I’m Frustrated with Travel Blogging

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Frustration Week:

  1. Frustration Week and a Travel Update
  2. I’m Frustrated with Travel Blogging
  3. I’m Frustrated with Working While Traveling
  4. I’m Frustrated with Dar es Salaam

I’ve been a “travel blogger” for many years (my first was my Peace Corps’ blog, back in 2006) and have always found it cathartic. I love sharing our adventures with people in the hopes that it will inspire them to visit different places, and maybe understand that long-term travel isn’t such an unachievable thing, especially for Americans. I’ve penned over 120 posts for this trip alone, and there are some things about travel blogging that are really starting to frustrate me.

Pressure to have “Unique” Content

This one bothers me the most, which is why it’s first. There are thousands upon thousands of other travel blogs out there, often with people much more attractive than us visiting much more interesting places. There are some “famous” travel blogs out there with other catchy names such as “Nomadic Matt” and “Adventurous Kate” that have huge audiences. They are our heroes – the resources we used to decide to travel and learn how to do it. They don’t travel as much anymore, and have had time to analyze what they’ve learned about long-term travel and synthesize it. But every so often they put up a post like this, where they vilify lesser trafficked blogs such as ours for being boring and bringing nothing new to the table:

I feel the content is all the same: they read like daily journals, they don’t offer a lot of deep, practical information, and everything is always sunshine and rainbows. I never get a sense of place or emotion from the stories.

And that really frustrates me to no end. Do we have to go to some off-the-beaten path destination to be unique? Do we have to take beautiful photos that would get me a cover on National Geographic? Do we have to pump out “Top 5 __ in __” and “How to Spend __ Days in __” posts? Many of these brand-name bloggers are now nothing more than destination marketers, and most of them are barely on the road during the year. When I read things like this, I have to remind myself why I’m blogging and who my audience is – it’s my friends and family who want to know where we are and what we’re doing and that we’re staying safe. And this trip is ours, for us, and not for anyone else, so despite what the outside pressure says, our blog and its content is unique as anyone else’s. So back off – I bet your site was as boring and generic as ours while you were traveling, too.

Pressure to be “Honest”

There are a lot of experiences we’ve had in our 16 months that I think our readers would like to know about. Especially the uncomfortable parts of travel. The long travel days. The visits to really stupid tourist sites. Getting ripped off at the money exchange place. Waiting for a hotel shuttle for an hour because I don’t want to pay an extra cent to a dishonest taxi driver. But at the end of the day, these experiences were just miserable and writing about them isn’t cathartic – it just makes me angry to rehash them. Plus are people still going to read the blog if I’m just whiny the entire time?

When It Began In a Balloon visited us this weekend, we had a good talk about this. How a blog should be our place to express our feelings and thoughts in real time, but it’s not so easy. For every post I consider writing, another part of me responds:

“That’s not interesting enough.”
“That’s just complaining and isn’t positive enough.”
“My future employer could read this and use it against me later.”
“I’m too tired. No one wants to hear about it anyway.”

And I don’t write it. But after writing this, I’ll make a concerted effort to push through these more doubts in the future. I guess you never know what people will be interested, and what will inspire them, and really, no employer I’ve spoken with cares enough about its employees to read their blog posts, anyway. So just write it and move on.

Pressure to Build an Audience/Make Money

I’ve gotten over this, but I thought I’d mention it. So many of the big blogs are trying to find a way to make money off of travel blogging. Selling books. Offering travel consultation. Building apps. Hawking credit cards with point bonuses. Honestly I applaud the entrepreneurship, because making money off travel is really hard (especially backpackers, because their budget is so tight already). Travel is inherently an activity that requires you to spend money, so they might as well take a cut to take the edge off. And combined with click-bait content, there’s a lot of pressure to build our blog into something that can give us enough money to keep traveling. This is just something I needed to move past, internally. Making money on the Internet takes a ton of time and it would really detract from the purpose of traveling in the first place, which is to enjoy travelling.

People Don’t Read It, Anyway

I thought I’d save this one for last, since it’s not targeted at anyone that’s made it this far in the post. Sometimes people that are really important to you, your closest friends and family, just don’t read your blog. And that is the most frustrating thing of all. Blogging takes a lot of time – to think about what to write, to sort through, filter, and post hundreds of pictures, to bash the wall because the wifi is too slow to load WordPress. Traveling is our life, for 100% of every day. It’s not just a hobby; it’s something we are dedicating a good portion of our lives to, and we are making the time to share that with others.

Now, I understand that people have myriad reasons to not sit by their browsers, refreshing, and waiting for the new post. They have jobs and new babies and health problems and everything in between. And maybe they don’t care that we are traveling because they don’t understand it or they think it’s a waste of money or that we should be having babies instead. But it’s important to us, so it should be important for them, too. If they don’t want to read every word, that’s cool, but if they want to be close to us, take the time to at least read the titles of the last few blog posts before we talk to them. It’s frustrating that they don’t care enough to be able to ask a question about a country we’re in or an experience we had. We try to make an effort to read their Facebook posts and understand what’s going on in their lives or ask questions if they don’t use social media, but it needs to go both ways. Seriously, if they don’t care at all about our blog, it’s hard to believe they care about us (if you’re here, I’m not talking about you!).

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17 Responses to I’m Frustrated with Travel Blogging

  1. So the good news is, you’re not alone. I can attest that, at least for me, writing a blog is a constant ebb and flow of “is this worth it?” It takes time – way more time than anyone without a blog realizes – and I feel pressure to monetize it sometimes and make it something it’s not. What I always come back to is the fact that I’m doing it for me (well, for us, since Aaron is involved too.) That realization is our guiding force. We do this for us. If it doesn’t feel authentic, we don’t post it. It also gave us a lot of clarity when thinking about monetizing/not monetizing. AND it’s a huge relief when I don’t get a post up at the suggested rate of 2 – 3 per week… or when I don’t post one for the past two weeks. Oops! :)

    There’s probably no way to change readership habits, but we’ve found that posting to Facebook is a good, easy reminder for interested parties to go read our blog. Especially the ones who don’t keep a blogroll of some sort.

    Anyways, I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone and give you props to keep doing what you do. Happy travels!

    • Kyle says:

      Thanks Heather, and it’s nice to know that you feel the same way sometimes, too. When we started this, it was just a way to let our parents know we’re still alive, and I never thought that it’s something I would start to take so personally. I still don’t know if I can definitively say we are blogging for “us” or for “you” (our friends and family) – I’m sure it’s a little bit of both. Regardless, I think that’s all the more reason for us to keep it personal and open and honest and not worry what the greater blogosphere thinks.

      We enjoy keeping up with you as well. We’ll be in STL after New Years and would love to see the fire house sometime! Take care and happy holidays.

  2. Michelle F says:

    I love reading your blog – I’m happy to be able to keep updated, to know where you are, and to learn a few things on the way. Honestly – I have probably “cited” your blog more than a few times like “Oh, my friends were there!” or when you had the blog post about the farthest east, west, north, south you had ever been – I totally had to look up my own. I’m glad you guys write, but I totally get your frustrations! They all sound completely legitimate AND annoying to me. :)

    • Kyle says:

      Thanks Michelle. I hope we weren’t too harsh on Estonia :) I’m happy we were able to meet up and spend our time in our northernmost city together!

  3. Barbara Robinson says:

    I look forward to reading all of your blogs. I hope I haven’t missed any! I read them because you’re family and I’m interested in where you are. I’m amazed at the things you’ve seen and done. I don’t read any other travel blogs, only yours. Keep posting!

  4. I’m really sorry to hear you’re frustrated, Kyle. My only thought after reading this is that you need to do it for you, because you enjoy writing and because you want to capture your trip. I definitely feel you have a unique perspective that’s worth continuing to share, and though I probably haven’t even read half of the posts (100+ is a lot!) I have learned some surprising things about other countries from reading on a somewhat consistent basis.

    I had a couple of responses to your points:

    For the first one, it sounds like you just have different goals than these popular travel bloggers. If you want strangers to read your blog you always have to provide real value to them and also share your message further than your circle of friends, which is what I’m guessing those other travel blogs that are trying to make money do. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, or the way you do yours, which is more of a personal blog that is really not trying to do the clickbait thing. Both sides can choose and meet different goals and they don’t need to be money-oriented. (and I don’t get the impression that you or Sarah care about making money from this at all anyway!) I think they should do their thing and you should do yours; if their goal is to make money and they think other smaller blogs must be “boring” as a result (when really you just don’t share the same goal and thus don’t write your posts to make money) so be it!

    The second thing is about people reading. I don’t think it’s totally fair to say that friends who don’t read your blog don’t care. Maybe I’ve just been blogging for awhile, but I have never had the expectation that my friends and family should read my blog. I don’t want my friends to feel obligated to read my blog before they talk to me, and I don’t want to take it personally because logically I know it just really isn’t personal and those feelings are just going to slow me down. In my experience, people will read if you are talking about a topic they are interested in, and they will also drift out if you switch topics. Lots of my friends have read me religiously for a half-year or yearlong period in their life when they really cared about my topic, and then completely dropped out when either their interests changed or mine did. That might be the case here—you guys obviously write a lot about travel and maybe one of your friends just isn’t that passionate about travel and thus does not read.

    So the way I think of it more is that when people read my blog or my books or whatever, I’m really grateful, and I do remember it more than if they didn’t. Obviously, it means a lot when someone makes an effort to keep up with your life, whether it’s on the blog or on Facebook or anywhere else. But I never want to hold it against them if it’s just not their thing, the same way I’m not going to hold it against someone if they don’t check Facebook regularly.

    One last thing that wouldn’t surprise me (though I have no idea what specific person/people you’re talking about) – a lot of people think that travel is, like you said, either a luxury or a waste of money. I wouldn’t be surprised if many people were jealous of you guys or had their own personal issues (like a mortgage or a family) that they felt prevented them from living your lifestyle. This is their own shit, not yours, and definitely not worth being bummed about.

    <3 you guys

    • Kyle says:

      Thanks Monica. I agree with you in a lot of ways, especially about the different missions between a big destination travel blog and what we’re trying to do. I have nothing against them, and read most of those blogs quite often, as they have good travel advice from years of experience and reflection. I just have a problem with them claiming their blog is less boring simply because it’s different.

      About people reading. I totally agree with you about the need to provide value for strangers or friends not in your “inner-circle” to want to read it regularly. I would never expect a classmate from high school or a former work colleague to read anything I write unless they are interested in what I’m writing about. And I’m certainly not offended nor do I take it personally that they haven’t read any or all my posts.

      What frustrates me are those that are really close – my friends and family that are our emotional crutches for getting through life. Most people are great and really try and do what they can to keep up. But some don’t, and it hurts. I’m not asking them to change their behavior or add me to their RSS feed or anything like that. I am just pointing out that traveling is what we do for a living right now, this blog is a manifestation of that, and not reading it is like not caring about what we do for a living. I’d even be happy if they pretended like they read it :)

  5. Kyle says:

    Thank you everyone for your encouragement. We will definitely keep blogging because, as you said, this is as much for us and our memories as it is anything else. We already enjoy reading posts from this time last year, just to see how far we’ve come!

    I definitely didn’t post this because my frustration has boiled over or because I’m ready to walk away from blogging or change this blog into something it’s not (at least for now). But it’s something I spend a significant portion of my week doing, and I thought it’d be interesting to share some of the emotional “dark sides” of blogging as well.

    We of course appreciate everyone’s support, especially our religious readers like Marsha and Judy :)

  6. Katie Leake says:

    I enjoy your blog! I don’t check every day but when I do I read back to where I last left off! I feel like I’m living vicariously through you guys! With that said, I miss yall and are so happy we get to see you again soon! Even if I can’t share a Gloria’s Marg with you at this time!!