When I left for my first trip to India my father pulled me aside and said,
“Some of the most important moments in history have been recorded on film or written down by travellers. Make sure you take your camera and pen everywhere.“
Unfortunately for me that conversation didn’t end with the giving of a new camera (or pen for that matter).
It did make me think though.
Since that time I’ve been back to India half a dozen times and recently returned from a few months in Europe where I had to work (I’m a non-travel blog blogger) on the road. It was a huge challenge but also extremely rewarding.
During that time I realised that the world needs more people recording their moments away from home – in fact, I think it is vital for democracy, ethics and all sorts of fun things like that.
Let me tell you why.
Note: This post contains a lot of opinionated ranting! Please don’t take it too seriously.
Why travel blogs are so important
Now you might have a picture in your head of what a typical travel blog looks like.
It might be a 20-something kid in a hat or sandals traveling the world and paying for his rent in a hemp-roofed teepee by promoting advertisers in his website’s sidebar.
Well, you’d be right. There are lots of those.
But what I’m really interested in is the vital role that blogs play/will play in the future of our society. I know you probably think that I’m building them up to be more important than they are.
You’re right about that too.
Yes, an individual travel blog is worth very little. But a movement of travel blogs is a treasure that we should encourage. I honestly believe they are the modern equivalents to the journals of people like James Cook and the writings of people like Henry David Thoreau.
1. Travel blogs encourage travel – and that broadens the mind
Next time you’re sitting around a dinner table with friends listening to some bloke rabbit on about how people in the third world are hopeless and how we shouldn’t spend any money trying to assist, go ahead and politely inquire how many times they’ve visited those countries.
It’s my experience that those who take off after school or during college to experience the third and developing worlds often have a motivated and effortful approach to the world. A massive generalisation, yes, but I’ve found a lot less apathy in those who have seen the world than those who have been shielded in Western securities.
Of course, there are a lot of people who just head off to Europe or Ibiza to party and do drugs and let loose. That’s fine for them but it’s not really what I’m talking about. I’d call that tourism, not travelling.
If you spend time getting to know a place or a people you start to learn things about yourself. Your limits and your ability to be useful. And I think that is so important for the betterment of our society.
We need more people who think deeply about problems and how to solve them, even if it’s just at the level of your own family.
Sometimes that comes from seeing how another culture does it.
And so if someone starts a travel blog and encourages a few people to broaden their mind due to the stories and photos they post then please, let’s have a few more of them.
2. Travel blogs document historical events
In the future we’re going to be able to look back at all those travel blogs – websites, Tumblrs and Twitter feeds – and see trends unravel and events take place.
Now, I’m not necessarily talking about big events like September 11 (although a lot of those videos were captured by tourists) but more like the way a country changes or how the climate for a revolution develops.
There are some fascinating blogs that discussed the build up to the Arab Spring, for example.
Traditional news sources and writers will call me an idiot for this opinion – but I’m sticking to it. Yes, trained news reporters are the best source of current information but there is so much they don’t and can’t report on that is lost to history. The emotional tales, the family impacts, the view from the outside looking in.
Again, there probably won’t be one single blog that history will look back on as a source of valuable information for learning about revolutions in the Middle East. But by cataloging and studying a wide range of blogs at various points in history I am certain we will learn useful things.
In fact, scholars are already starting to do this.
3. Travel can give meaning to a lifetime
In 2006 I headed off to the Indian Himalayas with one of my closest friends in the world.
Six months later he was diagnosed with stage four Lymphoma and the prognosis looked bad. So bad, in fact, one of the doctors asked me if there was a priest or mentor he might like to invite to his hospital room.
Thankfully he recovered but I’ll never forget one of our late night conversations during those months of chemotherapy when he mentioned that he was glad we went to India and that he’d seen Germany and Thailand the year before.
It gave him a sense of fulfillment that, even though he was facing death in his 20’s, he’d at least seen the world and had some cool experiences.
Not everyone will have the fortune to travel overseas.
It can be expensive and circumstances at home (feeding a family, working, political climates, etc.) can make it impossible. But most people will be able to travel to a new place near home. A beach-side car trip. A hike to the mountains. A few days on your own learning to be with yourself.
Those kind of experiences add things to your life that last a very long time. They can get you through the toughest things that will happen to you at home.
But a lot of people wouldn’t hear about that unless they read it on a blog or saw a photo of some mountain or Buddhist lama and felt a connection and an itching to go and search it out.
Blogs, magazines, Facebook updates. Mostly we denigrate those things for being wastes of electricity. But they can make a huge difference to a person’s life if it motivates them to move.
So what makes a good travel blog?
I should probably remind everyone at this stage that I am not a travel blogger.
I do blog while I am traveling and the ideas I have here come from those experiences. Even from a business point of view, the traveling gave me lots of new things to think about.
1. Find a blogging platform that suits you and your travel
If you’re going to be traveling to China then Facebook is not a good place to document your thoughts. It’s banned there.
If you’re going to be spending a lot of time hiking in places that are very wet or dangerous then you probably won’t want to take a laptop with you and thus a more mobile blogging platform like Tumblr might work for you.
If you want to take your travel blogging a bit more seriously (and maybe even try to use it to make a living) then you’ll want to have a self-hosted setup with your own domain name. This gives you complete ownership and control over the content, server, as well as the look and feel of the site.
2. Don’t stop traveling so you can start blogging
One of the biggest mistakes you can make while you are traveling is that you stop the travel part so you can record something to use it later.
Photographers will understand this.
There is a certain something lost when you just carry around the camera and look at everything through the lens. You miss what’s going on in front of you while you focus on focus, depth, lighting, etc.
I was recently in the Dali museum in Spain and watched a man go around the entire building taking photos looking only at the art through the camera screen. I kept thinking how many better photos there must be on the internet – why not just look at it while you are 2,000km away from home and there in person?
The best travel stories come from those who are in the mix and experiencing the places. Some people have a gift for being able to teach and explore things with photos alone.
3. Mix your mediums occasionally
The best travel blogs are a mix of photos, written words and videos.
There is something unique to each one of these and you’ll find that certain situations lend themselves particularly well to one or the other.
A good digital SLR and laptop combo will completely cover all your needs. The video quality on SLR cameras is incredible these days and the free editing software that you can put on your blogging laptop will be more than sufficient.
There will be a temptation to get carried away with becoming a professional on all of these things. If that happens to you just relax and maybe put it down for a while. You don’t need to get distracted by it.
4. Go local
Some of the best travel experiences happen when you get away from the tourist areas and the parts of the country that are built up to look like somewhere else.
A good example of this is in Barcelona where I heard that the palm trees and parrots (yes, the bird) were imported for the Olympics in order to make the place feel more exotic. There’s a lot of fakery.
Start with books and blogs and see what you can find out about the place. Then see if you can connect with people who know the area well.
A lot of cities have “alternative” walking tours where a local will take you around for a few hours and teach you about the undercurrent of the city; the things the brochures might not want you to see.
I found that these types of experiences really made me think more. I started to question things back at home more – even my own reactions to things.
5. Make writing a regular priority
Writing is a lot like sport. Sometimes you love it but other times you really, really don’t want to be at training.
And like sport, your writing gets better the more you practice. It gets easier.
I seem to write my best stuff at night after dinner when the world has quietened down a little bit. When I was traveling I found that the day’s experiences gave me so much to think about and that often translated to better ideas for my writing.
Just keep at it, even when you don’t feel like it.
6. Go to places that interest you
For some reason, I have absolutely no connection to South America. I don’t know what it is but I just really struggle to make myself want to go there or learn about it.
Indian history on the other hand? I can stay up all night thinking about it.
That is an important thing to think about when you are traveling and blogging about it. If you are passionate about the place then you are going to produce stuff that has a lot more energy to it.
If you’ve grown up studying Kung Fu then you might want to take a trip to China and see what strikes you there. Karate practitioners might prefer Japan. Or, if you’re fascinated by your family tree then go back to where your parents came from and discover something new about yourself.
What do you think?
Have you ever blogged while you were travelling?
Do you read blogs about traveling and find that you get something from it?
I’d be really interested to hear whether or not you feel like travel blogs play an important role or whether they’re just more idle nonsense.
Please leave a comment and let me know.
Ramsay sold a blog for almost $20,000 when he was in university and fell in love with blogging. He now works full time from home using blogging and writes to help others do the same. Check out Blog Tyrant.