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Is travel blogging a closed circle?

I was invited to participate in an online travel panel recently, where I was expected to offer my opinions about trends in tourism, particularly as they relate to Mexico.  The other panelists represented various sectors of the travel industry, including travel agents, hotel developers, and and tour operators.

Unsurprisingly, the questions asked referenced narco-violence in Mexico and our general impressions of the country. Many of the respondents used adjectives like “dangerous,” “corrupt,” and “poverty-ridden” to describe Mexico. They were quick to offer recommendations about how Americans’ perceptions of Mexico could be improved: The government has to show that it’s ruthlessly rooting out corruption. That it has an iron-fisted, no-nonsense policy when it comes to drug cartels. There was no indication that the respondents knew much about what the Mexican government actually is doing (and what it has done) to address any of these issues.

Many of the participants acknowledged that they’d only ever been to Cancun or Los Cabos, both of which are coastal resort areas.

Reading their responses, I was genuinely curious about how they formed their impressions of a country that they’d admittedly seen very little of, and so I asked one of the participants exactly that. MTV and the [US] news, he answered.

*

Perhaps I’m a little sensitive when it comes to Mexico-bashing. I lived there for two years and would live there still had our residency visas been renewed. I don’t deny Mexico has problems… just like any other country. But I was   –and remain–constantly fascinated by innovative government strategies that address issues as diverse as urban livability and environmental sustainability to abortion and same-sex marriages. But creative interventions and successes don’t get much airplay in American news.

That’s where bloggers–travel bloggers, especially–could come in handy. One of the most exciting things travel bloggers can offer people is an on-the-ground account of what life is like in places that those people may not be able or likely to visit. Travel blogging can contest stereotypes and entice a reader to reconsider the possibility of visiting a particular place, especially a place that the reader previously perceived as dangerous.

But how do these two groups connect? For people whose lives are ostensibly focused on travel, the participants on this panel seemed pretty disconnected from the travel blogosphere. I imagined the travel agents sitting in their offices, advising clients to skip Mexico City–too dangerous–in favor of Cancun or Los Cabos. Yet if they’d read Grantourismo, or Daniel Hernandez’s Intersections, or David Lida’s blog, or Jim Johnson’s blog, they’d likely have a much more nuanced perception of Mexico City, in particular, and Mexico in general.

And yet… as I think about the travel blogging community, it often seems like a closed circle. Travel bloggers are interacting heavily with one another, promoting each other’s posts on Twitter, StumbleUpon, and Digg, and liking each other on Facebook. They’re participating in get-togethers like TBEX and chatting with each other online during weekly events like #TNI [“Travelers’ Night In” on Twitter]. They’re commenting on one another’s posts (often in the hopes that the other person will turn around and comment on their post).

There’s nothing wrong with any of that, so if you’re a travel blogger reading this, don’t get your hackles up. The close-knit community of travel bloggers is remarkable in many ways. But I also think it’s a bit of a closed circle… not an intentionally closed circle, but a closed circle nonetheless. If a travel blogger’s goal is–as so many bloggers say it is–to inspire people to travel for the first time, to help virgin travelers pop the travel cherry, and to give them the tools to do so, then why aren’t more of them reaching outside of the circle to draw those folks in?

I’m curious to know what you think. Do you agree that travel blogging is a (mostly) closed circle? How can travel bloggers reach new readers and engage with them as meaningfully as they do with one another? Will the closed circle eventually produce diminished returns for travel bloggers?

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54 responses »

  1. Unfortunately I’m not surprised about people’s perceptions of Mexico. Reminds me of a satirical piece I read yesterday on the Onion, “Man Already Knows Everything He Needs to Know about Muslims.” (http://www.theonion.com/articles/man-already-knows-everything-he-needs-to-know-abou,17990/). US media plays a huge role in how most Americans perceive other countries and cultures, and even ‘liberal’ media outlets like the NY Times have been shown to use language with supports stereotypical images and ideas, particularly in reference to Muslims but I’m sure this can apply to Mexico as well.

    As for travel blogging being a closed circle, I’m not sure. Personally I feel like I’m on the periphery of that circle, and the majority of people I interact with online are expats who aren’t necessarily travel bloggers and people I have met in person. I think it depends on the focus of your blog and the topics of the articles you write.

    Reply
  2. Heather- I think you’re right… and the NY Times’ language. Yes! People consider it a liberal paper but if you’re a critical reader, you’ll see it’s not really liberal at its core.

    And re. the expat bloggers– I think they’re a bit different than the core group I’m talking about (though three of the four bloggers I mention here are expats). But I guess the question is still relevant- how do we reach outside our established circle, whatever it is, and connect with other people?

    Reply
  3. Interesting perspective. Marian (marianlibrarian.com) just did a post on this, calling it the Social Media Trap.

    It’s the idea that each of us get so into our own social media niche that we forget to market to our *actual* target audience.

    As a freelance writer who works with small businesses, I’m constantly fighting against this – I have a great network of fellow freelancers who I’ve developed amazing relationships with online. I don’t want to lose those relationships. But, while at some point one or another might subcontract some work or recommend me for an overflow client, it’s not a great way to find new work.

    Instead I / all writers need to find a way to reach outside their peers and instead make contact with their ideal audience to inspire a love of their subject matter.

    It’s an interesting dilemma. Please share if you come up with a solution.

    Reply
    • Melissa-

      Thanks for your comment. I don’t have a single solution (sorry!), but I do think that one approach involves pushing ourselves outside of our own immediate, easy, and comfortable networks. We have limited time in each day and if we’re only ever spending it talking to the people we already know, the people who run in our primary circle, so to speak, then, we’re not likely to connect with those other people we’d like to reach.

      Reply
      • I’ve been following the comments here since I posted mine and feel like I need to chime back in and tell you – I’m not a travel writer. I’m a freelance writer who has never even considered writing about travel.

        But I enjoy the blog for it’s writing-discussion / content and think it’s well written. Not every post is of significance to me and occasionally I skip reading one or two but for the most part I read just about every post.

  4. As you mentioned, blogs by expats living in Mexico often serve as an interesting counterpoint to the violent events that are reported in the news. Even amidst the most horrific reports, these bloggers seem to be completely safe and mostly writing about everyday life.

    I think the good blogs—and travel writers—are more apt to encourage others to visit places they haven’t visited before. I can be a bit paranoid when it comes to travel, but after reading the blog Uncornered Market, I worked up the courage to go to Guatemala this year. Needless to say, it was a great experience.

    Reading David Lida’s book—and later his blog—were among the things that inspired me to start my own blog.

    Having said that, though, I think travel bloggers etc. owe it to their readers to point out the negative aspects of the places they’re writing about. But doing this in a way that’s helpful requires more than just reading the latest news reports.

    I also agree that the travel blogging community can be a bit of an echo chamber at times. I’ve come to regard Stumble Upon as a bit silly. It’s sort of a quid pro quo: if you recommend my work, I’ll recommend yours. At best, it’s a short-sighted tactic for boosting web traffic.

    Reply
    • Steve-

      Yes, I definitely agree that writers have the obligation to talk about the full dimensionality of any place, as well as to say occasionally (both as a reminder to their readers and themselves) that their point of view is just one story in a sea of stories.

      It’s really exciting to know how Audrey and Dan and David all influenced you. What next trip are you dreaming about?

      Reply
  5. I think if Mexico bloggers had their own 24-hour television channel devoted to spreading the truth about the country, they could make some headway. But as is it’s impossible for a handful of unfunded, on-the-ground blogs to compete with ratings-hungry corporate media. At least, at the level of general populace.

    Reply
    • Hal-

      So true… too bad bloggers aren’t subsidized like FOX. 🙂

      Still, do you think there are any easy ways that travel bloggers can reach outside of their immediate, easy network and reach new folks?

      Reply
      • I think that writers who want to bust out of this circle have to connect with the right hosts in a given country. In the case of Mexico, it can’t be a PR company promoting a hotel property in a resort community. It has to be a tourism bureau or more local organization looking to spread the word. Obviously more low budget and grass roots. Any ideas for contacts?

      • Steve-

        Thanks for your comment. I’ve found Mexico’s Tourism Board to be extremely responsive to writers who are interested in the country, but I think that making contacts at “ground level” is even easier. If you’re on Twitter, it’s fairly easy to find writers, foodies, and other niche-specific folks in the places you’re curious about and are considering visiting. I just did a really quick search and found these people, who are probably very open to fielding questions and even meeting up. By reading their past tweets and seeing whether they have a legitimate blog/website connected to their Twitter account, you can get a feel for whether they’re someone you’d feel comfortable connecting with.

        http://twitter.com/eatmexico

  6. Great post! Heather makes some good points above too.

    That they only had ‘experts’ from Cancun and Cabos (aside from you) says a lot about the organizing panel, don’t you think? I’d be questioning their motives.

    There can definitely be what seems to be closed circles of expat bloggers in places who read each others blogs and also socialize, but I will always invite myself in, especially as we’re making plans to visit a place, and to use them as a source of knowledge. There’s no reason why others, including news media, can’t do that.

    There was a trend for a few years there for publications to consult local bloggers and have them provide ‘insider’ perspectives, but I’ve noticed more recently a growing trend for editors to send writers who’ve never been to places to destinations. I absolutely loathe what comes of those stories most of the time, as they’re simply ignorant and lack nuance and depth. My hope is that there’ll be a backlash against that kind of reporting/storytelling soon.

    P.S. I also get sensitive about Dubai bashing, having lived in the UAE since 1998, cause I know it’s not the shallow artificial place the media likes to make it out to be, but that sells newspapers/gets hits/keeps people away, just as the ‘dangerous Mexico’ stories do.

    Reply
    • Lara-

      I like your idea about being the person to reach out and invite yourself in. I think the people who participated in this panel just simply weren’t aware that blogs existed that could provide them an alternative view of Mexico.

      To be fair, my understanding of the selection process wasn’t that the organizers stacked the pool of panelists to reflect those two key destinations (though doing so made sense for them somewhat; the panel definitely produced actionable information). I think they were looking for travel agents, travel writers, and other industry insiders who had been to Mexico and perhaps they hadn’t been much more specific than that.

      Reply
  7. As a complete outsider I would say that I think, yes, it is a bit of a closed circle. I stumbled across your blog by accident some months ago, found it interesting, and subscribed. A lot of what you write about has no relevance to me – I live in the UK and don’t have any money for travelling – but I like the way you say it. I’ve passed on your blog details to others who are interested in travel writing, but not to anyone else. So maybe it’s a case of too big a label.

    Reply
    • Tillybud-

      Intriguing!
      Though I do write frequently about travel/travel writing, I’m interested in lots of other kinds of writing, too, so I do try to keep this blog a bit generalist. But it’s funny, everyone talks about finding their niche (we even teach that at MatadorU, the travel writing course at Matador), and I’m always so resistant to that–I have too many niches!

      Reply
  8. Very interesting post – I completely agree with what you’re saying here. Like Mexico, many countries have an unjustified reputation. It’s a struggle to start to change these kind of perceptions. So I wonder how much is due to editors / conference organisers sticking to a certain approach, and how much is staying safe because they have to make a profit. I speak to a lot of people who still consider that blogs are not a reliable source of information.

    Regarding travel blogging, there are ways to reach out, but it is very time-consuming. I spend a lot of time trying to draw in new readers, because one of PocketCultures’ main objectives is to connect people from different parts of the world, and they don’t normally hang out in the same places. The returns are small compared to the effort I expend on it – if my top priority was to grow traffic this would not be a good tactic. I find Twitter is the best way to encounter and make contact with people outside my immediate circle. I’ve tried sending a short welcome email to first-time commenters, but didn’t get great results. Trying to write in a way that is accessible to different types of readers also seems to work. However, that might mean less popularity with other bloggers. This is just based on my experience and it’s not very scientific so I’d like to know what others think.

    Julie, from what I can see you are good at reaching out to new readers, what’s your answer to this question?

    Reply
    • Lucy-

      Thanks for such a thoughtful comment. My experiences seem similar to yours–huge amount of investment for what seems like a comparably little return. That being said, I’m pretty sure that you and I are both just interested in connecting with people, period, so how our interactions translate into return readers isn’t necessarily our bottom line.

      Like you, I think Twitter is an incredible and effective way to find and interact with people outside our immediate circles. Twitter has also introduced some features in the past month that have made it exponentially more effective; the “Who to Follow” and “If you follow this person, you might want to follow that person” have led me to some interesting people I wouldn’t have likely discovered on my own.

      I think I’m effective at reaching out to new readers precisely because I’m not necessarily looking to turn them into readers. Perhaps I encounter them because of something they’ve written or said, and I find some overlap in our interests. The motive isn’t to bring them over to my blog or any of the other projects I’m involved in, but to say, “Hey, I really like what you’re doing, what you said, whatever.”

      I also think it helps to have lots of interests! 🙂 I’m not just interested (or even primarily interested!) in travel blogs/travel writing, so maybe someone finds my blog through some other interaction we have. Curiously, someone just left a comment saying exactly that! I also think it’s important to spend plenty of time offline, in the “real” world, attending events that speak to my interests and meeting people there.

      Finally, passive ways of engaging other people work, too. At the bottom of my email, I have a not so visually appealing list of all the places I can be found online. Nope, it’s not pretty, but I’m kind of amazed how many (and who!) shows up here as a result.

      Reply
  9. Is travel blogging a closed circle? A resounding yes. I can’t tell you how many direct messages on Twitter and messages on Stumbleupon where someone asks me to read and stumble their post or share it elsewhere. Then right after tell me to send them one of my posts to do the same..It’s complete horse shit. It completely devalues work and it’s muddled what quality writing is. Many travel bloggers think they’re quality writers because they get so many page views and shares on Twitter. That’s a total crock. By no means am I King Kong and I haven’t made it, however, I’m thankful that I write for other travel publications and websites who can give me real editorial feedback, otherwise I might get big headed too and think that because 5 people retweeted it that it’s a good piece. Maybe people already think I’m big headed and that’s fine too. Just wish they’d tell me.

    Value in travel blogging and writing has become measured by page views, click through rates, blog rankings and so much other things. I believe there are real gaps that need to be filled in the world and travel writers can really meet these needs. Along with a fellow travel photographer and writer I spent time in Detroit recently and did a lot of live blogging on Twitter. Many followers were surprised that I was talking so favorably about many of the people and places in Detroit. The fact is that the city has got some incredible gems that will NEVER be experienced elsewhere and it’s like this everywhere, but it’s up to travel writers to find and write about these because the media simply isn’t going to do this.

    There aren’t many “new places” to discover in the world unfortunately, however, there are new perspectives and secrets that are waiting to be found. These are found through conversations and going off the beaten path that I think only travel writers, and not news journalists can do. I recently said that you can relive and revisit a holocaust site, but that you can’t relive and revisit a conversation with a holocaust survivor from her home in a German village. I think it’s these kinds of experiences that I want to be about. It’s why I travel and why I write.

    Reply
    • Spencer-

      That Detroit project sounds fascinating; not sure how I missed it! It sounds like exactly the kind of project that interests me; as I mentioned to Kate in response to her comment, I have a problem with the whole construction of the genre of “travel writing”; it sounds like you’re doing what I’d call “place-based writing.” I’m really excited about getting to meet you in person soon so we can talk more about these issues.

      Reply
  10. People think I am crazy (and possibly stupid) for this, but I very rarely pay attention to the news. I don’t like to live in fear and don’t really think it helps me be a better person from day to day. That being said, I can’t completely cut myself off from negative ideas of a place that are created by the media. I get nervous when traveling to a lot of places, but I am able to push past that and go, simply because I’ve done it before. I think once you’ve been somewhere that has a negative reputation and found out that it wasn’t so bad, you’re more likely to keep exploring. And you’re totally right that travel bloggers sharing their stories can help kick off this pattern for potential travelers.

    When it comes to the part of it you can see, I definitely think travel blogging is a closed circle. People who comment on blogs are almost always other bloggers themselves. In some ways, this is not so bad, because the more visible a blog is in general, the more likely it will be to attract non-travel blogger readers. But then you would also hope that the blog is not full of posts that are simply used to attract attention from search engines or other bloggers without actually providing useful or interesting content.

    I try to write fairly detailed (maybe too detailed for some :P) and honest accounts of my trips. I find that from time to time, I get an e-mail from someone who is going to the place I wrote about and wants direct advice on safety, recommendations, etc. I do the Lonely Planet blogsherpa thing and get blog visitors from that who presumably wandered over in search of personal stories or something beyond guidebook suggestions.

    I’m not sure how many non-travel bloggers are reading travel blogs, but if they are there, other bloggers can’t see them…

    Reply
    • Ekua-

      Thanks for your comment. Are the Blogsherpa readers, by and large, long-term travelers, or do they tend to be folks who happen upon the LP site and then stumble upon a blog that’s being written about an area that interests them? I don’t know much at all about Blogsherpa.

      Reply
      • If a blogsherpa post has a “Mexico City” tag, it will end up listed on the city’s travel information page in the left column. Example: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/mexico/mexico-city

        So people who actually read the blogs could be any type of traveler looking for info on a specific spot, but I don’t know the details on who exactly is reading the blogs!

  11. I think the outside perspective of travel blogging/writing is that it is for travelers. And in the US at least, it seems like there is not very much interest in the truth of what is happening in the country, much less outside of it.

    So what happens when people who are travelers write for other travelers? I guess that’s what you’ve really shed some light on here.

    It seems like it would be very useful for many with the knowledge of places like Mexico would pitch toward less travel oriented publications, making the observations they have more political just by virtue of the readers they’re exposing themselves to.

    I think there is the perception that travel is for rich people or the people that have time to do it, so for many, travel writing seems indulgent or unimportant when the fact is that the outsider’s eye, applied judiciously, reveals a lot about our own culture and its perceptions of other cultures and it’s a shame that travel writing that exposes these truths is seen as a niche.

    Reply
    • Kate-

      You’ve touched on what I think is a serious shortcoming of travel writing as a term- the fact that it’s limited, in many people’s perceptions- to destination writing or service-oriented pieces. In my opinion, the best travel writing isn’t that at all. It’s narrative, the kinds of narrative that David Page and Tom Gates write, for example. But few people would call that “travel writing.” Personally, I’d like to just explode the genre altogether. 🙂

      Reply
  12. Great piece here and discussion in the comments. Mexico to you is like Central Asia is for us. We get so passionate talking about how much we enjoyed our time in places like Tajikistan and Turkmenistan and felt much safer there than in many areas in the United States. The other day in Prague I met a Kyrgyz guy whom I had last met in Bishkek in 2007. He had been to one of our presentations and had read our articles about Kyrgyzstan and thanked us for trying to tell others about his country. I just wish we could reach a larger group of “regular” folks with this message.

    Which gets me to the second part of the discussion, the travel blogging community. Like many people here have mentioned, the travel blogging community can be a lovely, helpful, outgoing and just fantastic group of people. I’ve loved when we’ve been able to turn virtual connections into real personal connections (like with you). And, I definitely appreciate the support we’ve received from the travel blogging community. But, sometimes it can feel like an echo chamber. We’ve been on the go and away so much that we didn’t realize this for a while, but I’m noticing it more now that we take longer periods of time with connectivity and being still to work. I like engaging, but with so much going on I have to find a way to set boundaries.

    The real goal of our website is to reach people who travel a bit or perhaps are interested in travel and try to make the world seem less scary and highlight the benefits one gets from going outside one’s comfort zone and interacting with local people. I was so thrilled to see that our articles and discussions on Guatemala helped encourage Steven to travel there. Stories like that keep me motivated to keep blogging about our travels.

    Reply
    • Audrey-

      Thanks for your comment. I’m curious to know how you set boundaries and whether you and Dan have any other strategies for connecting with the kinds of folks you want to reach with Uncornered Market. And I’m also curious to know whether your presentations here in the US–I like to think of them as the modern-day slide show!– attracted those folks. I thought it was a wonderful approach.

      Reply
      • When we gave our presentations in the States this summer (yes, it was like a modern day slide show! Very fun!), getting written up in the local newspaper resulted in bringing in the audience we wanted (those with a curiosity about the world). I think we can do a much better job in trying to reach these audiences regularly – perhaps iwriting in or getting publicity in more non-travel publications? Any suggestions for this would be greatly appreciated!

        Regarding setting boundaries, I try to limit the amount of time I spend on other travel blogs and try to read up on a wide variety of topics. And, most of the people we meet on the road are not travel bloggers – this provides a balance to my online interactions.

  13. In many ways I agree that it’s a closed circle, but I think it’s always expanding and pulling people in. Most travelers, it seems, now blog themselves about traveling. So if the target is travelers, and most are blogging, then I guess we’re hitting the right market.

    I guess it’s really the same though everywhere…that for most of us, all we do is preach to the choir, so to speak. If someone is sincerely interested in learning about the truths of Mexico (or elsewhere) they will seek it and they will find it in many places. But then they’ve already proved they have an open mind. It’s a tough one, can we really convince people otherwise what they already think? People tend to get set in their beliefs and it’s extraordinarily difficult to reach them and show them another way.

    Reply
    • “Most travelers, it seems, now blog themselves about traveling.”

      Carlo-
      I think that since you and I work in the travel blogging sphere, we’re inclined to think that. But I’m not sure it’s true. Many people who are long-term travelers are blogging about traveling. But there are lots and lots of travelers, including the folks who were on that panel with me–the folks who are more inclined to restrict their travels to their allotted vacation days–who not only don’t blog about their travels, they don’t even seem to know that travel blogs exist.

      As for the second part of your comment, I suppose that travel bloggers blogging for other travel bloggers is a “good thing” if that’s their goal. But I think I tend to embrace Audrey’s approach more–the one that’s focused on writing more for an audience of people who aren’t already traveling, or who *are* traveling, but haven’t considered certain places.

      Reply
      • Definitely agree with that, that’s who I want to reach too. I guess my argument rests on my assertion that most travelers are blogging nowadays. Which I still kind of believe, because there are lots who blog at places like travelpod or blogspot but who aren’t involved in this “circle” per se…but just blogging for friends/family. So while there is definitely a tight-knit circle, there is also another level of “bloggers” who aren’t in it. And we’re reaching them too.

  14. Great question and the comments here today are wonderful!

    My perception is that it is a closed circle but I can’t decide if this is good or bad. And I’m somewhat on the outside because I mostly just edit and publish. (Who has time to write? ;-P)

    Like Audrey, I try to publish articles that get folks thinking about visiting someplace new or visiting a place in a new way, be it with kids if they’re used to going on an adult getaway or looking to expand the adventure with an activity they never would’ve considered before.

    I don’t even list destinations except in the archive, rather I list activities like kayaking and camping or things like food and wine. This lets people look for places according to their interests and avoids them falling into ruts. How many people go on vacation to the same three places their entire lives? Or all they do is go on Caribbean cruises? If you love to cook, you can learn to cook new cuisine in places like Oaxaca and the Southwest. I think travel is all about interests – the world can accommodate the broadest interests of any of us and put us someplace different every time. And like Spencer says, it doesn’t have to be the Maldives or Cairo every time, either. Even Cleveland has fun stuff to do.

    Reply
    • Stacey-
      YES! Love the idea of tags and categories that aren’t simply destination based. I learned about somewhere recently (though, as you can tell, I don’t remember where!) that has a wine trail and it was a place that (for me) was totally unexpected.

      And yes! Our own backyards are totally fun places to explore, especially because we often overlook them for more “exotic” places. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  15. Audrey-

    Thanks for the follow up comment. It’s really exciting to know that the modern day slideshow brought in the kinds of people you’re looking for! I think that IS the key- getting offline more and interacting with people who aren’t necessarily online as much as we are, reading travel blogs.

    I’m about to launch an iPhone app for San Juan, Puerto Rico, as well as a related website (if I can ever get it built!), and I’ve been toying with the idea of trying to talk a local travel bookstore into letting me do a kind of far out event in person… in person trip consultation in their store! I’ll let you know if it works and what the results are! And let’s keep sharing ideas.

    Reply
  16. Interesting post, both about Mexico and about the travel blogging “closed circle.” I admit that the reports of violence in Mexico disturb me and put me off traveling there. Yet I live in San Jose, California–a place where drug and gang violence are common. I just know what specific neighborhoods to avoid, and I’m fine. I suspect it’s pretty similar in Mexico.

    As for the travel blogging circle–I’m a niche travel blogger who’s definitely outside of “the circle.” Because my niche isn’t typical–I write for travelers with hidden disabilities and chronic pain–I’ve focused all my energy on building my audience within my target market. While I’d love to break into the travel blogger circle, I’m not sure how much that action would help my readers.

    One other thing–I find that travel writers are pretty clique-y in general. It’s not just the bloggers. After attending a travel writing conference last year, I was discouraged by the tightness and impermeability of the sphere the speakers seemed to inhabit. I got the impression that breaking into the “in crowd” of travel writers who know the editors and get the prime assignments is all but impossible. Interestingly, my impressions of food writing are not at all the same–food writers seem to be a much more welcoming bunch than travel writers.

    I don’t mean to be insulting at all. I’m just one person, and I imagine that other writers have had vastly different experiences. But it’s great to see folks discussing at least part of this phenomenon.

    Reply
    • Liz-

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Your perceptions are definitely valid and valuable, and I find your comment about your varying experiences with food writers v. travel writers really intriguing (and hoping it’s spot on, as I’ve just pitched to a major food magazine! 🙂

      I’m fascinated by the specificity of your niche, and curious as to how you went about/continue building your audience. Do you feel that the cliqueishness you encountered at the travel writing conference was generalized (ie: meaning everyone who wasn’t part of the inner circle simply didn’t stand a chance of penetrating it) or did you feel that your particularly specialized niche was a factor? And what’s your blog? I’d love to take a read!

      Reply
      • Julie,

        Thank you for your kind response! And best of luck with your food pitch–I hope my experience holds up for you.

        No, I don’t think that my particular niche had anything to do with the “inner circle” feel I got at the conference, nor did I feel in any way personally targeted for exclusion. A bunch of “attendees” formed our own little dinner group and discussed our impressions. If anything, I felt that the speakers perked up a little bit when I mentioned my niche–it wasn’t a topic area they’d heard all about before.

        My blog is http://travelswithpain.com

        Audience building…Well, I am a traveler with pain myself. I’ve belonged to online support groups for patients with my medical conditions for years. That’s where I started plugging the blog. Since then I’ve begun making contact with other bloggers and writers in the disabled travel space and in the chronic pain/health field, trading links and information.

        I’ve got a lot more work to do. My audience is still small, but it’s growing. I’d love to know what you think when you visit! And I’d love to look into the viability of different parts of Mexico as destinations for my readers.

      • Liz-
        I’d love for you to contact me directly: writingjulie[at]gmail[dot]com. Have some resources/ideas that might be beneficial. And I just checked out your blog- love it; super resource that I’d like to promote on Matador, if that’s okay with you.

  17. Ekua-

    Interesting! I haven’t checked out the LP site in the longest time (kinda got scared off by the Cuba thread on the Thorn Tree… which is another story entirely.) 😉

    Reply
    • I am intrigued! I don’t go on the forum very often, I will have to check it out!

      Reply
      • Ekua-

        I think the Cuba thread is an anomaly, but it’s dominated by people who spend entirely too much time there, pushing a barely veiled political agenda (whether pro or con). They’re not particularly tolerant of newcomers, especially people who ask what they consider to be an “obvious” or “dumb” question from someone who hasn’t traveled to Cuba as many times as they… or who haven’t moved there.

  18. Many travel blogs give off an aroma of contempt for anyone or anything routine-based, which isn’t winning us many readers. (Please turn to the recent Mike Barish-Nomadic Matt debate.)

    More troubling: Under the banner of web marketing and social media, travel bloggers have been promised a dream that the surefire path to becoming the next Paul Theroux is by clawing your way to the top of the travel blog community, hence the focus on trackbacks, comments, site stats, etc. and a pyramid scheme-style obsession on how to be a travel writer. The sum of those energies could be better invested in plain old sweat-it-out writing.

    Not all of it will be good, but some of it will break out of the travel blogger circle.

    Ideally, the breadth of the audience we attract should be in direct proportion to the breadth of perspective we put into our work. However, this is at odds with the Blog Doctrine of niche, high frequency posting.

    Travel bloggers need to publish less 10 minute posts aimed at each other, and more 10 month or 10 season projects aimed at the general, educated reader. The catch, of course, is that after investing so much effort, nobody wants to give the finished product away for free via blog.

    Still seeking a solution myself…

    Reply
  19. Wonderful discussion Julie!

    As for the travel blog circle being closed, it definitely is. But I would argue that the primary reason for this is that most travel bloggers don’t have the first clue as to how to reach outside of that circle to appeal to actual travelers. Or to appeal to the publications that cater to travelers.

    While I too dearly love travel narrative, that isn’t what travelers are seeking when they search the internet – they aren’t looking for stories, they’re looking for simple information, and yes that means reviews, destination information, and service pieces.

    I’m not advocating dullness – a review can be dry and factual, or it can be lively and full of experience, but few travelers have the interest in reading narrative to try to get a sense of a place – they want reviews.

    As a writer and editor I can fall in love with a beautiful, lyrical narrative essay, however, I counsel travel bloggers to focus on what a traveler wants and needs, not what they want to write….but that they can still write it beautifully.

    Before I head off to a new place, I do my research too – and stories about someone’s (often drunken) antics, sometimes peppered with off-color language, may be amusing but they don’t help. And as much as I may enjoy reading a lengthy and descriptive story of a day spent learning from a skilled craftsman somewhere, it also doesn’t help. Narrative can be humorously entertaining to the masses, or appealing to those who recognize great writing, but it won’t draw in travelers, not in the numbers that most bloggers are trying to achieve.

    And that’s their biggest problem – most travel bloggers are trying so hard to impress with their antics or their writing, that they forget to think about their audience…..who are they writing for?

    Reply
    • Trisha-

      Agreed! I hope they’re reading the comments here, though; they could learn a lot about how to reach outside their circle by listening to people like Audrey. 🙂

      I’d still argue, though, that there’s an audience–and a robust one– for travel narrative. Let’s use a print comparison. The person who’s reading Budget Travel (a more service-oriented magazine) may not be the same person reading National Geographic, but they’re both, at heart, “travel” magazines. All too often, the genre of travel writing has gotten reduced to service-oriented/review/destination-based pieces, but there’s a long tradition of simply observing and documenting experiences, and there are readers who’d rather experience a place–albeit not necessarily plan their own trips–through NG type writing rather than Budget Travel type writing.

      I think there’s room for all of this type of writing, and I get cranky when writers/bloggers themselves try to draw the boundaries of the genre so tightly so that there’s not room for everyone. It will ultimately only do themselves a disservice.

      Reply
      • SO true, and a great example of why, after all these many years, I still keep up my subscription to Nat Geo – I remember well poring over every page of every issue of my parent’s subscription when I was growing up – dreaming about all the far-off places I’d visit when I was older.

        And yes, I embrace many styles of writing and agree that there is room for all – and also get cranky at those who draw lines in the sand and look down their noses at one or the other side.

  20. I think that yes, for the most part, the travel blogging community is a closed circle. I don’t think it’s closed to outsiders per se, but it definitely doesn’t make much of an effort to gain attention from the “outside world”. Those who have gained a good deal of success (Gary from EverythingEverywhere comes to mind) have realized this and tailored what they do to a wider audience, which makes sense given there are way more non-travelers than travelers in the world.

    Personally, we use our blog just as a portfolio for ourselves and as a fun way to document our time living around the world. We like contributing to the travel community and we like the connections that our blog has given us with other travelers. We’re probably stuck in the travel circle as well, but, c’est la vie, that’s ok with us for now.

    From a reader’s standpoint, though, I think that people are pre-dispositioned to read things that they want to agree with. We hear news that Mexico is dangerous, so we are more likely to read things that confirm that theory. We think travel should be luxurious and expensive, so we seek out more information to confirm that theory. For us, we have some friends who have read our blog for 2.5 years and still don’t understand how we can get by on less than $60 a day. Maybe we do a bad job of explaining it, but I think that a lot of people just don’t want their assumptions challenged.

    This is an excellent discussion. I’m sure I could write more, but I’ll stop for now. Great job bringing this up!

    Reply
    • Kyle-

      You’re absolutely right- I think people *do* look for information that will confirm their preconceptions. There’s that and then there’s also the case of people who simply don’t look at all because they have no idea that other information is out there.

      I like that you have such a clear “elevator speech” for your own blog. As I said in this piece, I don’t think there’s anything “wrong” with anyone keeping a blog for whatever reasons they want– whether they want to document their travels for themselves, their friends and family; whether they want to provide other people with travel information and inspiration; whether they want to make money– it’s all good, as far as I’m concerned. I’d just like to see more of the travel bloggers who are interacting on Twitter and leaving comments on one another’s blogs pushing themselves to expand their networks a bit.

      Reply
      • I agree. I still have active links within the website coding community and I do a lot to keep them, but whenever I bring up the subject of travel, it’s a bit like I’m talking about the artistry of miming; people are interested, they just don’t understand and seem to cling to whatever preconceptions they have about traveling. All of that is perfectly OK, it’s just a tougher wall to get through and as one of the least patient people in the world, I usually just drop it and talk about something that everyone feels comfortable talking about. Like baseball.

  21. Interesting article. I am fairly active on twitter, I really don’t have the time nor resources to be engaged in other “interactive” online socializing as a travel blogger. Aside from my own blog that is.

    I too have noticed the “social circle” of travel bloggers. It’s just a sign of the times.

    Think about what happens when you first join the majority of online forums and dare to post a link. You’ll be flamed down by the old hats on the forum.

    Build up credit, and you’ll eventually be left in.

    Similarly in the “travel blogging” niche circles out there. The back and forward comment thing.

    It boosts up comment counts, and looks good. And, moreover, it works as the general passerby will see 58 comments and automatically think this person must be interesting.

    For me, I simply don’t have time to be engaged in a comment for a comments sake.

    I once got an email from a travel blogger asking why I don’t comment back on their blog, and that they weren’t going to comment on my blog any more because of this.

    To be honest, I don’t need nor want that type of person on my blog. Come and comment and join the community on my travel blog because you enjoy the content and the opinions, information and community there.

    And, I really much prefer it this way. The comments I get are generally in depth and well thought out too. Which is great.

    I’ll gladly swap 15 “Cool Posts” for 2 “meaningful comments”

    But then, that’s me, and my circumstances.

    If someone writes a good article, like this one, then I will comment. And tweet it etc. It doesn’t mean I expect something in return.

    Again, that’s just me. In the realm of “travel blog to make money to travel” It’s a whole other ball game.

    There are travel blogging networks set up, paid and free and they all support each other. Which, in a way, is cool. It’s something lacking in other communities, and it does work to promote a site to look good to the general public.

    But, we are living in changing times. What’s good today may not be so good tomorrow. Content is not king today, as much as we are led to believe it is. Marketing is king.

    As such the travel blogging community will continue on in its current form for sometime to come. Because, it’s working.

    Dave

    Reply
    • Dave-

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Like you, I’d rather have two meaningful comments than 15 comments that people have felt obligated to make because they want me to go to their blog and leave a comment. Just trying to keep track of that tit for tat is exhausting.

      As with everything, I think this ultimately comes down to each person knowing why they’re blogging in the first place.

      Reply
  22. I think the “closed circle” concept depends on whom the blogger defines as their audience — is it other travel bloggers (allowing us to opine away about what WE want to write about) or is it travelers (where we writers must pay attention to what our readers want). That choice impacts not only style and view point, but also topics and coverage.

    Reply
  23. Pingback: 2010 in review | Cuaderno Inedito

  24. Now that I’ve been blogging for about a year I completely agree. I have a tight knit circle of fellow travel bloggers who support me but without completely sounding crass it’s a bit of a circle jerk.

    This year I’m hoping to reach out to plain ole travelers who just want to know about Latin America and that it’s completely safe to travel alone as a woman. It’s funny how Mexico and Central America have such an unwarranted fear because of it’s history. I started my RTW in Mexico and it’s one of the countries where I felt the safest.

    Reply

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