Sitting at the boarding gate a few months ago, I remember wondering if I was happy doing what I was doing. I’m spending my money on the things I love, and making enough while doing that too. So then sometimes why doesn’t it feel like the fairytale I had set out chasing? Sometimes why does it feel like such a drag? Why do I get that empty feeling every single time, sitting alone at the boarding gate before a trip commences? It’s not about the loneliness that comes with travel, though that invariably comes up every time we talk about travel blogging. That, and the do-you-make-money-off-it conversation.
I realised that maybe it has something to do with mixing the two things I love most: travel and blogging. It’s the constant need to keep up an online presence. Hours we owe to The Great Outdoors are increasingly dedicated to an online existence.
I immediately felt hypocritical, taking a picture of my boarding pass and iced tea as I put it up on five different platforms. You would think as a travel blogger I would be out exploring the road less travelled, trying local desserts and chatting up backpackers. I won’t deny that it happens (and that’s the sole saving grace at this point) but the pressure of needing to capture every single experience and looking at every single place of beauty through a lens can sometimes suck the pleasure out of holidaying, even. If you’re a travel blogger, you’re automatically expected to have your entire life projected online in an attempt to “engage” your audience. Taking beautiful pictures of our travel has become far more crucial than traveling. This means you’re packing outfits that look better in pictures (and not for their convenience, which should be the case- specially because travel is hectic!), an entire bag is dedicated to lenses and cameras and gadgets to help you keep up that virtual presence. Travel bloggers spend a significant amount of time taking these pictures and posing for them. We collect pictures not memories, followers not souvenirs. We live our experience later at home through the pictures we took, because we were too busy capturing the beauty around us to enjoy it when it was actually staring us in the face.
To set the record straight, there’s no such thing as a candid picture. We spend a lot of time trying to click beautiful pictures (and later editing them) and we get obsessed with getting the “right” kind of pictures for social media. I only realised this when I was traveling with my folks sometime ago and they said to me a few times that I’m getting a little self-obsessed. Maybe I was or maybe social media just makes an artist out of everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re famous in real life, as long as you’re someone on Instagram or Facebook or anywhere else. There are so many apps to juggle, and the same picture needs to go on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram stories. Add to this the Facebook Live feature and Periscope, and I begin to wonder if we’re about as valuable as our social media presence. It’s so exhausting just to write about it, it’s no wonder we take social media sabbaticals after every trip.
This doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy the travel- we did, and that’s why we’re still here. But between vying for followers, excessive photoshop (the grass is almost too green on our side) and event attendance, we’re projecting our lives for all to see, all the time. This isn’t made easier by the fact that when you’re not traveling there’s little you can do to engage your audience- unless you’re always on the move. Nobody wants to read travel articles from the person who sits at home.
I’ve been asked a lot, if travel blogging pays or if this is just something I do for freebies. Just like everyone else in college (I started blogging 3 years ago), I started a blog because I wanted to take my creative side for a spin. Eventually the freebies started coming in, in the form of restaurant reviews (I started out as a food blogger), gift packages and products people sent across. This was the honeymoon phase where I accepted anything that came my way- partly because it made me feel important and partly because it was good for the blog. This happens with most bloggers irrespective of their chosen topic of blogging, until the day they start feeling cheap about these “freebies” because someone ends up treating them the wrong way. Someone who doesn’t understand their work thinks it’s okay to assume they just want the free stuff and that they’re a cheap marketing tool they can use to spread the word about their product/place/hotel. (To answer the question- blogging does pay, and I earn through various mediums related to my blog. But it wasn’t the case once and it was a slow and painful journey until I decided to put an end to these freebies in exchange for “positive-only” reviews). They make you feel like you’re selling your soul just because you accepted a free meal or a night’s stay at their hotel.
The problem with certain stakeholders in this industry is that they don’t even understand how it works. They don’t take bloggers seriously enough to realise that a “social influencer” is a very strong word and a particularly strong word-of-mouth and social media marketing medium that should be taken very seriously. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve purchased a product or booked a hotel based on the recommendation of a blogger I follow. You are not buying a person (or their opinion) out, just by sending them free stuff. Let’s call that a “collaboration” shall we? It seems to me that the industry has lost its voice, because if you’re not accepting the freebies there’s always someone else just starting out in the field who will.
To conclude, while we love everything that comes with blogging, specially the fact that reaching out to a large audience is easier than its ever been, the industry is still a little misunderstood and over-populated. Though brands are beginning to understand the importance of social influencers, the change is seen most in the fashion industry where the big bucks are; followed by the food industry and the least in the travel industry where there’s little money to pump in, to begin with.