Our Escape Clause: Lazy and Unethical Travel Blogging That Is Harming Our Community

Our Escape Clause has recently caused a bit of commotion within the community of Bocas del Toro, Panama. They have a review of the community’s tourism offer that currently ranks high on Google, they have a very limited understanding of the destination. The content of their article from 2017, along with the fact that they have updated the publishing date to make it seem like it was a recent visit, has stimulated a conversation about what is ethical and what is responsible when it comes to the travel blogging.

The travel blog in question is called “Our Escape Clause.” It is published by a couple from the United States named Jeremy and Kate Storm. They visited Bocas del Toro in April of 2017 for two weeks. In their blog, the Storms admitted that they didn’t bother to do much research on the area before arriving. They also suggested that after two weeks, they didn’t quite understand what Bocas del Toro was all about. This detail ends up being one of the only things they happened to get right in their article. Unfortunately for our community, their lack of research and comprehension did not stop them advising their audience to basically skip out on Bocas del Toro when considering travel plans.

What’s more is that they recently refreshed the publishing date of when the article to reflect June 4, 2021, giving the reader the impression that they visited recently when in fact they visited in 2017. The article was their impression of our community’s tourism offer four years ago, not four weeks ago. After analyzing the review of their experience presented in the article, it is obvious to anyone who knows Bocas del Toro, that these  “professional travel bloggers” put little effort into exploring what our community has to offer. In short, they never gave Bocas a chance.

A screen shot of the article "Our Conflicted Feelings About Bocas del Toro, Panama. The date is circled in red to call attention to the viewer. The date says June 4, 2021, when actually it was published in the year 2017. The bloggers updated it recently to pass it off as a new article. The article currently ranks #6 on Google when someone in the United States searches for "Bocas del Toro."

When you search for “Bocas del Toro” in the US, this article currently comes up #6 on Google. Screenshot courtesy of The Bocas del Toro Blog.

Travelers depend on internet searches for recent information. This became all the more important after March 2020, since the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have changed the travel industry dramatically. Is it responsible for travel bloggers to change the dates on old articles? Sure, it achieves a desirable outcome from a search engine optimization point of view, however what does that say about the blogger’s integrity and their compassion for a community that is trying to rebuild its tourism industry after the catastrophic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn? Also, is it even fair to advise your readers against visiting a place when you admit in your article that you made little effort to learn about the destination and in the end, you didn’t actually “get it”? The community of Bocas del Toro and its vistors seem to think: no, it is not responsible and no, nor is it fair.

The Our Escape Clause 2017 Article

The article recently surfaced on a Facebook group called “Foro Comunitario / Community Forum – Bocas del Toro, Panama.”  The commentary on the forum is similar to the thoughts that readers on the very blog left in the comment section. The couple was criticized for complaining about too much rain in the rain forest, dumping on a surf town when they don’t surf, staying in a concrete condo and not feeling connected to nature, failing to mention many of Bocas’ major attractions, and of course, for re-dating the article so that it reads as if it was written in June 2021. For so-called “travel experts” who position themselves as an authority on exploring destinations, they sure approached their Bocas del Toro trip like total amateurs. They came to Caribbean islands replete with jungle lodge and beach house options and they spent two weeks in the concrete box of a condo in the middle of Bocas Town? Who does that?

Furthermore, in their 14 days of investigating the Bocas tourism scene, Our Escape Clause only mentioned three activities: Starfish Beach, Sloth Island and deep-boarding. The Sloth Island and deep-board activities are normally packaged with a day tour to Cayos Zapatillas. All of these excursions are just fine and absolutely worth doing, but they are some of the most pre-packaged and mass marketed tours in our region. They are the type of tours that are popular for families visiting from Panama City for a weekend. So the couple stayed 14 days, ventured out of Bocas Town for only two of them and briefly reviewed three activities. One would think that world renowned globetrotters with a massive international audience would dig a little deeper than that. There are so many other experiences -rain or shine- that any mildly inspired and remotely talented travel blogger could uncover. This is true today and was also the case four years ago.

The couple could have gone scuba-diving, sport fishing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, birding or jungle hiking. They failed to mention beaches like Bluff, Paunch, Red Frog, Wizard, Polo, Playa Larga, Punta Vieja or Carenero. They didn’t even say anything about the Zapatillas Islands in the article, though they are photographed there…

A photo of a Cayo Zapatillas, a beautiful tropical island beach in Bocas del Toro, Panama

The Storms visited Cayos Zapatillas on an overcast day, though in our opinion, it is the type of beach that would deserve at least some mention in a review of Bocas del Toro tourism. Photo courtesy of Hello Travel Panama.

Jeremy and Kate Storm could have explored the Bastimentos bat caves with Rutilio Milton. They could have gone all the way to La Piscina and Blue Lagoon on ATVs or explored those parts of the island on horseback. They could have taken a surf lesson, una clase de español, a chocolate making class or learned Salsa dancing. They could have immersed themselves in the culture of the Ngäbe indigenous villages of Salt Creek at their visiting center or learned about rain forest medicines and natural dyes with the San Cristobal villages via The Darklands Foundation. They could have hired Titi from Surf and Chill and learned about life in Old Bank, exploring the jungle trails to Wizard Beach while being introduced to the native flora and fauna. April is a fine time to hire a turtle watching guide with Sea Turtle Conservancy and witness the wonder of leather back turtles nesting in Bluff Beach. They could have played fútbol or baseball with the locals in Las Cabañas / Playa Istmito.

The travel bloggers could have enjoyed the live music and night club scene. Filthy Friday was just getting going at the exact moment in time that they visited: April of 2017. Yes, they could have attended the very first and now legendary Filthy Friday island party crawl! Fast forward 121 Filthy Friday parties later and the lame couple is still missing out. Well, to be fair, everyone is currently missing out on Filthy Friday during this global pandemic, however it shall return one fine day!

In 2017, The Bookstore Bar was still going strong. They could have got down on some rainy day ping pong, caught a few wild concerts and experienced Loco Dave in all his glory. The travel blogging couple that likes to call themselves “Our Escape Clause” could have gone down the 150 foot water slide at Bambuda Lodge. And the list goes on…

Drone shot of Bambuda Lodge and its 150 foot waterslide on Isla Solarte, Bocas del Toro, Panama. The bloggers Our Escape Clause neglected to find out about this water slide.

Our Escape Clause missed out on this Solarte Island gem (Bambuda Lodge). Thankfully there are blogs like PTY Life that take the time and care to research and explore our community’s tourism offer before writing reviews. Photo is courtesy of ptylife.com.

I would need both hands and both feet to count the amount of stellar Bocas del Toro dining experiences they could have mentioned from 2017. The married couple would have done their trip a huge favor by staying somwhere romantic on the beach or in the jungle for at least a few of the nights. There are literally hundreds of amazing accommodation options outside of Bocas Town, but nooooooooo: they just had to spend their whole stay in a condo, in the middle of the only slab of concrete jungle on the islands. I have nothing at all against living in Bocas Town. Living there is very convenient for my newspaper business, however if I only had two weeks to experience Bocas del Toro, I would absolutely venture out. Why didn’t they? Perhaps it has something to do with the affiliate link they have posted for the condo they preferred to stay at for the two weeks. Should passive income at the expense of a whole community be more important to travel bloggers than authentically exploring a destination?

The Community Reacts to Our Escape Clause

After the article resurfaced on Facebook, residents of the community expressed their discontent about the article, citing all the reasons we will mention in this article. Virgil Eaves came in with particlarly scorching review of the article that I feel sums up what many others are thinking; those who really love and actually understand the essence of Bocas del Toro. So tell us how you really feel, Virgil:

“I read the article about two low attention span snowflakes spending a rainy week in Bocas, after which they think they are expert enough on the subject to write an international review. LOL…ahh to be young and assured that you know everything. They wrote nothing about waves or surfing. They wrote nothing about how the beaches are uncrowded, nothing about the water being like glass between some islands, nothing about howler monkeys or wildlife. Did they really go to Bocas del Toro or were they in Brownsville, Texas? It makes me wonder.”

It makes me wonder too. Why would they choose to stand on a digital mountain top and advise against a destination in which they did not even understand and made little effort to do so? Do they really have a passion for travel and expertise in the field or do they simply need to pump out content, at whatever cost to a community, in order for their blog to make money?

A screen shot from the blog article "Our Conflicted Feelings About Bocas del Toro" by Our Escape Clause. The photo demonstrates that their is little content in the article but lots of advertising, showing 2 ads and 4 lines of text in the screen shot.

There are more advertisements than travel advice on this particular screenshot of the article.

Why is important to call out Our Escape Clause?

We chose to write this article because we have seen our tourism-dependent community suffer and is really making an effort to rebound from this economic crisis. While investigating this article, we received a comment from a hotel that recently received an inquiry, only to have the people change their minds and back out of the booking. The would-be guests specifically cited the Our Escape Clause article as the reason for their change in heart. We are publishing this article in defense of not only this particular business that lost a reservation, but because the profits of these negligent travel bloggers are coming at the expense of the whole community. From the hotel owners and their cleaning and maintenance staff, to all the carpenters, the boat captains, the ladies selling Yoniqueques in the street and all the gentlemen serving up fresh agua de pipa on the beach; this negative review of Bocas del Toro affects thousands of hard-working every day people. Drew Berger of The Bocas del Toro Blog also published a very solid critique of the article in question on his website. In Drew’s review, he poignantly tells the story of Sam, a coconut water salesmen who is one of many of 90-95% of Bocas del Toro’s population who, little by little, are paying the price for the lazy and unethical travel blog work of Our Escape Clause.

Jeremy and Kate Storm of the Our Escape Clause travel blog need this article to make a nominal amount of money from Google ads and affiliate links. It makes me wonder, exactly much revenue do they make on this article? And is that money worth more than the people of Bocas del Toro that are struggling to recover from a pandemic? As long as their article is ranking high on search engines, the true cost to the community is impossible to calculate, but it is significant. What is certain is that for those who are rooting for the people of Bocas del Toro, the Our Escape Clause review of Bocas del Toro is nothing but harmful. It might be considered fair if their investigation was more inspired, more thorough, more helpful and more recent; but no…

People exploring insde the nivida bat cave on Bastimentos Island

Exploring the Nivida Bat Caves is one of the many things Our Escape Clause could have done despite the overcast and rainy weather they experienced. Photo courtesy of The Bocas del Toro Blog and their very insightful article on the “29 Best Things To Do in Bocas del Toro.” You will notice that The Bocas del Toro Blog article states clearly that it was written in April 2020 and then updated in 2021.

Rutilio Milton, pioneer of the Nivia Bat Cave tours

Rutilio Milton is the pioneer of these bat cave tours. Independent tour operators like him are the ones most affected by Our Escape Clause’s lackluster review of our community. Sole proprietors like Milton often don’t have the time, nor the resources to have their voices heard on the internet like the travel bloggers do. Photo courtesy of The Bocas del Toro Blog.

The internet gives anyone a voice; not everyone, but anyone with a computer, internet connection, tech skills, spare time and the motivation to be heard about something. We believe everyone is entitled to their opinion, however after analyzing Our Escape Clause article, it is obvious that this couple did not fulfill their professional duty as travel bloggers to actually investigate and explore our community. They never gave Bocas a chance and now the community and its tourism industry is paying the price for their laziness and ineptitude. In our opinion, the 2017 article in question is published strictly with the goal of generating advertising revenue and is not actually helpful to people looking for real information on Bocas del Toro.

While changing the publish date to June 2021 is a favorable practice for the blog’s search engine optimization, it is irresponsible to the reader who is trusting that this information is recent. So much has changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Travelers are looking for updated information on Bocas del Toro. This article is not only poorly done because of their lack of investigation skills and imagination, it is now deceiving since it reads like it’s a recent review with the new publish date. Is this practice in line with the Our Escape Clause brand? According to their website, part of their stated mission is to give accurate travel information:

“Our Escape Clause is and always will be much more about your travels than ours! We are dedicated to using this space to share detailed, actionable advice for planning trips around the world,”

Lazare Roels is the one who brought the article to the community’s attention. Roels commented on Facebook “This article hurts way more than some believe. I believe it’s a big slap in the face of the whole community, trying to recover from a disaster. I am getting annoyed by travel bloggers, making money behind their laptops and doing zero in depth research about their destination, but tweaking SEO is definitely something they know how to do.”

Drew Berger joined the discussion and weighed in on his inspiration to start publishing up to date and accurate information on the community’s tourism offer: “This article is one of the main reasons I started my own blog about Bocas (The Bocas del Toro Blog). This couple really did Bocas the wrong way – and unfortunately they rank on the 1st page of Google for Bocas del Toro searches. It is a big problem for Bocas to have this negative article getting so much attention and traffic. And yes, it is good for SEO to keep your content fresh – so updating it (as they have)- keeps it new in the eyes of search engines, although the article is several years old.”

While we’re at it, we are going to go ahead and recommend some passionate content creators that know Bocas well, have put in the work, continue to “do Bocas right” and will lead you in the right direction in advising your Bocas del Toro travel plans. See our recommendations at the end of the article for a far better look into Bocas del Toro (and Panama in general).

A screen shot of La Vida Gypsea's blog. A man and woman walking on the beach in their swimgear.

Bocas del Toro residents Kurt and Linda Wehner recently started a travel blog of their own which they will use to document their journey around the world on a sailboat. The current entries to their “La Vida Gypsea” blog are well-crafted insights on life in Bocas del Toro. See the complete list of our recommendations on real Bocas del Toro and Panama guides below.

A Call For Legitimate Travel Blogging

We are not saying that Bocas del Toro is for everyone and we are not saying that it is devoid of criticism. The Bocas Breeze is always looking to highlight the best the area has to offer, though we will always be honest in recognizing where it could use improvement. Yes, there are infrastructural limitations, there is petty crime, flights to the island can be a challenge, and believe it or not, there are days where it does in fact rain in the rain forest. It is not always an ideal place for anyone who is “high maintenance.” All we ask for is for travel bloggers to take pride in their work and respect our community with fair reviews; make the effort to research our tourism, experience a variety of what it has to offer and be honest about when and under which circumstances the review was made. Regardless of the need to make advertising revenue on blog posts, at least give Bocas a chance before recommending others to avoid it. Personally, we think Our Escape Clause should hang up their keyboards and tripods, leave the internet alone, and go back to their boring office jobs…

We invite the readers of The Bocas Breeze to analyze the now infamous article from Our Escape Clause, “Our Conflicted Feelings About Bocas del Toro, Panama.” It is the one from 2017 that is now currently posing as a recent review of our community’s tourism offer. Form your own opinion and if you care enough: make your voice heard. Leave your thoughts in the comment section of their article, email them directly and utilize social media to engage them in a conversation about this topic.

Of course Our Escape Clause had “conflicted feelings about Bocas del Toro.” They came to one of the sweetest spots on the planet, a place that has something for everyone, and they couldn’t even figure out how to enjoy themselves…

A screen shot of the cover photo for the blog article Our Conflicted Feelings About Bocas del Toro, Panama with the date June 4, 2021 circled in red because the date it says it is published is deceptive. It was actually published in 2017. The photo is the Caribbean Sea and a palm tree on a beautiful day.

Screen shot courtesy of The Bocas del Toro Blog.

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Real guides to Bocas del Toro and Panama:

The Bocas del Toro Blog – Drew Berger’s Blog. Honest, accurate and very helpful for managing visitor’s expectations and optimizing their visit. He and his wife Tamara really drew from their broad Bocas experience to make it helpful for everyone planning for their Bocas trip.

Bocas del Toro Official Website of Tourism – Recently launched and created by the Bocas del Toro Chamber of Tourism, there is a lot of solid information on visiting the islands and articles on things to experience. It’s a new website and the team behind it is very talented. This will definitely be one to watch.

Bocas Buzz – An innovative advertising service that allows users to “discover the sweetest spots in Bocas del Toro.” They publish weekly schedules with information on restaurants, events, tours and hotels. It is best viewed on Instagram: @bocas.buzz

La Vida Gypsea – Kurt and Linda know their way around Bocas for sure. Their blog and YouTube channel  broadcasts their journey of building off-grid, selling their home and buying a sailboat to explore the world. They begin their journey with episodes about life in Bocas del Toro. Follow them on Instagram as well @la_vida_gypsea

The Sunsetter – Mike and Sally create YouTube vlogs documenting their experience building their bed and  breakfast (The Sunsetter). They do a great job of telling the story of the expat experience moving to Bocas del Toro, while highlighting local businesses and things to do in the area.

I Go Panama – An extremely thorough YouTube channel with a wealth of information for expats and visitors. The information is always very clear, accurate and some of the most helpful advice you can get for relocating to Panama and exploring the country. The Bocas Breeze doffs its proverbial digital cap to the work of the creator, Mary Middlebrook.

Panama Relocation Tours – Another very valuable resource for those interested in moving to Panama. Jackie Lange’s articles and official relocation guidebook are highly acclaimed my expats.

PTY Life –  An extremely well crafted lifestyle blog by Joey Bonura dedicated to everyday living and tourism in Panama. You can find great articles about Bocas del Toro and other destinations around the country.

La Guia By FOCO – FOCO Panama takes investigative journalism to another level, breaking some of the biggest and most important stories nationally, and they also direct their talents to highlighting Panama’s hotels, restaurants and travel experiences on Instagram: @focolaguia. We hope they will add more Bocas del Toro content soon!

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Nicholas Corea is the editor of the Bocas Breeze. He wasn't born in Bocas, though he got there as fast as he could. He is just one of the many foreigners who became enamored with the islands. His mission is to provide the community with news that unites and inspires, while sharing with the world the magic that is Bocas del Toro. Mr. Corea likes to extend his gratitude to everyone who makes The Bocas Breeze possible- starting with YOU (the reader).

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