Edit: Wow, I was not at all expecting this kind of response to my post. Thank you all so much for your likes and shares, but mostly for your comments! In the end, all I really wanted to do was spark discussion, and I’m glad I did.
I’d like to respond to a comment I’m seeing a lot, which is people asking what I’m going to do about the problem other than complain. Well, that’s why I decided to get this blog back up and running – to try and create something that looked like a potential solution. I want to build a blog that’s committed to keeping it real, promoting responsible travel, and digging a little deeper than the pretty surfaces (and occasionally talking about politics because WE GIVE A SHIT), as well as featuring those better bloggers, lifting up the voices of underrepresented travelers through our Voices of Travel series, and publishing work on destinations that is written by people who live there through our Like a Local series. If you’d like to contribute, here is our call for submissions.
ANYONE can quit their job and travel the world, EVERYONE should quit their job and travel the world, and yet travel bloggers are all starting to look and sound like the same wealthy, thin white person. Am I missing something here?
I’ve always felt more than a little uncomfortable scrolling through dime a dozen travel blogs and Instagram accounts, including my own. Eventually, I realized why: travel bloggers are annoying as hell.
Disclaimer: Before you get defensive, I am a travel blogger. I quit my job to travel the world, more than once. I’ve been traveling full-time for 4 years now and working as a freelance writer for almost that long. The things I’m about to call out, well, I’ve done them before too. Most of us have.
Real talk, I think it’s time we all sat down in a circle (on the internet) and had a real conversation about the state of travel blogging, Instagramming, and travel culture in general.
I’m tired of the profiles filled with nothing but perfectly curated photos of “impromptu” picnics, perfectly spotless luxury hotel rooms, and selfies of girls in full makeup and prom dresses standing on Macchu Picchu. #youdidnoteatthat #youdidnotsleepthere It’s fake, and I know it’s detrimental to people’s self-esteem when they don’t realize the work and money that goes into these (often branded, professional) shoots. (Have you seen Ingrid Goes West yet?! Do it.) I’m tired of travel bloggers selling bullshit “You Can Quit Your Job and Travel Too!” e-courses that brush off their privileges and ignore the reality that no, not everyone can do this.
I’m tired of travel accounts that are 100% about aesthetics but don’t provide any real info about the place or even the location the photo was taken. How are 100 photos of a girl walking in front of a generic colorful wall with no geotag really “travel blogging”? How does that help someone take their first solo trip or navigate a foreign country safely? As leading travel influencer Adventurous Kate writes in “On Influence, and Using it Wisely,” it’s unhelpful at best and downright dangerous at worst. I’m tired of the #doitforthegram mentality…it’s fun once in a while, but when the value of destinations is judged by how insta-friendly they are, it leaves out some very worthwhile but not so pretty places while overcrowding and destroying others. When I watch people go to sacred sites just to snap 1,000 selfies and leave, not even taking a single moment to breathe in the air, process where they are, and look at the place through the lens of their own eyes…it’s too much.
I’m tired of the minimalist wanderlust flower power travel bloggers who live in the forest and eat dandelions for breakfast and proclaim that money isn’t real after they drop 2 grand on their campsite at Burning Man while people in poverty suffer the very real consequences of very real money. Or trophy “sustainable travel” on their social media platform without ever unpacking what that actually means and then go on a giant cruise because “it was just such a good deal.”
Frankly, I’m just not sure of the social value that travel blogging provides anymore. Sometimes, I even feel cynical about the social value that travel itself provides.
I’m getting tired of the self-indulgence of travel and travel blogging. Travel is incredibly rewarding, and finding personal happiness is something to savor. But is it more important than (or even separate from) collective happiness? Let’s be real, when people of privilege travel, it usually doesn’t help anyone but themselves. It doesn’t contribute to the world (yes, even if you spend a week rescuing monkeys or volunteering in an orphanage…in fact that often just makes things worse). When it feels like my country and the world are falling apart, it gets harder and harder to just enjoy myself and see the world without doing something more active to change it.
And then there’s the fact that…#travelbloggingsowhite. It’s getting better, and there are some awesome travel bloggers of color out there, but the face of travel marketing is still white and attractive. I am white blonde girl #10,000,003 up in this space, and the travelsphere does not NEED my voice. What it NEEDS is open ears and a little more interest in hearing from marginalized folks. Why don’t we talk more about experiencing street harassment abroad…as a trans woman? Why are white people expats and adventurous travelers while brown people are immigrants and not even part of the travel space? Why is it a funny, crazy story when a white person overstays their visa in Central America, or super awesome when a white person finds random under the table jobs to fund their travels, but an outrage when a Mexican comes to the U.S. undocumented? Why are nearly ALL the popular travel bloggers also MODELS? Seriously, since when is being thin and able bodied and conventionally beautiful a prerequisite for being a badass traveler? Where are all the fat travel bloggers? Where are the travelers with disabilities? INTERSECTIONALITY…travel blogging is so pathetically behind on this one.
And – this one is the biggest problem – why are white people and people from the Global North the loudest voice and most prominent authority on brown countries and cultures from the Global South? Why don’t we ever read about a NICARAGUAN’S perspective on Nicaragua? Why are the people who are living in the destination you’re writing about totally erased. Non-existent. Or represented as one dimensional, ignorant stereotypes. Or criticized. Or pitied. Not sure which one is worse. This one is so unbelievably damaging and perpetuates colonialism and turns travel into a new form of imperialism. We need to decolonize travel writing and travel culture, and we need to do it now.
I’m constantly questioning whether or not there’s still space in travel media to do what feels good and right, and what that would even look like. On top of that, I question whether or not I have an inflated sense of the good that travel can really do in this world. Whether it can ever benefit marginalized communities, whether it can really educate and make people of privilege open their eyes and minds, whether it can truly be sustainable.
But I know one thing: the travel community is sorely lacking dialogue, self-awareness, and critique. It is lacking in diversity, in inclusivity, and in fucks given. Until I figure out whether I can even continue participating in this community in good faith, I’m taking a break from the world of travel blogging and social media.