)

  • Anywhere I saw a rare/valuable/highly sought-after plant or animal species


Is Not Geotagging Actually Gatekeeping?

Looping back to a prominent argument in this debate: is not geotagging locations actually gatekeeping them?


I touched on this a bit, but there's definitely a difficult balance to be reached here.


Some argue that people who didn't grow up with outdoorsy parents teaching them to camp and fish and Leave No trace have less access to the outdoors now as adults. This can feel especially true for people from lower income or minority households who didn't spend as much recreational time exploring nature and traveling.


While I completely agree that people who spent their childhoods outside and abroad (myself included) have an easier time continuing as adults, this doesn't necessarily mean that not geotagging is excluding others from doing the same.


In my experience, folks that are mad about a missing geotag are the ones that want the location in 0.3 seconds without needing to do any work. They'll then be the type to quickly book a trip with a group of friends, show up to take the perfect photo, then trudge away (over the wildflowers) to their next destination.


Anyone actually wanting to experience the world and respect the local environment and people are willing to put in that little bit of effort to find places themselves. This doesn't include any restrictions by income, race, gender, etc. I would really hope that people who didn't grow up outdoorsy but now want to try would be open to starting conversations and learning to do so responsibly. There are innumerable resources online and friendly folks willing to help!


And as mentioned, there's nothing wrong with sending a brief message to your favorite travel content creator. Try: "Hey! I've been planning a trip to Utah and noticed one of your photos shows an incredible arch there. Would you be willing to share the name of that spot so I can see if it fits in my itinerary? Either way, love your content and travel guides. Thanks so much!"



To wrap it all up, geotagging isn't a black or white issue and requires a bit of nuance. There can be value in sharing inspiration, but responsible tagging makes travel more enjoyable for all of us. Besides, finding hidden gems is half the fun of traveling!


Happy adventuring,

A

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