This blog entry about the events of Sunday, July 28, 2013 was originally posted on August 11, 2013.
PART 15 (DAYS 33-35): “How’s everything here?” I asked Chris, the manager at Southern Laughter Lodge, when I arrived back in Queenstown for a day in order to catch a homeward bound flight early the following morning.
“Oh, it’s quiet. It’s finally slowing down,” he answered.
“Oh, is the ski season over?”
“No, the season can go all the way until October,” he told me. “But all the Aussie kids have gone back to university.”
Having had ended my short New Zealand adventure on a high note, I was ready to leave as well. I spent my last day in Queenstown — my last day in New Zealand for that matter — very leisurely, watching the paragliders land into town (picture above), and shopping for souvenirs and gifts. For some reason, I did all of it at this one touristy gift emporium that had everything (even different variations of Kiwi plush dolls), run by Japanese people. One chatty Japanese woman at the cashier noticed the embroidered “swirlball” on my baseball cap, wondering which souvenir shop I’d purchased it.
“No, this is mine,” I told her. I spared her the backstory of The Global Trip logo. (It’s on the upper right of this web page.)
“[Oh, I thought you bought it somewhere here,]” she said to me. “It’s Maori. Very popular symbol in Maori culture.” She showed me some Maori-inspired souvenirs that did in fact have swirly spiral motifs on them. “See here? In Maori, it means the beginning of life.”
Huh, how about that, I thought to myself. The Global Trip, the Beginning of Life. In an era when most people are concerned with just surviving the rat race, perhaps Life begins when you leave it behind, head out, and explore the world.
However, contrary to popular belief, traveling the world isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be when you blog and write about it at some professional level for years, even if it’s part-time. Travel writers — which many non-travel writers associate with words like “lucky” and phrases like “must be nice” — actually do something that becomes work in the conventional sense, and it too becomes a rat race.
I BEGAN THE GLOBAL TRIP BACK IN 2002, when it was originally my website for clips of published travel pieces, as I was trying to build up a collection of bylines as a young, budding travel writer in the travel journalism community. Back then, my travel writing teacher (now book author) Paula Szuchman taught me that in reality, most travel articles could actually just be written by way of research on the Internet — but personal insight are what make pieces stand out against others of the same subject matter.
In October 2003, after saving and scraping funds for months, I set off on my dream voyage: a grand sixteen month Global Trip, not only to experience everything I’d heard about in countries that, at the time, were “exotic” to me, but to “cover” as many places I could, in order to gain personal insight and experience for future articles — and without rushing around like some “country counters” I know, who rush through countries with minimal experiences just to add a number to their tally. I originally started The Global Trip blog for that big expedition (then hosted by BootsnAll), mostly as a way to keep my friends and family informed on my whereabouts and worldly activities. (It also served as the perfect notepad for future pieces.) But then, without my intention, it eventually went viral, blew up, and was read by a much bigger audience — bigger than I had imagined with tens of thousands of readers from around the globe. I even won a couple of awards for it and got national press attention when I got back to New York. USA Today put it best with, “Warning: If this site doesn’t give someone the travel bug, nothing will.”
But that was 2005.
Ah, 2005. A lot as changed since then. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are now the new ways of informing people what you’ve been up to on the road (whether they like it or not) — at least for this current phase of our behavior-changing Internet-dependent society. Blogs are no longer defined as they were in the late 90s through 2005; back then, a “blog,” which has always been short for “web log,” was actually a log, personal or otherwise, of events — like Captain Kirk’s “space log” in Star Trek. Nowadays, a blog’s definition is more like an on-line magazine — which has less to do about a chronology of events — that is managed and curated in a way to balance the relationship of the reader and the sponsor or advertiser backing it financially. A recent New York Times article by Dan Saltzstein goes into this complicated subculture of travel blogging,
“...a medium that began as intimate and creative. The paradigm has shifted across the board, in areas like food, parenting and so-called lifestyle blogs. But nowhere has the shift been as jarring as it is for travelers. ‘I want to travel the world’ is no longer an idealistic statement, it is a transactional one…
Travel bloggers tend to be independent-minded and passionate about their areas of interest. The best of them also tend to be on the cutting edge of the travel world, making them a valuable resource for readers frustrated with out-of-date guidebooks and what is often a morass of user reviews on sites like TripAdvisor. But they also face unique challenges; for one, they have to be not just their own editors in chief, but also their own directors of marketing and Web developers. And, ideally, they need to stay objective despite all the sponsorships.”
Over the past ten years, I’ve managed to live another income-generating life as a freelance designer/animator and writer that could support my travels and blog — without the need of an income-generating business model. This flexible lifestyle and financial freedom, earned through regiments of sleep deprivation, have allowed me to stay the course with my long-form narrative style since it started coming into focus in early 2004 — without a dependency on sponsors. I’ve strived to make The Global Trip blog informative and funny — with inspiration by veteran humor columnist Dave Barry — while keeping it detailed with historical tidbits, plenty of photos, and above all, the conversations I’ve had with people I’ve met on the road. Blogreaders, like Kirsten and Sarit (Israel/West Bank), have appreciated this style, and have told me that my blog stands out because “It’s written like a story, or a novel. You feel like you’re there.”
But Instagram killed the travel blog star. Attention spans are a lot shorter, and today’s travel blog audience consumes media differently. In recent years, the editors I’ve written for cap a word count off at 500 words — less than half of one of my average travel dispatches. Also, I’m sure there are some millenials out there that are like, “Uh, who’s Dave Barry?”
“THESE KIDS IN THE NEW GENERATION don’t know that what they’re doing is actually not going to be sustainable in ten years,” I spoke with experience to Moman, when I was back in Brisbane for a one-night layover between New Zealand and the States. We’d gone out for dinner and drinks with a few of his friends after I landed back in his hometown. “A lot of these young vanity travel bloggers think they can just get by on the strength of their own blog,” I ranted. “I mean, I grew up in travel writing when it was still a part of journalism, where you climbed the ladder with bylines.” I told him about the Times article and explained how travel blogging has become less personal and more business — completely separate from the world of traditional journalism. “Actually, I know this one girl who knows you can’t just have your blog, you have to climb the ladder with bylines in known publications,” I continued, referring to travel writer Megan McDonough of Bohemian Trails, who I’d met on a press trip to Israel. “But most of them don’t get it.”
In a conversation I had with long-time travel blogger Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads, we discussed the state of these new travel bloggers. “A lot of them are just in it for the free trips,” she told me. But, we agreed, it’s more rewarding to do it for the respect.
AS I FLEW OVER THE PACIFIC ON VIRGIN AUSTRALIA from the Land Down Under to the States — a Land Up Over, if you will — I wondered about the state of The Global Trip blog. Sure, it’s still a way to let my friends and family know what I’ve been up to on the road, but they’ve sort of tuned out like most people, just waiting for the next Instagram picture to show up in their feed. My parents are jaded about my travels; no longer is it something amazing that I’m doing — it’s just sort of a regular thing that I do now. And I know that some of my closest friends, a supportive as they’ve been, don’t read it anymore; I sometimes write hidden inside jokes to them that only they would understand in a blog entry — only to get no response to it.
I recognize I’m of an older, fading generation of travel bloggers, when you compare me to the stars of today (Jodi’s mentioned). Congratulations to them; I was one of them eight years ago, and I know how great it feels to be recognized on a national level for travel blogging. Obviously, I know I should change with the times if I want to continue doing a travel blog for today’s audience, by realizing that a “blog” is no longer a “web log” and making it more like a magazine for readers with short attention spans. But then, the existence of The Global Trip blog’s style would change, and alienate the truly loyal readers out there. Marie Javins, fellow travel blogger/author of my generation, tells me I should stay the course and not sell out. She also told me:
“I firmly believe [old school travel blogs] are over, finito, and social networking is far more relevant. Personal, individual blogs are a way to keep notes and show your friends what you’re doing, and it just takes a while for sponsors and the Times to catch up. What’s the next big thing? I don’t know, but I believe if someone is on a press trip, it kind of doesn’t count for budget travelers. They don’t have the money for the stuff a writer gets on press trip. Am I being incendiary? I don’t care. I will miss guidebooks for budget travelers when they’re all about the loudest social networker.”
Perhaps I could end this blog here and start something new, under a different title and branding, so that what exists remains consistent. Or perhaps, I could just call it quits altogether (on personal blogging specifically). Up and over. I mean, I’ll continue to write travel pieces edited for today’s audience via more well-known media outlets. I’ve heard numerous times that the success of a blog, or even a book based on it, shouldn’t be measured in sales or numbers, it should be measured by what it leads you to — bigger and better things. My work with The Global Trip has already led me to writing pieces for the Chicago Tribune, Discovery.com, and most notably, National Geographic. In fact, if this truly is the stopping point, the overall story arc of the The Global Trip blog would be “the ten year chronicle of a traveler who once started as a novice blogger that posted pictures of his diarrhea to be funny, to a writer at National Geographic.” (Notice I said “the chronicles of” and not “the transformation of” — because I would totally still take pictures of my watery poo, if you want.)
You’ve read it all here, folks. From my trepidations before embarking on a grand circumnavigation of the globe in 2003, to personal anecdotes of experiences in 62 countries, to a trip with an assignment for National Geographic in 2013 — a whole decade later.
The Global Trip will still exist, as it still doubles as a collection of clips with notable bylines for prospective editors to look at, whether they are based on a press trip or not. As far as my next independent trip, I’m not sure whether or not I’ll blog about it the way I’ve done for years. I’m sure my brother Mark, a.k.a. markyt (Rio), who’s been The Guy Behind The Guy Behind the Blog all this time, would appreciate the break. I know I’d still continue my policy of not writing about a press trip on this blog (with the exception of Papua New Guinea, which I fully disclosed) to maintain that it’s about independent travel — without opinion-swaying sponsors paying the tab like so many other travel blogs of today. Since the beginning, the message of this independent travel blog has always been that you don’t need to be rich — or schmooze a sponsor — to travel the world; you can do this too, if you really put your mind to it. (Here’s my step-by-step instructions on how.)
As for me personally, I’ll continue to live life on and off the road, whether I blog about it or not. However, perhaps I won’t be able to help it; I’ve heard from veteran travel writers who just want to go on a vacation, that being a travel writer is a curse; even when you’re meant to go away and relax, your brain is always in work mode, with a constant urge to take notes, looking for angles. I’ve already developed that habit, so perhaps there is some longevity to this blog.
Thoughts, anyone? (Feedback appreciated.)
Either way, I won’t forget what I’d learned from that Japanese cashier I met in Queenstown. For me, The Global Trip truly has been, for better or worse, the beginning of Life indeed.
During my time in New Zealand, I tried to train my ear to notice the difference between the Australian accent and the New Zealand one. I’ve realized that in New Zealand, whenever there’s an opportunity to use a long E sound, you use it. For example, Australians say the word question like, “quehhstion,” while Kiwis say, “queeestion.” Try it at home and you’ll see, just like in New Zealand, that no one really cares which way you say it.
Previous entry: Hello, Heli.
Blog readers, if you are in fact, still reading this, please comment below — or via Facebook or Twitter as it’s done these days.
Well done and spot-on, Erik. In 2001, I had a huge audience for MariesWorldTour.com. In 2011, almost no one bothered to look at it. The industry now developed from travel blogging sickens me and I believe is deceptive and plays into fantasies of travel, travel porn. Can regular people be shuttled around on private airplanes to all the hotspots in a country? Can they see things that cost $500 for an hour? Is our goal to eke a living out of crumbs derived from click-backs, or to enjoy our lives and use the information we’ve gathered to demystify the deliberate fantastical build-up given to something as simple as boarding a bus? Do I want to be part of pretending I’m some kind of superhero just for getting a few shots, a visa, and spending a lot of time on buses in West Africa, which is something residents there do every single day? Or do I want to just keep doing it the way I believe in, the way I can show others how to do the same thing I do, and if they can’t, at least give them enough of an account of what I do to where they feel like they’ve participated?
And that last part is where you may find yourself…you may not want to give it up. But I have to say, in 2011, when everyone was already following on Facebook and Twitter, I’d look at the job of writing a blog post at the end of a day, after also working on my Kuwaiti job for a few hours after a long day of travel, and say “Why am I doing this?”
The answer, at least in the case of the blog which was one for everyone, is now, “for me.”
Posted by Marie Javins on 08/11 at 05:33 PM
I don’t mind the blog duties vs the landlord duties… But I do keep the showroom nice and clean…
Hey, thanks for the shoutout. I for one still enjoy your blog, but have less time to read it then I did way back when. Maybe the issue is not that people aren’t interested anymore, but your friends have just gotten busier and have more responsibilities than they did 10 years ago? I still read your entries, I just don’t read them the second they get posted, as I did years ago when I was horribly bored at work and living vicariously through you. I’ll read a few at a time or at the end all at once.
I think if you enjoy doing it, then keep doing it. But if it is taking away from being able to enjoy the trip, then maybe pull back a little or don’t make them so detailed. The main reason I stopped my blog 8 months in was because I felt I was spending more time on my blog than living in the moment and enjoying my trip.
Are travel blogs dead? I still think they are great for letting people, friends and family, who are interested read about your trip. I can’t say from the “money earning” point of view if it is worthwhile or necessary.
Just my 2 cents.
Any DC trips soon?
What’s funny too is where you mention people are used to you traveling now and don’t really pay much attention. Same here. I’m like HEY YOU GUYS I’M IN BHUTAN and my friends and family are like, “Whatever, look at this photo of my dinner.”
When you recalibrate yourself with travel, people adjust and see you for you — before asking someone to “please pass the salt.” (cc Michelle)
I’ve also lost the ability to be utterly amazed at simple things. I went to the Tuesday Market here in San Miguel and everyone said “Wasn’t it incredible” and I really wasn’t sure what market they went to, because all I went to was a big dollar store full of cheap plastic crap.
Well I often think that being jaded from travel is a good quality for a travel editor; because there are so many new travelers out there overly amazed by things that, when you’ve been in the business long enough, are cliché. I think I had been invited on the Kenya press trip (which I didn’t blog) because I already had Africa experience like everyone else on the trip, because no one wants a published piece filled with “OMG I saw an elephant today!”
I went on a Kenya press trip once which I lloooooovvvvveed but it was completely unlike anything I could afford on the ground in Kenya. I mean, there is nothing like being shuttled from place to place on a small plane and staying in high-end eco-lodges, and eating amazing food, but I have to admit I valued more the time I was shoved into minibuses where people were trying to sell me socks through the window.
I’ve always loved your blog. It’s my inspiration. Marie hits the nail on the head wrt how a blog is “for me”. Whilst it pales in comparison I love reading back over my posts. I’ve stopped linking most stuff and mainly use it to laugh with and at myself as I fumble my way around the world with my glaringly obvious Britishness lol Once I realized that that was primarily my goal it took less pressure off me to “get my post up”. I didn’t write my final entry of y most recent trip until about 3 weeks after I got back. Lol
My audience, whilst small, is also primarily made up of close friends & family who I also know get my humour. They often tell me they like my blog because it allows them to live vicariously. Anyone else is a bonus. True travelers will also do their own research anyway regardless of if I put how I got from A to B. I personally would hate it if I was reading a blog that told me how to do everything. Takes away from the adventure.
So with all that said, don’t give up your blog as long as it means something to you!
Nicola: “True travelers will also do their own research anyway regardless of if I put how I got from A to B.” Exactly. But the current generation of blogs aims to replace guidebooks, i.e. the getting from A to B.
When I checked into the hostel/lodge in Queenstown, they asked how I found out about them. I said the Lonely Planet, and they were amazed that people still used those.
That doesn’t shock me. Unfortunately social media has led to “laziness” (if that’s the right descriptive). People have become complacent and expect answers at the click of a button.
I buy lonely planets. Lol
THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY
Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with