We live in a super-specialised world and the world of travel and travellers is no different. It’s not enough to just say that “I like to travel” or that “I am a traveller”. One has to qualify what kind of travel you like or what kind of traveller you are. You’d be considered boring otherwise !
Don’t believe me? Well then, just see some of the words I picked up from the Twitter and Facebook bios of travel bloggers on my TL, which describes the kind of travel they do or the type of travellers they are.
Solo. Couple. Family. LGBT. Gay. Luxury. Heritage. Road. Backpacker (you can add variations in spelling here like backpakker, bacpacker, bakpakker). Nomadic. Wandering. Itinerant. International. Different. Newly wed (I kid you not!). Budget. Flashback. Mountain. Himalayan. Beach. Food. Frugal. Happy-Go-Lucky. Culture. Nature. Environmental. Rural. Eco. Weekend. Slow. Lazy. Grumpy. Happy. Lost. Spiritual. Religious. Ethical. Independent (really wonder what this means). Immersive. Adventure. Long-term…
One would think that the “variety” in travel / travellers would have automatically translated into variety in travel writing or blogging as well. Surprisingly, I have found that this is not the case. Sure, a lot of destinations get written about, but they are usually in the form of listicles, guides, travel tips, sponsored articles or articles espousing the cause of a particular type of travel (read the above para for examples). First-person accounts of travel experiences — which in my opinion is what any travel writing/blogging should be about — are comparatively few.
And therein lies my problem with travel blogging. As someone who blogs about travel (among other things), I know how important it is to read well in order to write well. The operative word here is ‘to read well’. Unfortunately, more often that not, whenever I read a travel blog post, I’m left with a feeling of “this is not about travel / this is not what I want to read in a post on travel”.
Let me elaborate with some examples the reason I’m peeved with the state of travel writing / blogging today.
1. Reducing travel experiences to listicles
Travel. Such a beautiful word, isn’t it? Full of mystery, excitement, anticipation and promise too. Each travel experience is personal and unique, shaped by our perspective and also one that shapes our perspective. To see all that reduced to “Top 10 (or any other number) things to do” or “What to See” or “How to Make the Most of”, etc. is something that makes me see red. I fail to understand how an entire trip or a destination can be reduced to a list !
Even web articles in travel magazines are increasingly becoming all about listicles. And most of them don’t make sense to me. Take this recent one on 9 Stunning Architectural Styles To Travel For In India — it neither gives the rationale for choosing the styles listed nor does it give the rationale for the order in which they are listed. But the worst thing about this list is not including temple architecture of India.
Many travel bloggers I know would argue that listicles are important in this day and age of short attention spans. My reply to them is this: listicles are an examples of lazy writing and not lazy reading. It would also help if you admit that listicles are good for SEO and diverting web traffic to your blog.
I think I started hating, really hating, listicles when I came across a blog post on “Top 7 things to do in Mumbai” (that blog post has been deleted). Since I’m a Mumbaikar and I was curious, I decided to check it out. I was shocked to see that the listicle was all about 7 things to do in a particular 5-star hotel in Mumbai, and nothing about the city per se. It was very obviously a sponsored post, though the blog post did not mention it.
2. Non-disclosure of sponsored posts
Many travel bloggers are professional travel bloggers in the sense that they are paid for the content they write to promote a travel brand / destination. I don’t have a problem with that. I do, however, have a big problem if there is no disclaimer about the sponsorship. For me, that is downright unethical and I have come across quite a few blog posts like that. I have also seen posts where the disclaimer had been added later.
I’m also wary of reading those travel blogs where a large number of its posts are sponsored, and therefore written only in the interest of the concerned sponsor and original content is minimal or missing altogether.
3. Focus on “How” instead of the “What”
I’ll be the first to admit that “how” one travels influences “what” one’s travel experiences will be like. I will also admit here that when the “how” takes over the “what” in travel blogging, it doesn’t work for me. Take solo travel / solo travellers or even backpackers, for example. They are so convinced that their way is THE way to travel, that it takes over their sharing of travel experiences on their blogs, their tweets, their FB status… There is more of “I travelled solo / I backpacked” instead of “I saw” or “I experienced” or “I felt”.
In case you are wondering, I have nothing against solo travel or for that matter any kind of travel or travellers. On the contrary, three of my travel ideals are women who have travelled solo, but their travel experience took centrestage; the fact that some of their travels were solo was incidental.
The first is Mandakini Talpallikar. Chances are that you haven’t heard of her. I hadn’t till about 8 months back when her autobiography came to my desk for copy-editing. She travelled in the Bellampalli Mines area of Singaneri Collieries in today’s Telangana (then Hyderabad State) in 1947 for her field work as part requirement for a Diploma in Social Work. Imagine this: a young, unmarried woman from an orthodox, Hindu family travelling alone in a caste-ridden society before Independence. Wow ! The second is Jayanti Pandey, who was a colleague in my first job more than 20 years back. I would be enthralled by her travel tales in Europe and got to know only later that many of them were done solo. The third is Rama Arya, a former classmate from London days and again with amazing travel tales to share. I got to know only 2-3 years back that her travels in Egypt, China and South Africa were solo.
What I’m trying to say is the fact that you travel solo or any other way is not unusual or unique. But your travel experiences certainly are for only you can see a place your way and that’s what I want to know and read about.
4. Disdain for “touristy” places and tourists
What is it with travel bloggers turning up their noses and saying that “they don’t like to visit or write about touristy places and sites” as much has been written about it already and therefore it is no longer unique ! I always thought that places are not unique in themselves; it is the writer’s perspective and words that make it so. To illustrate, just read this fantastic blog post by Kevin Standage on the Taj Mahal and see how beautifully he captures the magic of the most touristy of touristy monuments.
Never mind that all thoughts and objections to touristy places disappear if a state / country tourism board invites you for an all-expenses paid trip. Just saying.
5. Quality of writing
There is a glut of travel blogs today. As it happens with too much of anything, too many travel blogs is not necessarily a good thing. Starting a blog is as simple as 1-2-3, though writing well is not. Sustaining it over weeks, months, and years is tough. The result is that finding good quality and readable new blogs is becoming increasingly difficult.
I could list many other reasons, but I think I’ll stop this long rambling post, and get ready for a confession: I have almost stopped reading travel blogs these days.
Till about a year or so back, I used to diligently read every travel blog that I had subscribed to or those whose links appeared on my Twitter and Facebook timelines. Today, I have unsubscribed to most of those blogs for one or some or all of the reasons I have listed above. As for the ones on my social media timelines, I just ignore them for the same reasons, unless it’s about a place that I’m interested in knowing about. The result is that I just read a handful of travel blogs regularly now.
So, these were my “5 Reasons for not reading Travel Blogs” or “Why I don’t like travel blogs anymore”. Of course, for obvious reasons, I say that these were my few thoughts on travel, travelling and travel blogging. 😉
What are your thoughts on this topic. Do share in the comments section. Thank you.