Or, Does Travel Blogging Have to Be Influencer Marketing?

Travel restrictions and #StayAtHome have taken the shine off the travel influencer and blogger business; rising interest in the local outdoors threatens worrisome crowding and pollution.

It all should make us question what travel writing is for, and what it could be about.

A Sorry State

We shouldn’t have been surprised about the sorry state of travel themes on social media.

Friends’ and relatives’ vacation photo slideshows were the butt of jokes, and travel influencer’s Instagram posts have not raised the bar. At best, in getting aspirational, they became ads.

Not just ads, but also all the same. Photo: Insta_Repeat

Travel blogging has typically been an extension of the same. It is either a trip report of little value (and I count some of my own posts here) or another travel ad and guide that only serves people who want to follow in the same footsteps.

Travel Followings

The footsteps of other travelers seem to have become immensely popular.

Lots of “travelers, not tourists” seek adventure and the exotic to present themselves as explorers and learners. But, they decide(d) where they want to visit via Instagram and for Instagram.

Reasons to Choose a Holiday Destination:

How ‘Instagrammable’ the holiday will be – 40.1%

Cost/Availability of alcohol – 24%

Personal development – 22.6%

Chances to experience the local cuisine – 9.4%

Opportunities for sightseeing – 3.9%

Awaiting the perfect conditions for the exact same shot

The Travel Question

Lockdowns have just made travel more difficult again, the way it has been for the longest time. With the difficulties, travel blogging and the travel influencer business are in crisis.

It was high time, though, to question the democratized luxury of travel that turned into heedless consumerism – and travel writing that has been turned into nothing but an extension of marketing, even more so.

The question that is constantly overlooked:

Is travel that falls squarely into the capitalist need for constant growth really the travel that we want?

Isn’t there a potential for something else – for going deeper, looking closer, and providing better value than just social media inspiration for other’s social media?

Travel as escapism, after all, does not have to mean that everyone has to go to the same places and experience the same things. In fact, it may well mean staying home but learning more.

Stay Home, Learn More?

How so?

Well, let’s consider the motivations for travel and the reasons for travel writing.

Travel photos and stories do not have to be inspiration for the travel lifestyle and advertising for tourist destinations.

We do not exclusively travel – or look at travel content – to learn where we “must-go” and what we “must-see” and to have “been there, done that.”

(There’s a reason those phrases are so overused and offputting – popular as they are for SEO, pandering to the masses.)

Travel (Story) Experiences

Travel is also to learn, to make new experiences.

Travel stories are also to learn, to find out about places we might not, in fact, want to go ourselves.

To learn about people we would be shy, if not afraid, to meet.

Men of the Miao ethnicity in southern Guizhou… actually, awaiting the next group of tourists

To see something of places we would find hard and worrisome to get to – but still want to know something about.

Travel Learning without the Pain

It can be fascinating enough to learn something new about places without having the full experience.

That food looks good, but it often enough comes with an upset stomach.

Exotic places and crazy travel is fun to see others do, but not so great when you have to suffer through it yourself.

The full experience of a place is often just overbearing, expensive and exhausting.

Easy peasy

Other Travels’ Learning

The challenge for the (now, not-)traveler, however, is to speak to motivations to learn, to provide content that isn’t just content, but a virtual experience.

If there are more values to give than just pretty pictures for others to try and reproduce, in order to feel a part of Instagram’s jet-set – which there certainly are – then we should aim to provide them.

Inform about life in other places, show how other people are different and the same, share the fascination of places far-away… and near.

As I sit on videos and photos and memories from my journeys on the trail of “Red Hot China” – and dive further into readings about these places and people – I see the challenge and the opportunity myself.

What Good Is Travel Writing Now?

On the one hand, it feels wrong to share travel photos months after I have been there when it’s all supposed to be “insta” and to edit videos when they are at best supposed to be live.

As nobody could themselves go there, even more so.

But, what good is travel reporting when one can’t go there?

It’s good, a lot.

After all, well done, it will give an impression of other people and other places who are less the stereotype and the opponents they are made out to be, but potential friends and, at the very least, other fellow humans with fascinating stories of their own.