A Bad Influence(r) in Split, Croatia

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 and 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 in depth from the inside 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 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 biddynice 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 a quote 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 I could 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 Instagram.

Disclaimer

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 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 (that’s more aligned with what the German girls were doing – 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!

If you’re going elsewhere in Croatia (or Bosnia and Herzegovina), 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?
More reading:  Pack for the Snack Attack
Posted in Croatia, Personal - null, Travel and tagged , , , , , , .

16 Comments

  1. UGH this is one of the biggest issues I have with Instagram. 100% I’m all about getting stellar shots but when you put yourself and others in danger, that’s when I get my knickers in a knot. Even if we hate the term, we do ‘influence’ people and their decisions – so more than ever we need to set a good example!!

    • Yeah I was super flustered in the moment (and then when I saw her again in Dubrovnik). I really kinda regret not saying something, but in both instances it felt inappropriate :/

  2. On a trip to Rome in my early 20s, I climbed up and stood in an archway in the Roman Forum posing for a photo. A security guard swiftly ran me and my friend down and yelled at us in Italian. I hadn’t even considered that we wouldn’t be allowed to do that. I acted disrespectfully, got caught, and did not love the feeling afterward. I’ve been so super vigilant ever since then to show my respect for places and cultures when I travel.

    • I had a similar experience, except I didn’t get caught in the moment but was scolded when I showed someone the photo. Super embarrassing, but sometimes it takes messing up to be pushed into realizing that something is inappropriate or wrong (that’s why I regret not saying something to the girl)

  3. Interesting read! My friends from Santorini (I am Greek) complain all the time that “influencers” go to the beach and take thousands of photos and they do not even touch the sea (unless it is for a photo) and then they just leave… Personally I think the worst thing I do is to take photos from locals (from a distance, not close-ups!) without asking for their permission – which is bad and I avoid posting them afterwards. I don’t really care about places/ moments that look “unreal” – I even refuse to use filters- so I wouldnt risk my life or (as you pointed) my potential “last moments” for somthing like this ! The gram-thing has led thousands of influencers to create almost fake photos for the likes and when their audience visits that place its expectations are never met. A big no from me! Of course, the creators should post (and behave) thoroughly but it becomes more and more difficult due to the competition. Thanks for opening this discussion!

    • I totally agree about taking pictures of people! If its a person who is just kinda in the background of the photo, I’m ok – but if they’re close enough where I can see their facial features, that’s not a photo I’ll use on social media/in a blog post!

  4. Very interesting read! I never really noticed any “bad” behaviour except for this one time in Barcelona and I was in awe. It was very similar to what you saw except instead of setting up her tripod and camera on the ledge she was trying to walk out onto it… yep…. a stranger actually walked up to her calling her out for it… like is the perfect insta photo really worth risking your life???

    • Ugh… its *wild* to me that people do stuff like that. Maybe I’m just not inherently a risk taker, but climbing on a ledge or doing anything for a photo isn’t worth it – and it sets a terrible example!

  5. I think influencers should set a good example no matter where they are at in the world. This means behaving properly at tourist sites. We unfortunately can’t stop people from doing stupid things, but I think it’s more important that they remain respectful and considerate of other people who are there trying to enjoy the scenery!

    • Totally agree! I get really upset when I see people disrespecting tourist sites (or even when people get super inappropriate with statues). After I saw the thing in Split I promised myself that I would always speak up in the future.

    • Yeah its really insane how people on the internet will be so in love with their favorite creators/influencers that they are blind to bad behavior. I know there were a couple incidences over the past year with certain influencers accepting sponsored trips by a particular tourism board… and so may bloggers were like “uhhh what are you doing?!” but the rest of their audience didn’t seem to see the issue. Blind acceptance is a major problem for sure.

  6. I think it’s totally fair to call out this kind of behavior! And this article makes a lot of great points. People who have influence really should carefully consider how they/we use it. When I recently pointed out a pretty egregious example of unethical blogger/influencer content, I was shut down fast (by other bloggers) and told to stop shaming/policing/judging/canceling/etc etc. But bad behavior from influencers can have real consequences on the environment and on local people, and if you want to promote ethical travel and ethical blogging, I think there’s a responsibility to speak out against it.

  7. We just had an interaction with some gals in Hawaii who bypassed posted signage to collect rocks at the mouth of a waterfall. My husband, in not so delicate terms, asked them to move so we could take some photos without them in the frame, and reminded them, again in not so delicate terms, that their actions could prevent future travelers from enjoying the falls at all. Their response was, “It’s fine! We live here!” Umm, ok? The entitlement we see during travel just seems to be getting worse, in part thanks to social media, I’m sure.

    Also, this quote of yours was perfect: If this was my last moment on earth, would I be ok with my actions being what I was remembered for?

    • I’m a big fan of the not-so-gentle approach lol. I’m upset with myself that I didn’t call her out right when I saw it happen, but it felt like the safer choice to not yell at her while she was on a ledge. We all definitely need to (kindly) do our part to keep each other accountable.

  8. Yikes! I honestly haven’t seen this type of blatant irresponsibility yet during any of my travels, and I hope it stays that way. But I do believe it is the responsibility of “influencers” to only share responsible content because they should know that others will likely do the same or think “if so-and-so did it, I can, too.” Unfortunately, that’s just human psychology and it would be irresponsible of her to say its all up to the person viewing her photos. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Yeah totally! Monkey, see monkey do, and maybe monkey accidentally falls off a ledge 400ft up onto several-hundred-year-old marble. Like, I get that we all mess up sometimes and share things that we probably shouldn’t, but this was waaay out of line.

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