Lately, I’ve been thinking about the importance of travel writing. Does it still matter? In a world where many get their travel inspiration from Instagram, has the art of writing lost its power? As a travel blogger, I often wonder what impact, if any, my blog has. In a sea of travel blogs, how do you find your voice to make your words matter?
I guess it largely depends on what matters to you. What motivates you to write? What story do you want to tell others? Defining that sounds easy, but it’s not something that happens right away. At least it didn’t for me. To me, travel writing matters. It took me a while to figure out why. So here is my journey.
When I decided to take my blogging from a hobby to a real deal, I started to read all about the blogging business from other people. A lot of the advice emphasized writing good content, sharing what people are looking for and networking. Totally makes sense. I learned a lot from many others out there.
However, one well-established travel blogger I came across advised against interacting with other travel blogs. The author argued that bloggers wouldn’t be your audience anyway and you should focus instead on people who would actually need your travel expertise. Hmmm. That made me wonder who travel writing matters to anyway.
Yes, the Average Joe who travels with his family once a year or so might benefit from my advice more than a seasoned traveller might. However, as a traveller myself, where would I find info for me?
I definitely think it matters - to the writer, because you can collate your memories. And to readers, to give them an insight into somewhere new, or advice on somewhere they're planning to visit!— KG🌻 (@KatyGilroyBlog) April 30, 2019
That same Joe wouldn’t provide any useful information unless I actually knew him and could hear his experience firsthand. Instead, I would go and read other travel blogs. So, why would I assume other bloggers wouldn’t read mine? There was the flaw in that theory for me.
Breaking the Internet
Blogging is a lot more stressful and isolating than most people imagine. The idea that you hit the publish button and subsequently break the Internet is a myth. The reality is that when your start writing, it goes into what seems like a giant black hole. You are more likely to hear crickets rather than the sound of notifications. It’s not surprising then that most people give up blogging in the first six months.
Books are great - but the internet gives people the opportunity to grab quick bites of information (pun intended) to help them to determine where to go.— christopher mitchell 🌎✈️ (@travelingmitch) April 30, 2019
The reason I started my blog was that I needed a creative outlet. Something that would challenge and inspire me. It was hard at first and I’ve been open about that during my blogging journey. I could have easily given up and I wouldn’t be here today telling you about it. Does it matter to anyone other than me? Maybe.
There are thousands of travel blogs out there. Anyone can start a blog and write about anything they like, including travel. Does it dilute the industry and make it a bad thing? I don’t think so.
If 10 bloggers go to the same place for same amount of time, they are going to come up with 10 different ways to talk about it. That’s because we as people are all very different and so are our readers.
Find inspiration in others
In the beginning, everyone will advise you to find your voice and the rest will follow. It might seem like a simple and clear-cut advice, but it’s actually a lot harder than that. Who am I? What makes me different from the sea of travel bloggers out there? For some, those answers sometimes take longer to materialize than they do for others.
I have read so many travel blogs since the day I first hit publish. Some were awful and made me cringe while there were also those that blew me out of the water, inspired me and taught me something new. Blogging, like any other profession requires networking with people in your industry. That also means other bloggers. Some will brush you off, scoff at you and dismiss you from the start. Then there will be those that will guide you, share their experience with you and support you when even your own family and friends won’t read your posts.
Meet your heroes
Recently I attended a talk by Rick Steves, a man who needs no introduction in the travel sphere. Rick, a fellow historian, engaging speaker and a natural storyteller, made me really think about the importance of writing, and my travel writing in particular. People often assume that travel bloggers sit by the pool with a fancy drink topped off with an umbrella, take copious amount of selfies and get everything free. Fluff at its best. Perhaps some do, but I don’t actually know any that do that.
When I was getting my degree in history, many including my parents, seemed dubious as to my future success in life. Seemingly my options were to either become a history teacher or go to law school (history was considered a good pre-law degree). I didn’t do either.
The love of history and culture has influenced how I travel and how I write about it. It makes me look at countries I visit in a different light. It gives me my own voice.
Rick’s talk was about his new book “Travel as a political act.” He speaks to our perceptions of cultures, including our own, shaped by defining events in our past. He calls it baggage. We all have it, as individuals and as collective nations.
Pre Internet people heading off on their big adventure were given travel diaries, these were filled with memories , we are so lucky to be able to share our travels as they happen for whom ever desires to read them, we all hope our readers get enjoyment and perhaps learn something— Lynette (@Rubbersolesope1) May 1, 2019
Travel breaks down these barriers to a point. Understanding what that baggage is provides context and opens up dialogue. The whole concept is so obvious, yet it’s often overlooked. I must say, the historian in me was proud to hear him speak, showing that learning about our past isn’t just two a two-option career path. As a travel writer, you can make a difference.
Who are you writing for?
There will be those that stumble upon your blog because they are looking for info about a place you wrote about or reviewed. They may or may not find what they are looking for and then move on. Others will hit that coveted subscriber button and will keep reading your future posts.
It matters to me that I can share my stories, storytelling is a fundamental part of human nature and has been around for millennia. I really hope it matters to my readers who are looking for info via my stories...if they have a better experience because of me then I’m happy!— The Gap Decaders full-time motorhomers in Europe (@thegapdecaders) April 30, 2019
Even then, you are still sometimes writing into a black hole. People don’t always come back and tell you what they thought or whether your post made a difference to them. It’s a very rewarding experience when they do, but it shouldn’t be the reason for why you write.
That Average Joe that reads your post about his next destination matters even if he doesn’t tell you that and never comes back to your blog again. It’s not because he doesn’t like your stuff. He might have just been looking for info on a particular place and he found it.
Joe might not be a frequent traveller so he isn’t likely to look for travel info until his next trip. As long as he found your information useful, that’s all that matters.
Creativity in writing?
Many say that SEO is slowly killing creativity. They argue that bloggers that write for keywords lose a sense of themselves by pumping out blogs like “X things to do in X,” “best accessories for X” or “day trips to X.” The thing about keywords and SEO is that they are a reflection of what people are looking for.
Average Joe doesn’t care about how visiting Paris makes you feel or what motivated you to go there in the first place. He cares about things he can do there with his family during their annual vacation.
Writing, travel or otherwise, is a journey in itself. You can publish list style blogs if that works for you. You can write heartfelt odes to your favourite cities and you can write recommendations for whatever you feel will be useful to your readers. There is no rule that you can only write in one style.
The reality is that sometimes I want a list of things to do, while other times I want the impressions and personal touch. Writing, like anything else, is a type of a muscle. You need to work it and challenge it so that it can grow.
No two people experience a place in the same way. Reading a written piece is the best way to experience somewhere with somebody else’s lens over it, in my opinion.— The Jones-Smith Experience (@JonesSmithExp) May 1, 2019
Variety is a spice of life
I enjoy writing and I try to write different types of blogs to expand my writing muscle. It really depends on the destination I am writing about and what I think will be useful to others. Sometimes, it’s purely about my love for a place.
I think it gives people that are scared to travel a hand to go on that first trip. Like when we used the South East Asia on a shoestring Lonely Planet in 2007 cause we had no idea what we were doing.— These Foreign Roads (@markandkylee) April 30, 2019
Also, if it doesn't matter, then we have all wasted A LOT of time.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I am a history and architecture junkie. Give me a pile of old ruins and I’m happy. Not all my readers share that affection and I’m ok with that. I write because it’s something I enjoy.
Sometimes I do write about particular destinations and what to do there. I also write about travel itself as an experience. My reflection on travel as an industry and being a blogger. Average Joe might not care about why I have a problem with calling places Instgramable or what I think about the fire at Notre Dame, but he might like my advice on what to do in Hong Kong, Cagliari or Toronto. I don’t have a problem with that.
Cutting through the noise
For me, finding my voice was about cutting though the noise. It was like a mini journey of self-discovery. My parents instilled in me the love of reading. I loved books before I could even read them. I can’t even remember how old I was when I first read about the mythical Atlantis, the alluring Machu Picchu or the magic of the pyramids. The stories of legends, myths and fairy tales enthralled me. I yearned to see the places I read about and tell stories about them.
I have a hunger for knowledge. Random, quirky facts and little known stories have a way of burning themselves into my brain. I have had many random conversations with people as a result. I started adding those bits into my blogs. That’s the beauty of having your own blog; you can change, revise and edit it as much as you want.
Frequently I do extensive research on the places I am writing about, because a visit there sparked questions or the need to learn more. I thrive on that. My research skills are my super power. Sometimes I feel like my brain is in fast forward and I have a burning need to write down what goes on there. That is why some of my posts read more like a history book while others lean more towards city guides and top things to do in a place. I enjoy writing them all and am perfectly at ease with the fact that they are all different styles.
Our podcast stemmed from a travel blog! We love that travel writing helps others to step out of there comfort zone.— Alpaca My Bags Podcast (@alpacamybagspod) April 30, 2019
One of our guests met our host through her travel blog when it was the only resource out there to give her tips on something so specific!
Your voice in a sea of others
As I recently watched Bohemian Rhapsody, it really made me sad that I wasn’t old enough to appreciate the talent of Freddie Mercury while he was alive. As with many movies, it’s not a detailed play by play of his life, but there are few lessons I got out of it.
Travel writing matters because it allows people to share their motivations, stories, and inspirations to create more empathy and understanding. When we learn and hear about other cultures and people's experiences it makes us all better humans!!— The Badass Backpacker | Travel Blog (@BadassBackpack) May 1, 2019
Freddie was a determined person. He knew his ability and had a vision. Many people ridiculed him and his ideas. There is a scene where Queen just finished the album Night at the Opera. They knew which track they wanted as the highlight, the stand-alone masterpiece. The man funding it disagreed so they walked.
The track was Bohemian Rhapsody, considered too long and weird to play. Despite the mediocre reviews, the song eventually became the hit the band knew it would be. Today, Queen’s music has become as iconic as it was influential.
Queen wanted to be an original. A band that did things differently instead of doing what everyone else did. Blogging is often like that too. People telling us how to do things the way others have done it and following the same path. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing and wanting to do things differently. Listen to that part. Be Freddie and Queen. Be you.
Learning from others is important. It also helps you define your vision and find your voice. It might not be a loud one, but it’s yours and eventually you will find people who want to hear it.
Why travel writing matters to me?
So why does travel writing matter to me? It matters because it helps with breaking down perceptions. Travel writing brings us closer together and clears up misconceptions. It also plays a role in guiding people, some of whom may have never travelled before, to new places and experiences.
As a travel writer, I feel like I have a responsibility to equip my readers with tools they need to explore the world. To become responsible travellers. Ones that will appreciate the stories behind the places they visit. It doesn’t matter if they are the Average Joe prepping for a family trip, other bloggers or seasoned travellers.
To me travel writing is not just about places. It’s about travel as an experience.
After planning our holidays from self sourced info off the internet, which was a lot harder back then, we found we had better trips. The packages we got from top travel agents were so boring and stifling. Travel blogs were mostly how we found direction and ideas 😊— Leon and Tash (@LeonandTash1) May 1, 2019