My Problem With Travel Writers

Two years ago I signed up for an online travel writing course on a whim.  All and all, that was a good thing, because it led to the creation of this, which I’ve had so much fun producing and has resulted in several cool opportunities.

I’d always been a strong writer, and I knew that I always wanted to write something on the side–I’m a teacher so have plenty of free time during the summer and on weekends. I’d just learned the basics of blogging and picked it as my preferred media channel; I liked the informal writing style and I liked the accessibility between the reader and the writer. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted my blog to be about and remember thinking to myself, what do I love? What could I write about and not be bored? What do I already waste so much time scouring the internet for?

I settled on traveling.

At this point I was aware that my travel repertoire paled in comparison to some of the people I’d be going up against. I’d never studied abroad, never went on any foreign volunteer trips and had only ever been in Canada, which, let’s face it, doesn’t count.

I decided to capitalize on local travel. Some of the reading I’d done had said to pick a niche, travel writing is a competitive field and you needed something to help you stand out. I picked travel in/around Pennsylvania and now here we are today.

I started the course, excited to connect with other like-minded individuals and learn a new skill.

That excitement fizzled when I was met with mostly disdain.

What do I mean I’d never been out of the country? Why was I writing about saving up to travel when I could simply move out of my apartment, downgrade my car and stop spending money in local bars so that I could fund this lifestyle? I’ve never couchsurfed? I hold down a “traditional” job? I go to Florida on my own free will? What was I doing here?

I’m obviously not a traveler.

It was disheartening. I wondered if this was a worthwhile endeavor and I ended up not completely finishing the course. I did learn enough to get this off the ground and after a bumpy first year I finally figured out what I was doing and fell into a routine that I legitimately enjoy.

Since then I’ve been to Ireland and Iceland as well as bouncing all around the greater northeast. I’ve been comped free local tours in exchange for written publicity, attended a local couchsurfing gathering and learned that I don’t necessarily have to go somewhere to be able to write about it.

I’ve learned that traveling, to me, is about seeing new places, learning new things, meeting new people and opening yourself up to new experiences.  I have my preferences when it comes to how I travel but try, as I do with any of my viewpoints, to not push them on others. There is no right or wrong way to travel. What works for me might not work for someone else. That’s the fun of it.

I’ve also learned that I still have problems with large portions of the travel writing community, mostly because I think they’re dicks. I’m sorry for negative tone of this post, but it’s something I’ve been wanted to vent for a while now.

Here are my major gripes:

  • It’s an exclusive club- A lot of travel writers will front like they are these hippy-dippy free spirits who just want to experience everything they can and love and harmonize with fellow citizens of the world, but there’s a competitiveness there, lurking below the surface that rears its head in the most hilarious and pretentious ways. “You’ve hitchhiked across Zambia with only $30 and a shaman from the Himalayas? Well I’ve been tazered by Thai border-guards trying to find the other full moon festival, the invite only one? Yeah you wouldn’t know about it because only he most seasoned of travelers receive the password…and press kit.”
  • They’re the original faux-punks- Remember those kids in high school? The ones that turned their nose up at anything “mainstream” but spend a shitload of their parent’s money at Hot Topic and who coincidentally spend all their time today uploading pictures showcasing their suburban dream life to Facebook? They have a lot in common with travel bloggers, the ones who go out of their way to make sure they are off the beaten path, they’re like locals, and they shun anyone who reeks of “materialistic consumerism.” They do this while scouring the local villages for wifi access for laptops purchased from funds generated by their Kickstarter campaigns and sales from their Ebook, “How to Live Like a Local in Uganda” (which at 13 pages is a bargain at $12.99).
  • Being foreign automatically makes it better- Newsflash: Street meat from Tai Pei is just as “fresh”, “local” and “authentic” as NYC hotdog carts.
  • “Tourists” ruin everything- Granted this has some validity, tour buses filled with flash photography obsessed patrons (quick aside: why is that still a thing with the advent of the smart phone) can be annoying, but tourism is often the biggest revenue for some of these locales. Tourists bring money, jobs and attention to locations. Tourists are also the ones generating your blog’s traffic. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
  •  There’s nowhere untouched anymore- if you’re writing about it  and tweeting it to your exclusive 3,495 followers, you’re part of the problem. At the risk of being completely cliché, you can’t have your cake and eat it to.
  • Traveling cheap is traveling “authentically”- I’m of the philosophy money is made to be spent, so I’m going to throw down for a big bar tab and not only go on “free walking tours.”  I might even load up on souvenirs and maybe spring for a hotel rather than a hostel. That’s authentic to me.
  • I’m embarrassed to be American- This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I ‘ve seen a growing trend in posts about “how embarrassing it is to be an American ex-pat.” The ignorant American is a stereotype, just like the Brit with the bad teeth or the Japanese tourist with their flash photography (I never mentioned before who was the culprit!). There is a lot to criticize about the US but there’s a lot to criticize about everywhere. We might’ve brought Wal-Mart and McDonalds to the world but you realize they worship David Hasselhoff in Germany right? On a more serious note, you realize how many advantages you have just because you are American correct? And don’t even bring up Japan’s math scores. It’s an invalid comparison.
  • Exotic Travel is the Only Kind of Travel- Fine, so you’ve been to Moldavia, Turkmenistan and Kiribati. If you’re the epitome of culture then explain how you’ve never been to Boston, New York or Ohio. There’s culture by the boatloads there (ok, maybe not in Ohio).

I could go on but then I’d be generalizing just as much as these guys do. And it’s worth mentioning that I’ve also encountered a number of people who are just happy to share their experiences and approach travel writing with an open mind and realize that whether you’ve been to 50+ countries or simply do a new day trip every few weekends, that writing about and sharing these trips and possibly inspiring someone else to see something new is what the end game is.

4 responses to “My Problem With Travel Writers

  1. I love this! I got so frustrated that I actually stopped writing my blog for many of the same reasons. I felt that I could never compete with the “real” travelers, so why even bother. This has encouraged me to start up again! Thank you!

    • Luckily I’ve found that there’s an audience out there for more non-lifestyle like travel and that there are a number of travel writers who do go all sorts of crazy places that I really enjoy reading. I hate putting negative stuff out there, but this has sort of been getting under my skin for a while now.

  2. Given that I have my feet in both worlds, I feel that I need to comment on this.

    Prior to starting my Pennsylvania travel blog, I wrote (and still write) Tripologist.com. I’ve taken long-term trips twice, including 2.5 years living, working, and traveling throughout Asia. Plus, I personally know many of the more well-known travel bloggers out there.

    All that being said, some of your points have validity (looking for wifi in small villages for sure), but I’ve never encountered a culture of one-upmanship or thinking that only exotic destinations count. In fact, I know several writers who have been traveling much closer to home in recent years, myself included.

    There is also some validity to your point about travel writers being part of the problem of tourism (just look at the well-worn trails that Lonely Planet started). However, there is a huge difference between a handful of people going into a town, learning the local language, eating local food, etc. and a herd of camera toting people looking for their own culture’s food. I can honestly say that I’ve been driven mad by tour buses and the tourists on them on more occasions than I can count.

    Furthermore, sustainable travel has become a very big topic in the travel community, and many writers attempt to visit places and see things with as little impact on the local culture as possible. There are certainly less impactful ways to travel, and many writers are now focusing on those, even if they cost a bit more time or money.

    Overall, I feel that this post is really unfair to travel writers. Sure, there are a few bad apples out there, but most are great people who legitimately want to inspire others to travel. Does international travel change your perspective on your home culture in ways that can be hard for others to understand? Absolutely. However, that doesn’t mean that travel writers, or anyone who is well traveled for that matter, look down on those who haven’t traveled.

    • Thanks for the feedback and I hope I didn’t offend…..I unfortunately did have a lot of negative experiences with other writers and bloggers when I first started this project. This was written to exercise some of my frustrations. Since that point I’m happy to say that I’ve encountered many more supportive/positive writers, but do feel as that what I first experienced is still somewhat of an annoyance in the travel writing community as a whole.

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