As the original slow travel company, UnTours proudly introduces a new breed of travel ambassador: the UnFluencer. UnFluencers are writers, photographers and videographers who spend their lives unlocking the hidden gems in your favorite destinations and championing a better kind of travel that preserves and protects.
Raised in the US, but living in the Netherlands, Rachel Heller quit her work as a teacher to travel as much as possible and blog at Rachel’s Ruminations. She generally writes about independent travel to historical sites, focusing on one experience at a time. She also sometimes writes about life as an expatriate. We spoke with Rachel about what being an UnFluencer means to her.
What is your personal concept of the kind of slow travel that makes a positive contribution to the world?
People are going to travel – wanderlust is real! But with slow travel, the positive aspects of travel have greater effect than with “fast travel.” Slow travelers are less likely to hole themselves up in all-inclusives or book everything with travel companies at home, so there is greater economic injection into local economies. Also, social interaction and therefore cross-cultural understanding is more likely when a traveler stays in a place for a while. Finally, travelers tend to be more conscious of their actions and impacts when their visit is longer.
How do UnFluencers differ from influencers?
You’ve got real travelers writing about real experiences – good or bad. It’s honest and not only focused on selling things. I’m pretty fed up with so much travel content these days: “5 best x in y place.” Always the same, and devoid of any real voice. It’s usually tremendously vague and superficial too, not giving any real information. I won’t write a “10 best hotels in wherever” because I haven’t tried so many hotels there. I’ll say “I stayed here and what I liked about it was this, and something I didn’t like was that.” As for images or video, it’s about the place, not the person. So much of instagram has influencers in interesting places, but their bodies block the view of that interesting place!
How can UnFluencers be a part of destination management that preserves nature and culture?
There are several things we can contribute:
- We can advise readers about places outside of the well-known destinations, e.g. pretty places outside of Paris or Venice or Amsterdam that might be just as good to visit but not over-touristed.
- We can include tips in our content that explain how to behave or not to behave so that our readers know, for example, not to walk off the paths in Iceland because it destroys the slow-growing moss.
- We can explain the meaning of cultural practices, rather than just highlighting them as strange. For example, when taking a picture of a person in traditional clothing, we make it clear that it was for a festival and not what they always wear. We shouldn’t emphasize the “exotic,” which reinforces stereotypes rather than understanding. This is particularly an issue because of the racist overtones when a content creator is white and photographing or writing about non-white cultures.
As content creators, we need to be aware that the consumers of our content aren’t necessarily travelers and may never see the place we are depicting in real life. So our depiction needs to be comprehensive – show the skyscrapers and not just the shacks – and non-judgmental.
Can you share a personal story of slow travel that was meaningful to you?
My trip to Guadeloupe in 2015 was my first truly solo trip – not for work, not to meet friends – and I stayed the whole two weeks in an Airbnb in a local couple’s spare room, far from the tourist areas. I learned so much from them about life there, since they were happy to explain each evening the things I observed as I drove around the island. It was wonderful to get the behind-the-scenes view of a “tropical paradise.” At the same time, I gained in confidence through facing a number of solo travel challenges entirely by myself.
Where can UnTourists find you?
Websites: https://rachelsruminations.com and https://worldheritagesites.net