I recently had an epiphany.
I kind of hate what travel blogging has become.
When I started blogging four years ago in anticipation of traveling around the former Soviet Union for a year, I was simply looking for a way to share my stories with friends and family, record my adventures for my own sake and maybe inspire a future traveler or two out there. I never got into it to make money or to get free trips. I didn’t even know those things were possible when I first started (and largely they weren’t back then).
I miss those days.
I miss when I actually enjoyed reading other travel blogs and felt inspired by them. I miss when people weren’t starting blogs solely as a way to make money and get free hotel stays during their round-the-world trips. I miss when bloggers weren’t planning their travels based primarily on where they can get the most for free.
I miss the days when travel bloggers wrote about their highs and lows on the road and their raw impressions of a destination and their feelings about how a place affected them, good or bad. I miss when blogs were more than just boring top ten posts and hotel reviews and short raves about a place that the writer experienced with guided, structured and filtered eyes. I don’t want to wonder what a blogger really thinks about a place or if they would have even gone there in the first place if they weren’t being compensated for doing so.
I’m not saying all travel bloggers are just in it for the free travel, but I feel like the idea of being able to travel the world for free is increasingly the motivation, as opposed to a true love of writing and travel or a desire to inspire others to see the world.
I started thinking about all of this at the end of my long day trip to Rila Monastery in Bulgaria back in September. I had reached out to a tour company in Sofia months earlier and had been offered a complimentary spot on one of the company’s tours to the monastery but, ultimately, I turned it down. I decided that I preferred figuring it out myself – and having the freedom to stay and explore as long as I wanted. As I ate a late dinner at my hotel in Blagoevgrad (a town I never would have visited if I had done the organized tour), I was not only thrilled with how my journey turned out, I was reminded that days like that were why I love to travel.
I love the challenge of figuring out how to get from point A to point B. I love getting off the beaten path and doing things differently. I love the rush of adrenaline when I’m not totally sure how things are going to work out and then I love the feeling of satisfaction when it all does.
And I’d like to think that those are some of the same reasons why people enjoy reading this blog.
I continued to think about this the next day during my five hour train ride through the Pirin Mountains – another example of how I love to travel. And I realized that, while I was excited to write about Bulgaria and share my stories and photos with everyone, I kind of hated writing about my trip to Toronto in August. And my trip to Atlanta last March. And that trip to Memphis the previous June.
Why? Because the majority of the things I did on those other three trips were complimentary, in exchange for me writing about them. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed each city and I did and saw things that I really wanted to do and see. Everything I wrote in those posts was completely honest. But it also felt forced. I had to write about it all because I worked with the tourism boards in each city to organize my trips. And while I was in each city, I probably pushed myself to squeeze in too much because I felt like I had to – I needed material to write about.
I hated that feeling. I still hate that feeling.
As I sat on that train in Bulgaria, I also thought about the effect blogging and freelance travel writing have had on my life. And I realized that, for the most part, it isn’t good. I haven’t been fully embracing my life back in Chicago and too often I use my blog or my writing assignments as an excuse to not put myself out there – to not go to that cool social event or not meet up with potential new friends. I’m generally too tired weeknights to do much writing, so I end up spending most of my Fridays nights and Saturdays and Sundays writing, writing and writing some more. It’s ironic because, back when I was job hunting, I was offered a job with a low salary and my initial reaction was that I didn’t want to take it because I didn’t want to feel like I had to take on freelance work just to make ends meet. I was afraid that I would end up spending all of my time working.
But that’s exactly what I’m doing anyway. I haven’t been fully living life because I’ve been too busy trying to write about it.
That stops now.
I have let go of my regular freelance projects. I’ve resigned from the board of the Professional Travel Bloggers Association. I am removing the ads and affiliate links on this site and I de-activated the page wooing advertisers (although I’d still love to take on speaking gigs or writing opportunities designed to truly encourage people to travel). I’ve quit the various travel blogging groups I was in on Facebook (which mostly just frustrated and annoyed me, showing me how shallow travel blogging has become). I even removed the words “travel blogger” from my profile on Twitter. It just isn’t me anymore. I don’t know that it was ever me.
But I am not quitting blogging altogether. Not while there are still some aspects of it that I enjoy.
I will continue to write when I have something to share. But I will no longer push myself to publish if I am not feeling inspired. I will no longer track my stats and freak out if my traffic starts dipping. I will continue to be active on Facebook and Twitter because I love some of the connections I have made through social media, but I am done trying actively grow my following or strategize how to make my posts reach the most people.
I also hope to continue to be involved with Passports with Purpose and Meet, Plan, Go! because they represent what I love most about travel and travel blogging – making the world a better place and inspiring people to see more of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge anyone for their decision to pursue travel blogging as a profession – everyone is free to decide what is best for them. If anything, I guess you could say I don’t hate the players, I hate the game. So it’s time for me to get out of the game.