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Travel Blogging: The Ugly Truth Social Media Doesn’t Show

I’ve started getting to that phase of my travel blogging journey, where I’m beginning to gain a little traction. The universe is beginning to realize I am not just another of those thousands of travel blogs that pop up every day on a whim, only to fizzle out within a few months time.

I’m beginning to see repeat visitors. I’m starting to receive mail and messages from people whose lives I seem to have touched in some major or inconsequential way.

Nomadic Lives Quantcast Numbers

Not So Bad, for a Start, eh?

I’m beginning to receive awards and nominations for my work – albeit only user-generated ones, announced by fellow travel bloggers and writers, but it’s only last week, when Lonely Planet tweeted one of my pieces, which picked up some amount of traction, did I realize that I have come a really long way from that obscure day a couple of years ago, when I (we) purchased nomadiclives.com, and launched this tiny speck of dust in the rapidly saturating content space. I know that thus far, this post sounds like a blatant example of obnoxious narcissism, but as you read further, I hope you’ll find it within yourself to forgive this immodest behavior on my part. Trust me, I needed this to have any chance of seeing this piece through at all.

Those who know me will know that I’m HORRIBLE at keeping in touch. I’m perhaps the worst friend in that sense. I NEVER call, I rarely text and I’m almost never the one that makes plans to catch up. I can see you shaking your head in condescension. I know; and I deserve it, but I’ve been working on it. The point is, sometimes, I haven’t spoken with the people in my life for months on end. So when we end up speaking or meeting, I get a LOT of “I’m so jealous of you!”s, “I LOVE your job!”s, “What do you f*ckin do for a living, you lucky prat?”s. Basically, I collect an assorted mix of envy-filled cuss-love. Don’t get me wrong here, I love it. It’s a massive ego boost to know people I like admire my lifestyle and aspire, at least in some capacity to emulate it; but it can get cumbersome. Let me explain!

When I started off writing for Nomadic Lives, I had very little clue where it was going. In fact, I hadn’t even imagined it to head in the travel blogging direction. For a very long time, it sounded like another of the countless hobbies I’ve picked up over the course of my not-so-short-anymore-life, and abandoned far too soon. But two years and many gray hairs later, it’s getting to a point where haphazard effort and not knowing my goal here, isn’t going to cut it anymore. It is difficult to explain just what I do and how it pays, but it’s important for people to know that I’m about as lucky, and my life as envious, as that of your favorite animal in the city zoo.

Seychelles Moyenne Island

Flashback to a Happier Day in Paradise!

Why Travel Blogging Isn’t What You See on Social Media?

Not very long ago, my friends, over at How Far From Home did a post about the glamorization of the travel blogging profession which got picked up by Buzzfeed, and (naturally), went viral. I was a little surprised to see that they seemed to pick up a lot of heat from fellow bloggers for saying what they did. In fact, in a lot of comments, and discussion forums, I kept reading stuff like “if they aren’t happy doing it, they should just get a job and go back!” and “I’m a travel blogger too, and I don’t have to scrub toilets to get by! This is a publicity stunt!” Frankly, I was a little alarmed at the mass hysteria, and so I decided to write this piece partly in support of what they say, and partly because I also find it necessary that I disclaim this for myself as well.

The sad part about travel blogging is that we often feel compelled to portray what people want to see. I do one, at best, two major/international holidays a year — sadly, that’s all I have resources for at the moment, and I have to use these 30-40 days of travel as raw material to keep a whole year’s worth of content flowing. What’s worse, when I look at my Instagram and Facebook feeds, I realize a massive dissonance between the life I lead, and the life these feeds portray; but the sad part about this profession is that nobody wants to know about the 40 hours a week you spend holed up in a coffee shop (or in my case, any quiet place that sells beer), trying to pitch projects to clients that want to hire you at rates that are borderline minimum wage. Nobody wants to hear about the anxiety of not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, or worse, of not knowing if you’ll have money for beer next month. Nobody wants to hear about the 20 hours a week you spend on social media, and in trying to edit the best of your worst pictures, so that the world thinks you’re constantly sitting in an infinity pool, sipping on Long Island Iced Teas, crafted by the hand of God. Nobody wants to read about reputed companies that hire you at a good rate, much to your glee at finally catching a break, only to realize later, they stall payment for months on end, leading to guess what? That’s right, more anxiety! *Alright, that’s it Sanket! They got the point! Rant over*

Travel Blogging, Dublin

Often Involves Sitting Down to Write Wherever You Find

To summarize, what I’m trying to say here is what you see on our social media and blogs isn’t everything there is to a life of travel blogging. We wish it were, but it really isn’t! Think of it as a prize though; that’s what we get, after doing all sorts of toil, which could range from negotiating the fuck out of miserly content mills, to scrubbing toilets — and before anybody asks, no, there’s nothing shameful about scrubbing toilets, it just isn’t something I thought I’d be doing, to pay my bills with a Business degree and an above-average IQ.

As a travel blogger, in some capacity, I hope to inspire people to choose a life of more travel and exploration, and while I do that, I think it’s only fair that I give you a fair representation of what it entails. Sure, there’s plenty of cocktails in the pool, lots of drunk hostel parties, the one-off sponsored trip, lots of cultural enlightening, and several other perks; but it’s also back-breaking labor and a LOT of rejection, despair and anxiety, particularly when you start out, and more so, if you don’t catch a break early on. Does this mean I regret my choices? Does this mean I’m unhappy? Does this mean I’d rather get off the travel blogging train? No, it doesn’t! I wish it were easier, and I’m constantly trying to make it easier, but I don’t regret it, and I’m not even remotely unhappy.

I don’t think I’m better or worse off than office-dwellers that may or may not dream about my life, because frankly, I just have far too much of my own shit to deal with to have time for this. But I sure as heck want people to know that I don’t have it easy, and it’s almost absurd to associate the word ‘lucky’ with what I do. Sure, we get to see a lot of the world — something every cubicle dwelling minion aspires to do these days, but most of us have made informed choices to get there. Some may call these sacrifices — I don’t. There’s nothing noble in choosing to let go of a fancy lifestyle or a secure income in favor of more travel-time, it’s a personal choice, but it isn’t a choice that makes me better or worse than any other. And here’s more, there’s people out there, that have managed to achieve the ultimate balance — a comfortable lifestyle, AND long-term travel. THOSE are the guys we all look up to and want to be, but not everybody gets there, and even those that do will tell you the journey up there wasn’t all beer and sunshine.

People that know these details about my life, often ask me why I do this, when I could just as well do the same thing with a stable job! After all, “you’re only traveling marginally more than you used to, right?” Well yes, presently! But not for lack of time anymore, but for lack of resources. I’m working towards building a stable freelance income stream, and that doesn’t come overnight. You have to build a reputation, you have to build some street-cred, and this takes time. So that’s what I’m doing, and maybe one day, I will be in a position to flip off those minimum-wage jobs, and spend longer doing what I like — write, and travel.

What My Instagram Feed Looks Like

Nomadic Lives Instagram

What My Average Work Day Looks Like

Travel Blogging

This is exactly the point my South African friends were trying to make, but I think a lot of it got lost amongst the rabble. There’s a reason Buzzfeed sells, and the reason is they are brilliant at gauging public opinion. They know and understand what the masses want better than most, and feed us exactly that, but even they did a fair job of representing the story well with this particular post. Why then, were we so eager to bust open a rare, sincere attempt at honestly representing the travel blogging profession? It’s a question that has been troubling me for a while, and I keep feeling like the answer’s just at the back of my mind, but I can’t quite place it. Can you? On that note, I take your leave for the time being, to go haggle a client into paying money owed for months on end! *sigh!*

Suggested Reading: Ugly Truth About Our Life | Karolina & Patryck

If you are or aspire to be in the travel blogging community or a long-term traveler, I’m eager to know your greatest obstacle. I’m eager to know your thoughts on this piece. I’m eager to I’m eager to connect! Please feel free to drop me a note or just write-in through the comments below. 

Also Read:

How I Quit My Job to Travel! NOT

7 Lessons I Learned From My First Trip

Seychelles Immigration — A Backpacker’s Nightmare

22 comments

  1. Hi there, don’t know if you know us, but we’ve been travelling full time since…2 nearly 3 years ago. The blogs ( there are now 6) started 12 months before we left, as soon as we had the idea to ditch normal and travel full time.
    We make money, sure we do, but I doubt it will ever be enough to support our family of 4, my husband works now and then, that’s how we keep going
    But I can tell you that we’re far, far happier, living on less, working less, enjoying our freedom, than we ever were when we were tied to the fancy house, pool and mortgage in Australia ( which we still own by the way).
    We’ll never be rich and that totally doesn’t matter, but I may have an income stream or two to pass on to my kids, to make their lives easier ( hence the 6 blogs)
    We don’t do sponsored travel, it’s just not our style, we rarely even do hotel promotions, we’re purely self funded and I’ve never pitched a thingy to a client ( don’t know what you mean by that even).
    So I can tell you that our Instagram and Facebook feed actually does, 100% totally represent our lives. We’re travelling our way and having fun. There’s nothing fake about it.
    I work very, very hard, more hours that I ever did in my “real” job, for a tiny fraction of the money, but it’s 1000% more rewarding and life is so much better.

    • mm

      I relate with what you’re saying a lot Alyson, though I don’t have a family to support, and can imagine how much more infinitely tougher that must be! In fact, this is one of the main reasons I wrote this post too. I just wanted to make it explicit that our lifestyles aren’t just all the good parts that get spoken about. There’s also these parts, which almost always remain behind the curtain, and thus not spoken about often enough 🙂

  2. So true what you say. The media seems to be focusing in on the travel bloggers that have given up the regular 9 to 5 at the moment and yet that is only one subset of a huge niche. While I love to read a diverse range of bloggers, I lean towards the luxury market and have never, and will never, own a backpack 🙂 Horses for courses right? Its a huge market so I say best of luck to everyone that wants to throw their hat in this arena and open up their lives for others to read, learn, be inspired.

    • mm

      I agree Sue! To each their own. I mean I know some people who specifically enjoy traveling rough, so that’s completely a personal preference. I just want word to get out that not everything’s as rosy as it seems from the outside 🙂

  3. AMEN. That’s all I can even say. A-freakin-men. I recently wrote something along a similar vein, if you’re interested, about the lies of the travel blogosphere. We seem to depict this perfect sunshine and roses lifestyle, when in reality our lives rock and suck just as much as anyone else’s, just in altogether different ways. http://www.likeridingabicycle.com/travel-bloggers-are-lying-to-you/

  4. A brutally honest article I’ve read in a long time. Thank you for enlightening the masses about the other side of travel blogging. Though it wouldn’t be wrong to say that everyone to an extent puts on a mask, whether it be social media or their sober selves at work, but making a full-time career out of travel blogging ain’t all sunshine, and people ought to know that. A refreshing piece, that I could relate to largely, more so when your clout grows with each subsequent article you write.

    Stay connected : http://travellersabode.blogspot.in/

    https://www.facebook.com/travelogueswitharadhana/

  5. I relate with all the experiences, having travelled to 40 countries now . I have done a bit of all some luxury travel, some backpacking , some family travel , some with only like minded tour companies. I can say that my travel style and preferences is the roughing out one . I don’t like the idea of having everything arranged . In between my travels to so many countries where I had to spend considerable time researching and planning , I started a travel company and later a travel blog . I also ended up offering my marketing services to people and writing 2 books . So there’s considerable work that I’ve been doing but most people think that I’m only travelling and having fun all the time . They don’t realize that I spend so much of my time with all the work I do . Don’t even ask the amount of hassle it is to maintain a site . But I still love to find time to travel .

  6. Hello, Sanket. I hear and feel your pain. I started freelance writing in 1993. Eased my way into travel writing in 1997. Have co-written/written 4 books, hundreds of print and online articles, and I STILL don’t find it easy. The rules of the game keep changing–faster than ever! The key is to find what you’re good at and what fuels your passion and focus on that as your niche. Mine is chocolate travel, and for the past 6 years, I have (nearly) exclusively on that. When you become known as a specialist, people tend to seek you out and it gives you more credibility.

    Keep on doing what you’re doing if you like what you’re doing, and good luck!

  7. I appreciate your honesty and your insights. It is sure a different world from when I backpacked around the world for a few years prior to the advent of the internet, prior to email, prior to laptops and smart phones. It was almost impossible back then to call home. I wrote and mailed airmail letters that sometimes took a month for my parents to receive. It is fascinating to see what the “twenty-something” generation is doing with travel in this internet/blogging age.

    • mm

      Thanks Chandi. I’m glad you liked it and very intrigued to read how this space has changed in the last decade or so. I can’t really imagine how life might have been without laptops and internet. HA

  8. If anyone thinks Travel Bloggers/Writers/Photographers don’t work and keep sipping LIITs in exotic locations, I’m sorry but it’s just plain stupid on their part and I don’t think anyone owes them an explanation. It’s as simple as realizing there’s no such thing as a free lunch and any sort of work is *work* at the end of the day. When one doesn’t expect an Investment Banker or a Software Engineer to convince the world that he is infact working and not getting luxury cars or apartments for free, why do they expect others to do so?

    Everyone works, period! (Except if you are royalty or some such ;))

  9. Peak ‘n troughs my friend. I am sitting in my gym gear and have been since 8am (it’s 1pm) yet I get sucked in to blogging work, yet again. It is a really tough job but you/we are giving advice to lots of travellers and it’s helping us travel the America and Europe for 18 months through partnerships. I read that sensationalist (the headline was sensationalist, the article wasn’t) story about cleaning toilets and at the time – I was cleaning toilet for a hostel in British Columbia but guess what I WAS IN CANADA! Another enjoyable read, let’s not all be slave to the keys, I’m off to the gym!

  10. Hello Sanket, thank you for your honesty. Having been in the travel blogging scene for 2 years, I totally understand where you’re coming from. Many people still fail to realize the hard work behind all the “glamour” of luxury travel – not to mention the technical side of running a blog. I guess they will never know unless they try it out for themselves.

    At the end of the day, what should matter is how we perceive our own work. If it’s something I love and enjoy, cheers to that!

  11. First of all, congrats on your recent successes. I’ve written about how Instagram isn’t a true representation of reality previously, and the post got a fair bit of attention. It seems many of us are experiencing the same frustrations at the ‘fakeness’ of it all – but now that I’ve accepted that social media is part of the digital world, I try to just use it for inspiration. Who wants to see a load of moaning on facebook etc? I have received messages about how ‘lucky’ I am (eh, I worked for where I am), or how jealous people are of my life. The truth is nobody knows anyone else’s reality, so we have to take social media for what it is – shallow, vain but also fun and sometimes inspiring. As travel bloggers, lets try to focus on the good and remember that some time on a ‘digital detox’ is necessary every so often.

  12. Yes, I hear you, there is more to the life of travel blogger, I work a IT desk job and have to constantly keep up with the ever changing world of IT, not easy. I live in the USA and have family in India whom I visit twice a year and have a chance to see/stop in countries on the way. Great post!

  13. I often read your blog and other blogs about travel. It is not possible to visit all the interesting places of the world. Travel blogs help to get acquainted with interesting places in different countries. As well as helping to choose the next destination. Thank you for this work.

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