How Does Travel Blogging Fit Into the Travelogue Tradition?

Travel Blog  •  Michael Yessis  •  10.27.11 | 2:25 PM ET

Iain Manley offers his perspective:

Travelogues progressed along a more or less linear path in the twentieth century. Although aeroplanes brought a new kind of fragmentation and the size of the travel industry ballooned, great writers continued travelling and, in magazines, a new, glossy format for descriptions and photographs from a journey was found. The twenty first century has been far more disruptive. The first blogs led quickly to the first travel blogs, instead of the first online travelogues. It was a new medium and perhaps it made sense to use a new name, but instead of marking an upward progression, the phrase travel blog is associated with a feeble form of one of the world’s oldest narrative traditions.

This prejudice is, in the majority of cases, completely justified. Too many travel blogs are facile when they are not fatuous. Blogs that function like letters to friends and family should, perhaps, be excused - even if some of the most readable travelogues of the past two centuries started life as a series of letters - but there are now well over a thousand travel blogs that actively seek an audience, and most of them are depressingly poor. They describe interactions with the travel industry instead of the larger world and are, as a result, like reading badly edited, first person Lonely Planet guides. They are self-reductive, confining their narratives to keywords popular on Google, like solo, solo female, family travel, eco-travel and round the world, which is aptly abbreviated to RTW, because most of these whistle stop gallivants are themselves extremely abbreviated. They are light on history, politics and context in general, but heavy on technically proficient but clichéd photography and vacuous best-of lists. The worst are self-congratulatory and patronising, written with enough gall to inform readers that they too can travel, usually along the same dismal beaten track as the blogger. Most of all - and most of the time - travel blogs are badly written. To capture an audience that browses instead of reading, blog posts must be short, easy to consume and frequent. As a result, there are both good and bad writers with insipid and tedious travel blogs.

11 Comments for How Does Travel Blogging Fit Into the Travelogue Tradition?

Davis 10.27.11 | 8:08 PM ET

I have never seen a first draft by Bruce Chatwin, but I recently read his collected letters and if they are any indication of what his first drafts looked like, then his first drafts weren’t very good, either.  Yet what we got from him between hard covers was excellent writing.  He worked on it. It is work to write something readable and it is a good exercise to have to get something accepted by a publisher.  Just being there isn’t enough.

Caitlin 10.27.11 | 9:01 PM ET

There is a lot of truth to this.

John in France 10.27.11 | 10:38 PM ET

When I read your line about the badly edited first person LP guide I felt a little offended. But then having read the full story I agree with what you say. I laughed at your comments about the abbreviated blogs, but you left out the “five of the best of” lists which are usually included too.

Azeem Ahmed @ Travel Tamed 10.30.11 | 2:09 AM ET

Yes. I agree to your point. It is true that the first drafts don’t live up to expectations but it is to work on it to make it more appealing. There is no doubt today even travel niche has become one of the most competitive niches and people who start a travel blog with targeting audience fail to make an impression because of the competition this niche shows up. Effective writing becomes a priority. Thanks for sharing these tips. 11.03.11 | 10:31 PM ET

I’ve been a professional, freelance writer since 1984. In fact, Worldhum referenced a series of travel articles I did for almost 10 years ago—when WH itself was in its infancy. I’ve also taught college English, so I know my way around a comma. When I sold all my goods and chattels to travel longterm and fulltime, I also started a travel blog—and not just for friends and relatives.
I’m sick to death of the over-the-transom query, wait for the rejection, but “send us other ideas” submission process. (With fulltime travel and NO permanent address, this doesn’t work very well, anyway.) I’m done with hoping to draw the long straw, to hit the editorial nail just right, to be plucked from among hundreds for the honor of .40/word payable upon publication. A travel blog, I figure, allows me to write what I want and to reach an audience with what I write. I may even be able to make some money to help fund the travel.
I agree that many popular travel blogs are junk. They get their high ratings from clever SEO footwork and lots of social media massage. But many are written by serious travelers who are good writers and photographers and who (somehow) also have the tech chops to manage it all.
If the “traditional” publishing world, and by that I’m thinking you include online pubs, because print is a bit long in the tooth these days, were less crowded, lofty, and dysfunctional, editors would be trolling for writers from among the ranks of the best travel bloggers. My hand’s up.

Alankar Misra 11.04.11 | 11:38 AM ET

Succinct, brilliant and bang on. I wonder how stressful it might be to write about good writing.

Matt Gibson 11.07.11 | 10:50 PM ET

Being a writer first and a blogger second, I share many of your criticisms of travel blogging. For these reasons I have never read many travel blogs and instead stick to websites like World Hum and Perceptive Travel.

However, I think that there are a few of us out there (some trained writers, and some simply talented writers) who do consistently offer unique opinions and evocative narratives about travels to destinations both on the beaten track, and off (after all, it is the writer, not the destination, that makes the story). Johnny Vagabond is an excellent example.

Personally, I try to balance my blog between the stories that I want to write (narratives about unique aspects of my journeys) and those that I need to write (novel trip ideas that play well on social media and SEO-focussed travel guides) because they bring traffic. A blogger does have to make a living, and I don’t think I need explain the difficulties of freelancing in today’s market. Even World Hum’s submissions were closed every time that I checked over the past year at least (or perhaps two).

As a side note, here is an interview I did with Rolf Potts where he discusses his feelings about the place of travel blogging in the literary tradition:

Daniel Wozniak 11.10.11 | 7:52 AM ET

I think all of this is fantastic. I have worked remotely for several years and have been fortunate enough to be able to travel and work. Thanks for the blog.

Daniel Wozniak

Monika 11.17.11 | 11:25 PM ET

You’re right worlds was change now.. People change the way they thinking, nowadays when I’m browsing to travel blogs i found very rare long-quality content. Little disappointed about that, cause sometimes I need read a complete long story about something…


Brianna Hawk 11.30.11 | 5:31 PM ET

Interesting take in this topic, I must say that I totally agree with you. In the advent of today’s technology, everything is in short-cut to be able to keep up with the fast turnaround of things.

David Urmann 12.25.11 | 6:01 AM ET

I agree too much truth with this. I have seen some fantastic blogs and they work because they dont worry about keywords but instead focus on building a brand.

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