My recent accident has given me a lot of food for thought as I remain stationary during my recovery, and try to figure out what is next.
“What the hell. I’m sitting here on my ass while my full-time travel colleagues are enjoying all sorts of travel adventures.”
This inner temper tantrum is accentuated by my recent decision to set up a home base of sorts here in the Caribbean.
Am I missing the boat?
Evolution of the Travel Blogging Industry
When I started traveling and travel blogging seven years ago, it was very much a “wild west” industry; it was still very new, and everybody was busy carving a niche and trying to figure out how to turn it into a viable business.
Over the years, competitions like The Best Job in the World gained popularity, with sponsors collaborating to provide an experience for a travel blogger, including some income to cover personal expenses and write about the destination. Given the lack of income blogging alone could generate, this was a step towards making the industry viable and the career sustainable.
In fact, one of the earliest incantations of such a project was the World Nomads Ambassador program (in 2008), in which my partner (at the time) and I had use of a camper van and some complementary toys for a 6-week Australian adventure.
Unfortunately, there were still a number of kinks to work out with the idea, and despite the promise of “seeing a slab of Australia for free”, those six weeks ended up being among the most expensive in all my years of full-time travel.
Where It Has Evolved To
Now, blogger-centric press trips, blogger “jobs”, and recognition as professionals from tourism boards and PR companies are on the rise. The recent development of the Professional Travel Bloggers Association (of which I’m a founding member) and worldwide conferences like TBEX are taking the travel blogging industry to the next level, increasing its recognition, and providing a conduit between travel bloggers and travel providers.
Freebie trips, accommodation, and experiences are becoming commonplace. Most of my colleagues are currently accepting the hospitality of an organization, accommodation provider, or tour company who is sponsoring the experiences they’re writing about. And some of these experiences are dramatic, coming (for paying guests) with quite the price tag.
I have two beefs with this (personally).
First, as a writer of “full-time travel in a financially sustainable way”, I feel an obligation to have experiences that could be replicable by readers in the realm of my theme. As a freelance travel writer, accepting freebies is a legitimate complement to (a somewhat meagre) income, and as long as there’s no undue bias in the write-up, it’s a great way to introduce world-wide experiences to readers.
But if those adventures are too far out of the realm of being financially-sustainable, where is the line between serving my readers and serving myself?
Secondly, freebie trips are generally exhausting. They go at a breakneck pace, and keeping up with work on the way is often impossible. Most travel bloggers need some significant down time after a trip; not only to recover, but also to transform the large amount of information they’ve been given into content.
I get tired just thinking about it.
Where I Stand
The last year has been a whirlwind for me, in which I’ve made the emotional journey leading to a decision to create a home base in the Caribbean after six years of having no fixed address. This hasn’t been a function of any less wanderlust; rather, a desire to experience the world in a different way. (And to be honest, a cumulative feeling of full-time travel fatigue. Oh yeah – and a boy).
But it hasn’t been an easy decision given my branding and passion for travel; I’ve worked hard to develop a business around financially sustainable full-time travel in a burgeoning industry; I’m not getting soft now, am I?
Not now, when there are so many benefits to be reaped?
And so, I sit here (admittedly in a necessary period of recovery from the accident), wondering if I’m missing the boat. A boat that, in some egotistical way, I feel I’ve played some small wee part in building.
Whenever I take some time to breathe, there’s always the double-edged sword of maintaining a certain presence in order to maintain traffic (and income). This comes from producing regular content and being active in social medial circles. It’s a rewarding yet relentless task.
This became abundantly clear to me during my forced digital detox of sorts in the aftermath of the accident.
Out-of-sight/out-of-mind is a real problem in the ever-changing blogging industry. Ask any digital nomad, and they’ll admit that their choice of destination is at least partially predicated on having solid wifi. Going for long periods without connectivity is a problem.
Now, I look up from my own little bubble and re-assess where I stand in this industry which continues to move and shake. I see people developing courses, writing books, experiencing amazing travel adventures, and speaking on topics I thought were reserved for me (ha). Increasing numbers of sites are surpassing me in traffic and recognition. (Cue inner foot-stamping temper tantrum).
Then again, maybe I’m not being left behind; maybe I’m moving on.
My Travel Style: The Third Age of Travel
Truth be told, one of the most rewarding forms of travel for me is the ability to go somewhere and just live there for a few months. To feel the pulse of daily life – and through existing (and often volunteering) there, to learn about the culture and ultimately – to form rewarding friendships.
I am less inclined to go out and “conquer” the world, nor to rack up a huge repertoire of experiences, despite my adventurous disposition. I’ve got a pretty big arsenal already.
(Okay that’s not entirely honest; I wouldn’t turn down a complimentary trip befitting of my bucket list, or a world-tour shooting a tv show. All my waffling is conjecture until there’s a dotted line to sign on, at which point my high horse will probably take a flying leap. What’s changed is that I’m not pounding the pavement looking for these opportunities any more – despite their relative prolificness).
Last year, some travel colleagues of mine had an awesome sponsored trip to Switzerland, during which they had some experiences that made me green with envy.
At the same time, my own three months in Switzerland weren’t any less rewarding. Just different.
Maybe as with the three ages in life, there are three ages in travel.
In very broad strokes, the three ages of travel could be:
- Younger travelers hit the backpacking scene with energy and enthusiasm, doing everything they can, everywhere they can.
- Digital nomads and people for whom travel is a career tend to take travel experiences to a new level with greater income and access, but have also learned to pace themselves.
- Slow travelers and expats derive a different sense of satisfaction and feeling of travel by integrating into a culture and “just being”.
I still see myself in each of these stages (and expect to fluctuate between them in coming years), but having been through this progression, the last stage currently resonates the most with me.
I’m still recovering, and the universe has set the stage for me to be still for a while, and just be patient (a virtue I don’t possess with grace).
Until recently I was gearing towards an upcoming 3 month house-sitting job in Panama, but once again, the universe has put a few roadblocks in the way. It may or may not come to pass now.
But in my not-too-distant future, I see some exciting possibilities of slow travel, fast travel, (and yes, even some freebie travel), as I continue on my passion-based travel path and career. I’ve got a couple of tricks up my sleeve yet.
But for now….ohhhmmmm…lamalamalama…..patience.
In the meantime I’m musing on how my third age of travel melds with the travel blogging industry – which could be bound for a third age of its own as it continues to grow and evolve.