Archive for June 5th, 2015

June 5, 2015

Five Really Good Reasons Not to Blog About Travel

Travel. It’s something Americans say we love to do. It’s on our Facebook Hobbies, profiles and job interview answers. Our dedication to travel can’t be better qualified than creating a travel blog, with our observations and experiences out in the wide world. In this day and age of 140 characters of constant self-proclamations and long-winded Travelocity reviews, it’s hard to figure out what travel writing should be. So, to play the devil’s advocate (because really, someone should side with the poor guy), here are five reasons not to blog about travel:

1) Everyone else does it.

Let’s be honest…the internet makes experts of us all. Pretty much anyone who knows how to make homemade bread has their own Laura Ingalls back-to-nature cooking blog, and anyone who has taken a few trips to Europe is the newest Rick Steves. So how many travel experts in the world can there be, and what’s the value of another one?

Here’s the hard truth: there is not much value if you won’t add value. What does that look like? It’s exploring the uncomfortable. It’s being aware of your surroundings, and conveying the emotions, the actions of your experience with honesty. It’s about avoiding being blinded by bias, and addressing it regardless.

This sort of travel writing also requires discomfort, because engaging with people isn’t always easy, and immersing oneself in a culture isn’t always fun.

But Wait, There’s More: We aren’t talking about TripAdvisor, that lovely pantheon of tourist deities spouting golden tips for an easy and awesome vacation. That’s tourism. Travel is dirty, hard, exhilarating, terrifying and different. Communicating that to the world…that’s what brings value to the world of travel writing. You don’t even need to be somewhere new. You can write about your hometown pie parlor or the local pig farm, because you are willing to open your eyes and experience the lifeblood of a community, the good and bad.


2) Rick Steves already did it for us.

I’ll admit; I take good ol’ Ricky with me most large cities I visit. It means I don’t have to have a tour guide lead me around the Sistine Chapel, and I know exactly when NOT to stand in line at the Roman Baths. It’s an amazing book of tips, secrets and handy maps. So why on earth would anyone feel the need to travel write? Well, Rick Steves and his impressive staff are writing from a certain understanding of the world (to enjoy it as much as possible). This tends to create a certain perspective, or a framework of understanding that shapes their narrative and experience. And try as we might, sometimes this framework gets in the way of grasping and engaging with new cultures.

As a rather clever writer Joan Pau Rubies pointed out, the traveler and writer charting the world is also defining countries and cultures through their own perspective; thus their observations and application of study are limited to their own framework and sense of ethical morality.

But Wait, There’s More: Every individual presents a new perspective and set of observations, and that means your experience might just be worth taking the time to write it down.

3) We are ignorant. And we are just using others for entertainment.

Maybe we don’t know if kosher and halal meat are the same or not, or how to tell the difference between Irish and Scottish kilts. Well, you gotta at least know this: we are ignorant. We don’t know things, because we are busy people who don’t have time to sit around, reading about the entire world’s history, before we go out and travel (if we even have the time for that!). There are an overwhelming number of facts we don’t know about the world, and about the places we are exploring and writing about. Heck, we can barely experience it properly, because each new experience usually offers a tremendous amount of stimuli and action occurring in any new place…how is it possible to bring any level of honest observation and self-awareness?

Steve Clark points out in his book “Travel Writing and the Empire,” that the purpose of modern travel writing is to often divulge the secrets of that culture, and how to get the most out of it. According to Clark, travel writing, particularly focusing on Anglocentric colonialism language, creation and characteristics, is shaped heavily by the past of colonial and post-colonial engagement, often when exploration was connected to exploitation. So. Basically, we use other cultures to get what we want out of the experience. Sounds so very…imperial.

But Wait, There’s More: But think about this…travel writing isn’t about knowing everything. It’s about learning it, experiencing it, and hopefully walking away (and writing) with something true and valuable that adds to the scope of your understanding. In a purely selfish way, travel writing is a way to explore things beyond what you knew, and challenge the things you do know. In an altruistic way, it’s an opportunity to help shape someone else’s understanding of the world in an accurate light, with honest analysis of both interacting cultures (yours, and the one you are traveling in).

4) We can show off on Facebook and Instagram, so why start a blog? Travel is haaaaard.

Really, it’s just work. You can already impress all your friends with sepia selfies on the Seine River with the Notre Dame behind you. Ohlala! How fancy of you! #cultured, merci boucoup, am I right? Pics or it didn’t happen. Oftentimes, it seems our society depends on others to justify our experiences through likes, retweets and feedback. Until someone tells us how great our experience was, we don’t feel quite satisfied. So, why go through the trouble of writing about your experiences, when a photo or status will do just as well?

Also. It’s work. Just a lot of work to legitimately engage and travel. As James Clifford said in “Traveling Cultures”, traveling to the far reaches of the society (pg. 25) can far better engage with the organic populace than just hitting the main parts (saw the Eiffel Tower! Understand French people.), viewing both external and internal relationships and the woven influences of political and social influences throughout the engagement.

But Wait, There’s More: Travel writing takes too much work to just offer bragging rights. Modern travel writing seems to offer a variety of accounts: short notes of observations, helpful hints of practicality, pensive narratives of personal experiences. So, yes, you can write to show how well-traveled you are, and how exciting your life is. But if that’s the case, it might be better just to stick to short social media, where you can score the easy likes and jealous retweets. It seems that travel writing allows the traveler to engage with other culture’s stories…so often, we tell our own version of someone else’s story, crafting a single narrative for their culture. Travel writing invites us to open up the conversations about more than what we have seen on television.

These Romans are clearly cooler and more interesting than me. They should write a travel blog.

These Romans are clearly cooler and more interesting than me. They should write a travel blog.

5) Our background is not impressive. Or even cool.

We are not Anthony Bourdain. We are not tri-lingual. We are Americans, generally loud and uncertain and overly friendly in countries not our own. We often believe everyone deserves our version of democracy. We can see injustice where some see social norms. We like food that is tasty, but tasty by our standards. We are lucky America offers an awesome diversity in our country, and this allows a unique perspective. However, each individual’s background influences how we see our own community and other communities. We are limited in how we see the world, and this can damage how we write about it. I come from a right-winged Midwestern, middle-class family descended from Western European immigrants who made our way in America as farmers and doctors. This colors my perspective, and a lack of diverse traveling beyond Europe doesn’t help.

But Wait, There’s More: Self-awareness is the bane of bias. If I know I have a predisposition to think blondes are stupid (don’t worry; I can’t. I am one, and live in a family of them), I am more aware of how this influences my perspective, and how I engage with blondes, and thus l can address it while engaging with another ideal from different angles. If I can do this, perhaps I can at least understand another narrative, and maybe communicate an honest experience, true to the culture of blondes, while balancing my predisposition to judge blondes.


So yes. I have tricked you.

This was not a list of reasons to not blog about travel. It is a list of reasons to be careful when writing about travel. To not slip into selfish, mega-tourism writing. To focus on what matters by learning about myself, others and the world I live in. Optimistic, but not idealistic. Now, who wants to pay for me to go to China to test all this out?