After 4 years of travel blogging Josh wonders if his social media obsession compromises how and why he travels.
I SPEND AN ASS LOAD of time sitting in this chair and I try to pretend that I love it. I would like to pretend that this travel blogger travels more than he blogs, but what is the point?
Back in the beginning things were simple. The travel had no obligations, no agenda. Travel was travel and travel was good. I wouldn’t thrust my thumb out in an attempt to hitch hike out of Amalfi Town and hope it would make a good blog. I didn’t jump the gate of a Saracen castle and try to think of a pithy 140 character tweet. I didn’t muse, ‘Will this incredible sunset make a good update?’
Of course I didn’t, that would be shallow, stupid even.
Then call me stupid, because after 4 years of broadcasting my travels online that is exactly where my mind goes.
I realize that a point has been reached where in order to remain honest and to continue to move forward, I must take stock. I must tally the pro’s and count the con’s in an attempt to make the scales balance. To pretend that all this social media diatribe is flawlessly good in and of itself would be more than silly, it would be deceitful.
The time I spend plugged in while traveling, updating my Facebook, blogging and tweeting my links is time I could be spending digging deeper into the culture I am purportedly there to visit. An average blog takes me anywhere from 30-120 minutes to write, format and publish. Then there is the time spent sharing and engaging with the community, the time spend checking stats, checking emails, chasing links, sifting through my cluttered hard drives in search of that certain photo…
This is perhaps the most grievous theft, the minutes that fall off the clock while I am busy online and not out in the world doing what you thought I came to do; travel. Then there is the time spent back at home, when my friends are hitting the karaoke bar I am resizing JPG’s. For every hour I spent traveling I will spend five geeking out on a blog.
When I am focused on my blog, shooting a video, or what my next post will be, I’m falling out of focus from my actual travel experience. With social media blinders on, a lot can go unnoticed or unexplored. Granted, thinking from the blog-end forward can also help me see things in ways that I may not have otherwise.
Then again, maybe not. I want to say that the focus of the traveler should only be the travel, that the articles, ‘Pix of the Day’ and the rest will fall into place. The travel media’s focus will be derived from the vision that was present at the time of travel.
Being a travel blogger isn’t all high fives and poolside IPA’s. There are many, many hours spent hunched over my laptop in dimly lit rooms (yes, I could turn on the lights). The process of storytelling is at times thrilling, and when the words flow, when I feel I am expressing something really worthwhile, and when I get a positive response from readers, I feel on top of the world.
However, the ‘this is work’ mindset can taint the enjoyment of the travel. Thinking ‘this is going to take two hours to blog about’ after a day of hiking and waterfall ruckus can to take the wind out of the day’s adventures. I love to write, but a self-imposed travel blog obligation creeps in like choking vine that threatens the tree that supports it. There has to be time for travel that is work free, with the camera left at home. I believe that when you can’t untangle work and play one or both tends to suffer.
Point blank, when I know am I traveling for the sole purpose to create media (as is the case during a press trip) the purity of the travel is compromised. Travel for travel’s sake goes out the window. Instead it is travel for positive press’ sake, travel for a satisfied tourist board’s sake.
Even if I am not on sponsored trips I believe the more I focus on social media while traveling, the dirtier things can get. And by dirty I mean further away from the core intention of discovery that I first fell in love with. I think that travel at its best is a series of happy accidents and the more out of control I feel, the more pure that travel feels.
What blogging gives back to your travels.
The online travel community is a wonderful, supportive group of explorers. We are an inspired, motivating force that I am very proud to be a part of. I love living vicariously through, gaining inspiration from and offering support to the blossoming community of travel creatives. Nearly everybody I have met in the flesh who is a part of our community is a friendly, talented and welcoming person, at least to my face. Y’all are my kind of people.
Idle hands are the devils workshop, right? Blogging keeps my fingers flying and thus, as the old axiom goes, out of trouble. Writing, whether in a journal or on a WordPress template, is a noble use of your time, or so I tell myself. All in all, I think travel blogging is a pretty sweet hobby.
If I don’t expel creative energy I go crazy. My creative energy used to flow through theater and poetry and now it flows through telling travel stories, sharing the small epiphanies, embarrassments and triumphs that travel imparts. I’m very grateful and happy that this outlet is available to me, and the creative freedom I feel becomes bolstered by the support of the community and the creativity-love-cycle continues.
Travel itself is a creative act–my goal is merely to provide a lens unto the experience.
Skrilla. It is a good thing. I won’t pretend to be above the pursuit of cash and I am thrilled when what I love to do collides with what I am paid to do. If you are good at what you do and persistent enough to keep at it you will see money come in.
Online travel media is still in its infancy and there are so many ways to grab some of the millions spent on travel marketing and media. Get focused and get some!
With exposure and talent comes increased opportunity to travel and create more media. What a wonderful feeling to know that your stories and experiences are feeding more stories, more travels. The door for intrepid, opportunistic travel bloggers is wide open. The better you are at carving out an online niche for yourself and forging valuable relationships the more opportunities you will see roll your way.
The freedom to say whatever you wish to hundreds of millions of people. The freedom to rant, to gush and criticize in a format that would make Gutenberg drop a load in his breeches. The freedom that people in many parts of the world and most corners of history only dream of.
So what does it all mean?
For this traveler, it means that not everything is black and white. What I do know is that I have to be accountable to the travel. After all, the travel is why I am here. I am online, with Matador, on this laptop and in this creaky-ass office chair for the sake of travel. I must recognize as I navigate the world of tourism marketing that the travel experience isn’t a commodity, it is a gift, and at that,
a gift that I am humbled and happy to share.
*Get access to paid freelance travel writing opportunities and an active community of travel journalists by enrolling in the MatadorU Travel Writing program.