A few thoughts on travel, travelers, travel writing and travel blogging
The thing I used to love about travel was the unexpected. The surprises. The need for being able to think on your feet.
It was the desire for these things and the ability to handle them that made meeting up with other travelers in hostels, pubs, or on the bus such a joy. For a while, this was a breed of people who found each other for bouts of hard drinking, short but intense romance, and spontaneous adventures that sometimes felt like the end was near.
When I wasn’t traveling, I used to revel is reading about these adventures and mis-adventures. The danger, the ability to adapt, and of course, the rewards of truly epic experience. Great travel writing had the ability to transport you to a destination and bring your blood pressure to a boil.
This was even true on travel blogs…I think anyway. Some of them. Usually the ones that were written well after travel was done and lessons enjoyed and learned…at least I think so. There was a very brief window when meeting a fellow travel writer or travel blogger was like meeting a fellow adventurer…
On my last trip (South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia) I noticed something. I’d noticed it on every other trip I’ve taken in the past three years as well, but not to such an extent.
Pretty much everything I wrote about above was gone from travel. I agonized over whether that was because I had changed or because travel had changed. The answer…both, but I would say the main change is in travel and travelers.
While there are still surprises to be found and adventures to be had – for the most part, the stones have been turned. This is partly because of the ease and availability of the web. A few years ago I threw out my guidebooks to try to find more spontaneity in my travel. Today, I think it would require throwing out the web as well.
Part of my joy in traveling was writing about new experience…sharing new things. These days, as soon as I start to write about it, I can do a search and probably find it has been written about. More than once or twice or a dozen times. I find myself spending more time thinking of an ‘angle’ for a great experience than just sharing the experience. It makes me want to vomit on myself. Or quit writing about travel.
Another issue is that travel and tourism industries have also left no stone unturned in an effort to create a tourist infrastructure. Signs, maps, guidebooks, websites, promotion, tickets, tours, pub crawls, cooking classes…all of that is great…if you want the same experience that everyone else has. Cookie cutter travel.
And cookie cutter travelers. Grey baby boomers on Rick Steve’s tours, recent college grads on Gap year backpacking tours clutching their Lonely Planets, arrogant and shitty flash-packers with their iPhones and Galaxy tablets and Kindle 3Gs. Perhaps one in twenty of these (and that might be generous) is the kind of traveler that the hostels and pubs used to be filled with and frankly, it’s not worth wading through the other 19 to find the one. Couchsurfing provided a brief respite before it was found by the same groups above and the giggilo casanovas and carpet selling camel tour providers. Trust and safety disappeared and so did all that was spontaneous.
Even worse, every one of those travelers listed above; the boomers, the gap backpackers, the flashpackers – they all have cookie cutter travel blogs that tell the same stories in the same boring tones with the same affiliate links and the same sponsored posts and the same ‘angles’ from sites like problogger or travelblogchallenge or some other cookie cutter monetize your blog blog (which monetize through telling you how to monetize….hmmmm) and use the same themes, same slider, same widgets.
On this last trip EVERY traveler I met had a blog. Out of all of them the only one worth reading was the one by a cute blond who was whoring around Asia and then writing about all of her hookups – I’m sure she’ll regret that someday…and to be honest, it wasn’t her travel writing that was interesting, it was the confessional. Most of the travelers I met on this last trip made me want to cut my own throat rather than spend time with them. Spoiled, arrogant, snotty, closed minded, boring, frightened, and annoying are some of the nicer adjectives that come to mind.
I’m bored with every bit of it and that’s too bad since it’s what I’ve built everything on and around in my professional life.