I can see this post being received in a couple of ways. They’ll be a few who will agree with me, nod their head in sage agreement. Some might agree even though they are kind of the subject of the blog. Then they’ll be some who are downright offended.
And I welcome them into the discussion.
Sell Out or Miss Out? - The Travel Blogger Problem
Travel blogs have gained popularity and thus commercial value in recent years. As a result, there is a trend toward a formulaic style of travel blog, designed to market the blogger as a good salesperson, in response to what is supposedly commercially appealing. They use their blog as a way to sell themselves, doing what it takes to get freebies, press-trips, product placements and sponsorship deals. Cause’ obviously that’s the only way to afford travel right?
Photo of attractive individual in a perfectly photographed shot, check! ‘As seen on…’ various websites, check! A tagline about your unique approach to travel, check! I get it, any travel blog aiming for the big-time needs bold branding, and wants to demonstrate their gravitas by highlighting their total online domination.
But since when did a travel blog become less about great content, genuinely useful tips and above all, storytelling, and more about marketing, bragging, image, and money?
Blogging grew from a niche hobby people were embarrassed to admit to, to a fully-fledged business model, with successful blogs on every topic out there in the world wide webs. Over time amidst the rise in blogging popularity, a dumbing-down of sorts has occurred. People begin a blog with the express purpose of it becoming their job. Now with thousands of travel blogs out there, bloggers end up rehashing (side-note: check out South Park episode, '#REHASH') content shared by other blogs, barely making any effort to cultivate an original voice. They become a content pumping machine without much regard for quality.
Admittedly, some people think there isn’t an original thought in existence these days, so what hope does the blogging world have?
But in pushing for the further commodification of our blogs, are we not also bastardizing what can and should be a beautiful expression of life-changing adventure?
Definitely loving that I got to use the word ‘bastardizing’ there.
Maybe I am bringing too much of my own prejudices into this. Maybe I am just envious of the success of others. Maybe I have to accept the fact that anyone can start a blog, and that they certainly won’t all care about content as much as I do. Maybe I am just a hateful individual who vomits in their mouth several times a day whilst looking at other travel blogs. Maybe. But I do believe it’s a positive thing that many of us are able to make a living off of our talents, because some of us are actually talented. Then again I know why I began blogging, with no thought of money in mind, and I always remind myself that each time I write. I always ask myself if I actually believe in what I am sharing, and I always do, considering I write a travel blog not advertising copy.
THE UN-RELATABLE TRAVEL BLOG
Often when visiting the more popular blogs (and the ones trying to be), I am made to feel like I just can't join this group of people who are generally quite pleasing on the eye. The back of my head with its curly ginger locks looking at a view just isn't that aspirational. My hairs really average. A focus on image and appearance is understandable in the fashion/beauty blogger realm, but ours?
Well, I suppose people can't help if they are attractive, but then again there is a widespread attack of the filters and overly posed photography across many travel blogs.
When I see articles pop up on pinterest, or see a blogger has made it onto some trashy news site, my attention is often drawn to the appearance of the bloggers, not their ‘amazing’ story. That’s because they look like frickin’ supermodels.
They don’t look anything like I do when I’ve just hiked 3 hours up out of a rainforest, or even just walked 2 minutes to the shop in the Australian heat. I rarely see much of the sweat and sun-tan lotion combination that is the key everyday look of the average pale traveller in hot exotic land (disclaimer: this is not pitch for free sun-lotion).
Even on the blogs created by so-called relatable budget travellers, it can still feel like they are pandering to being a marketable product void of edge and self-awareness.
I can’t imagine Christopher McCandless posing up a storm whilst listing his achievements boldly and intimidatingly, alienating those regular folk who just want to read a well-told story and look at some pretty pictures. Nor can I imagine him purporting to be unique or special, as if he is doing something nobody else is doing or has done, when in reality, there are a lot of travellers out there (not all of whom travel into the Alaskan wilderness and eventually die). Very few travellers ever blog about it, some just travel, embrace it, enjoy it and don’t feel the need to try and make money out of it.
Of course its great to share and be proud of your achievements, if you put in the hours being creative, you deserve the joy of sharing that. But when your achievements all lead back to numbers and figures, then you just aren't that relatable any-more as a travel blogger. Just remember how it felt that day you had 1 visitor and then that day you had 100. That's still pretty cool. And much more a common occurrence for most bloggers.
Others, like us at NomaderHowFar.com decide to share things. In a selfish sort of way, we like to believe our words make a difference. We write out of compulsion and love, whilst also hoping to find some modicum of an audience, to engage people, and potentially inspire them. But I cringe at the idea of ever representing ourselves as anything other than normal people.
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GAINING FINANCIAL FREEDOM THROUGH BLOGGING
We are not against the idea of travel bloggers earning an income via blogging which enables them to keep travelling. But of course when they do, it kinda takes them further away from the members of their audience who aren’t being paid to travel.
We are naturally very open to the idea of making an income from our blog. Why? Because obviously we don’t want to spend our entire travel life going from one short-term and uninspiring job to the next. It’s often quite demoralizing. And let’s face it, if a company wishes to pay for my lifestyle of choice, then I am not going to throw it back in their faces. But I also won’t compromise my world view for a payday.
But a major reason why it might be nice to earn a bit, is because we bloody love creating. We love writing, taking photo’s and making movies.
We pour love into all that we do, but money (or the lack of it) won’t alter the way we do things. Even though the short-term jobs we take on, pull us away from our creativity and temporarily ground us, blogging is still the thing we do most evenings and weekends, out of pure passion. It has been for two years, and we have never made a penny from doing it. But its a priceless collection of memories for us, and the connections and conversations we have as a result, are pretty awesome too.
Some of the bloggers that I genuinely do put on a pedestal, are not the ones that everyone would immediately recognize by name. They are the ones who found success naturally and over time, their own small pocket of opportunities and travel experiences, which does technically mean their blog is also a business. But the humble manner, and content-focused way in which they conduct themselves, is done with so much more elegance and integrity, it feels right to aspire to them.
It’s refreshing to witness their success via their continued creativity and engagement with their audience, as opposed to seeing them shout from the social media rooftops, just how great they and their blog are.
WHEN EMULATING SUCCESS ANNIHILATES INDIVIDUALITY
I suppose it is a double-edged sword. We witness bloggers gain commercial success, we look at the way they sell themselves, and we copy them.
We all dream the same dream and end up resembling a queue for the X-factor auditions; we all have our own life stories of hardship and how travelling is the dream we just have to live out. And the other edge is that we try to write stuff which will be frequently clicked and read, based on the algorithms of trends, social media sites and hashtags. We create differently, we alter our natural output, do some nipping, tucking and censoring, occasionally raising feathers with attention-grabbing posts when we believe it will equal clicks.
We iron out the kinks of our own individuality, because we think it’s the only way we can be successful.
Conversely, we over-push the thing about us that we believe is unique, and thus create a vast distance between story-teller and reader.
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION TO THE TRAVEL BLOGGER PROBLEM?
So you want to make a living travel blogging but you don’t want to compromise your integrity? Well, that might be a bit tricky. The marketplace for bloggers is a competitive world, and the advertisers and companies helping them make money, are pretty much all looking for the same thing; a marketable blogger of the aspirational kind, who can get high traffic that will provide a return on their investment.
If you can get high-traffic and commercial success whilst being your completely honest self, to the nth degree, then more power to you.
If you have the passion for storytelling, but still decide to follow the blueprint of others, and focus on the money, then you need to regain perspective on not just blogging, but the thing you are blogging about; travel. The truth and purity of that dream, the purpose behind it, goes way beyond your blog.
Long-term travel is something people have done and will continue to do for a long time. They will have amazing, challenging and complex experiences, and yet, many of them won’t make a commercially successful blog in the process. They won’t sell out, and they will certainly not miss out.
For more food for thought, check this this awesome piece 'Travel Bloggers are Lying to You'
Thanks for reading!
Hannah and Taran here. We hail from Southern England, where we met online and are now realizing our mutual passion for travel here at NomaderHowFar. We discuss Nomadic Living, Simplifying your Life and Long-term Travel, to empower, motivate and inspire our readers. Get to know us here!