I'm going to divert from my usual fact-drenched posts and tell a wee story. This is a bit of a hot topic in the travel/travel blogger/travel influencer space right now, so I've got a handful of questions at the bottom of the post that I would love to hear your opinions on!
Drama in Split, Croatia
I was only in Split, Croatia for about 24 hours, so I don't feel totally comfortable advising on what the best things to see/do/eat. I did, however, have one really interesting encounter with another (presumably) travel blogger while I was there and was pretty mad about the things I observed her doing that I want to talk about why I find it problematic.
As is sit here writing, I feel a little worried that this is going to come off as "virtue signaling." Virtue signaling is when you call out bad behavior as a way to imply that you would never do those things and effectively proclaim your moral superiority. That's not the intent here, I'm sure I'm blind to my own bad behavior, but I do want to acknowledge my awareness before jumping into the story.
So what happened?
I arrived in Split in the late-afternoon, so I didn't have much time to see the city. I asked the man at the hostel if there was anything that I should try to squeeze in before it got dark, and he recommended the Saint Domnius Cathedral bell tower. For 35kuna (or around $5.25usd) I could climb to the top to see the sunset and get a good 360-degree view of the landscape. Sold. Here's a quick view:
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The climb up was fine. The steps didn't have backs so you could see through them as you climbed, which I would imagine could be problematic if you have a fear of heights. The top of the tower was small but there were a handful of people cycling in and out, stopping to enjoy the view and take some pictures before heading back down. (Side note: it was actually a large group of Koreans, so I was able to wow them when I reflexively said "be careful" in Korean to a teenager who had tripped)
Also at the top of the tower was another visitor who, based on her accent, was either from the US or Canada. We're going to call her Fannie (because I don't want to keep calling her "that girl" and I don't want to call her an influencer and I figured Fannie was an uncommon name so I can avoid offending someone by using their name as the alias for the villain in the story... and I just made the incredible banana bread recipe from the Fannie Farmer cookbook. Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk). She had camera gear that was pretty similar to mine and was impatiently waiting for a Korean family to move out of the way of the shot she was trying to set up.
To be honest, the shot she was trying to set up was a bad idea. She was basically trying to shoot through a window, but from a distance. She was clearly waiting for all the people to exit the frame, but it was sunset and there was no way that people were going to abandon the perfect viewpoint. I offered to taker her picture and she declined and just stood there, waiting looking annoyed until she finally caved and disappeared down the stairs. I still needed a few more minutes to get some shots, but I got it done pretty quickly and started my descent.
As I was going down the stairs, I stopped at each landing and pretended to take photos but really was just taking a breather because holy cow those stairs were nerve-wracking. On the first landing, I spotted a couple of German teenage girls who had climbed out onto one of the tower's ledges (there will be a photo below you can peek at to see where the ledges are). The ledge was maybe 4ft from the edge of the window to where it dropped off, so it was of a reasonable width. They hadn't gone too far out on the ledge; one would sit and pose while the other took her picture from inside the stairwell, and then they swapped positions. Maybe it wasn't the safest of choices - and it was almost certainly against the rules - but they were quick and didn't really go too much further than the outside edge of the window (so maybe 2-3ft between them and the edge).
As I went braced myself for the next set of stairs, on the opposite side of the tower - the side facing the sunset and the coastline - I spotted Fannie. She was sitting out on the ledge and it took me a solid 30 seconds to figure out what was going on... she was sitting kinda weird and had this really phony smile. Then I saw the tripod. This
biddy... nice young lady... irresponsible photo taker was way out on the ledge and had set up her tripod so she could take photos of herself.
Um, look at those ledges:
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...oh shit, that sounds not good.
Correct: not good at all. I'm all for tripods and taking photos of yourself, and hell... sometimes I'm even cool with breaking the rules a little bit. However, it seemed quite clear to me that is wasn't just a quick photo like the teenage girls had done. This was Fannie setting up a shot that was probably intended for Instagram (or, at the very least, a blog post). What a horrible example to be setting.
At minimum, the ledge was about 150ft (46m) up. Take into consideration that it was wide-ish, but not so wide that if she had become unsteady there would be enough room for her to regain balance. And the tripod! If you've ever used a tripod, you'll know they can be a little bit of a pain to set up... and they're not all super heavy/sturdy. Had there been a big gust of wind (which wasn't unrealistic given the proximity to the ocean and the height of the tower) that would've knocked her tripod off the ledge for sure - and a camera and metal tripod travelling over 100ft at a high speed could certainly injure or kill someone.
I sincerely hope all the photos turned out poorly exposed and she couldn't use any of them because the possible implications of sharing what she did with an audience. Our peers and people who find us (and by "us" I mean people in the travel space that have any degree of following - be it a super-dedicated 250 or a whopping 250k) influential have a responsibility to be intentional in what we post. Will something we share possibly empower someone to do something dangerous? Maybe we took heavy precautions but neglect to show it in the photo or talk about it int he caption. Does the post disrespect a historic monument? Does it show proper reverence for holy locations (even if it's not a place we consider holy)? If this was my last moment on earth, would I be ok with my actions being what I was remembered for? I feel like "was knocked over by a breeze and fell 150ft because she ignored rules, reverence, and common sense in order to get a buzzworthy photo and now the tower is closed to visitors" is not something I would want associated with my personal legacy.
And I want to note that I do understand that just because a choice that someone else made isn't a choice that I would make for myself doesn't necessarily make it inherently wrong. However in this particular case, yeah- I do think she was wrong. I see travel bloggers in general being dragged as entitled and careless and selfish and "just doing it for the 'gram" so I feel like we're in a time where its so important to be aware of our actions and their potential impact on both the industry at large and the communities we create.
We meet again, Fannie, my foe.
I saw her again about a week later in Dubrovnik. This time she was with a small group and all of them had cameras and were taking photos of one another. I tried to get close so eves drop. but the conversation was mostly about posing and posting pictures on Instagram. Nothing terribly interesting to report, but it kinda confirmed my suspicion that the bell tower photo wasn't just meant to be a nice pic for her Granmie (insert obvious joke about human Gram versus social media 'gram)
I know I've qualified a lot of my opinions within the post itself, and they are just that - my opinions. There are schools of thought that say the onus is more heavily on the consumer to do their research and make their own decisions. I agree with the fact that consumers of online content should be careful and take advice or inspiration with a grain of salt... but I also recognize that seeing someone you respect and look up to do something, can be pretty damn blinding. If she had just gone out to sit on the ledge to enjoy the sunset, or had taken a photo on far outer side of the window (they were deep windows and the outer edge was a respectable distance from the edge) I would not have gotten nearly as lit up about it.
Here are a few resources if you're looking for things to do in Split!
- Amazing Day Trips from Split, Croatia by Diana's Healthy Living
- 20 Incredible Things to do in Split, Croatia by Taylor's Tracks
- Things to do in Split in 2019 by Chasing the Donkey
If you're going elsewhere in Croatia, here are some other articles by me!
- Have you witnessed other people you believe to be "influencers" behaving badly or acting irresponsibly? How did you feel in the moment and did you speak up?
- Who do you believe carries the brunt of the responsibility when it comes to online content: the creator (should post responsibly) or the average, non-industry consumer (should be skeptical/not seek to copycat)?
- Where do you draw hard lines in how you act/interact in new places and what you share online? For example, I won't push the rules in places outside the US because I see myself as representative of my country.
- Looking back, have you ever done and shared something that you now realize was probably irresponsible and/or a bad idea?