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.