21 November 2012

Elitism, Arrogance, and the Travel Blogger

I decided to write this article after reading a few articles by travel bloggers saying that they are quitting the road and moving home, stopping their nomadic life. Most of them say the reason for doing so is that it is unsustainable, and after being on the road for years, they realize that they have been missing out on other aspects of life, such as relationships. They have cited aging parents, siblings giving birth, and other things, that forced them to move back home and become semi-nomadic.

This brought some sort of vindication, for my part. I don’t know why, so for the last hour, I decided to gather my thoughts and write it down.

First I asked myself, do I want to be a long-term traveler like them? I guess, after giving it a lot of serious thought, my answer is no. As much as I want to see the world, as much as I want to visit 100 countries before I die (I still am at 23), I also want to do other things. I enjoy doing what I am doing right now. And I realized that I still value the importance of a routine. I love the thought of having my own bed I can sleep in. I love the luxury of not having to share a toilet with others. I love the fact that there are parts of my life that are still predictable. As much as I enjoyed traveling in Guatemala earlier this year, to the point that I wished I pushed through and crossed the border to El Salvador and continued on, I am still glad that I returned to Buffalo, finished my doctorate, and pushed through life in a different way.

So, why the vindication then?

It’s because whenever I read the travel articles of these long-term bloggers, or even when I meet them on the road when I am traveling myself, I do not have a surplus when it comes to hearing about how awesome their life is. There are plenty of articles out there saying how awesome it is to be living for 3 months in Country X then move to Country Y and live three months there again. There are plenty of articles telling you how to do a visa run so that one can extend one’s stay in Country Z. And overall, it’s this elitist attitude that I don’t get.

So why am I still reading these articles then? Well, I do have a few travel blogs in my RSS feed. And I filter them. I only have them there because sometimes they do write about good things to see in a destination, and that gives me travel ideas. But I don’t need no preaching when it comes to how to quit my 9-to-5 job and travel the world for years at a time.

Perhaps that’s the reason why my blog isn’t a full-time travel blog either. It’s a melange of things. It started as a blog intended to document my activities during graduate school, as a way for my family and friends to read about my life in the convenience of their own home, avoiding the hassles of time zone differences. Then it slowly evolved into something that is part-travel blog, part-diary, part-philosophical and political and anti-religious ranting platform. As I moved to Berlin recently, part of it became a place where I wrote about my experiences about moving here.

So, is long-term travel unsustainable? In the travel blogger’s definition, yes. They have lived 3 months here and 3 months there for years, but most eventually settle down somewhere. But if you adjust your lens a little bit, what if you live say 5 years here and 7 years there, with smaller trips sandwiched in between, is that still traveling? That is how I have done it. I grew up being a diplomat’s child. Living in one place for 5 years and then moving on sounds like a perfectly normal thing for me. Is that long-term travel, but with a different granularity? Maybe, maybe not. But so far, I am able to sustain it. Right now I am living in Berlin, I don’t know for how long. But right now, this is home for me. The good thing with this pattern is that one gets to do more while one is rooted in one place. In my case, I picked up my MA and PhD while I was in Buffalo for 7 years.

So yes, this was a rant against the travel blog. Feel free to flame. I don’t care, I have a very small reading audience anyway. I’ve kept the commercialism in this blog to a minimum, so I won’t suffer if my readership dips a little. I don’t depend on revenues from this blog. For me, being able to write my thoughts down and “upload” it somewhere is satisfying already, whether there are people out there who will read it or not.

(Gazebo, from my Central Park Series)


  1. Like you, I do not wish to travel full time, and I loooove traveling! I need to be home sometime, I need the balance, the contrast. Most people who travel full time do it for a year or so in their life, it's rarely sustainable on the long run. You do get sick of traveling after a while... some long-term "traveler" often end up staying in a place for a while at the end.

    Whatever works best for everyone I guess.

    1. Zhu,

      You're right, it's the contrast that makes my style attractive to me. It is true that one gets sick of traveling after a while. I guess what I am ranting against is the attitude of some long-term travelers, thinking they are so awesome and hip, looking down at short-term travelers when they meet them on the road.

  2. Long term travel isn't for everyone. Even if I had the time and resources to do so, I will not be traveling indefinitely myself. There's a need for me to put a balance in everything - especially where it involves work, relationships and commitments.

    I see in you the need to be abroad because you have goals not directly related to traveling itself. In the end, you do get to see the world even as you achieve titles that I can only be envious of.

  3. TNP,

    You raise a very valid point. It is the balance between work, relationships, and commitments that can determine the whole thing. Perhaps these people got the chance to travel long-term because they didn't have these constraints, and only when they got to have them then they terminated their long-term travel plans.

  4. I share your disdain for sermons about 'quitting your job' but if you have seen the professional work environment, there is a huge market for such thing. Many people feel trapped at their job. Actually they have been trapped for a while following the high school - university - job - marriage - kids template that society generally expects us to follow.

    Nothing is unsustainable, it all depends how you run it. If I wanted to be a full-time traveller, maybe I should become a pilot. That would be so fantastic won't it?

    Most travel bloggers do have a 'home base' and they travel for few months a year. The self-styled 'full time' tag is usually used to advance the blogger's commercial appeal - whatever works for them! You must know that there are people who do travel long term but seldom make a noise about it.

    1. Priyank,

      Interesting comment about the template. I guess it's because most people do not do what they want, instead, they do what society expects them to do. In my case, I guess I also didn't follow that template, but hey, I went to graduate school knowing full well that was what I wanted. And I am happy with my decision, instead of feeling trapped in a cubicle wanting to escape.

      And yes, a pilot is a fantastic idea! :-P

      But you're right, there are people who travel long term but do not write a blog; I personally met some of them on the road myself. You're right that it's the commercialization of the travel blog that is mostly the cause of this ruckus, as they try to get more people read their stories and generate revenue.