It’s been nearly six months since my last post. I’ll confess that after I left my previous consulting position I intentionally took myself off the grid, allowing myself time to immerse in new travels, new insights and new experiences without the pressure or concern for writing blog entries. It’s been a delightful journey and now I’m back, refreshed and ready to write. Shall we begin? Get comfy – this is going to be a long one.
Since the inception of The Dapper Traveller, I’ve been playing about with a variety of entries: weekly bits, sketchy bits, bits of wisdom (if one could call them that) and, of course, good old-fashioned writing. For a brief moment, I even flirted with the more official business of “travel blogging” (if one could call it that), although I must say that what I’ve seen of it so far hasn’t really been that appealing. All of this has been with the intent of finding new ways to share both my personal and professional travel experiences with readers.
What I’ve discovered, however, over the course of this experiment is that there are more people than ever before writing and blogging about travel. And frankly, I don’t agree with most of it. Vapid Top Ten lists of pack-this and see-that, dreadful selfies in front of everything from iconic landmarks to generic beaches, and enough pointless photos of food that even Julia Child would have seriously considered renouncing the culinary arts. In short, the great majority of what I’ve seen in the larger travel community is what I’ve come to think of as consumptive travel – men and women racing around the globe with a bucket list of destinations, consuming cities and countries like so many chicken nuggets. No sense of culture, no sense of context and, honestly, no sense of story. I’ve read countless travel entries from bloggers around the world and rarely do I get any feel for why they are there or why this particular moment or trip or culture was significant. Simply put, most of what’s out there is indulgent and pointless.
Bah humbug, he says. Well, even for me, it’s not all gloom and stupidity. Three notable exceptions to this are Kirsten Alana’s engaging work at Aviators and a Camera, JoAnna’s lovely For the Intolerants, and Nyssa’s insightful collection at The Cultureur. There are others, of course, worthy of note and praise, but for me the contributions these ladies are making to the travel community and the larger dialogue around travel and international culture are invaluable, and almost makes up for the endless sea of juvenile diary entries that pass for travel writing. Their writing is eloquent and compelling (JoAnna’s often moving to the poetic), their photography is brilliantly composed and engaging, and their insights reflect a soul and intellect that is attuned to the nuances and context of travel in an ever-changing global community. If you are not currently following these ladies, you should.
Why this rant? While it may seem as though I’m curmudgeonly torpedoing the travel blog world, the bad behaviors and juvenile practices I’m calling out have also provided a useful mirror for me to reevaluate my own writing and, more importantly, my own travel practices. I’ve always been an advocate for documenting authentic experiences rather than just throwing up another thoughtless iPhone snap. Yet I’ve caught myself posting some of the same drivel that I criticize in others. Physician, heal thyself.
Very well, then. My prescription for myself?
Leave some mystery
Travel is an act of personal discovery – don’t give it all away. Thoroughly recounting an itinerary is great if you’re Phileas Fogg. Otherwise, you’re spoiling travel for the reader. As a traveller, why should I spend time wandering around the marketplace of Jerusalem, Ankara or Shanghai if you’ve already described everything there is to see? Where’s the adventure? Tell me stories of the area, the people, the culture. Tease me with images and anecdotes and insights. Then let me pack my own bags.
No Bests, Musts or Top Anythings
Sharing some favorite travel reads or a restaurant or two is one thing. Outlining an itinerary of the 5 Things You Must Do in Paris on the Second Thursday of March is quite another. It’s pretentious, subjective and just plain boring. I believe the best travel experiences are not linear nor do they follow a neat chronological order. God knows I hate it when anyone tells me what I must do – I’ll spare my readers the same indignity.
Put it in Context
One of the beautiful things about travel is the power it has to open our eyes to issues of culture, race, history and art. Whether you’re going to Des Moines or Damascus, the things you see, eat, drink, taste and touch all contain a story that connects with something larger. Try to find – and share – those connections in each travel experience.
I should point out here one additional contextual point travel writers, myself included, often overlook: how our travel experiences change the way we look at our own home. My travels impact the way I see the world, but it also changes the way I respond to my own community when I return home. Those stories are just as significant as the ones from the road and in the future I will be sharing more of them.
It’s All About the Story
Story engages and inspires. It entertains, it motivates, it heals and transports. Not checklists or reviews or menus. Story, story, story. Enough said.
And for the love of God, no more food shots. Unless Harry Mathews invites me to his home in Paris to feast on Roast Boned Rolled Stuffed Shoulder of Lamb (Farce Double), no fucking food photos.
So I’m back and writing. I love travel and I love the stories that grow from it. So here’s a somewhat belated welcome to the New Year and all the adventures that lie ahead.